Image: Salvador Dali, Geopoliticus child watching the birth of the new man
Conflict in the Caucasus: "Putin prevailed this time around because he focused on geopolitical objectives, while his opponents were blindly driven by fantasy and ideology ..."
Here are some excerpts from an excellent overview of the real story behind the crisis in the Caucasus, by Michael Klare, an insightful source on the geopolitics of energy security, with a link to the full text. Read it, and don't allow yourself to be played. -- Richard Power
Many Western analysts have chosen to interpret the recent fighting in the Caucasus as the onset of a new Cold War, with a small pro-Western democracy bravely resisting a brutal reincarnation of Stalin's jack-booted Soviet Union. Others have viewed it a throwback to the age-old ethnic politics of southeastern Europe, with assorted minorities using contemporary border disputes to settle ancient scores.
Neither of these explanations is accurate. To fully grasp the recent upheavals in the Caucasus, it is necessary to view the conflict as but a minor skirmish in a far more significant geopolitical struggle between Moscow and Washington over the energy riches of the Caspian Sea basin -- with former Russian President (now Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin emerging as the reigning Grand Master of geostrategic chess and the Bush team turning out to be middling amateurs, at best.
The ultimate prize in this contest is control over the flow of oil and natural gas from the energy-rich Caspian basin to eager markets in Europe and Asia. According to the most recent tally by oil giant BP, the Caspian's leading energy producers, all former "socialist republics" of the Soviet Union -- notably Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- together possess approximately 48 billion barrels in proven oil reserves (roughly equivalent to those left in the U.S. and Canada) and 268 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (essentially equivalent to what Saudi Arabia possesses). ...
Once he had restored state control over the lion's share of Russia's oil and gas resources, Putin turned his attention to the next obvious place -- the Caspian Sea basin. Here, his intent was not so much to gain ownership of its energy resources -- although Russian firms have in recent years acquired an equity share in some Caspian oil and gas fields -- but rather to dominate the export conduits used to transport its energy to Europe and Asia. ...
There will, of course, be more rounds to come, and it is impossible to predict how they will play out. Putin prevailed this time around because he focused on geopolitical objectives, while his opponents were blindly driven by fantasy and ideology; so long as this pattern persists, he or his successors are likely to come out on top. Only if American leaders assume a more realistic approach to Russia's resurgent power or, alternatively, choose to collaborate with Moscow in the exploitation of Caspian energy, will the risk of further strategic setbacks in the region disappear. Michael Klare, Putin's Ruthless Gambit, TomDispatch.com, 9-2-08
See also Der Spiegel: Gorbachev & Shroeder Offer a Dose of Reality on the "New Cold War" & the Conflict in the Caucasus
Richard Power's Left-Handed Security: Overcoming Fear, Greed & Ignorance in This Era of Global Crisis is available now! Click here for more information.
Caucasus, Georgia, Vladimir Putin, Michael Klare