Russia Hints at Intervention in Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict - July, 2012

I am standing on my balcony on a warm and sunny morning in Yerevan watching a pair of Russian piloted Mig-29s conducting aerial maneuvers in the skies between the western reaches of Yerevan and the Arax river. Enemy occupied Mount Ararat, once a cradle of human civilization and for thousands of years the very epicenter of Armenian statehood is providing this show of Russian strength in the south Caucasus with a surreal yet magnificent backdrop.

As I watch this little spectacle playing out before me early this morning, I feel the strong urge to reflect on some thoughts.

Not far south from where I currently am, the tense political standoff with Iran continues at full throttle... Not too far south from where I am, the Islamo-Turkic-Western agenda in Syria has plunged the embattled nation into a bloody civil war...
Not too far east from where I am, Central Asia descends once again into chaos... Not far west from where I am, neo-Ottoman forces are on the move once again... Not too far west from where I am, Europe continues to suffer from a historic financial collapse... Not far north from where I am, Western, Georgian, Turkic and Islamic interests continue to collaborate and conspire against Russia... The Caucasus, where I currently am, remains as tense as ever as Baku continues to test Armenia's military resolve as well as Yerevan's patience.In this tense backdrop, fearing that its most important ally in the Caucasus is under threat, the Russian Bear has begun to growl in more ways than one. On this early morning, the stern growl of the jet engines of the Mig-29s I see silhouetted against Mount Ararat before me gives me hope that Armenia will once again survive these troubling times. And again I would like to call on Armenians to come to their good senses, drop their American dreams and EUrotic fantasies and finally realize that in order to survive Armenia needs to remain as close to the Russian Bear as possible, and in doing so properly exploit the historic opportunity the Russian state is providing our small, poor, landlocked and blockaded nation surrounded by enemies in one of the most hostile political environments on earth.

I'd like to take a little detour here and briefly address a very important topic that is inherent to all that is occurring in the region in recent times.
Affordable and/or unhindered access to oil, gas and various other commodities plays a big role in world affairs. The pursuit to manage/exploit natural resources and commodities is one of few core factors lurking behind virtually every single crisis plaguing the world today. At a time when populations across the world are booming and at a time when more-and-more nations are stepping out of the middle ages and into the modern world, man's perennial fight to control the world's natural wealth and/or its distribution networks is fast reaching new heights.

Let's face it, had the Middle East, the Caucasus or Central Asia been free of oil and gas they would not be making news headlines today, and they would not be the perennial battleground they have been for over one hundred years. Oil politics is a major factor in international affairs today, as it has been for well over a century. The fierce competition to acquire new oil and/or gas deposits and the desire to control the distribution of current energy production lurks behind most of the bloodletting we see around the world today. Therefore, when looking at what is occurring in and around the Caucasus today, it would help us to first recognize the core elements that are the driving force behind the scenes.

In the big picture, the region's ethnic strife and territorial disputes that come along with such strife is not why the Caucasus has attracted so much attention from the global community. Energy politics, also referred to as the Great Game is the primary reason why the Caucasus has attracted so much international attention. Unbeknownst to many, even to many of us Armenians, the Caucasus region is in fact a very strategic energy corridor linking Central Asia's enormous energy potential to the rest of the world. As a consequence of the region's strategic geographic situation, Armenia has come to play a very important role for interested powers. The potential for impacting, positively or negatively, the region's energy distribution is one of Armenia's and Artsakh's most strategic values for friends and foes alike. Needless to say, the other strategic value Armenia currently has going for itself today is of course being a Russian foothold in the region, but even this is connected to Moscow's desire to control the flow of energy in the region.

Similarly, although it lacks natural wealth, Syria also sits on territory that is foreseen to host major energy transportation routes. This may be one of the reasons why Ankara, Riyadh and Western powers want to control the political affairs in Syria, other reasons of course being that Syria is the sponsor of Lebanon's Hezbollah, a strategic gateway to Iran and a Russian foothold in the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, the energy transit route that is foreseen to pass through Damascus may be seen as an alternative corridor to the much troubled Persian Gulf because it serves to lessen the strategic significance of the Strait of Hormuz.

Therefore, besides the obvious Iranian/Hezbollah factor, there are important other reasons why the Anglo-American-Zionist global order and their Turkic and Islamist allies are fixated on destroying Syria. The following are the three other primary reasons -

Oil Road Through Damascus (2012 Asia Times report):

Syria: we'll host Russian missile system (2008 RT report):
Russian Navy to base warships at Syrian port after 2012 (2010 Ria Novosti report):
Seeing the writing on the wall, the Russian Federation is forging ahead and reinforcing its naturally wealthy Eurasian fortress and reinstituting its political and economic influence upon much of former Soviet territories. Fortunately, due serious geostrategic calculations Moscow has more recently become very active in the Middle East as well. However, how effective Moscow will be in the Middle East is unfortunately contingent upon how well the region's self-destructive Islamic sheeple are exploited by the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance and friends. Knowing first hand the primitive and self-destructive nature of the region's populations, I'm afraid this may be a battle that Moscow may yet lose. Let's hope the region's only two remaining independent powers, Syria and Iran, somehow manage to preserve their nation-state.

Nevertheless, Russia, the world's largest political entity, continues to control the world's greatest amount of energy reserves and it has more-or-less monopolized energy transit routes of
Central Asia. In fact, even by Western estimates the Russian Federation is by-far the wealthiest nation when it comes to natural wealth, a very distant second is the United States. For more information please see the last three articles at the bottom of this page.

The 24/7 Wall Street article titled "The World’s Most Resource-Rich Countries" is a brief look at the natural wealth of nations and it is enough to help one understand the core motivation of international relations and the very basis of geostrategy. Natural wealth is what makes the political world tick. Having said that, the estimated wealth officially attributed to the Russian Federation is grossly underestimated in my opinion. There are vast tracts of land throughout Russia's vast and yet untouched eastern reaches that have not even been thoroughly studied, and there is of course the vast Arctic region within which Russia has the largest stake in.

Russian land has been the envy of Western powers for centuries. Back in the mid-1990s Madeline Albright is said to have made the infamous claim that it is unfair for one nation, i.e. Russia, to control so much natural wealth (see article at the bottom of this page).
Their fear and envy for centuries has essentially been this: If Russia, geographically the largest and the most resource rich nation on earth who is also happens to be a major nuclear military power ever gets its act together, that is if it becomes stable enough to develop an efficient national infrastructure and system of governance, it can dominate the political and economic life of the world for generations to come. As a result of this simple yet profound realization, the political West will do everything and anything in its power to try to contain Moscow and to undermine Russia's development. This in fact may explain Western policies vis-à-vis Russia for well over a century.

Remember the adage of the Anglo-American [Zionist] establishment: Keep America in, Russia out and Germany down!

Moscow's control of vast tracts of resource rich lands and its control of energy distribution networks throughout Eurasia's heartland gives the Russian Federation immense economic and political potential in the 21th century. In fact, in recent years various experts in the United States and Europe, as well as senior policymakers in various Western capitols have been forecasting a future dependence on Russia's natural resources. Needless to say, dependence of any sort means political subservience. Needless to say, the financial/political elite of the Western world is not about to give up the wealth and power it has accumulated for centuries.
This may explain why strategic thinkers in the Western world have felt compelled to maintain a strong military presence in the Middle East and Central Asia. The aforementioned threat emanating out of Russia may be the main factor in their geostrategic formulations.

The following two maps will give you a general look at the energy distribution picture of the Eurasia as of the last ten years -

As you can see, most of the energy produced in Central Asian transits through the Russian Federation. In fact, the only Central Asian energy route that is not currently under Russian or Iranian control is the corridor that passes through the south Caucasus, traversing Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. In the big geostrategic picture, losing this last Russia-free and Iran-free energy corridor in the south Caucasus is ultimately what the political West is terrified of. Energy politics and the "Great Game" in the Caucasus region is something that I have written a lot about during the past several years. I would like the reader to revisit some of these older yet still relevant commentaries -
The New "Great Game": Oil Politics in the Caucasus and Central Asia:
Armenia May Become Alternative Transit Energy Route Between Caspian Basin And Europe:
This is ultimately what the Whore of Babylon was concerned about when serious border skirmishes broke-out between Azerbaijan and Armenia while she was visiting Yerevan last month. Simply put, the fear is that a war in the region may see Armenian/Russian forces forever severing the flow of energy in the south Caucasus. Knowing that a Russia-backed Armenia possess the military might to defeat their Azeri client state in an armed confrontation, the Anglo-American-Zionist global order does not yet want to see the resumption of major hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  

Saakashvili's historic blunder in 2008 was bad enough for them. The following blog pages about regional political affairs might as well have been written yesterday for much of the geostrategic factors found within them remains unchanged -
Azerbaijan Preparing For War Against Armenia:
Keep Armenia isolated, George Friedman:
Russia to become involved in another war on post-Soviet space?
Artskah today plays a major role in Eurasia's Great Game. Artsakh's existence as an unrecognized military fortress serves the geostrategic interests of the Kremlin. While the unresolved dispute over Artsakh ensures Armenia's political dependence on Moscow, Artsakh has also been the Russian sledgehammer hanging over Turkish heads, the sharp sickle that in one swoop can sever one of the strategic energy lifelines of the West. Simply put, Artsakh ensures Armenia's dependence on Moscow and Azerbaijan's fear of Moscow. As a result, strategic planners in Moscow will not tolerate any military misadventures by Baku. Fearing, however, that Baku may be under intense pressure to resolve its problems militarily, Moscow has been strengthening its military presence throughout the north Caucasus, as well as those located in Armenia. See various relevant article posted at the bottom of this commentary.

