The "Great Game" Enters the Mediterranean: Gas, Oil, War, and Geo-Politics - October, 2007

The Caspian Sea region has become a very complex and volatile region. The main reason for this is gas and oil. A fountain of wealth flowing out of those pipes. But notice that the region's energy resources have only three primary outlets: Mediterranean Sea/Black Sea via Turkey and the Caucasus; Western Europe via the Russian Federation and the Persian Gulf/Indian Ocean via Iran. So, all this wealth, all this power, all this politicking, is concentrated and funneled through a small number of channels. And the primary sources of the oil/gas wealth in question is controlled directly and indirectly by the Russian Federation - with the notable exception of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline. And it is essentially due to projects like this BTC pipeline that Baku and Tbilisi are finding themselves in hot water with Russia. Oil and gas is once again proving to be more of a liability than an asset for small nations. The pipeline in question is not operating at full capacity as of yet. Nonetheless, as a result of such western projects the region, the Russian Federation has been tying very hard to re-establish its influence within the Trans-Caucasus. As a result, Georgia has been within Moscow's sights for some time now. Azerbaijan's great western ambitions have also suffered serious setbacks and Baku today finds itself more-or-less at Moscow's mercy.

The landlocked Republic of Armenia, Russia's closest strategic partner in the region, has not been spared rough handling by Moscow either. Due to Armenia's attempt at trying to establish close relations with the West, Moscow has put immense economic pressure on Yerevan as well. It's obvious and quite understandable that Moscow is not happy with what the West has been attempting in the region. As a result, Moscow has resorted to extreme measures in order to ensure that the republics of the Trans-Caucasus and Central Asia remain dependent on Moscow. Within the Trans-Caucasus, Armenia is made dependent via landlocked Armenia's ongoing hostilities with Azerbaijan and Turkey; Azerbaijan is made dependent on Moscow by Russia controlling the distribution of the region's oil/gas and via the Nagorno Karabagh (Artsakh) issue; and Georgia is made dependent on Russia via Moscow's support for South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Obviously, the shortest route for the BTC pipeline would have been through the Republic of Armenia. This pipeline was intentionally constructed to avoid going through the Armenian Republic. Therefore, we Armenians are essentially being punished by Washington for having Russian forces stationed within Armenia, for having good relations with Iran, for not giving back Armenian lands that were liberated from Azerbaijan and because Armenia continues to pursue the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Thus, not being able to host the pipeline was our punishment for not going along with the Neocon cabal in Washington.

Map showing the route of the western funded Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline

In reality, however, without Russia's tolerance, the pipeline in question is worthless, for it could be destroyed within a matter of minutes. Nonetheless, it's a pity that our fledgling republic is stuck in the middle of all this geopolitical mess. A quick glance at the maps reveal just how paranoid they are of our landlocked republic. They spent many millions of extra dollars by diverting the pipeline hundreds of kilometers off-course just to avoid going through Armenian territory. What's more, certain sections of the pipeline seem to be placed below ground. They claim they have done this due to the cold winter temperatures in the region. Some say they have done this due to fear of sabotage. Below ground or not, when the time comes it will be very easy to lay waste to this multi-billion dollar project. Some years ago Washington tried very hard to convince Armenia to give up its strategic southern border with Iran so that they could pass this pipeline through it, obviously the short route. In return for Armenia's southern border, it was rumored that Armenia was told it could keep Nagorno Karabakh. In other words, instead of simply passing the pipeline through Armenia, they wanted Armenia to commit voluntary suicide by detaching itself from a vital strategic partner - for a vague promise by career politicians in Washington. Needless to say, Armenians worldwide told them to go and fuck themselves.



The "Great Game" Enters the Mediterranean: Gas, Oil, War, and Geo-Politics

Preface: The Caspian Sea Summit and the Historical Crossroads of the 21st Century

October, 2007

This article is part of The Sino-Russia Alliance: Challenging America’s Ambitions in Eurasia (September 23, 2007). For editorial reasons the article is being published by Global Research in three parts. It is strongly advised that readers also study the prior piece. History is in the making. The Second Summit of Caspian Sea States in Tehran will change the global geo-political environment. This article also gives a strong contextual background to what will be in the backdrop at Tehran. The strategic course of Eurasia and global energy reserves hangs in the balance. It is no mere chance that before the upcoming summit in Tehran that three important post-Soviet organizations (the Commonwealth of Independents States, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the Eurasian Economic Community) simultaneously held meetings in Tajikistan. Nor is it mere coincidence that the SCO and CSTO have signed cooperation agreements during these meetings in Tajikistan, which has effectively made China a semi-formal member of the CSTO alliance. It should be noted that all SCO members are also members of CSTO, aside from China.

