The Guardian February 9, 2000


US imperialism and Caspian oil (part II):
NATO spearhead for oil monopolies

In November 1999, a conference of the Organisation for Security and 
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) gathered many government representatives to 
Istanbul. By then the US Government had, quite simply, forced the key 
regional governments to give the imperialist oil companies the guarantees 
and finance that these oil monopolies wanted.

A new agreement was finally possible, and Clinton flew in for last minute 
arm-twisting. The Governments of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan 
agreed to officially back the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline route.

Turkey's Government promised to pay all construction costs over US$1.4 
billion for the Turkish segment of the pipeline. This meant that the Ceyhan 
route was suddenly as cheap, for the oil companies, as the Iranian route 
would have been.

Kazakhstan dumped the Russian plan for a Tengiz-Novorossisk pipeline and 
instead promised that in the 21st century it would send 20 million tonnes 
of oil a year through a new, proposed, underwater pipeline to Baku and from 
there on to Ceyhan.

In short, the imperialist oil companies were guaranteed protection from 
cost overruns, and were guaranteed that the Ceyhan pipeline would get most 
or all of the production of the Caspian.

The cost of these "guarantees" would (presumably) come out of the wealth of 
these regions. And the whole package was backed and blessed by the US 
godfathers themselves.

The plan is now in place to have this new pipeline ready by 2004  when 
huge new oil installations now being built in the Caspian region are 
expected to start sending one million barrels a day to Ceyhan.

"Chechnya is just the beginning of what we're going to face in this 
region. Russia is not going to sit back quietly as from its perspective the 
United States tries to undermine its vital strategic interests there"  
Martha Brill Olcott, US thinktank expert on the Caspian region, New 
York Times, November 19, 1999.

The Istanbul agreements opened the door for the multi-billion-dollar 
fundraising for the Baku to Ceyhan pipeline.

That capital must be raised by October 2000, and the construction must 
start soon after that, if this pipeline is going to be ready by 2004  
when major new production of oil is expected in the Caspian region.

However, the Russian military intend to pacify Chechnya and surrounding 
regions  and re-establish a viable overland pipeline route through 
Russia.

Russian capitalist interests

And, Russia is strengthening its military presence in the Caspian region 
itself  reportedly sending new MIG jet fighters and air defence missiles 
to its base in Armenia.

In addition, the Baku-Ceyhan route requires a strong pro-Western government 
in the Caucasus country of Georgia. The US currently has such a government 
there  headed by President Eduard Shevardnadze, who was the Soviet 
Foreign Minister under Gorbachev.

But in 1998 alone, Shevardnadze faced an armed insurrection, a major 
secessionist movement and a commando-style assassination attempt.

"Permanent smouldering" in Georgia suits Russian capitalist interests just 
as "permanent smouldering" in Chechnya suits US imperialist interests.

US military

For now, the "new Great Game" for the Caspian has largely been carried out 
using dollars and strong-arm diplomacy. But the major powers understand 
well that the future of this region may ultimately be decided by guns  in 
coups and warfare.

And, for that reason, the US has conducted a huge but unpublicised campaign 
of drawing the Central Asian countries under its military wing.

Several former Soviet allies in Eastern Europe have been openly recruited 
directly into NATO's war alliance  but the US has pursued a slightly 
different course in Central Asia.

Six years ago, NATO created a military sub-alliance called "Partners for 
Peace" (PFP)  and under that arrangement has been training, arming and 
deploying military forces around both the Caspian and Black seas. The 
difference between NATO and PFP is, as one NATO official put it, "razor 
thin".

Through PFP, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan 
have formal military liaisons at NATO's Supreme Headquarters. Under NATO 
auspices, PFP has created a joint Central Asian Peacekeeping Battalion 
(CENTRASBAT) which is the embryo of a NATO-led military force in the 
region.

During the 50th anniversary conference of NATO, in April 1999, an anti-
Russian alliance, GUUAM, was formed out of the former southern Soviet 
republics: Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova.

Ties with NATO

Azerbaijan and Georgia have developed especially close military ties with 
NATO. The US and Turkish militaries have been supplying both countries with 
NATO-compatible weapons. Azerbaijan has signed a mutual defence treaty with 
Turkey and a "defence cooperation agreement" with the US.

Under PFP, 4,000 military officers from Caucasus countries have received 
military training in Turkey  a majority of them from Azerbaijan. Soldiers 
from Azerbaijan participated as part of a Turkish Army battalion in NATO's 
Kosovo occupation force. It was the first direct deployment of a Caspian 
unit by NATO.

At the same time, Turkey  a notoriously brutal and repressive state  
has been training thousands of pro-Western government officials, legal 
prosecutors and police for the ruling classes of Georgia, Azerbaijan and 
Uzbekistan.

In 1997, NATO organised naval exercises (Operation Sea Breeze) on the Black 
sea  making a statement about who controlled that sea and the oil traffic 
that crosses it.

As Russian troops were leaving Georgia, the flagship of the US 6th Fleet 
entered the Georgian port of Poti. There have already been over a hundred 
different joint NATO-Georgian military programs, activities and exercises.

In May, 1999, the US army held joint manoeuvres in Kazakhstan  which were 
officially called "international disaster relief exercises". That same 
month, Turkmenistan officially ended the agreement allowing Russian troops 
to patrol its southern border with Iran and Afghanistan.

In Azerbaijan, top presidential adviser Vafa Guluzade caused a furor in 
February 1999 by proposing that the US set up a NATO airbase on the 
Apsheron Peninsula outside Baku.

Though the Russian and Iranian Governments immediately objected, the US 
Government simply said the plan was not currently under consideration.

Then, in November, a leader of the Azerbaijani parliament proposed that 
NATO form a special unit to protect the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. That same 
month, besieged Chechen breakaway leader Maschadov called for NATO 
intervention against the advancing Russian troops there.

Human rights mask

"The strategic value of the Caspian has been there from the beginning  
it never was just about oil"   Zbigniew Brzezinski, US ruling class 
architect of the new Great Game.

The US masks its operations in talk of freedom and human rights. This is 
true in the Caspian too. US politicians talk of training the people of the 
region in "US style democracy"  while sending them fascist Turkish 
trainers.

The US talks about ending the Russian "military abuse" of the Chechen 
people  while energetically supporting the Turkish military abuse of the 
Kurdish people.

The US talks about bringing "free trade" to the world and "knocking down 
barriers"  while spending billions of dollars in semi-secret plots to 
control the oil trade of the world, and seize control of the oil reserves 
of the Caspian.

The New York Times called the current White House policy 
"flogging the halfdead Russian bear".

Certainly, Russia is deeply in debt, gripped by a paralysing economic and 
political crisis  and its military (though heavily armed with nukes) is 
having great difficulty reasserting control in regions that are officially 
within Russia.

But if and when this Russian bear emerges from its crisis, it will be 
determined to reverse the US takeover of the Caspian.

There is already an angry demand rising from the new Russian ruling class 
for a government and military that can aggressively reassert their 
interests in the Caspian region.

There are also other imperialists in the world  in Europe and Japan  
who do not consider it in their interests for the US to control all the 
major oil sources in the world.

US expansion in the Caspian is setting the stage for intensifying inter-
imperialist rivalries and conflicts in the new century  conflicts Western 
experts already cold-bloodedly refer to as "the resource wars of the 21st 
century".

* * *
The first part of this article appeared in The Guardian of February 2, 2000

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