Nevertheless, Moscow has made it unmistakeably clear that it will go to war over Armenia.

The last twenty years have ruined Russian-Georgian relations for the foreseeable future. Russians and Turks have been natural competitors for centuries and it is no different today. Moreover, Islam as well as pan-Turkism poses a significant threat to the Russian Federation. In light of all this, Armenia is the only political entity in the region that guarantees Russia's long-term presence in the strategic south Caucasus. Russia-friendly and Christian, Armenia is the only nation-state in the region that is a reliable and a natural buffer against Turkic and Islamic expansion. Therefore, it is quite easy to see why Moscow will be willing go to war simply to ensure that the pro-Armenian status-quo in the region remains intact. And this is ultimately why Moscow has massed troops on Azerbaijan's northern borders, increased the frequency of its military exercises throughout the region and has begun to beef-up its military presence in Armenia. This is all being done by Moscow to discourage Baku from going to war.

More importantly, this state of affairs is providing the Armenian republic with a historic opportunity that it has not seen in a very long time, in fact a historic opportunity that it has not enjoyed in perhaps nearly one thousand years.

Some claim we are fast heading to towards a world war, others claim we are in the preliminary stages of a world war and yet others claim we are already in the initial phases of a world war. I don't know about a world war per se but political and economic tensions are increasing around the world and something's got to give. If major hostilities break-out, after the Middle East, the Caucasus will unfortunately become one of the major theaters of military operations. Being that the Caucasus is Russia's strategic underbelly, we can all therefore expect Moscow to treat the region as its first line of defense. The silver-lining in all this is that there may come at some point a historic opportunity for Yerevan, an opportunity for Armenians to finally break Armenia out if its mountain prison.

July, 2012


Russia Hints At Intervention in Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict

Российские асы оттачивают мастерство в небе Армении (video report):

Several days after apparent widespread skirmishes all along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border and the Nagorno-Karabakh "line of contact," there is still very little information about what actually happened. For a while, though, at least on the internet, it seemed that a serious escalation of violence was imminent. It's a bit odd that, amid all the rumors of massive fighting, there doesn't seem to have been any casualties on either side, suggesting that the reports may have been some sort of deliberate disinformation campaign. And that's what the Armenian Defense Ministry has suggested:
The rumors spread by Azerbaijani mass media on the possible combat operations on NKR–Azerbaijan line of contact towards Aghdam and Fizulai are nothing but imagination. In comparison to June 7-8, the ceasefire violations in different parts of the front line have become more frequent and have increased. This, however, did not affect and will not affect the general state.
All the usual suspects issued the usual statements calling on both sides to settle the conflict peacefully, etc. But one international reaction was especially notable: Russia's. A Russian military spokesman noted that airmen at the Russian military base in Armenia have been stepping up their training flights since the beginning of the year. From the New York Times:
Russian fighter jets stationed at a base in Armenia have conducted about 300 training flights since the beginning of 2012, and have increased the number of flying hours by more than 20 percent from last year... Colonel Gorbul said Russian fighter pilots were preparing for combat. “The main emphasis in performing aerobatic elements is made on the ability to apply them in real-life air combat conditions,” he said.
Since the increase in flights began at the beginning of the year, it doesn't seem like it's in reaction to the flareup in violence. But the statement does seem like a reaction to the flareup. Russia is of course a crucial factor in any potential conflict over Karabakh: while Azerbaijan is on the way to gaining military superiority over Armenia, if Russia intervened on Armenia's side it would be a whole different story. (And whether they do may depend on whether the conflict is limited to Karabakh itself, or if it spreads to Armenia, as these recent skirmishes have.) It's of course easy for Russia to drop a hint like this that it might get involved than to actually get involved if push came to shove, but you can guess that this statement is being closely analyzed in Baku.


Russia Increases Military Flights Over Armenia

The military spokesman, Col. Igor Gorbul, told the Interfax news agency that Russian fighter jets stationed at a base in Armenia have conducted about 300 training flights since the beginning of 2012, and have increased the number of flying hours by more than 20 percent from last year. Violence has flared recently along the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the former Soviet republics, which have been at war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh for more than 20 years.

At least eight soldiers — five Azerbaijanis and three Armenians — were killed in clashes along the border last week. Russia, along with France, the United States and other countries, has repeatedly urged a peaceful settlement to the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russia maintains a military base in Armenia and regularly sells weapons to Armenia. Colonel Gorbul said Russian fighter pilots were preparing for combat. “The main emphasis in performing aerobatic elements is made on the ability to apply them in real-life air combat conditions,” he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry last week said it regarded the border clashes as “unacceptable” and would continue to try to broker a peaceful settlement. Azerbaijan, which currently holds a seat on the United Nations Security Council, said that it was also appealing to the United Nations for help in hopes that international mediators could help reach a settlement this year.


Russia Gets its Armed Forces Ready in the Caucasus

A peace initiative on Syria of the UN and the League of the Arab States special representative Kofi Annan brought no results. Neither government forces nor the armed opposition agreed to it. The confrontation between them was renewed on even a larger scale and was followed by increase in death numbers. Along with civilians soldiers, officers and generals and their families are fleeing Syria. Turkey only has received more than 33 thousand Syrian citizens. Situation was exacerbated by destruction of a Turkish fighter by the missile defence of Syria. Turkey is a NATO member and Ankara along with Washington demanded adequate measures against Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad said his country is in a state of war.

Against this backdrop, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed informaiton voiced previously by the US that Russian cargo ship Alaid carried air defence systems and military helicopters to Syria, for Bashar al-Assad forces. This means that Russia will again veto new international efforts against the Syrian regime.

In this conditions, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper published an article by Vladimir Mukhin under the heading "Caucasus-2012 - combat readiness being boosted!", which can be perceived as yet another threat to countries that demand to stop the bloodshed in Syria as well as the Assad government's resignation.

Having said that planned command-staff exercises of the Russian Army under the code name "Caucasus 2012" are beginning at military bases in the south of Russia and Armenia, the author of the article notes that though military exercises are considered planned, they are directly related to aggravation of economic, geopolitical and military problems in the Caspian region, Iran and Syria, as well as the Karabakh conflict.

According to the press service of the Southern Military District of Russia, exercises will begin at the training ground “Sernovodsk" located in the Stavropol Territory and will last for several months. The main purpose of the exercise is to develop objectives for hidden control of armed forces using modern information technologies and electronic means.

After Stavropol exercises will start in those parts of the Russian army, which are deployed in the occupied regions of Georgia - "South Ossetia" and Abkhazia - as well as in the 102nd Russian military base in the Armenian city of Gyumri. In Armenia, the main attention will be paid to development of coordinated action of the Russian and Armenian armies in order to achieve a common goal.

According to the Armenian Defence Minister Seiran Oganian, during manoeuvres the troops will be brought into high combat readiness. Culmination of collective rapid reaction forces will take place in September. Due to the fact that Azerbaijan and Georgia treat the transfer of large units of Russian paratroopers to Armenia with great suspicion, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued information about the exercise in April – the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper notes. According to the newspaper, naval manoeuvres that unfolded on the Caspian Sea in recent days seem rather large-scale too.

According to the commander of the Caspian Flotilla Rear Admiral Sergei Alekminsky, 15 surface ships were involved in tactical exercises. Their crews should improve solving of some problems of defence against underwater threats and sabotage of a group of ships. Also attention is paid to issues of protection of oil and gas pipelines, blocking drug transfer routes from Afghanistan and so on. The Rear Admiral Alekminsky does not rule out that in the view of the existing situation the Russian Navy will have to solve larger problems through involvement of special purpose units, artillery, missiles and precision-guided weapons.

In the coming months the Caspian Flotilla will increase with new ships with modern equipment, which will include Buyan class corvettes Volgodonsk and Dagestan. The latter is equipped with missile system that uses several types of high-precision missiles against targets at ranges up to 300 km. Recently, several trains with tanks and other types of modern military equipment were demonstratively brought into Makhachkala.

"The Russian military and political leadership devotes considerable attention to strengthening of the country's defence in the Caspian Sea region and the Caucasus. There can be no talk of demilitarization of the region. Moscow intends to defend its interests here by various means, including force "- Vladimir Mukhin is categorical on the pages of the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newsapper.

Acouple of weeks ago the same newspaper published an article by Sergei Konovalov "Syrian direction of the Russian troops" which, it is obvious, like the article by Mukhin, was written on instructions of the chief military body of Russia. It demonstrates that threats and demonstration of military power became part of the policy of the Russian government. And that the civilized world cannot accept.


Karabakh: 'Frozen' Conflict Nears Melting Point


Amid signs that Armenia and Azerbaijan may once more be edging towards armed conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, Wayne Merry argues that the West needs to act fast, rather than allow an old and fruitless mediation process to meander on. In the summer of 2008 western governments professed to be surprised by the outbreak of armed conflict in South Ossetia and the resulting short war between Russia and Georgia. Yet many observers had warned for months of a resort to arms either in South Ossetia or in Abkhazia. The failure was not of warning but of policy response.