This is all in addition to the fact that the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and the U.S. Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, were both in Moscow for important, but mostly hushed, discussions with the Kremlin before Vladimir Putin is due to arrive in Iran. This could have been America’s last attempt at breaking the Chinese-Russian-Iranian coalition in Eurasia. World leaders will watch for any public outcomes from the Russian President’s visit to Tehran. It is also worth noting that NATO’s Secretary-General was in the Caucasus region for a brief visit in regards to NATO expansion. The Russian President will also be in Germany for a summit with Angela Merkel before arriving in Tehran.

On five fronts there is antagonism between the U.S. and its allies with Russia, China, and their allies: East Africa, the Korean Peninsula, Indo-China, the Middle East, and the Balkans. While the Korean front seems to have calmed down, the Indo-China front has been heated up with the start of instability in Myanmar (Burma). This is part of the broader effort to encircle the titans of the Eurasian landmass, Russia and China. Simultaneous to all this, NATO is preparing itself for a possible showdown with Serbia and Russia over Kosovo. These preparations include NATO military exercises in Croatia and the Adriatic Sea. In May, 2007 the Secretary-General of CSTO, Nikolai Bordyuzha invited Iran to apply to the Eurasian military pact; “If Iran applies in accordance with our charter, [CSTO] will consider the application,” he told reporters. In the following weeks, the CSTO alliance has also announced with greater emphasis, like NATO, that it too is prepared to get involved in Afghanistan and global “peacekeeping” operations. This is a challenge to NATO’s global objectives and in fact an announcement that NATO no longer has a monopoly as the foremost global military organization.

The globe is becoming further militarized than what it already is by two military blocs. In addition, Moscow has also stated that it will now charge domestic prices for Russian weaponry and military hardware to all CSTO members. Also, reports about the strengthening prospects of a large-scale Turkish invasion of Northern Iraq are getting stronger, which is deeply related to Anglo-American plans for balkanizing Iraq and sculpting a “New Middle East.” A global showdown is in the works. Finally, the Second Summit of Caspian Sea States will also finalize the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Energy resources, ecology, energy cooperation, security, and defensive ties will also be discussed. The outcome of this summit will decide the nature of Russo-Iranian relations and the fate of Eurasia. What happens in Tehran may decide the course of the the rest of this century. Humanity is at an important historical crossroad. This is why I felt that it was important to release this second portion of the original article before the Second Summit of the Caspian Sea States.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Ottawa, October 13, 2007.

The haunting spectre of a major war hangs over the Middle East, but war is not written in stone. A Eurasian-based counter-alliance, built around the nucleus of a Chinese-Russian-Iranian coalition also makes an Anglo-American war against Iran an unpalatable option that could turn the globe inside-out. [1] America’s superpower status would in all likelihood come to an end in a war against Iran. Aside from these factors, contrary to the rhetoric from all the powers involved in the conflicts of the Middle East there exists a level of international cooperation between all parties. Has the nature of the march to war changed?

Tehran’s Rising Star: Failure of the Anglo-American attempt to Encircle and Isolate Iran

Shrouded in mystery are the dealings between Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan during an August, 2007 meeting between President Ahamdinejad and President Aliyev. Both leaders signed a joint declaration in Baku on August 21, 2007 stating that both republics are against foreign interference in the affairs of other nations and the use of force for solving problems. This is a direct slur at the United States. Baku also reemphasized its recognition of Iran’s nuclear energy program as a legitimate right. However, the meetings between the two sides took place after a few months of meetings between Baku and the U.S. together with NATO officials. Baku seems to be caught in the middle of a balancing act between Russia, Iran, America, and NATO. At the same time as the meetings between the Iranian President and Aliyev in Baku, Iranian officials were also in Yerevan holding talks with Armenian officials. This could be part of an Iranian attempt to end tensions between Baku and Yerevan, which would benefit Iran and the Caucasus region. The tensions between Yerevan and Baku have been supported by the U.S. since the onset of the post-Cold War era, with Baku within the U.S. and NATO spheres of influence.

