ITWASSOOTED: as you read, is slaughtering its inhabitants to gain control of that country for this purpose.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

as you read, is slaughtering its inhabitants to gain control of that country for this purpose.

Russian Gas Cuts: US-Afghanistan Connection?

Russia has made a serious mistake on this occasion both in hasty action and in failing to perceive the probable hand of the US and a trap, notes Christopher King.

You will probably have heard of the present situation – you might well be suffering from it. Russian gas for Europe is being disrupted in transit through Ukrainian pipelines. Ostensibly it is about payment by Ukraine for its gas and renewal of the Ukraine-Russia contract for transit of the gas.

Russia says that Ukraine has not paid for its gas and in retaliation has reduced the amount pumped into the pipeline by the Ukraine proportion. Ukraine, it is said, nevertheless continued to “steal” gas from the pipelines, so reducing the amount available to European Union customers. As a further escalation, Ukraine restricted the quantity of transit gas to the EU and, Russia says, finally closed the pipelines.

The Ukrainians say that they are not stealing gas and there are “technical difficulties” that have caused problems with the onward flow of gas. Russia, they say, has now shut down the pipelines.

Ukraine does seem to have been using gas after Russia reduced supplies by its proportion but it is a legal question as to whether Ukraine is paying and complying with terms of its contract etc. It is not clear whether Russia believes that Ukraine is taking more than its contractual proportion, which would in fact be theft. As it is mid-winter, this is the best time for Ukraine to attempt to force more favourable gas prices and transit terms from Russia. There was a similar dispute in the winter of 2006. By reducing the supply of gas to the pipeline and expecting Ukraine to stop using gas, the Russians have been heavy-handed and unwise even if all they say is correct. What is more important is who has closed down the pipeline. Russia and Ukraine accuse each other. This is question of fact that will be determined on investigation. Pipeline issues rely entirely on the integrity of the participants. Gas, oil or whatever is put into the pipeline at one end and hopefully it arrives at the other end as expected.

We should note, however, that it is absolutely not in Russia’s interests to close off the pipelines to the EU since the reliability of Russian gas supplies was an important issue in the 2006 dispute. Russia has been at pains to reassure the EU on this. The Ukrainian position is not so clear. Apart from a cash shortage, Ukraine has other issues with Russia, for example, Russia’s use of Sevastopol for its Black Sea Fleet. If the EU were to find alternative gas supplies due to Russian unreliability, so reducing Russia’s European market, Ukraine would be in a stronger position as a buyer of Russian gas. Ukraine is also engaged in discussions for joining the EU and NATO so a dispute with Russia might have advantages. In these circumstances the Russian version of the pipeline closure is more credible. This might be the entire position.

I wish to examine, however, if other parties might benefit from this dispute. It would be a simple matter to plan this dispute and to predict Russia’s response. It is a re-run of the 2006 dispute but has been made more severe than 2006 by the closure of the pipelines. The extreme concern in the EU, I repeat, is far from Russia’s best interests. However, from an EU viewpoint it is irrelevant whether the unreliable party is Russia, Ukraine or both. If the supply is unreliable the EU will seek alternative supplies. Who could gain from this?

As it happens, the United States wants to build a gas/oil pipeline through Afghanistan and, as you read, is slaughtering its inhabitants to gain control of that country for this purpose. As it also happens, the US’s new president ,Barack Obama, has stated that he will increase US troop levels and will ask the EU and NATO to contribute more troops to Afghanistan. The EU countries are increasingly reluctant participants. By contrast, our unelected prime minister, Gordon Brown, has already rushed to send 300 additional UK soldiers to risk their lives and kill more Afghans in this occupation that, along with Iraq, has disgraced the UK.

A perfectly credible scenario, therefore, is that the US is behind this dispute, with the objective to renew wavering EU support for its war in Afghanistan.

Why should anyone believe this? As I have outlined previously, Russia and the EU have developed close economic links and have been on track to create greater economic integration. It is in the interests of the US to prevent what could become an EU-Russian economic and military superstate. The US seeks confrontation with Russia, as evidenced by bringing former Soviet satellites into NATO, contrary to agreements, abrogation of the ballistic missile defence treaty with Russia, installation of a missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic on Russia’s borders and support for the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia. The US needs trouble in Europe to maintain its own military and failing economic position. NATO officers and ministers are happy to support the US’s trouble-making in Europe and elsewhere, since peace means loss of jobs, promotion prospects and careers. NATO ministers, of course, get lucrative directorships and consultancy contracts with the defence industry after their periods in office. This is why NATO is in Iraq and Afghanistan and is rearming Georgia, none of which is in EU interests. There can be no doubt that the US is following a “spoiling” strategy with regard to EU-Russian relations.

One can easily see that wherever in the world there is trouble, the US is there as well, with troops, advisors, weapons or money. The US needs enemies, not only to feed its military-industrial complex that efficiently transfers public funds to private pockets, but because wars give opportunities. Peaceful business competition has now become very difficult for the US now that Asia has taken over most of the world’s manufacturing and it has undermined its own and the rest of the world’s financial system with its debt and worthless securities. For the time being, the US has an unchallengeable military force. Well, unchallengable in nuclear terms anyway, as the Afghans with a military budget of almost zero are demonstrating. It is seeking means of turning this to economic advantage. This is, after all, the only justification for having such a force. It needs to be used and preferably show a return.

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