Today there are warning signs of renewed conflict in another part of the Caucasus: between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh. The ceasefire in place since 1994 is increasingly fragile: serious violations are routine, and a major arms race is under way. Above all, expectations of another war on both sides fuel momentum toward it. Observers of the region in recent months have warned about the danger. The parties to the dispute are unwilling to reverse the trend. Outside powers can either wait until another of the ill-named ‘frozen conflicts’ goes hot or they can transform their currently stalled mediation efforts.

A significant armed conflict over Karabakh could be much more serious than the brief 2008 war, in part because the two sides are more evenly matched and in part because of the proximity – and vulnerability – of major oil and gas pipelines. Thus, another Karabakh war could touch Europeans and Americans at one of their most neuralgic points, the ‘price at the pump’.

Aware of the increasing worry among informed observers in Washington, I took the opportunity of a recent international conference in the Armenian capital Yerevan to visit Karabakh. Two caveats require emphasis. First, the trip was of a personal nature and in no way sanctioned by the United States Government, despite my former official status in the State and Defense Departments. Second, my visit, although facilitated by Armenian and Karabakh authorities, implies no partisanship on my part. My earlier writings demonstrate my neutrality on the dispute, other than opposition to renewed war. While I did not have authorisation from Azerbaijan, which of course claims Karabakh as its sovereign territory, I have affirmed to its officials both my neutrality and my willingness to make a parallel visit to their side. In short, I visited Karabakh to look, listen and learn because of my concern about the danger of another war.
'Karabakh, which was genuinely multi-ethnic during the Soviet period, is now entirely Armenian but with much of the territory and communities formerly occupied by Azerbaijanis simply empty.'
Three days in Karabakh deepened that concern, considerably. Through the helpful intervention of some authorities in Washington and Yerevan, I was able to visit units of the Karabakh army, to travel through the restricted zone around the ghost town of Aghdam (a former and potential battlefield), and even to visit the actual front trench along the ‘line of contact’ facing similar Azerbaijani trenches less than two hundred meters distant. My parallel conversations with Karabakh officials and with seventeen representatives of civil society focused on security issues and the potential for renewed war. While much of what I saw from the ground level was familiar to me from overhead imagery, it was not the trenches, tank traps, mine fields and artillery positions which deepened my concern, but the conversations with both soldiers and civilians.

Taking this experience in conjunction with monitoring of the Karabakh dispute since 1991 in a variety of official and non-official capacities, I perceive five interlocking tendencies which could produce another war.

Five drivers towards war

First, the ceasefire of 1994 has not ameliorated the dispute, but rather deepened the estrangement between the parties. The result is not a ‘no-war, no-peace’, but rather a pre-war environment. With the ethnic cleansing of the previous Azerbaijani population of Karabakh and the surrounding occupied territories, plus the almost total migration of the respective ethnic communities from Armenia and Azerbaijan, there is almost no non-governmental contact between the two nations. Adversarial propaganda on both sides accentuates stereotypes and hatreds.

Karabakh itself, which was genuinely multi-ethnic during the Soviet period, is now entirely Armenian but with much of the territory and communities formerly occupied by Azerbaijanis simply empty. On the edge of Karabakh are the ruins of Aghdam, once a thriving community of forty thousand but today a vast expanse of gutted former dwellings. While some of the surrounding land is cultivated, the Armenian farmers are purely seasonal. Throughout the region is the stark evidence of former inhabitants now living as refugees in Azerbaijan. Often, only their cemeteries remain more or less intact. The younger people with whom I spoke have little or no active memory of an Azerbaijani, and then only in a wartime context. This physical estrangement has resulted in a tendency to dehumanize the ‘other,’ a pervasive quality in statements from both sides.

Second, the mediation of the so-called Minsk Group co-chairs (Russia, France, the United States) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is not, unfortunately, reducing the momentum toward war. The diplomats involved have worked diligently on both the substance and technical issues of a settlement – much of which is largely complete. However, after two decades the Minsk Group has achieved no visible progress to soothe popular frustrations on both sides. This lack persuades many, especially in Azerbaijan, that diplomacy is not the path to a successful ‘resolution’ of the conflict. The decades of mediation have produced popular cynicism rather than hope about a peaceful outcome.
'The truth is that international mediation has enabled authorities in Baku and Yerevan to avoid their core responsibility to inform and educate their respective populations about the compromises required for a peace settlement.
The underlying diplomatic reality is that mediators do not negotiate; mediators mediate. The parties to the conflict could negotiate, but have failed to do so in a serious way while using the Minsk Group as cover. Both governments routinely assert their own readiness for progress and place the entire onus for failure on the other. The truth is that international mediation has enabled authorities in Baku and Yerevan to avoid their core responsibility to inform and educate their respective populations about the compromises required for a peace settlement. Both societies have maximalist expectations for the dispute, expectations which could only be achieved for either side through a successful large-scale war. Some senior observers have speculated that removing the Minsk Group mediators for at least a time might actually improve diplomatic prospects.

By ‘parties’ I mean only the republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan. I do not refer to the self-proclaimed and unrecognised ‘Nagorno Karabakh Republic’ (also known as Artsakh). Although I conducted friendly discussions with officials of this entity, in my view Karabakh is essentially a prospective province of Armenia and not a separate or self-standing party to the conflict. For example, in the 1991-94 fighting the armed forces of the Armenian Republic participated directly on a large scale and would again in a new war. While there is genuine local governance in Karabakh and broad popular support for its semi-autonomous army, the largely agricultural economy relies on massive subsidies from Yerevan and from the Armenian diaspora (and is critically dependent on Iran for fuel). It is certainly true that, over the past twenty years, Karabakh has often been the tale that wagged the political dog in Yerevan, sometimes violently. Despite these internal tensions, there is only one Armenian party to the dispute.
Karabakh, with fewer than its claimed population of 140,000, deploys (depending on your source) something like 300 main battle tanks, which may be the highest per capita armour ratio on earth.
Third, a very serious arms race is underway, fueled on the Azerbaijani side by that country’s substantial oil and gas revenues and on the Armenian side by transfers from Russia. The scale of this arms race is massive, while the content is modern and highly lethal. To give a single illustration, Karabakh, with fewer than its claimed population of 140,000, deploys (depending on your source) something like 300 main battle tanks, which may be the highest per capita armour ratio on earth. The basic impetus of the arms race is to allow Azerbaijan to acquire by force what it had lost at the time of the 1994 ceasefire or, at least, to encourage Armenian concessions by the credible threat of war. As the Azerbaijani defence budget is now comparable to, if not larger than, the entire Armenian budget, the spending race clearly favors Baku. However, Yerevan obtains Russia-made armaments at rates which are, at least, concessional. As is usual in such circumstances, the programs and policies of defense ministries leave those of diplomatic institutions in the shadow. Thus far, the arms race has not contributed to political flexibility by either side; rather it is contributing to dangerous mutual fears of pre-emption.

Fourth, ceasefire violations along the line of contact by both sides are now so routine as not even to be regularly reported abroad. The reciprocal sniping, often targeted on civilian farmers, is different in scale and lethality from the ceasefire violations of only a few years ago. Today there is not a quasi-peace but a quasi-war. This is something which can get out of hand in a hurry, especially as there exist no confidence-building measures between the two sides such as direct communications or notifications of maneuvers. The small OSCE observer mission has an impossible task, given the length of the line of contact and the often formidable terrain, let alone the unwillingness of both sides to dampen tensions. It bears noting that this kind of sniping preceded the August 2008 war over South Ossetia.

There are gaping holes in Nagorno-Karabakh today: not only the physical scars of the 1991-3 war, but also the absence of Azerbaijani people from the collective Karabakh memory. They appear only to be remembered as 'the enemy'. (Photo: Russell Pollard / Demotix, all rights reserved)

Fifth, the most worrisome element is the growing expectation on both sides that a renewed war may not only be inevitable but even be desirable. No-one thinks a new war would be a cakewalk – memories of the human cost of the 1991-94 fighting are too fresh – but many imagine war would ‘settle’ the dispute on favorable terms or at least break free from the diplomatic impasse. The danger is perhaps not so much a deliberate and rational resort to war, but rather a developing confrontation in which neither side has the political courage openly to back away from conflict.

Each side condescends to its opponent, both politically and militarily. Azerbaijanis argue that the country’s massive military spending has altered the previous balance of forces in its favour and, hence, a short if bloody campaign could restore Azerbaijani sovereignty in Karabakh and the national honor. The Armenians believe that Azerbaijani money does not equate to military skill and that Karabakh (plus, of course, Republic of Armenia) forces not only can withstand an Azerbaijani assault but could turn the tables with maneuver warfare aimed to expand Karabakh’s current frontiers, or even to take the fighting as far as Baku. Clearly, both sides cannot be correct in their evaluations, but both can be wrong. I believe both are wrong if only because of the probable character of a renewed war.
What form would a new war take?

Another Karabakh war would not repeat the one of 1991-94. That conflict was a series of largely infantry campaigns with some armored, artillery and air support in a multi-ethnic demographic. In the intervening years, Karabakh has been systematically transformed into a fortress, combining its natural mountainous topography with thoroughly-prepared echeloned defenses in depth. The strategy is to employ fortifications and firepower, in conjunction with space and topography, to inflict casualties and buy time. I can testify that the Aghdam region is a killing field in waiting.