At first glance, Iran has been busy engaging in what can be called a counter-offensive to American encroachment. Iranian officials have been meeting with Central Asian, Caucasian, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and North African leaders in a stream of talks on security and energy. The SCO meeting in Kyrgyzstan was one of these. The importance of the gathering was highlighted by the joint participation of the Iranian President and the Secretary-General of the Supreme Security Council of Iran, Ali Larijani. Iran’s dialogue with the presidents of Turkmenistan, the Republic of Azerbaijan, and Algeria are part of an effort to map out a unified energy strategy spearheaded by Moscow and Tehran. Iran and the Sultanate of Oman are also making arrangements to engage in four joint oil projects in the Persian Gulf. [2] Iran has also announced that it will start construction of an important pipeline route from the Caspian Sea to the Gulf of Oman.[3] This project is directly linked to Iranian talks with Turkmenistan and the Republic of Azerbaijan, two countries that share the Caspian Sea with Iran. Furthermore, after closed-door discussions with Iranian officials, the Republic of Azerbaijan has stated that it is interested in cooperating with the SCO. [4] In addition, Venezuela, Iran, and Syria are also coordinating energy and industrial projects.

The Nabucco Project, Eurasian Energy Corridors, and the Russo-Iranian Energy Front

Across Eurasia strategic energy corridors are being developed. What do these international developments insinuate? A Eurasian-based energy strategy is taking shape. In Central Asia, Russia, Iran and China have essentially secured their own energy routes for both gas and oil. This is one of the reasons all three powers in a united stance warned the U.S. at the SCO’s Bishkek Summit, in Kyrgyzstan, to stay out of Central Asia. [5] In part one of the answers to these questions leads to the Nabucco Project, which will transport natural gas from the Caucasus, Iran, Central Asia, and the Eastern Mediterranean towards Western Europe through Turkey and the Balkans. Spin-offs of the energy project could include routes going through the former Yugoslav republics. Egyptian gas is even projected to be connected to the pipeline network vis-à-vis Syria. There is even a possibility that Libyan gas from Libyan fields near the Egyptian border may be directed to European markets through a route going through Egypt, Jordan, and Syria which will connect to the Nabucco Pipeline.

At first glance, it appears that the transport of Central Asian gas, under the Nabucco Project, through a route going through Iran to Turkey and the Balkans is detrimental to Russian interests under the terms of the Port Turkmenbashi Agreement signed by Turkmenistan, Russia, and Kazakhstan. However, Iran and Russia are allies and partners, at least in regards to the energy rivalry in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea against the U.S. and the European Union. In May, 2007 the leaders of Turkmenistan, Russia, and Kazakhstan also planned the inclusion of an Iranian energy route, from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf, as an extension of the Turkmenbashi Agreement. A route going through either Russia or Iran is mutually beneficial to both countries. Both Tehran and Moscow have been working together to regulate the price of natural gas on a global scale. If Turkmen gas goes through Russian or Iranian territory, Moscow will profit either way. Both Tehran and Moscow have hedged their bets in a win-win situation.

Russia is also involved in the Nabucco Project and has secured a Balkan energy route for the transportation of fuel to Western Europe from Russia vis-à-vis Greece and Bulgaria. To this end on May 21, 2007 the Russian President arrived in Austria to discuss energy cooperation and the Nabucco Project with the Austrian government. [6] One of the outcomes of the Russian President’s visits to Austria was the opening of a large natural gas storage compound, near Salzburg, with a holding capacity of 2.4 billion cubic metres. [7] The Nabucco Project and a united Russo-Iranian energy initiative are also the main reasons that the Russian President will visit Tehran for an important summit of leaders from the Caspian Sea, in mid-October of 2007. One might ask if Russia, Iran, and Syria are surrendering to the demands of America and the E.U. by providing them with what they sought in the first place.

The answer is no. The Franco-German entente is very interested in the Nabucco Project and through Austria has much at stake in the energy project. French and German energy firms also want to get involved as are Russian and Iranian companies. This is also one of the reasons Vienna has been vocally supporting Syria and Iran in the international arena. Total S.A., the giant French-based energy firm, is also working with Iran in the energy sectors. Tehran, Moscow, and Damascus have not been fully co-opted; they are acting in their national and security interests. However, the national interests of modern nation-states should also be scutinized further. The leverage Moscow and Tehran now have can be used to drive a wedge between the Franco-German entente and the Anglo-American alliance. A case in standing is the initial willingness of France and Germany to accept the Iranian nuclear energy program. It is believed in Moscow and Tehran that the Franco-German entente could be persuaded to distance itself from the Anglo-American war agenda with the right leverage and incentives.

