An Eastern Mediterranean Oil War?


Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's overnight visit to Turkey has focused attention to the strategic dialogue between the two democratic nations in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey is a powerful, pro-Western, not Arab but definitely Muslim country and Israelis had hoped for years that its expanding relations would break the impression that the Muslim world opposed the Jewish state. The Turks were initially cautious, but came round about a decade ago when they reassessed their policies. They felt that dangerous neighbors and hotspots of instability were across their borders, and believed that Israel's influence in the United States could help especially in countering Greek and Armenian lobbies in Washington. The Turkish army's Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Ergin Saygun was in Israel late last year discussing plans and more such visits are expected following Olmert's visit. But there seems to be much more at stake than mere diplomatic photo opportunity exchanges between Turkey and Israel.

Virtually unnoticed, the inauguration of the Ceyhan-Tiblisi-Baku (BTC) oil pipeline, which links the Caspian Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean took place on the 13th July 2006, at the very outset of the Second Lebanon War. The official reception took place in Istanbul, hosted by Turkey’s President Ahmet Necdet Sezer in the Çýraðan Palace. Many dignitaries among them, British Petroleum’s CEO Lord Brown and BP leading the BTC pipeline consortium of western oil companies and senior government officials, top oil ministers and leaders of western oil companies, from Britain, the US, Israel and Turkey were all present at the ceremony. The 1,770 km Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan pipeline, simply known by the acronym BTC, is one of the world’s longest and cost US$4 billion to build. It snakes its way from the Sangachal oil and gas terminal south of the Azeri capital of Baku on the Caspian Sea through neighboring Georgia and some of the most mountainous regions of the Caucasus to finally reach the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean.

The BTC pipeline totally bypasses the territory of the Russian Federation. as it transits through the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Georgia, both of which have become US ‘protectorates’, firmly integrated into a military alliance with the US and NATO. Moreover, both Azerbaijan and Georgia have longstanding military cooperation with Israel. Israel has a stake in the Azeri oil fields, from which it imports some 20% of its oil. The BTC pipeline dominated by British Petroleum and American interest, has dramatically changed the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean, which is now linked , through an energy corridor, to the strategic Caspian sea basin. In April 2006, Israel and Turkey announced plans for four underwater pipelines, transporting water, electricity, natural gas and oil to Israel, by-passing Syrian and Lebanese territory. The pipeline is aimed bringing water to Israel, by pumping water from upstream resources of the Tigris and Euphrates river system in Anatoli has been a long-run strategic objective of Israel to the detriment of Syria and Iraq.

In its context, the BTC pipeline dominated by British Petroleum and American interest, has dramatically changed the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean, which is now linked , through an energy corridor, to the strategic Caspian sea basin. But there is more at stage here. The geographical fact is that Ceyhan and the Mediterranean port of Ashkelon are situated only 400 km apart. Oil can be transported to that port in tankers or through a specially constructed under-water pipeline. From Ashkelon the oil can be pumped through already existing pipeline to the port of Eilat at the Red Sea, which had been very active during betters days between the Shah's Iran and Israel during the Sixties. From Eilat oil it can be transported to India and Far Eastern countries in tankers, thus outflanking the vulnerable Hurmoz straits.

Last May, the Jerusalem Post published an article that Turkey and Israel are negotiating the construction of a multi-million-dollar energy and water project that will transport water, electricity, natural gas and oil by pipelines to Israel, with the oil to be sent onward from Israel to the Far East. Antalya Mayor Menderes Turel mentioned this in a press conference. The project, which would likely receive foreign economic backing, is currently undergoing a feasibility study sponsored by the Luxembourg-based European Investment Bank. The United States' ultimate strategic design is intended primarily to weaken Russia’s role in Central Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean, while isolating Iran from this important energy source.