Thus the next Karabakh war will be a siege. Throughout history, sieges have been notorious for brutality, bloodshed and cost to civilian populations. A siege campaign has two components, usually sequential: bombardment and assault (or engagement). The two countries are preparing extensively for a major reciprocal bombardment component, acquiring long-range artillery, multi-launch rocket systems, large munitions stockpiles and surveillance drones. However, no decision could be achieved in such a battle merely by bombarding each other’s trenches. It is quite clear that both parties intend to target civilian infrastructure and population areas almost from the outset. Indeed, one source in Yerevan said openly that Armenian targeting would be ‘counter-value’. The most valuable and sensitive targets on both sides are well beyond Karabakh in the respective motherlands, including oil and gas pipelines and a nuclear power station, and are vulnerable to strike aircraft.

Unless outside pressure brings a ceasefire quickly, the battle will move to a non-static engagement phase. Both sides have large mobile forces, complemented by drones and other high-tech equipment. Armenia should not underestimate the improvement in Azerbaijan’s order of battle and combat skills. Even if somewhat ragged in operational art, a large and well-equipped force willing to accept losses can achieve a great deal on the battlefield. Likewise, Azerbaijan should not overestimate its newly-acquired force structure, as Armenia has worked hard to maintain the fighting edge of its smaller army and will take full benefit of its advantages of terrain, fortification and depth. With a little misjudgment on either side, let alone both, an all-arms war could be underway before global media had located Karabakh on the map. Informed outside observers believe the balance favours the defence, but potentially at an exorbitant cost.

Beyond the obvious dangers for the parties themselves lies the problem that each has a regional great-power sponsor. Armenia enjoys a treaty-based security alliance and guarantee from Russia. These do not explicitly cover Karabakh, but in a conflict which could overlap Armenia’s own frontiers very quickly this would become a distinction without a difference. Russia has far too much at stake with its Armenian client to let it lose a war. Thus, Moscow’s influence on Baku at the time would be crucial. Turkey has no legal obligation to its Azerbaijani client, but the Karabakh issue has powerful political resonance within Turkey, and was the rock on which recent efforts to normalize relations with Armenia foundered. In a war, the domestic political impetus to support their ethnic cousins (especially given other Armenian-related irritants for Turkey) could prove very strong. Ankara’s new regional stature and its independence of European and American allies would be sorely tested in a Caucasian crisis. (Iran is not as directly engaged, though its trade, especially in fuel, is vital to Armenia, while Tehran has fairly poisonous relations with Azerbaijan.)

It is beyond imagination that Russia and Turkey would come to blows themselves (indeed, relations between Moscow and Ankara in most respects are fairly good), but a proxy war fed and supported by regional great powers can assume proportions far beyond the interests of the combatants themselves. Indeed, the combatants would be highly motivated to try to engage their respective patron states, each with a common border with the adversary, if only to threaten the adversary’s strategic rear. The consequences are unpredictable and dangerous.

A renewed war between Armenia and Azerbaijan may not be inevitable, and is probably not imminent. However, the environment is significantly more dangerous than only a few years ago, with growing momentum toward open conflict. Unless deflected or reversed, that momentum will reach its logical conclusion. The parties are not behaving responsibly, so someone else should.
What needs to be done?

Over the past twenty years, American, French and Russian administrations have attempted at various times to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough on Karabakh by engaging the parties at top political levels, most recently at the summit hosted by President Medvedev in Kazan in June 2011. Sadly, all these presidential initiatives failed, because political leaders in Baku and Yerevan were unwilling or unable to muster the political capital (or courage) to accept the initiatives. Both governments have known for years what a settlement must look like; the Minsk Group mediators have worked this out in considerable detail. Neither government is willing to say so to its own people because both must accept major compromises. The mediators have thus far engaged only governments, not populations.
'What is needed is an initiative to achieve a final settlement of the Karabakh issue, rather than continued mediation. This will require major cooperation among the outside powers to encourage, if not actually impose, a treaty-based settlement.'
With presidential elections this year in all the Minsk Group co-chair countries, it would be hard to generate initiatives on a supposedly ‘frozen conflict.’ (Whoever authored that fallacious phrase has much to answer for!) Nonetheless, the situation demands high-level political action by outside powers – and even some old-fashioned great-power collusion – to prevent a pair of small countries endangering regional and international interests. Turkey now must be part of the solution. Turkey is not only a Caucasian great power and neighbour to both Armenia and Azerbaijan; it is a vital participant in all regional issues with an increasingly assertive political and security posture. A leading Turkish role should be encouraged and welcomed. Above all, complacency and delay are dangerous. Events in the Caucasus have their own laws and logic, and they wait not on the American, French or Russian political calendars.

The August 2008 war arguably made all involved worse off, even those in Abkhazia and South Ossetia who welcomed their formal separation from Georgian sovereignty. That post-war environment looks to be truly frozen for many years to come. While some – perhaps many – Armenians and Azerbaijanis imagine that another war would resolve things to their satisfaction, any victory gained would almost certainly be Pyrrhic for either side. What is needed is an initiative to achieve a final settlement of the Karabakh issue along lines already worked out within the Minsk Group rather than continuing to mediate it. This will require major cooperation among the outside powers to encourage if not actually impose a treaty-based settlement involving painful compromises by both parties. Peacekeeping and reconstruction will be vital elements of a settlement.

In large measure, the outside powers need to supply the political courage lacking by the parties and to speak truth to their respective populations. The core truth is that two decades ago there was a war with consequences – not perhaps ‘right,’ ‘just’ or ‘fair’ – but consequences whose acceptance is far better than another war. It is time for outside powers to serve their own interests by moving beyond mediation. This is a tall order in the present international climate, but managing the Karabakh dispute into a third decade is no solution; neither is waiting for a new war.


Violence erupts on Azeri-Armenian border

After almost two-years, bilateral shootings on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border have resumed. Clashes are becoming more intensive. However, the number of dead increases daily. According to unconfirmed information, the number of victims from both sides has reached 29. According to the Armenian side, out of the dead soldiers 25 are Azerbaijani and only 4 are Armenian. However, the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan confirms the death of only 4 Azerbaijani soldiers.

Up until now it’s been hard to establish what is really happening on the Armenian-Azerbaijani front line if we do not consider the fact that the resumption of military actions coincided with the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Caucasian tour. Many experts say that this is the response of the Kremlin to the Azerbaijani politics of the White House. But what has irritated Russia? Is the Kremlin angry or is it truly connected to the visit of the State Secretary? Hillary Clinton has not voiced any new initiatives in Yerevan or Baku.

Azerbaijani military expert Azada Isazade thinks that Russia should not let the United States take the role of negotiator in the issue of resolving the Karabakh and other South Caucasian conflicts. Hillary Clinton’s statement in support of Georgia’s membership in NATO caused particular irritation to Russia. If the international community does not halt the escalation process, large-scale war between Azerbaijan and Armenia is inevitable, Azada Isazade says.

One of the messages Clinton delivered during her visit to Baku was that these countries should not get involved in military confrontations with each other. This seemingly innocent advice was followed by the first sharp reaction: the administration of the Armenian president spread the statement, according to which Yerevan is ready to respond to any provocation. In turn, the foreign structure of Azerbaijan stated that Azerbaijan can and is eligible by international law to restore its territorial integrity.

Why the official Yerevan perceived the call for peace as a personal weakness is hard to say. In the end, its armament includes the Es 300-type missiles given to them by the Kremlin last year and that says a lot.

Another military expert from Azerbaijan, Uzeira Japarov, is certain that Russia has doubts about the increased activeness of the United States in the South Caucasus. The Kremlin has a big influence on the Armenian military forces and can provoke military incidents at any time. With the recent provocations, Armenia fulfilled the Russian order and tried to prove to the U.S. State Secretary the destructive role of Azerbaijan.

Unlike the official Yerevan, the Kremlin who is irritated by the Caucasian politics of the White House, has expressed its emotions prior to the visit of Hillary Clinton through General-Lieutenant Vladimer Shamanov. The Head of the Russian air-landing troops stated several weeks before the escalation of the situation that Russia is ready to deploy a large contingent of troops to Armenia.

The general explained that this step aims at increasing mobility of the Russian military bases in the Caucasus and also ensures successful completion of the goals of the Russian government. “One of the reasons, which dictate taking such a step is the international obligation based on participation in the collective security agreement organization,” Shamanov added.

Why does Russia need additional troops in Armenia where it already has a military base? One could think that by deploying the troops in Armenia Russia is demonstrating that it can use military force against the major ally of the United States in the region, Georgia.

No matter how logical such judgment looks, it is less likely that all this is done to “ruin the Saakashvili reforms”. Despite the danger of resuming military action in Karabakh, the main problem until now is not the tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but the probability of worsening relations between Azerbaijan and Iran. And quick rapprochement of Baku and Tel-Aviv contributes to this.

It can be said with full certainty that apart from the Caucasian peace initiatives, Clinton brought some messages to Baku with regards to the Iran crisis. It seems that the reason for the Kremlin’s irritation should be searched for in the Tehran problem and not in Tbilisi and Baku. The sudden military storm should be discussed in this context as well. Thus, no one doubts that by spurring the civil war in Syria, Russia is facing two big dilemmas – which one to give up, Iran, Syria or both.


Threat of War Grows in the Caucasus

In the Caucasus, where US geopolitical interests collide with those of Russia and Iran, the danger of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is growing. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia on June 4-6, poured more oil on the fire.

The territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, to which both Armenia and Azerbaijan lay claim, goes back more than a hundred years, and broke out again with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Military conflicts have continued since the late 1980s and the independence of both countries. Some 25,000 people were killed in the 1991-1994 war and over a million displaced.