This could also be one of the factors for the marine route of the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which runs from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany and bypasses existing energy transit routes going through the Baltic States, Ukraine, Belarus, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland. Eastern Europe is part of what is called “New Europe” as a result of Donald Rumsfeld’s 2003 comments that only “Old Europe,” meaning the Franco-German entente, was against the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. [8] For example Poland is an Anglo-American ally and could block the transit of gas from Russia to Germany if it was prompted to do so by Britain and America. Moreover, Russia could exert pressure on these Eastern European countries by cutting their gas supplies without effecting Western Europe. Several of these Eastern European states also were pursuing transit fee schemes and reduced gas prices because of their strategic placements as energy transit routes.

Russia and Iran are also the nations with the largest natural gas reserves in the world. This is in addition to the following facts; Iran also exerts influence over the Straits of Hormuz; both Russia and Iran control the export of Central Asian energy to global markets; and Syria is the lynchpin for an Eastern Mediterranean energy corridor. Iran, Russia, and Syria will now exercise a great deal of control and influence over these energy corridors and by extension the nations that are dependent on them in the European continent. This is another reason why Russia has built military facilities on the Mediterranean shores of Syria. The Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline will also further strengthen this position globally.


In related news:

Energy-Rich Caspian Becomes Center of U.S.-Russia Power Struggle

Is the Caspian a sea or a lake?

The answer has immense repercussions for the energy industry. If it is a lake, there are no obligations by countries that flank it to grant permits to foreign vessels or drilling companies. But if it is sea, there are international treaties obliging those countries to an array of permits. The Caspian, one of the world's largest enclosed bodies of water, has become the center of a new power game involving the United States and Russia as well as its bordering countries, including Iran, over who should control the vast energy reserves under its depths. The Caspian's status has been in dispute since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Over the past few years, the United States has been trying to establish alternative energy routes that would weaken the regional dominance of Russia and Iran, while Russia has sought to control the transportation routes across these waters. When Vice President Dick Cheney visited Kazakhstan last year, he used the occasion to launch a fierce attack against President Vladimir Putin of Russia, accusing him of rolling back democracy and suppressing human rights. By delivering the speech in Kazakhstan, the Bush administration was staking out U.S. influence in the region, where it has stepped up plans to build a pipeline that would bypass Iran and Russia.

On Tuesday, it was Putin's turn to put down his marker. On the first visit in 64 years by a Kremlin leader to Tehran, he met his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country faces a fresh round of sanctions by the United Nations if it does not comply with Security Council demands for reining in its nuclear program. But while the standoff between Iran and the United Nations stole the limelight, the reason for Putin's visit was a summit meeting with Ahmadinejad and three Central Asian leaders who are now being wooed in the Caspian power game. "The summit in Tehran was about the future status of the Caspian Sea," said Johannes Reissner, Middle East expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. "Iran and Russia have enormous interests in resolving this status. But there are major disagreements between them." In addition to Iran and Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan also have Caspian coastlines. And while all of them want a large stake in the oil reserves, and to use of the sea for transportation, none of them have been able to agree on the status of the coveted waters. Russia and Iran, historically, have agreed that the sea was a lake and that it should be shared equally between the two of them.

That all changed after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Iran and Russia wanted earlier agreements, signed in 1921 and in 1940, to continue. Moscow had obtained consent from the newly independent republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan that they would be bound by any agreements signed by the Soviet Union, of which they had been a part. But in 1998, Azerbaijan declared that since the Caspian was an international lake, it should be recognized as such. In practice, this would mean that the surface and seabed would be divided into five sectors determined by the length of each country's shoreline. Under such a scenario, Russia would lose out, and Iran even more so. Iran opposed this plan, since its share of the waters would be reduced to under 14 percent from about 20 percent, according to experts. As soon as Putin was elected president in 1998, he tried to break the deadlock to speed up energy links between Russia and the Central Asian countries and to pre-empt U.S. advances into the region. Energy analysts said that Putin, seeing that the United States and other Western energy companies were eager to forge energy exploration contracts with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan and to influence the Caspian negotiations, tried to find compromises among all the coastal states.

But attempts to determine the status of the Caspian have often proved hazardous. In 2001, Iran deployed a warship and fighter jets as a warning to Azerbaijan, which had sent vessels to explore for oil for British Petroleum along the southern Caspian oilfields. Azerbaijan, which depends on Russia for energy transit routes, had agreed to forge a separate deal with Putin in which those two nations divided a part of the seabed. A similar deal was struck with Kazakhstan. In both cases, Iran was excluded from the negotiations. "Over the past few years, Iran has felt increasingly isolated," said a European diplomat who requested anonymity because he was involved in the region. "It sees what Russia is doing. It is being excluded from the big decisions being made in the region." Russia has not managed to keep the United States out of its traditional sphere of influence. In 2005, the United States supported the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which allows oil to be transported across Georgia and Turkey, bypassing Iran and Russia. The United States, too, is actively supporting the trans-Caspian pipeline, through which Turkmenistan would send natural gas under the Caspian to Azerbaijan and then on to Europe. According to EU diplomats, the U.S. would like to weaken Europe's dependence on Russia, and at the same time isolate Iran.

