Pipeline Geopolitics: From Syria To Russia via Ukraine
By Titto Eapen
30 November, 2014
The current Ukrainian crisis followed by the sanction against Russia is a sequel to the pivot to Europe campaign of the US led west to smash the Russian monopoly in the European hydrocarbon market for which the prelude was set in Syria.
Prior to landing in Ukraine or before I start glossing the western sanction on Russia, it is important to take the readers through the memory lane into Syria to expound the Pipeline-Geopolitics in the Middle-East. Moreover, without understanding Putin's love and Obama's abhorrence for Assad, the whole story of Ukrainian crises and the latest sanction on Russia is incomplete. In the entire Pipelinistan region, Syria plays a pivotal role in connecting Asia with Europe. The same geographical ascendancy in the region has made it an easy victim in the hydrocarbon tussle of domination between Russia & US led Western Allies. This could be elucidated from the fact that the US led NATO forces has already spent close to 50 billion dollars to support the rebels in Syria while Russia keeps pouring arms into Damascus to support Assad's regime by justifying his alleged war crime against the civilians.
The Kremlin v/s White House Factor in Syria:
Unlike it's approach towards Iraq & Afghanistan, Kremlin took a very bold step in preventing the White House led western ploy of invading Syria- A move to oust Assad and to install a puppet regime. However, if you have made an opinion that Russia has done this to avert a bloodshed like situation, then you are the victim of erroneous news literature in the same sense that if you think that the US is waging war in Syria to eliminate chemical weapons and ISIS. The rationale behind Russian interference and the American intrusion in Syria revolves around the Pipeline-Geopolitics.
The fact of the matter is that neither the Chemical Weapons nor the ISIS menace or the Sunni-Shia strife has caught the eyes of the West & Russia alike but it is the Mediterranean frontage of Syria which has brought the nation state in between the devil and deep dark ocean of furtive diplomacy. On the one hand, the US-EU wants its closest allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia - which are also the largest exporter of liquid natural gas in the world to supply its natural gas to Europe through Syria. In that pursuit, the greatest evil is Assad who won't let the west to build a natural gas pipeline through Syria. If yet you are not able to connect the logic of US and its European allies in funding the Salafist Jihadi in Syria through Qatar and Saudi Arabia then let me make a very frank statement that they all want a regime change in Syria who will allow them to build a pipeline which will enable the Qatar and Saudi to sell their abundance of natural gas to Europe. While on the other side, Russia very much prefers the Assad regime for a whole bunch of reasons. One of those reasons is that Assad is helping Russia to block the flow of natural gas out of the Persian Gulf into Europe, thus ensuring higher profits for Gazprom.
It's a common knowledge amongst most international observers that the European Union has a very long ambition of getting access to the Qatari natural gas through a pipeline channel via Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria on to Turkey which will eventually reduce the dependency of Europe on Russian hydrocarbon companies. Perhaps that could be the reason why Qatar alone- a little nation, has so far spent 3 billion dollars to support the rebels in Syria for deporting Assad. However, the extended Russian rescue operation for Assad to fight the Qatari & Saudi made Salafist-Terrorist outfits and also by blocking a UN sanction on Syria has averted the western premeditated Gadhafi fate for Assad. Furthermore, with the Russians backing Assad, the easy regime change game in Syria has become an impossible task altogether and has compelled the White House to get directly involved in the conflict with drones on the pretext of its fight against Sarin Gas and ISIS. If the US is successful in getting rid of the Assad regime, it will be a great triumph for both the Saudi Arabia and Qatari Regime and sooner or later, it will result into the end of Russian dominance in the European hydrocarbon market. However, without diverting Putin's eye from Syria, a regime change was really an impossible task for the US and its NATO allies. Now with the Ukrainian crisis and stringent sanction in place against Russia, the drone-ball is back in Obama's court to dictate his own imperial terms.
Why Assad is bad for West & good for Russia?
In 2009 - Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter's North field, contiguous with Iran's South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey.
This would have helped Europe to overcome the dependency on Russian hydrocarbon industry and crucially bypass the Russian interest in the region. Assad's rationale for not complying with the Qatari offer was to protect the interests of his Russian ally, which is Europe's top supplier of natural gas.
The following year, Assad pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria that would also potentially allow Iran to supply gas to Europe from its South Pars field shared with Qatar.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project was signed in July 2012 - just as Syria's civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo - and later in 2013 Iraq signed a framework agreement for construction of the gas pipelines.
The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan was a direct slap in the face” to Qatar's plans. In this context, the failed attempt of Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan to bribe Russia to switch sides is very crucial to understand the sanction.
According to the leaked classified, the prince told Putin that whatever regime comes after Assad, it will be completely in Saudi Arabia's hands and will not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports. When Putin refused to oblige with the offer, the Prince vowed military action.
Let's get back to the Sanction via Ukraine:
The outbreak of the Ukrainian unrest that led to the installation of a western dummy government in a span of two months was certainly an outcome of a well-designed clandestine operation. Russia might not have anticipated that the public upsurge & mass upheaval against the pro Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych would result into his sudden ouster through an immediate replacement with a pro-European Government of Petro Poroshenko. Here, the political timing is very crucial to analyze, just recall the fact that this was the time when the US and Russia were lambasting against each other on the question of Assad and Syria. With the installation of Poroshenko's government in Ukraine, Kremlin's geopolitical supremacy in Europe were at stakes. Putin's first response to the Anglo-Zionist sponsored coup d'état in Ukraine was the annexation of Crimea and later he went on to reassure the balkanization of the region by supporting the armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
In order to get a better insight of the current Ukrainian crisis, it is very important to understand that geopolitically Ukraine is the Syria of Europe. Strategically Ukraine is a key region for both Europe Union as well as Russia. For Russia, the concept of grand Eurasian Union is incomplete; without Ukraine it ceases to be a Eurasian Empire. Besides, most of the key gas pipelines from Russia to Western Europe run through Ukraine. Conversely, European Union without Ukraine is like a riffle without bullet especially bearing in mind that shale gas extraction is banned in many European countries due to the ecological dangers associated with it.