The region, today mostly inhabited by Armenians, belongs to Azerbaijan under international law, and therefore counts as being “occupied” by Armenia; both countries are still officially at war. Since 2010 there have been increasing clashes on the border.

Hillary Clinton’s visit to the region was accompanied by a new escalation of the conflict. Since the beginning of June, twenty Armenians and eight Azerbaijanis, including civilians, have been killed. Many media outlets now speak of a “war situation.”

The United States and the European powers are using the conflict to push back Russian influence in the region, which belonged to the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. But they are not united amongst themselves. While France has supported Armenia, which also has Russian backing, the US works closely with Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia and also tries to draw Armenia to its side.

The US has expanded its influence in the region since the 1990s, much to the detriment of Russia and Iran. In particular, the Georgian “Rose Revolution” of 2003, in which they helped the current president Mikhail Saakashvili to power, was a milestone in this regard. Both Georgia and Azerbaijan are close US allies and are armed by Washington militarily. Both countries belong to the so-called “Southern Corridor”, through which existing and planned pipelines bypass Russia delivering oil and gas from the Caspian region to Europe.

The US has tried so far to avoid a renewed military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, since a war between the two countries might endanger American and European interests and could lead to a major confrontation with Russia and Iran.

During Clinton’s visit to the Caucasus, the New York Times warned: “America and Europe can no longer keep the Nagorno-Karabakh talks on the back burner. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev faces domestic pressures to act, but Europe and America should caution him about the adverse consequences, notably a broader regional war. Energy investment in Azerbaijan and a major new gas pipeline to Europe, Nabucco, could become casualties.”

Nabucco is an EU pipeline project to deliver gas from Central Asia to Central Europe bypassing Russia. For several months it has been threatened with collapse. During her visit, Hillary Clinton said that the conflict must be resolved peacefully. The next peace talks are due to take place on June 18 in Paris. In recent years, the US has focused on building better relations with Armenia, to bring it closer to Turkey, a NATO member state. During her visit, Clinton stressed the importance of developing bilateral relations between the two countries.

Washington is trying to isolate Russia and Iran in the Caucasus, and to win Armenia for Trans-Caspian pipeline projects. Armenia is the last country with which Russia—and to some extent Iran—can assert influence in the region. The tense relations between Moscow and Washington, as well as US and Israeli war preparations against Iran, threaten a regional war in the Caucasus that could rapidly escalate into a conflict between the great powers.

Russia, which maintains its only military base in the Caucasus in Armenia, has signed a treaty to provide military assistance to Yerevan in case of war. The New York Times reported on June 11 that Russian military aircraft have held numerous exercises over Armenia. Russian colonel Igor Gorbul told the Russian news agency Interfax that Russian pilots were preparing for combat operations.

Iran, too, is expected to stand on Armenia’s side. Russian commentator Andrei Smirnov wrote recently: “Iran will also not allow the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh by ​​Armenia. In the case of such a scenario, it would send troops into the region, because it is also a matter of life and death for Iran. The only open question now, is what will start sooner—war against Iran or in Nagorno-Karabakh.” The US would likely stand by Azerbaijan. The country is not only an important energy supplier and transit corridor for Central Asian and Caspian gas, but also of great military and strategic importance. Israel and the US have systematically armed its navy and army in preparation for war against Iran. (See: “Growing tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan”)

Baku has already supported the US-led wars in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan. About one third of the NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan pass through the Caspian republic. During her talks with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, Hillary Clinton announced a further expansion of military and economic relations between the two countries and praised the participation of Azerbaijan in this year’s NATO summit. This year, for the first time, Baku participated in a summit of the alliance, while Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to attend amid growing tensions with the US and NATO.

Clinton’s visit to Georgia further fuelled tensions with Russia. Since the Rose Revolution of 2003 and the Caucasus war of 2008—which Georgia waged against Russia, with US support, over the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia—relations between Tbilisi and Moscow have been poor. At the beginning of the year, Georgia issued so-called “neutral” passports to the residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, to replace Russian passports. According to Russian media reports, the passports were issued by the Georgian Interior Ministry, and so are hardly “neutral”. During her visit, Clinton said that Washington would recognize these passports.

The spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Lukaschewitsch then declared: “Unfortunately, the statements by Mrs. Clinton in Georgia show that Washington has not learnt from the events in the Caucasus in August 2008.”


Azerbaijan boasts of military superiority as Armenia simulates response to war

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev believes Armenia will lose if hostilities resume over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. “I have no doubt that Armenia will flee the battlefield if the active phase of the war starts,” Aliyev said in remarks broadcast on the state television channel AzTV on Monday. “We have every opportunity to regain control of our territory,” he added.

The Azeri leader’s statement came as Armenia went into three-day “command-and-staff” exercises simulating the country’s combat-readiness and response to a possible aggression by Azerbaijan. Earlier this month Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanyan said that on June 25-27 top military and civilian officials across Armenia will practice “the launch of the state-military state system at a time of war and the organization of resistance to aggression”.

The defense chief implicitly linked the drills, the first of their kind, with unfolding preparations for the military exercises of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led defense pact of a number of ex-Soviet countries, including Armenia, that will be held in Armenia in September. CSTO Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha met with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan on June 25. The presidential press service said during the meeting Bordyuzha briefed the Armenian leader on the course of preparations for the exercises of the CSTO’s Collective Rapid Reaction Force due next fall.

Meanwhile, RFE/RL’s Armenian Service reported that at least one former Armenian paramilitary organization that had participated in the 1992-1994 war with Azerbaijan said on Monday that it started recruiting new “volunteers” and asked the Armenian military to authorize their deployment on frontline positions. Smbat Ayvazyan, the head of the Metsn Tigran (Tigran the Great) militia, linked the move with this month’s upsurge in fighting along Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan and around Nagorno-Karabakh.

Ayvazyan said no official reply had come from the Ministry of Defense yet, but added: “They have asked for a meeting with us to discuss how we imagine the course of further action and what steps could be taken.”


Clinton in Armenia: She is ‘very concerned’ about instability, clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday kicked off three days of diplomacy in Europe’s Caucasus, expressing concern about recent clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan as she hopes to mediate progress on a slew of trade and territorial disputes. In the middle of a weeklong European tour, Clinton decried the “senseless deaths of young soldiers and innocent civilians” as part of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict — just hours after the latest border clash. Armenia said three of its soldiers died and five were wounded. It wasn’t clear if any Azeri soldiers died.

“I am very concerned about the danger of escalation of tensions and the senseless deaths of young soldiers and innocent civilians,” Clinton told reporters after a dinner with Armenia’s president and foreign minister. “The use of force will not resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” she said, urging the sides to refrain from violence. The border clash underscored the instability of a region with long-simmering problems and surrounded by powerful neighbors Russia, Turkey and Iran. She left Armenia Monday night for neighboring Georgia, looking to strengthen security ties with a stalwart U.S. ally that was crushed in its 2008 war against Russia and hopes to regain control over two lost provinces. She visits Azerbaijan Wednesday.

Warning that Azeri-Armenian tensions could escalate into a broader conflict with terrible consequences, she said the U.S. would continue to press with France, Russia and others on mediation efforts. The mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh enclave is within ex-Soviet Azerbaijan, but was taken over by Armenia during a six-year separatist war that killed about 30,000 people and displaced 1 million. Since the war’s end in 1994, it has remained under the control of Armenian troops and ethnic Armenian forces.

Violations of the cease-fire have been frequent, and diplomatic efforts to solve the conflict have failed. The U.S. hopes that at the least Armenia and Azerbaijan can agree to a set of basic principles that might lead toward peace. These include the return of territories and uprooted people to their homes, and an eventual vote on the area’s future. Washington also wants to normalize relations between Armenia and Turkey, whose enmity reflects the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the Ottoman Empire-era killing of some 1.5 million Armenians.

The Obama administration has tried hard to help Armenia improve its economy, not least as a nod to the influential Armenian-American community, which is particularly strong in the Los Angeles area. Clinton, making her second trip to the region as secretary of state, helped Armenia and Turkey reach an agreement in 2009 that would have opened up their borders and normalized relations. But the deal stalled back as Turkey’s parliament refused to ratify it. “The ball remains in Turkey’s court,” Clinton lamented. Armenia’s problems are compounded by its geography. Cut off from trade with its booming neighbor Azerbaijan on one side and Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey on the other, it must conduct all its international commerce through Georgia and Russia to the north. It is heavily dependent on Moscow for fuel.

In Georgia, Clinton will underscore America’s commitment to its pro-Western partner’s defense and its hope of regaining control of breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both declared independence after Russian troops routed the Georgian military over five days of fighting. Few governments beside Moscow have recognized them. In Azerbaijan, America’s top diplomat will continue efforts toward a breakthrough in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, while addressing democracy and media freedom shortcomings. But she’ll also underline oil-rich Azerbaijan’s close cooperation with the U.S. on counterterrorism and its booming economy, which has expanded fourfold since 2004, attending an energy industry gathering in the capital of Baku to promote American companies and future investments.

She will likely speak to officials as well about Azerbaijan’s southern neighbor, Iran. Azerbaijan has arrested dozens of people it claims were hired by the Islamic republic to carry out attacks against the U.S. and Israeli embassies, as well as Western-linked groups and companies.


