Right after Russia’s successful ‘endeavor’ into Georgia last August, its leaders attempted to consolidate their geopolitical position with other former Soviet states, with a decent amount of success. Medvedev, Putin, and other Moscow high officials visited Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, mainly solidifying and enhancing prior energy, military strategic deals. In Azerbaijan for instance, Moscow offered to buy all of the gas rich country’s energy reserves. These efforts by the Russians threaten to further the energy stranglehold on Europe, which receives about 30% of its gas reserves from Moscow, while increasing Russia’s geopolitical clout and position.
However, all is not right with Russia as energy prices are (were?) dropping to dramatic lows and the nation was fighting a geopolitical battle for regional dominance with the US and NATO over Ukraine, Georgia, and the missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland. One would think Moscow’s latest gas spigot choke off of Ukraine, and therefore Europe, would exemplify Russian strength, and in some ways of course it does, but in reality I believe Russia to be in a weak, or struggling position. NATO’s expansion, combined with the Bush administration’s continual pressure for Ukraine and Georgian admission, US/EU encroachments into Central Asia and the Caucasus’s (weak as these efforts have been), VP Cheney’s visit to Azerbaijan and Georgia (with a $1 billion dollar pledge of aid promoted by current VP Biden) and the official signing of missile defense deals with Czech and Poland all have moved the West closer and closer to Russian territory and within what Russia believes is its ‘sphere of influence.’
Peter Zeihan of Stratfor agrees, calling the possible loss of Ukraine into NATO and the EU as the ‘kiss of death’ for Moscow. Zeihan correctly asserts that this strategic loss would transform Russia into a purely defensive power with little ability to project its power outward. It is in this context that we should see Moscow’s current gas cutoff efforts, as they seek to reel Ukraine back in and threaten the EU to back off. This type of strategy has major benefits for Moscow, the aforementioned and extra revenues from charging higher and higher prices and transit fees, and very little costs. The EU just does not have that many alternative energy suppliers. The BTC pipeline, which goes through Georgia-Azerbaijan-Turkey, is the only serious pipeline to the EU that does not go through Russian territory. The Trans-Caspian and Nabucco pipelines are also alternatives, but have consistently run up against numerous hurdles that Central Asian energy expert John Daly sees as too high to cross. Daly actually calls the current energy supply situation for Europe a ‘high water mark’! So in other words, Moscow does not have to fear its trapped customers from getting free anytime soon.
How do you see Russia’s geopolitical situation? Weak? Stable? Strong? What about Europe’s gas supply situation? Can they find away out of Moscow’s grasp? What about this idea?