Determining status of a super power

K.N. Pandita,

Cold war era ended in 1991. Close on its heels emerged a new phase of rivalry among big powers, which historians and political punditry deviously call New Great Game. In reality it is a long and ruthless rivalry between the US and the Russian Federation for controlling the new and vast hydrocarbon sources in Central Asia and the Caspian region. Did the collapse of the Soviet Union leave the lone super power really free to dictate terms of future course of world history? By a strange quirk of destiny, the nascent independent states of former Soviet Central Asia have assumed much more importance in the new scheme of things than what they enjoyed during the Soviet era.

As early as 1998, Clinton administration eyed Central Asian energy resources to offset over-sized dependence of the US and her western allies on energy supplies from the Gulf States. Big American oil cartel like Unocal rued the transportation of Turkmen (Daulatabad) gas across Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Persian Gulf and invested quite a bit in surveying the pipeline route. They even initiated secret negotiations with the Taliban whom Washington had begun to befriend.

With the bright prospect of large scale gas and oil deposits in the Central Asians State of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and also in the Caspian Shelf, the primary thrust of the US Central Asian oil diplomacy has been to exclude Russian and Iranian territories for laying a pipeline that would transport Central Asian gas and oil to the European markets. This is to deny them political influence in the region and also the benefits of enormous oil transportation revenue.

With Turkey and Azerbaijan as key players in Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline route, Washington planned transportation of oil from Caspian Shelf in the first instance and to link up Turkmen and Kazakhstan gas and oil to it in second phase. This excluded Russia and Iran from the great oil game in the region. At the time of opening of Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, Americans displayed much euphoria for their political-economic achievement in the trans-Caspian oil game,

Moscow was not going to take lying low the American deep intrusion into its region of influence. The 9-12th May 2007 visit of President Putin to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and the announcement of a trilateral oil deal that envisages revival of traditional Russian transportation of Central Asian oil and gas to the European countries via Russia, eventually countered the America move in the Caspian region. The trilateral oil and gas deal did come late just because Russia had problem with the “neutrality” stance of the then Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov. But with Niyazov no more on the scene, Turkmen leadership has been showing inclination of returning to the fold of CIS.

A new pipeline to be laid along the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea through Kazakh and Russian territories by 2009 will transport 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually to the European market. The trilateral agreement also stipulates revamping of Soviet – era Uzbekistan pipeline via Russia to enhance the capacity to 90 billion cm annually.

Russia’s major move to counter Washington’s Central Asian oil diplomacy has caused a flutter in Washington, and its reverberations are felt in European capitals as well. At a meeting of the IAEA in Paris the US Energy Secretary said that Russian–Kazakh-Turkmen gas and energy diplomacy was not good for Europe. Washington fears that Russia’s forward oil diplomacy could force European countries to look towards Iran, the last frontier for them in oil game. Teheran, as is known to all, has a different pattern of relationship with the European countries.

Interestingly, the Secretary General of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Bordyuzha said in Mosocw that Iran could become a member of CSTO. Moscow has been proposing a common air defence system for CSTO members (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia).

Adhering to its concept of “Single Export Channel” also meaning Russian transport monopoly, Moscow intends to link up Kazakhstan’s 40 billion cm of gas per year with Turkmen gas deposits for export to the European market. In view of Russian’s big leap in energy diplomacy, Germany has been only deferential to Putin’s energy programme and France and Italy are not enthusiastic in showing it down.

The inference one can draw from the great oil game in Central Asia is that Europe cannot escape dependence on Russian gas supplies. This is bound to have an impact on US’ transatlantic leadership. If Moscow succeeds in its Blue Sea 2 Plan and Hungary becomes the hub of Russian gas supplies to Europe, it will not be a surprise that Turkey finds itself willing to collaborate with the Russians in Black Sea region for energy operations.

This once again prompts us to seek an answer to the question: has the US really achieved the objective of becoming the lone super power to determine the course of future history of the world after she vigorously contrived the collapse of the Soviet State.

(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central AsianStudies, Kashmir University).

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