Vladimir Milov, director of the Institute of Energy Policy in Moscow, said he was skeptical about a pipeline under the Caspian. "The perspectives for a trans-Caspian pipeline, putting aside the U.S. optimism, appear bleak due to unresolved Caspian seabed division disputes," he said last month. As if to confirm this, the Caspian summit produced no breakthrough. IRNA, the official Iranian press agency, said the five leaders agreed to form an economic cooperation organization. They are to meet next year in Azerbaijan, leaving open for the moment the viability of a trans-Caspian pipeline and the Nabucco project but confirming Russia's influence in the region.


Caspian Summit: Putin Puts Forward A War-Avoidance Plan

Putin has grasped the fact that what the Cheney Crowd is threatening is World War

The visit to Tehran on Oct. 16, by Russian President Vladimir Putin was officially billed as his participation in the second summit of the Caspian Sea littoral nations, convoked to deal with legal and other aspects of resource-sharing in the oil-rich waters. Although that summit did take place as scheduled, and important decisions were reached by the leaders of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Iran, the main thrust of Putin's visit was another: The Russian President's trip--the first of a Russian head of state since the 1943 Tehran conference of war-time powers--was geared to register his government's commitment to prevent a new war in the region, at all costs. That new war is the one on the strategic agenda of U.S. Vice President xxxx Cheney, against Iran. Putin's participation in the summit, especially, his extensive personal meetings with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, constituted a spectacular gesture manifesting Russian support for war-avoidance factions in the Iranian government, in their showdown with Cheney's neocon war party. As one Iranian political source put it, Putin's visit was tantamount to saying to Washington: If you want to start a war against Iran, then you have to reckon with me, and that means, with Russia, a nuclear superpower. Perhaps not coincidentally, Putin right after his return to Moscow, stated in a worldwide webcast press interview, that his nation was developing new nuclear capabilities. His Iran visit was, as one Arab diplomat told me, a message to the warmongers in Washington, that Russia is still (or again) a superpower, and is treating the Iran dossier as a test for its status as a great power.

The Caspian Sea summit was, in and of itself, productive. Although the legal status governing the sharing of the sea's resources, was not solved, the points agreed upon in the final document of the summit constitute a great step forward in cooperation among the participating countries. Most important, the summit explicitly rejected the possibility that any one of its countries could be used for mounting aggressive acts against Iran, or any other country. It also explicitly endorsed the right of all countries to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. There was no mention of ``concerns in the international community'' about possible military applications of Tehran's program, or the like. Putin's main point, which he reiterated at every possible opportunity, was: Conflicts can and must be solved through diplomatic, peaceful means. In his address to the summit on Oct. 16, Putin praised the Caspian Sea countries' problem-solving formulae, ``respecting each other's interests and sovereignty, and refraining not only from any use of force whatsoever, but even from mentioning the use of force.'' Putin went on to explain: ``This is very important, as it is also important that we talk about the impossibility of allowing our own territory to be used by other countries in the event of aggression or any military actions against any one of the Caspian littoral states.'' In short: The U.S. cannot count on Azerbaijan, as a launching pad for operations against Iran.

The final document also announced the decision to form a Caspian Sea Cooperation organization. But, even more important than the summit itself, were the bilateral meetings that Putin held with Iran's President and Supreme Leader, who is the ultimate authority in the country. Ayatollah Khamanei does not routinely receive foreign visitors to Iran, thus his meeting with the Russian President took on a special significance. During their meeting, Putin reportedly presented Khamenei with a proposal for reaching a solution to the conflict over Iran's nuclear program. According to the Iranian state news agency IRNA, Khamenei told Putin: "We will ponder your words and proposal.'' Although details of the proposal have not been made public, some news outlets reported that Iranian ``hardliners'' had said the proposal called for a "time-out'' on UN sanctions if Iran were to suspend uranium enrichment. "The main reason for Putin's visit to Iran was to convey this message personally to the ultimate power in Iran,'' one Iranian official was quoted as saying. Khamenei reportedly told Putin that Iran was serious about continuing its nuclear energy program, including enrichment, but was not interested in "adventurism.'' If Putin did propose a "time-out,'' that would be coherent with what International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Mohammad ElBaradei has been campaigning for. It may be that Moscow's offer went beyond that of the IAEA chief. The {Tehran Times} reported that Ali Larijani, head of the Supreme National Security Council and chief negotiator on the nuclear issue, told reporters that Putin had made a ``special proposal,'' and that Khamenei said it was "ponderable.''