Iran being not only a major oil producing country is also a direct stepping stone between the Caspian region and the Persian Gulf. As such, it would certainly like to see Caspian oil flowing through its territory rather than through Turkey. Moreover, having full control over the Persian Gulf shipping lanes, through its military control on the strategic Hormuz strait, Iran could virtually strangle, at will, all international oil supplies, if political pressure on its nuclear program intensifies. Iran's claim to Caspian oil dates back to the last century when the Russian Empire and Persia, later Iran signed agreements in 1921 and 1940 recognizing the Caspian Sea as a lake belonging to and divided between them. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Iran wanted this agreement to continue despite assertions of independence by the breakaway states of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

Five years ago, the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted a statement of the Iranian Oil Ministry as saying that it protests prospecting by foreign companies in Iran's claimed 20 percent sector of the Caspian Sea. The warning came a day after Iran summoned Azerbaijan's charge d'affaires in Tehran to protest plans by the state-run oil company of Azerbaijan, Socar, to carry out oil exploration studies with foreign companies at the Alborz oil field "in Iran's sector of the Caspian Sea." Iran even threatened with military action if its warnings would remain unheeded and indeed, on July 23, 2001 in blatant violation of international law, an Iranian warship and two fighter jets forced a research vessel working on behalf of British Petroleum (BP)-Amoco in the Araz-Alov-Sharg field out of that sector.

In fact, the BTC pipeline is far from secure by itself. Western intelligence reports indicate that Iran republican guards (IRGC) are carefully expanding support for subversive elements in Armenia, a country which is still technically at war with Azerbaijan. It is well known, that in the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh the conflict between Armenian and Azeris is still going on. Armenian nationalists might decide to attack the BTC in order to hurt Azerbaijan, which derives most of its income from oil sales. The pipeline route passes through or near seven different war-zones. Its route passes just 10 miles from Nagorno-Karabakh, the area of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenia, where a bloody conflict killed at least 25,000 people It passes through Georgia, which remains unstable, with separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – movements which the Georgian government tried to violently suppress during the 1990s. Just across the border into Russia, and still only 70 miles from the BTC pipeline route, the horrific conflict in Chechnya continues. The region also saw related conflict in neighboring Dagestan in 1999, and fighting between the Russian republics of North Ossetia and Ingushetia in 1992. In Turkey, the BTC route passes through the edge of the area of the conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), now known as Kongra-Gel. And Russia, by all means, is unlikely to view this new American strategic move without adequate response.

Moscow defense ministry sources pointed out recently, that the planned Russian naval base in Tartus will enable Russia to solidify its positions in the Middle East under the pretext to ensure security of Syria. Moscow intends to deploy an air defense system around the base - to provide air cover for the base itself and a substantial part of Syrian territory. It could also conduct underwater activities to sabotage submerged pipelines, or at least threaten to do so, if its demand will not be adhered to. A dangerous situation could emerge, if Israeli and Russian activities in the Eastern mediterranean could clash with each other on matters of highly strategic interests.


In related news:

Assad's Ticket to Putins Mid East Comeback

December 23, 2006: Last November Iran has invited the Iraqi and Syrian presidents to Tehran. The Iranian move was a clear display of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's increasingly muscular role in the Middle East, where it already has established deep influence over Syria and Lebanon. Surprisingly however, Bashar Assad preferred not to accept the invitation and look for more lucrative solutions in breaking Syria's, US sponsored isolation- a meeting with Vladimir Putin instead. The signal was: "all bets are open" and Ahmadinejad's dictate is not Assad's only option. Bashar Asasd's unexpected move coincided perfectly, with an effort to boost Moscow's clout in the Middle East, when Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks, last Tuesday, December 12, with his visiting Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, aimed at strengthening bilateral relations. Amid the ongoing debate, Russia continues to develop political and economic ties with both countries. Putin wishes to stamp Russian authority onto the international stage, especially the volatile Middle East, in which Bush's bungling strategy and Israel's poor showing in the Hezbollah war last summer, has already weakened US 'Pax Americana' vision substantially.