Azerbaijani unlikely to launch new war - Russian expert

Azerbaijani government will hardly launch new war against Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia putting at risk investment attractiveness and revenues, said Russian political analyst. Director of the Institute of CIS states Konstantin Zatulin said that situation over Syria and Iran will affect the Caucasus region. In this context, it is obvious that Turkey is making an attempt to become leader in the Islamic world. Unless there is any kind of provocation, military actions against Iran are unlikely to break out, the analyst considers. “It is cheaper to promote internal instability rather than to make direct intervention,” Zatulin told reporters in Yerevan on Wednesday. He said that the attempts to shatter internal situation were made using Azerbaijani factor. The analyst underscored the Armenian nation would never abandon independence of Nagorno-Karabakh and will continue the struggle to preserve the achievements. He stated the territories surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic will be returned sooner of later. Zatulin considers mediatory efforts of Russia will continue during Vladimir Putin’s term. He pointed out role of the Russian base deployed in Armenia’s Gyumri and participation in the CSTO activities in the context of Armenia’s security and maintaining regional stability.


Russia plays major role in Armenia’s security

Armenian PM Tigran Sargsyan participated in the reception dedicated to the Russia Day in the Russian Embassy. The Armenian PM wished peace and prosperity to the Russian Nation. “The Day of Russia is a young but important holiday. Today I can surely state that during the last 20 years we not only preserved the centuries-old friendship between our nations but also took it to a higher level. The military partnership of Russia and Armenia is the result of the friendship. Today Russia plays major role in providing Armenia’s security. Russia also plays a great part in our economy. It is the main investor to the Armenian Economy and one of the main partners of foreign trade. We are interested in the further development of that cooperation. We are sure that intensive cooperation in various fields will boost bilateral economic cooperation. This on its turn will contribute to the deepening of military cooperation,” Armenian PM Tigran Sargsyan mentioned in his speech.


Combat-ready Armenia: Government to simulate wartime state functioning

Following the meeting of the Armenian government on Thursday, Minister of Defense Seyran Ohanyan said that in late June special military exercise will be held in the country to check how the state system of Armenia would act at war. The minister stressed that during the exercise “the Republic of Armenia will be put on a state of high combat readiness.” The exercises June 25-27 will include orders issued to state bodies and agencies on transition to martial law, arrangements to hold military assemblies, resist aggression, as well as the Armenian president’s appeal to the leadership of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) for support. Ohanyan also said that Armenia will host joint exercise of the Collective Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) of the CSTO entitled “Cooperation 2012” in September. In anticipation of this exercise the Armenian Armed Forces are currently holding command and staff exercises with the participation of representatives of all state agencies.


Russia to Double Troops in Armenia

Following a pick-up in fatal gunfire exchanges along the Nagorno-Karabakh frontline, Moscow has announced plans to double its troop strength in ally Armenia by the end of the year. The upshot of the message was clear: Azerbaijan could face Russian guns if it attempts to push Armenian forces out of long-occupied Azerbaijani lands. The new arrivals will be temporary -- the "permanent" troop presence at Gyumri, the northern Armenian site of Russia's 102nd Military Base, will stay at 5,000, according to Colonel Igor Gorbul, a spokesperson for Russia's Southern Military District, RIA Novosti reported -- and will receive a higher salary and undefined benefits to whet their interest in sticking around.

They'll arrive at a base that's been a bit on the bustling side of late. Russian jets have been busy drilling in Armenian airspace, and, in March, Moscow held war games in Gyumri. Earlier on, the head of the Collective Security Treaty Organization -- a Russian response to NATO -- said that the Moscow-led alliance will protect Armenia from enemy attacks. “If unfriendly actions are taken against Armenia, all member states will provide relevant assistance to Armenia,” pledged CSTO Secretary-General Nikolai Bordyuzha.

Officials in Baku countered that not all CSTO members would be willing to take on Azerbaijan. “The CSTO and Russia, in particular, should not help the occupant [Armenia], if Azerbaijan decides to free its lands,” said Faraj Guliyev, a member of the Azerbaijani parliament’s Committee for Defense and Security. But as the 2008 war with Georgia showed, if Russia wants to get involved, it will -- and the results can be disastrous.

As is its wont in the South Caucasus' separatist struggles, Moscow, though, wears two hats in the 24-year-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict -- that of Armenia's longtime military ally and that of mediator (along with the US and France) between Armenia and Azerbaijan. While, like its fellow go-betweens, it espouses belief in a peaceful resolution, its buildup in Armenia suggests another belief as well -- speak softly, but carry a big stick.


Nagorno-Karabakh: The Trigger of World War III?

On February 23, 2012, the controversial leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky predicted the possible outbreak of World War III this summer. According to the former Russian army colonel, as soon as Syria is annihilated, a blow will be struck against Iran. At that point, “Azerbaijan might take advantage of that state to re-seize Nagorno-Karabakh. The Republic of Armenia will act in opposition to it, while Turkey will support Azerbaijan. That’s how we’ll in summer be caught in a war,” Zhirinovsky explained.

Although the Russian politician is not new to this kind of interventions, the risk that the Caucasus might indeed be the trigger of a new world war is all but unlikely. Earlier this year, Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev said Baku is buying up modern weaponry to be able to regain control of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region quickly and with few losses should peace talks with neighbouring Armenia fail. Negotiations to end the conflict have been held under the auspices of the so-called Minsk Group since 1992, but so far results have been inconclusive.

Azerbaijan is a natural ally of Turkey and an adversary of Iran. NATO partner since 1994 through its participation to the Alliance’s Partnership for Peace program, Baku is also one of the most geo-strategically important allies of the West in the pipelines war against Russia, being both a supporter and a potential supplier of the Washington-backed Nabucco gas pipeline project. On the other side, Armenia is a close ally of Russia and Iran, both interested in countering Turkish and US influence over the Caspian region.

Given this geopolitical context, to which are added NATO-Russia tensions over US missile defense plans in Europe and Azerbaijani-Russian disagreements over the renewal of the Gabala radar station lease, a spike in violence in the Caucasus might indeed trigger a major conflict between a US-led coalition consisting of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Israel on one side, and a Sino-Russian bloc including Armenia and Iran on the other side. Nevertheless, although five of the eight countries involved are de facto nuclear powers, a World War III between them would not necessarily imply the use of nuclear weapons.

In fact, a conflict originating from tensions in the Caucasus-Caspian region would be local in scope, but global in extent and consequences, being thus able to be considered a world war. Such a confrontation would have some of the characteristics of the Cold War, being the result of at least three proxy conflicts (Azerbaijan against Armenia, Iran against Azerbaijan, Turkey against Iran); nevertheless, given the nuclear potential of the countries diplomatically involved, it could not last more than a few days, being decided by both compellence and deterrence strategies fielded by the United States, Russia and China.

According to the New York Times, Russian fighter jets stationed in Armenia have conducted about 300 training flights since the beginning of 2012, increasing the number of flying hours by more than 20 percent from last year. Although Kirill Kiselev, an officer of the press service in the Southern Military District in Gyumri, assured the “Intensification of flights of Russian air-unit of N102 military base has been recorded in the framework of combat training program,” such a hyperactivity of Russian air forces might be a warning that Moscow could intervene at any moment should a war break out.

Nevertheless, only strong Chinese support can allow Russia to successfully continue its deterrence strategy aimed at avoiding US-sponsored military interventions both in the Caucasus (Nagorno-Karabakh) and the Middle East (Syria and Iran). Strong of its 3 million soldiers, who make the People’s Liberation Army the world’s largest military force, China would in fact be able to wage any kind of conflict with an overwhelming conventional superiority. Should Beijing gain access to military facilities in countries such as Kazakhstan and Pakistan, a Western attack on Tehran and its allies would therefore become an extremely remote possibility. In that case, the setback suffered by the US–Israel axis of having to de facto accept Iran’s nuclearization would already be, in itself, a victory for the Sino-Russian bloc, as well a practical realization of what Sun Tzu considered as the “apex of strategy:” to win a fight without fighting.


The US-NATO March to War and the 21st Century "Great Game"

The Caucasus, the Balkans, the Middle East, East Africa, Central Asia

The following text is PART II of The "Great Game" and the Conquest of Eurasia. The first text gave an overview of the global counter-alliance forming against the U.S. and NATO. In this second portion, the various fronts of the global rivalry between these two sides will be examined.