This could be well explained by the data available from the Energy Information Administration in the USA Energy Department. According to their data, Ukraine occupies the third position after Poland and France in Europe in terms of the reserves of shale gas. Considering the ban in place for France for extracting shale gas, the only two countries in Europe are Poland and Ukraine which posses' large shale-gas reserves. That means Ukraine is seen as a potentially important provider of shale gas to Europe which makes Ukraine the centre of attraction in the race of occupying the Black Gold Mountains. So in a nutshell, in the battle of petropolitcs between the West and Russia, Ukraine has become an easy stooge.
The other angle to the Ukrainian crisis as I mentioned earlier is the struggle over the supply of gas and oil to Europe. With the installation of a pro-western government in Ukraine, the US led West has given a clear insignia to Kremlin that they are in hurry to replace the Russian supremacy in the hydrocarbon business in Europe with US, Qatar & Saudi. The United States is looking for market for its surplus natural gas and the US Energy Department has already issued permits to American companies to export natural gas from 2015. It is important to notice the fact that during the political turmoil in Syria and Ukraine, the American companies were busy in submitting applications to build port facilities in the United States to export liquefied natural gas by tanker. Although, the United States has abundant supplies of natural gas but the cost of transient to Europe will take a heavy sum making it less competent with Russian supply so naturally a price slash of crude oil was obvious before the US start supplying its surplus gas in the form of LNG to Europe.
According to many think-tanks, the current crude oil price crash is also a secret US-Saudi war on Russia which will likely to go down to $50 per barrel within six months. This could be drawn from the words of New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman who says the US and Saudi Arabia, whether by accident or design, could be pumping Russia and Iran to brink of economic collapse. According to him, the rationale behind to reach into such a premise is the fact that d espite turmoil in many of the world's oil-producing countries - Libya, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria - prices are hitting lows not seen in years. He further added that the US wants its Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia to have more bite.
Undoubtedly, the sanction bite is wounding the Russian economy to the core and that could be the reason why Putin has issued a Cold War-style tirade to Western leaders warning them not to 'blackmail' major nuclear power Russia. He has also threatened to shut the gas supplies to the EU this winter. If Putin really dares to cut the gas supply to Europe then it will severely affect the European economy which is already on a ventilator mode. However, the current geopolitical reality in Europe is that neither the EU can stop buying Russian gas nor Russia can block the supply to Europe without inflicting pain on each other. So before the US led NATO forces takes any extreme step against Russia, the EU has to safeguard its own energy requirement which will only be possible through toppling Assad and also through balkanization of the entire Middle-East region. The pivot to Europe campaign also needs a complete control over Ukraine to reduce the influence of Russia in the European hydrocarbon market which will ultimately shrink the oil driven Russian economy into sand.
It is also important to note that with the Ukrainian crises, the entire sphere of geopolitical influence in Europe has started shifting from Russia to Europe Union. The political and economic isolation of Russia through sanction, the western media propaganda against Putin and Obama's recent discovery that Russia is a threat to global peace has really worked in the favor of White House for creating a public opinion in the US and Europe that Russia is malevolent. With the blessing of Zionist media, the package of pivot to Europe campaign has brought the strong man of Kremlin on the brink of realpolitik defeat in Syria. The greatest example of Putin's loosing geopolitical grip from Syria can be elucidated from the current ongoing US led NATO drone onslaught in Syria to which the Kremlin had earlier expressed his objection. However, the Ukrainian crisis followed by the severe sanction against Russia has really compelled Putin to backpedal from Syria and the focus has now shifted to counterstrike the sanction and improve his position in Ukraine.
Now the question that may come into your mind: When and who will replace Russia from European Hydrocarbon market? Well the answer can be divided into three segments: The short-term, the mid-term and the long-term: In the short term, most of the European country has to still depend on the Russian hydrocarbon stock and to a great extent from Iran. Fitch, a rating agency, does not expect Europe to lessen its reliance on Russia “for at least the next decade and potentially much longer. However, the growing proximity of Iran with the US and Europe and also the bail-talk for the ambitious nuclear program of the Islamic state can be considered as a token gesture of the west to access the Iranian oil & gas.
As far as the mid-term supply is concerned, the option of getting the glut of US natural gas in the form of LNG supply is under progression. The work has begun way back in the US Congress where Anglo-Saxon members are pressing the Obama administration to speed permits for natural gas export terminals to ease Europe's reliance on Russian supplies. In-fact, even prior to the Ukrainian crisis, many American companies have started their ground work in the US to supply their surplus liquefied natural gas to Europe to replace Russian gas. In the final phase or in the long-term, supply from Qatar and Saudi Arabia through the proposed Qatari pipeline project via Syria will completely condense the Russian reliance.
Prior to that we can think a large element of bloody-proxy-war both in Europe and Middle East. Russia plays an important role in this, and of course equally US is determined to lessen Russia's role and influence in the geopolitical struggle. This is evident from the role played by the US in the balkanization of Syria & Iraq through sponsoring the Al-Qaeda linked terrorist outfits and the Russian involvement in arming the separatists in Ukraine.
Titto Eapen is Associate Editor | Offshore World Magazine
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