In fact, as had been revealed recently, Russia, Iran and Syria have already entered a defence pact aiming at Moscow's ambitions to the process of altering the balance of power in the entire Middle East. Russia’s own part in this pact has been kept relatively secret for a long time. Syria has clinched a deal with Moscow early last year, in which Russia agreed to write off more than 70 percent of a multi-billion dollar debt owed from the Cold War era, when Damascus was a stounch ally and arms customer of the Soviet Union. Bi-lateral relations between Moscow and Damascus have considerably warmed since early 2006. A Russian military delegation has been touring military bases and headquarters in Syria as part of an effort to increase cooperation with the regime of President Bashar Assad. The delegation, led by Chief of Staff Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, has met his counterpart, Gen. Ali Habib, as well as senior Syrian commanders and defence officials. Western intelligence experts estimate that up to 2,000 Russian military advisors, under the command of Lieutenant General Vassily Jakushev, 60, the former commander-in-chief of the country's Far East military district, are currently serving in the Syrian military. Russian officers hold teaching positions at Syria's military officer training academy.

Currently , Damascus' new shopping list for weapons backed by half a billion dollars put up by Iran - in cash if needed - has been granted by President Ahmadinejad to purchase modern Russian arms. Among this, intelligence sources claim, Damascus was advised in advance that certain surface systems on request, which were formerly rejected, would now also become available. However, while the transaction could include sophisticated Tor-M1 systems, supplies of which began reaching Iran last month, Syria's request will remain on hold until these were completed. Together with thousands of AT-14 anti-tank and SA 5 Gammon anti-air missiles, Damascus also wants to commission Russian military industry to upgrade all 4,500 of its outdated Soviet-era T-62, T-72 and T-80 tanks. Israel’s head of research in military intelligence, Brig-Gen Yossi Baidetz was referring to this huge Russian-Syrian arms deal bankrolled by Iran, in his presentation to the Knesset committee last week, which made headlines next day in the media.

A highly interesting development was revealed a few months ago, when sources related to Israeli intelligence revealed, probably through satellite reconnaissance, having for some time observed the Russians dredging the port of TARTUS in northern Syria. Last June, the Russian newspaper Kommersant surprisingly unveiled Russian secret plans to upgrade the servicing station it has maintained since Soviet times at the Syrian port of Tartus. According to the paper, the short-term goal is to enable Russian warships to dock at Tartus, with a view to its future transformation into a fully-fledged Russian Mediterranean Fleet naval base. Kommersant’s unidentified source in the General Staff said the Navy plans eventually to relocate the bulk of the Black Sea Fleet, currently still stationed in Sevastopol, to Syria.

Not surprisingly, Russian officials quickly denied these reports, but insistent facts nevertheless remain. According to these reports, at the Tartus naval base, covering an area of almost a hundred acres, about 300 men already serve under the command of sea captain Vladimir Gudkov, a former officer in Russia's North Sea fleet. Satellite photos reveal that Russia has already undertaken to deepen the port to permit the docking of its largest fighting ships, and even build a stationary mooring place. Moscow has also begun work on a new mooring at the Syrian port of Latakia, which could also be used in the future to base fighting ships. In this respect it is worth noting that the Black Sea Fleet Project 1164 Moskva guide missile cruiser called on Latakia in February 2006. In fact, Kommersant got its information about the work at Tartus from no less an authority than Vladimir Zimin, the Russian Embassy’s senior counselor for economic issues in Syria. Tartus port is being prepared as the base for a fully fledged Russian naval squadron. Anti-air defence for these forces will be upgraded to the new S-300PMU2 Favorit (SA-20) SAM systems and no doubt, the Thor M-1 deal will become part of this endeavour.

It is worth recalling that permanent access to the Mediterranean has been the dream of Russia’s rulers for several centuries. Already in the second half of the 18th century for operations against Turkey, squadrons of the Baltic Fleet were sent to the Mediterranean. The rebirth of Russia’s naval presence in the Mediterranean began in the 1950s with the aim of countering NATO forces and to support Moscow’s interests in the Middle East. In 1958, a permanent base for Soviet submarines was established at Vlyora in Albania, but in spite of the establishment of close relations with a range of middle eastern Arabic states, the Soviet Union never acquired a permanent naval base in this region, and the powerful Soviet naval forces in the Mediterranean (Fifth Operational Squadron) had to anchor at small plots in the neutral waters off the coast of Tunisia and Libya. Only in 1984 were servicing stations at Tartus and Latakia, established for occasional servicing calls by Soviet warships.