The Multiple Fronts of the 21st Century “Great Game”
The globe is gripped with a series of arenas where the struggle between the U.S. and its allies against the triple entente of Eurasia — Russia, China, and Iran — and their other allies are taking place. The struggles in these fronts vary in shape and dimension, but are all inter-linked and aimed against incorporation into a central entity controlled by the U.S. and its allies. These fronts are the Caucasus, the Balkans, East Africa, the Middle East (including the Eastern Mediterranean), the Indian Ocean, Central Asia, South Asia or the Indian sub-continent, Southeast Asia, East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Arctic Circle.
Eastern Europe, the South China Sea, Korea, Central Asia, and the Middle East have been abuzz with military operations and war games by all sides. China, Russia, and Iran are all developing new weapons and asymmetrical war tactics, including expanded space projects and aircraft carriers. In occupied Iraq, NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan, and Israeli-occupied Palestine the non-state resistance movements continue their battles for national liberation with the support of the governments of Eurasia in some cases.
Russia’s strategic bombers have resumed their Cold War practice of flying long-distance missions to territories patrolled by the U.S. and NATO. [6] Russia and Belarus have armed their joint air defence systems in Eastern Europe in response to the missile threat from the U.S. and NATO in Europe. Both Belarus and Russia have also been making preparations, through military drills called “West 2009,” for a naval, land, and air assault against them by NATO that simulates a NATO invasion from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. [7]
Myanmar (Burma), China’s ally, is also constructing a port and naval facilities to allow Beijing to secure its energy lifeline in the Indian Ocean by circumventing the Straits of Malacca and the Straits of Taiwan, which are guarded by the naval forces of the U.S. and its allies. To further secure the Indian Ocean for the Eurasians, Sri Lanka (Ceylon) has also become an associate member of the SCO through becoming a dialogue partner. [8] It is in this framework that Russia, China, and Iran supported the Sri Lankan government against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or simply Tamil Tigers, during the Sri Lankan Civil War
North Korea has been priming itself for a possible war with the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Cuba have prepared themselves for what they call wars of resistance through political, economic, and armed preparations. Likewise, Syria and Lebanon with the support of Iran have prepared themselves for an anticipated conflict with Israel. Oil-rich Sudan has also been bracing itself for internal strife and for the possibility of a future conflict, led by the U.S. and based on the pretext of “humanitarian intervention.”
The Caucasus Front: Russo-Georgian Tensions and War Preparations
Caucasia or the Caucasus is the region between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea that straddles the Caucasus Mountains. Like the Ural Mountains, the Caucasus forms the dividing borders of the politically defined continents of Europe and Asia. The Caucasus region itself, which can also be considered an extension of the Middle East, is divided into two sub-regions. These two sub-regions are the North Caucasus, which exclusively includes the Caucasian constituent republics of the Russian Federation, and the South Caucasus, which includes Georgia, Armenia, and the Republic of Azerbaijan (Azarbaijan). Northern Iran and the eastern portions of Turkey, which were annexed from Georgia and Armenia under the 1921 Treaty of Kars, can also be considered as being part of the South Caucasus and by extension the entire Caucasus region.

Caucasia has been the scene of an intensive struggle between the local republics, internal actors, and external forces. These conflicts are as follows;
(1) The conflict between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the breakaway state of Nagorno-Karabakh;
(2) The conflict between Georgia and the breakaway state of South Ossetia;
(3) The conflict between Georgia and the breakaway state of Abkhazia;
(4) The conflicts between the Russian Federation and the separatist movements of the North Caucasus, specifically in Chechnya and Dagestan;
(5) The conflict between Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh;
(6) And the conflict between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
For decades tensions have existed in this ethnically diverse region. Although steps have been taken by the Turks for strategic cooperation with Moscow and Tehran, a regional axis between Russia, Armenia, and Iran in the Caucasus has existed against Georgia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, and Turkey. The aim of the Moscow-Yerevan-Tehran Axis in the Caucasus is to prevent external forces, specifically the U.S. and its NATO allies, from moving into the Caucasus and the energy-rich Caspian Sea Basin.

The primal conflict in the region has turned out to be the one between Georgia and Russia, replacing the one between Russia and Chechnya. This conflict has seen both sides supporting one another’s separatist movements and covert operations. Tensions between Tbilisi and the Kremlin have resulted in a war that, unlike most the previous Caucasian wars, was of wide concern to outside powers. The conflict has also been played out in Ukraine, where both sides also supported rival political fractions.

Behind Georgia lies the support of the U.S. and NATO. This is part of a strategy that has seen indigenous players ally themselves with U.S. geo-strategic interests in Eurasia. In fact, the entire war between Russia and Georgia was premeditated and both sides were preparing for it well in advance. The Times (U.K.) inadvertently reported about this on September 5, 2008: “In the months leading up to the doomed [Georgian] military operation to seize control of the breakaway region of South Ossetia, Russian fighter jets had flown into Georgian airspace on several occasions.” [9] The Russian violation of Georgian airspace was conducted, because the Russians were aware that a war was coming and their forces were conducting reconnaissance missions.

In the months leading up to the Russian-Georgian War over South Ossetia the Georgian press was continuously talking about a coming war. [10] Rezonansi, one of Georgia’s top newspapers, had front-page headlines about the imminent dangers of a war: “Will war in Abkhazia begin tomorrow?” [11] In May 2008, only a month before the Russo-Georgian War, Moscow without notification deployed 500 Russian troops into the southern Tkvarchel region of Abkhazia under a peacekeeping mandate from the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.), which raised its troop contingent to 2,542. [12] Before the deployment of additional Russian troops, on April 20, 2008, the Russians had shot down a Georgian unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) spying over Abkhazia. [13]

In a move that was one step short of official recognition, Moscow also ended its agreement to sanction Abkhazia and in a move towards bolstering the Abkhazian government began open communication with it at official levels. [14] These Russian and Georgian moves were made in preparation for the coming Caucasian war. The Kremlin even openly accused Georgia of mobilizing troops to attack Abkhazia, whereas the Georgians accused Russia of planning to annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia. [15]

On May 8, 2008 Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, publicly stated: “I think that a few days ago, we were very close [to war] and this threat is still real.” [16] On May 7, 2010, a day before President Saakashvili’s statement, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution that condemned Russia for its “provocative and dangerous statements and actions” in Georgia, and the E.U. followed suit. [17] A day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed their resolution against Russia and on the same day as Saakashvili’s statements about war, the foreign minister of Abkhazia, Sergei Shamba, went on the record saying that Abkhazia wanted a military pact with Moscow. [18] The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWRP) clearly documented the Russian preparations for the coming war with Tbilisi. The IWPR report depicted the tense environment:
The situation on the ground in the conflict zone remains tense. The head of the de facto administration in Gali region in southern Abkhazia, Ruslan Kishmaria, said Tbilisi had resumed unmanned reconnaissance flights over Abkhazia. He added that the Abkhaz authorities had decided not to shoot the planes down. The Abkhaz say they have shot down several Georgian drones on previous occasions, while Tbilisi denied that most of the alleged incidents took place. In late May, a United Nations report concluded that a drone shot down over Abkhazia on April 20 was hit by a Russian fighter plane. [19]
What is very revealing about the IWPR report are the clear steps that Russia took in preparation for a Georgian attack. The report highlighted the secret deployment of Russian anti-tank missiles into Abkhazia:
Georgian security forces have again had a confrontation with Russian peacekeepers on the border with Abkhazia, leading to a tense telephone conversation between the two presidents [of Georgia and Russia]. The detention of a Russian army truck by Georgian police appears to be part of a war of nerves over the disputed territory of Abkhazia. Tbilisi claims the Russians are engaged in annexing Abkhazia and insists their peacekeeping forces must be disbanded, while Moscow says the troops are operating under an international mandate and are providing vital security for the Abkhaz. Georgian television channels showed pictures of local police stopping a truck carrying Russian peacekeepers near the village of Rukhi on June 17. They reported that it was carrying weapons illegally through the conflict zone, close to the administrative border with Abkhazia. The four soldiers on board the vehicle were released after seven hours in detention. On June 19, the truck was handed back but the Georgians said they were holding onto 20 anti-tank missiles pending an investigation. The Georgians said that the Russians had not asked permission to transport the missiles as they were required to do under the terms that govern the peacekeeping presence. Colonel Vladimir Rogozin, commander of the southern zone of the peacekeeping operation – which comes under the mandate of the Commonwealth of Independent States, CIS, but is entirely manned by Russian troops – said he had simply failed to inform the Georgians about the arms shipment in time. “They were normal weapons permitted by our mandate, and I don’t understand why the Georgians detained our soldiers,” said Rogozin. [20]
The Russian military breached its peacekeeping mandate in Georgia. The anti-tank missiles were intended for use against Georgian tanks. The deployment of the anti-tank missiles were (deliberately) not announced as part of Moscow’s war preparations. In part, the Russian position in Abkhazia and South Ossetia has been intended to prevent Georgia from joining NATO, because NATO cannot accept new members unless all their internal disputes are settled and their boundaries fixed. In effect, Russian support of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has protected Russia from further NATO encroachment.

The war in 2008 has been described as a proxy war in which Georgia acted on behalf of the U.S. against Russia by Sergey A. Markov, a co-chair of the National Strategic Council of Russia. In this context, Russia was attacked by the U.S. and NATO. The Georgians could not have known about the deployment of Russian anti-tank missiles without intelligence reports from the U.S. and NATO. In 2008, NATO even made a revealing move about its intentions in the Caucasus. Despite the fact that Georgia was not a NATO member, NATO began to quickly integrate the Georgian air defences with NATO air defences. [21]

After the 2008 war, the U.S. and Tbilisi even revealed that they were making preparations to construct military bases in Georgia. [22] The U.S. military presence would not only have been used to aid the Georgian military against Russian interests, but could have sent a threatening message to Moscow about war with the U.S. if Russia confronted Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The U.S. bases could also have been used to launch attacks against Russia’s strategic ally Iran. It was revealed that during the Russo-Georgian War the Russian military had attacked Georgian bases that were planned for use in future U.S. and NATO operations against Iran. [23]

Georgia is one of the fastest militarizing states. To counter Georgian militarization and NATO’s agenda for the Caucasus, the Kremlin has beefed up Russian units in the North Caucasus and expanded its military presence in Armenia. In August 2010, Russia and Armenia signed a bilateral military agreement that committed Russia to protecting Armenia and insuring Armenian security. [24] The new Russo-Armenian military agreement has formally allowed Russia to project its military power from Armenia towards Georgia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, whereas the old mandate of Russian troops in Armenia was to provide border security for the Armenian-Turkish and Armenian-Iranian borders. These strategic steps taken by Moscow and Yerevan are in preparation for further crises in the Caucasus.