According to a well-informed Iranian source I spoke to, Tehran would be willing to suspend its enrichment program, on condition that it received something tangible in return. This, would be a significant shift, since Iran has, to date, refused any such idea. Iran would {not}, however, be willing to give up its nuclear program as North Korea has done. Suspension of enrichment activities would be temporary, in order to facilitate negotiations, which should be oriented towards tangible results, said this source. Whether or not this was Putin’s message is unclear. Larijani’s surprise announcement on October 20, that he was resigning, cast shadows over the situation. After Larijani had reported on the Russian president’s proposal, Ahmadinejad denied any such had been made. This led to a series of wild speculations in the press, that the “hardliners,” on orders from Ahmadinejad, were ousting Larijani and rejecting the proposal from Moscow. It must be remembered, however, that the ultimate decisions are made by Ayatollah Khamenei, and that Larijani, according to Iranian wires, will continue to attend meetings of the Supreme National Security Council, in the capacity of representative of the Supreme Leader.


Strategic Understanding Between Tehran and Moscow

Whatever was agreed upon behind the scenes between Putin and his high ranking Iranian counterparts, the official, rather extraordinary bilateral statement which was released after their talks, speaks volumes about Russia's commitment to a peaceful solution to the Iran crisis.

The joint statement, in the version translated by Itar-Tass on Oct. 17, was not just a list of points of agreement, but, taken as a whole, constitutes a far-reaching commitment by both sides, to strengthen what has become a strategic understanding between Moscow and Tehran, clearly oriented towards a war-avoidance policy. The statement begins with the assertion that, "The sides confirmed that mutually beneficial cooperation in the political, economic, cultural and other areas, as well as cooperation on the international stage, meet the national interests of the two sides and play an important role in supporting peace and stability in the region and beyond.'' Economic cooperation is central in this regard, especially as concerns the energy sector:

"The sides spoke in favor of increasing efforts to further expand economic ties between the two countries, especially in areas like the oil and gas, nuclear power, electricity, processing and aircraft-building industries, banking and transport.''

As for nuclear energy--the issue being manipulated as a pretext for war--the statement says: ``The sides noted bilateral cooperation in the area of peaceful nuclear energy and confirmed that it will continue in full compliance with the requirements of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In this regard they also noted that the construction and launch of the Bushehr nuclear power plant will be carried out in accordance with the agreed timetable.''

In addition, the joint statement noted a contract for five Tu-204-100 aircraft to be supplied to Iran, as well as the need to create the conditions for advancing joint investment in Russia and Iran. Regarding regional infrastructure projects, the statement asserted the agreement ``to continue work on the development of the north-south international transport corridor, including its automobile, rail and maritime components, in the interest of further strengthening trade and economic ties between Russia and Iran, as well as other countries of the region. The two sides also reached agreement on ``pressing regional problems,'' and stressed cooperation to achieve stability and security in Central Asia. Here the role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, of which Iran is an observer, was highlighted. As for the Caspian Sea region, the statement asserts that "the relevant norms of the agreements of 1921 and 1940 between Iran and the former Soviet Union remain in force until there is a convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea.'' Furthermore, the two sides ``advocate the exclusion from the Caspian of military presence of non-Caspian littoral states,'' a clear rejection of any U.S. intentions to establish a presence in the region.

The joint statement also declared an identity of views between Tehran and Moscow on crucial foreign policy issues. They called for ``building a fairer and more democratic world order which would ensure global and regional security and create favorable conditions for stable development ... based on collective principles and the supremacy of international law with the United Nations Organization playing a central coordinating role....'' They explicitly ruled out Cheney-style saber-rattling: ``The sides confirmed their refusal to use force or threat of force to resolve contentious issues, and their respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of the states.''

In the context of statements of their commitment to fight terrorism, the two sides also addressed the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, and "confirmed Russia's and Iran's intention to continue to take part in the post-war reconstruction of Afghanistan, and are interested in strengthening its statehood and the process of that country becoming a peaceful, democratic, independent and flourishing state.''