But the recent constant presence of major Russian fleet units in the Mediterranean is nothing new. On 9 February, this year, the Russian Black Sea Fleet Project 1164 Moskva guide missile cruiser RFS Moskva, under command of Admiral Vladimir Vasilyevich Masorin, Commander in Chief Russian Naval Forces, docked alongside NATO vessels in Messina, Sicily as part of a bi-lateral visit with Italian authorities. Two weeks later, the Moskva and the Naval Commando carrier Azov docked shortly at Latakiye port in northern Syria, the first official visit of Russian warships to Syria in 10 years. The appearance of Russian ships in Tartus for any period of time would represent a dramatic reinforcement of Russia’s naval potential in the Mediterranean Sea, even when compared to the cold war period. Syria's president Bashar Assad may yet present Vladimir Putin with a return ticket for Russia's longed strategic ambitions in the Middle East.


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Dear reader,

Arevordi will be taking a sabbatical to tend to personal matters. New blog commentaries will henceforth be posted on an irregular basis. The comments board however will continue to be moderated on a regular basis.

The last 20 years or so has also helped me see Russia as the last front against scourges of Westernization, Globalism, American expansionism, Zionism, Islamic extremism and pan-Turkism. I have also come to see Russia as the last hope humanity has for the preservation of classical western civilization, Apostolic Christianity and the traditional nation-state. This realization compelled me to create this blog in 2010. Immediately, this blog became one of the very few voices in the vastness of cyberia that dared to preach about the dangers of Globalism and the Anglo-American-Jewish alliance, and the only voice preaching the strategic importance of Armenia remaining within Russia's orbit. From about 2010 to 2015 I did monthly, at times weekly, commentaries about Russian-Armenian relations and Eurasian geopolitics in general. It was very difficult as I had no assistance in this endeavor. The time I put into this blog therefore came at the expense of work and family. But a powerful feeling inside me urged me to keep going; and I did.

When Armenia finally joined the EEU and integrated its armed forces into Russia's military structures a couple of years ago, I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction and relaxation, as if a very heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders. I finally felt that my personal mission was accomplished. I therefore felt I could take a step back, as I really needed the rest. Simply put: I have lived to see the institutionalization of Russian-Armenian alliance. Also, I feel more confident now that Armenians are collectively recognizing the strategic importance of Armenia's ties with Russia. Moreover, I feel satisfied knowing that, at least on a subatomic level, I had a hand in the outcome. As a result, I feel a strong sense of mission accomplished. I therefore no longer have the urge to continue as in the past. In other words, the motivational force that had propelled me in previous years has been gradually dissipating because I feel that this blog has lived to see the realization of its stated goal. Going forward, I do not want to write merely for the sake of writing. Also, I do not want to say something if I have nothing important to say. I feel like I have said everything I needed to say. Henceforth, I will post seasonal commentaries about topics I find important. I will however continue moderating the blog's comments section on a regular basis; ultimately because I'm interested in what my readers have to say and also because it's through readers here that I am at times made aware of interesting developments.

To limit clutter in the comments section, I kindly ask all participants of this blog to please keep comments coherent and strictly relevant to the featured topic of discussion. Moreover, please realize that when there are several anonymous visitors posting comments simultaneously, it becomes very confusing (not to mention extremely annoying) trying to figure out who is who and who said what.Therefore, if you are here to engage in conversation, make an observation, express an idea or simply attack me, I ask you to at least use a moniker to identify yourself. Moreover, please appreciate the fact that I have put an enormous amount of information into this blog. In my opinion, most of my blog commentaries and articles, some going back ten-plus years, are in varying degrees relevant to this day and will remain so for a long time to come. Articles in this blog can therefore be revisited by longtime readers and new comers alike. I therefore ask the reader to treat this blog as a depository of important information relating to Eurasian geopolitics, Russian-Armenian relations and humanity's historic fight against the evils of Globalism and Westernization.

Thank you as always for reading.