Iraq was also an important feature of the agreement. The two sides "expressed vigorous support for Iraq's territorial integrity and sovereignty and for an end to foreign military presence in that country on the basis of the relevant schedule.'' It should be noted that Putin, in his international webcast on his to Moscow, made this a central point of his polemic against Washington. Also, the joint statement called for a “just settlement” to the Middle East conflict, which may indicate renewed flexibity on Iran’s part, to accept agreements which thePalestinians (united) might make. Finally, in a short but clear paragraph, the two ``noted the need to settle the issue of Iran's nuclear program as soon as possible by political and diplomatic means through talks and dialogue and expressed hope that a long-term comprehensive solution will be found.''

In sum, the joint statement goes far beyond any earlier definition of relations between Russia and Iran, and sends a clear message to the war party in Washington and London, that they can no longer consider Iran in isolation, but must recognize that the country has become a strategic partner of Russia, whose leadership is determined to prevent war.

Europeans Should Know Better

What Putin achieved in Tehran must have sent shivers up and down the spines of Cheney and his de facto sympathizers at home and in Europe. President Bush indulged in one of his typical ranting sessions Oct. 18, in remarks to the press, in which he threatened that were Iran to achieve the knowledge required to build a bomb, then that would mean World War III were just around the corner. In Europe, members of the coalition of the spineless, had already weighed in against Putin, even attempting to dissuade the Russian leader from going to Iran. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have pressured Putin, during their Moscow visit, to join them in threatening Iran with new sanctions, if it did not meet their expectations on the nuclear issue. French President Nicolas Sarkozy had delivered a similar message. During his visit to Wiesbaden, Germany, for the Petersburg Dialogue, on Oct. 14-15, Putin was again besieged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others, with demands he get tough with Tehran.

And, in case the message had not registered, a wild story was circulated internationally, that a team of suicide bombers was primed to blow themselves and Putin up, as soon as he set foot on Iranian soil. While Iranian officials denounced the obvious psywar attributed to ``foreign'' intelligence services, Putin tossed the story off with a laugh, saying, were he to heed such warnings, he would never leave his home.

The point to be made is that Putin--unlike his European interlocutors--has grasped the fact that what the Cheney crowd is threatening is world war, not some political power play, and has therefore stuck to his guns. That Russia has been aware of the dangers inherent in Cheney's planned Iran war, is nothing new. In his speech to the Munich Wehrkunde meeting early in 2007, Putin had lashed out in most undiplomatic terms, against the pretensions of the would-be leader of a presumed unipolar world, to dictate world affairs through military fiat. And, regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, Russia has been consistent in stating its position that if, 1) Iran abides by international commitments to the NPT and IAEA regime, then 2) Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology must be guaranteed, and 3) that program must not be misconstrued as a weapons program, and thus used as a pretext for military aggression.


Gazprom Goes to Iran For Talks

Gazprom held talks in Iran on Wednesday on expanding in the region, one day after President Vladimir Putin made his first visit to the country. Deputy chief executive Valery Golubev is in negotiations with energy officials from Iran and Armenia on joint projects, Abubakir Shamuzov, head of Gazprom's Tehran office, said Wednesday. Russia is seeking to expand its control of pipeline networks outside its borders. Moscow, via Gazprom, has used a combination of threats and incentives to increase its influence in neighboring markets. Gazprom agreed last year not to raise prices for Armenia until the end of 2008. The price, $110 per 1,000 cubic meters, is less than half what Gazprom charges customers in Western Europe. In return, Gazprom's Armenian venture, ArmRosgazprom, will acquire a gas pipeline to Iran and the new generating block of a thermal power plant, Gazprom said at the time. Armenia also agreed to let the Gazprom venture oversee building a second, 197-kilometer pipeline to Iran. Armenia currently receives almost all its gas by pipeline from Russia across Georgia. Gazprom Neft, Gazprom's oil arm, has said it is considering building an oil refinery in Armenia. Also Wednesday, RIA-Novosti reported that Putin invited his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for talks in Moscow. No date was set for the meeting, the agency said.


Growing Russia, Iran Ties

Most summit meetings these days are uneventful, because of the primacy given to protocol and publicity rather than to substance. But last week’s meeting between the leaders of Iran and Russia, on the sidelines of the Caspian Sea summit in Tehran, was a qualitatively different affair. The timing of Iran’s initiative for a summit of the five Caspian Sea littoral states that brought President Putin to Tehran -- the first visit by a Russian leader in 60 years -- represented a major success for its efforts to break out of the isolation that the U.S. has tried to impose on it. Moreover, the Iranians chose wisely to relegate to the background such thorny issues as Caspian Sea ownership and ‘legal regime’, focusing their energies on shared interests, trans-boundary issues and trade. This was to the advantage of Iran, given its relatively minor energy interests in its sector of the Caspian Sea. If Iran was the beneficiary of the summit, President Putin was its star. Betraying no evidence of being a ‘lame-duck’ president, Putin warned against military action against Iran, while declaring that it was wrong to ‘think about the possibility of using force’. More importantly, he emphasized that it would be irresponsible to ‘talk about the possibility of using our territory for other countries to carry out aggression or military action against other Caspian littoral states’. No less significant was his support for Iran’s right to nuclear energy, adding that Russia supported the right of all NPT members to ‘research, produce and use nuclear energy for peaceful ends, without discrimination, within the framework of this treaty and the mechanisms of the UN nuclear watchdog’.

For good measure, Putin also reminded the world that ‘Russia is the only country helping Iran to construct a nuclear power station for peaceful ends’ and reiterated that Russia would honor its commitment to complete it. Putin’s unequivocal support for Iran caught Washington by surprise. In response, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Iranian leaders of ‘lying’ about their nuclear program while the Pentagon reiterated that Iran was providing weapons to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was followed by President Bush warning that Iran must be barred from acquiring nuclear weapons to avoid the prospects of a third world war. Vice President Cheney, long recognized as a ‘hawk’ on Iran, stepped in with the declaration that the U.S. ‘will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons’. What upset the Bush administration even more was that Putin’s visit to Tehran took place only days after Ms. Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had held a comprehensive dialogue with their Russian counterparts in Moscow. Both sides claimed that they wished to defuse the mounting tensions between them, but the Moscow meeting failed to bridge their differences, with the U.S. anti-missile defense shield proposal and the Russian threat to abandon the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, resulting in a public spat between them. Putin’s statements in Tehran are significant for they represent a departure from Russia’s oft stated policy of working with the U.S. and the other P-5 states to maintain diplomatic pressure on Iran. Washington’s harsh reaction confirms the impression that this development represents a failure of its policy towards Russia, as much as it demonstrates the skill and resolve with which Putin has advanced his country’s interests, even when playing with a weak hand.

Putin’s assertive foreign policy may have upset many in the West but it has endeared him to his people, for it is taken ‘as a sign of the strengthening of Russia’s role and authority on the world stage’. But it is not only in Europe that Putin wants to demonstrate Russia’s influence. Central Asia and the Middle East have not escaped his attention either. Relations with China in particular occupy centre-stage in Putin’s strategic plans for the region, both bilaterally and in the context of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In fact, Sino-Russian collaboration confronts the West with a formidable challenge. As Putin ends his second four-year term, the Russians are deeply appreciative of the peace and order imposed by him. But what has endeared Putin to most Russians is the element of ‘pride’ that he has restored to the country. What the U.S. sees as ‘aggressive’ or ‘nationalist’ policies are viewed by Russians as ‘independent’ and ‘sovereign’ policies. The U.S. must learn to strike a balance in its relations with Russia and treat it as a responsible major global power, just as it treats China as an economic giant and a major political player. The U.S. must also recognize that the Russians will no longer brook ‘guidance’, and certainly not any ‘interference’ in their internal affairs. That era is over now.

Meanwhile, Iran has become an obsession with the Bush administration. It has also emerged as a major issue in the foreign policy debate for the U.S. presidential candidates. While some Democrats are accusing Bush of raising the specter of a global war, Hillary Clinton has opted to give the president ‘a virtual blank check’. Nevertheless, many Americans remain skeptical of U.S. allegations against Iran’s nuclear program. In an op-ed piece, Scott Ritter, a former UN arms inspector, asserted that ‘a careful fact-based assessment of Iran demonstrates that it poses no threat to the legitimate national security interests of the United States’. Putin’s comments highlighted the growing differences between Russia and the West, especially the United States. While the latter seeks more unilateral and multilateral sanctions to punish Iran for its nuclear program, the former believes that diplomacy is the only way to solve the stand-off; especially as it remains skeptical about western claims that Iran’s nuclear program is military in nature. In fact, it is U.S. interventionist policies and Washington’s proclivity to unilateral action that has propelled Russia and Iran to come closer. With both under pressure from the Bush administration, the Tehran summit’s results represent a major success for them. Iran, described by Putin as an ‘important regional and global power’, has been provided with some much-needed breathing space that it will be able to put to good use, thanks to the skill with which it pursues its multi-faceted diplomacy.

It will also try to use the summit declaration as a stepping stone to full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, seen increasingly as a security counterweight to NATO and U.S. ‘hegemony’. On the other hand, it is clear that Moscow is now prepared to enter into a new strategic relationship with Iran that is likely to have a profound impact on the region. This is one development that needs to be monitored closely by us as well.


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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.