The Balkans Front: Treachery against Yugoslavia and Moldova

The Balkans has been galvanized by two different forces, those aligned with the Eurasia Heartland and those aligned with the Periphery. This animosity is similar to those that are dividing Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Georgia, Latin America, and the Ukraine. The largest camp of opposition to the U.S. and NATO is in Serbia. This Serbian camp, along with its allies in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, wants either entry into the orbit of Russia and the Eurasians or cooperation with them. The opposing and dominate political camp wants Serbia and the Balkans to enter the orbit of the U.S., the E.U., and NATO. The Serbian Radical Party was formed originally as a member of the first group, while Boris Tadić and his Democratic Party represent the later group in Serbia and the Balkans.

The Balkans is a hub for military operations in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The position of the former Yugoslavia was very important in this context. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was an independent geo-political player. Like the present role of Iran in the Middle East, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia could have prevented the U.S. and NATO from consolidating their control of the Balkans, which would have been a major setback to the implementation of the U.S. and NATO roadmap for control of Eurasia. This is why the U.S. and its Western European allies helped spark ethnic tension, specifically between the Serbs and Croats, in Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia has fallen, but in the Balkans there is still a pending geo-strategic game. This “game of chess” is over the fate of the Serbian province of Kosovo, which is a self-declared republic supported by the E.U. and America, and for the fate of the Serbian Republic itself, as a whole. The people of Serbia have not forgotten the NATO bombardment of their country, whereas most the corrupt political elites in Belgrade have been cooperating with the U.S. and NATO.

The so-called Twitter Revolution in Moldova was also an extension of this struggle in the Balkans and tied to the events in the former Yugoslavia and the issue of Kosovo. Moldova could be used by Russia to reinforce the Russian position, and by extension the Eurasian position, in Serbia and Eastern Europe. Serbia has been flirting with both the E.U. and the U.S. on one side and Russia on another. Both sides want to bring Serbia fully into their orbits.

Serbia is a landlocked nation in terms of not having direct access to the open seas. Serbia, however, does have guaranteed access to the Black Sea through the Danube River. The Danube River is actually an international body of water that large merchant ships can sail. By international treaty right, Serbian ships can freely sail the Danube. Belgrade could always turn to the Danube if Serbia were to be embargoed through the denial of land or airspace usage by its neighbours under orders from the U.S. and the European Union. If international laws were followed the Danube River would give the Serbs a form of lifeline access to the Black Sea and Russia. To prevent this all the states that the Danube River flows through need to be controlled.

The only other nations that the Danube River goes through that are not within the orbit of the E.U. and the U.S. are Moldova, which itself is landlocked too in the same sense as Serbia, and Ukraine. Ukraine is a case in question, but the control of both Moldova and Ukraine could effectively cut off Russian aid to Serbia through the Black Sea and the Danube River in the future if Russia was denied the usage of the airspace around Serbia. It is both in this context and the context of forced integration into the E.U. that Moldova’s neutrality has been ostracized by the U.S. and NATO through Romania.

Yet, there is more to the efforts to isolate Serbia. The Autonomous Province of Vojvodina is where the Serbian coast on the Danube River is located and is home to Serbia’s ports. About one-third of the population in Vojvodina are non-Serbs with Hungarians (Magyars) being the largest of these non-Serb minorities. Tacitly efforts to divide Vojvodina from Serbia have also been underway. The Balkans is a front that has become quiet for now, but Kosovo and Vojvodina could easily light it up.

The Middle East Front: The Resistance Bloc versus the Coalition of the Moderate

The Middle East is the energy centre of the global economy. Along with Central Asia, it is one of the two most strategically important areas on the world map. It is through control of the Middle East that the U.S. and its NATO partners hope to contain China, the anchor of the global counter-alliance to the U.S. and NATO. In terms of regional power, Iran is the Yugoslavia of the Middle East. Tehran has worked with its regional allies to resist U.S., NATO, and Israeli control over the entire region. Thus, the Iranians and their regional allies have provided a layer of insulation for the Russians and the Chinese against U.S. and NATO encroachment into Eurasia through resistance in the Middle East. In other words, Iran and the Middle East are vital pillars of Russian and Chinese resistance to trans-continental encirclement.

William Arkin, one of America’s top security correspondents, stated in 2007 that the White House and Pentagon had started the process of creating a NATO-like military alliance in the Middle East against Iran and Syria. [25] According to Arkin this alliance was to be comprised of the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates) and both Egypt and Jordan. [26] Following the 2006 Israeli blunder in Lebanon, the U.S. and its main NATO partners started sending, either directly or indirectly, massive arms shipments to their clients in the Middle East: Egypt, Jordon, Israel, the Palestinian collaborators Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and Mohammed Dahlan in the Gaza Strip, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab petro-sheikhdoms.

The Lebanese militias belonging to the leaders of the March 14 Alliance in Lebanon also received secret weapons shipments to combat Hezbollah and the Lebanese National Opposition. [27] Despite their arms and U.S. support, the Arab collaborators in both the Gaza Strip and Lebanon lost in internal fighting that broke out respectively in June 2007 and May 2008. In Lebanon this resulted in the formation of a national unity government after the Doha Accord. It also caused Walid Jumblatt and the Progressive Socialist Party to realign themselves with Hezbollah and to leave the March 14 Alliance.

It was by the end of 2006 that Mahmoud Abbas, the March 14 Alliance, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Bahrain, Egypt, Jordon, and Kuwait began to be called the “Coalition of the Moderate” by U.S. and British officials. These countries have helped the U.S., NATO, and Israel in intelligence operations against fellow Arabs, against the Lebanese Resistance, and against the Palestinians. The regime of Mohammed Husni (Hosni) Mubarak in Cairo has helped enforce the Israeli siege against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Cairo has also been in several vocal rows against the Palestinians, Hezbollah, members of the Iraqi Resistance, Syria, and Iran. Mubarak has tried to justify working against the Palestinians in Gaza by demonizing Hamas as an Iranian client and as a threat to Egypt. There is even talk about some form of Egyptian and Jordanian military intervention in Lebanon after the Special Tribunal for Lebanon releases its findings about the Hariri Assassination.

During the 2008 Israeli siege of Gaza, Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah made a direct plea to the Egyptian people, asking them to demand that their government open the borders for relief to the Palestinian people. Nasrallah’s plea, which made it a point to say that it was not asking for a coup in Cairo, was met by anger from Egyptian officials who had tried every means to publicly justify Israeli actions against the Palestinians. Ahmed Abul Gheit, the foreign minister of Egypt, responded by telling reporters in Turkey that Nasrallah wanted chaos in Egypt like in Lebanon and that the Egyptian military could be used against Nasrallah and people like him.

Mustafa Al-Faqi, the head of the Egyptian parliamentary foreign relations committee, has been quoted as saying that Cairo will not accept an Islamic emirate on its border. [28] This language is part of the campaign to portray Hamas as a Taliban-like organization, when the leadership of Cario and the Arab World know fully that Hamas is nothing like the Taliban government of pre-invasion Afghanistan. In 2010, a high-ranking Egyptian intelligence officer was caught spying and collecting information in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas-led Palestinian government there. [29] The regime in Egypt has also allowed Israel to send its German-built submarines with nuclear cruise missiles across the Suez Canal to head into the Persian Gulf towards Iranian waters in an effort to militarily threaten Tehran through a permanent deployment. [30] The extent of Egyptian ties with Tel Aviv is best described by a news report quoting Amos Gilad, an Israeli military official:
Egypt-Israel relations are “a cornerstone in Israel’s national security,” said Amos Gilad, head of the Defense [sic.] Ministry’s Security-Diplomatic Bureau, at a ceremony marking 30 years to Israel's peace agreement with Egypt on Thursday. “We have very profound dialogue with them. It’s important for Israel to know how to preserve these relations and deepen them,” he said, while mentioning Egypt’s “tolerant stance during [Israel’s] recent [2008] military offensive in Gaza.” [31]
Saudi Arabia too has been very actively involved in assisting the U.S., Britain, and Israel in their operations in the Middle East. The mega-sized weapons sales the U.S. has made to Saudi Arabia, without any objections from Tel Aviv and its lobbyists, is directed against Iran, Syria, and any revolts and democracy movements in the Arabian Peninsula, such as the Houthis in Yemen. The Saudi arms deals that the U.S. has made are a vital part of its strategic aims to control the energy resources of the Middle East. [32]

Saudi-owned media consistently spews sectarian hatred and propaganda against any forces resisting the U.S., Israel, NATO, and their local clients and allies in the Middle East and the Arab World. This has reached a point where most rational adults do not take Saudi-owned media, like Asharq Al-Aswat and its editor-in-chief, seriously. For example Asharq Al-Aswat has systematically and falsely accused Hezbollah of torturing Sunni Muslims in Lebanon and of occupying Beirut and has continuously targeted Iran at every chance, claiming that the Iranians are an imminent danger to the Arab World, while downplaying the actions of the U.S. and Israel against Arab countries.

In opposition, the Coalition of the Moderate is commonly described and thought of as nothing more than as Arab collaborators or traitors. Its leaders, from the U.A.E. to Egypt, say one thing in public and decide something entirely different behind closed doors. The Coalition of the Moderate is a catch phrase designed by those who coined the terms “Shia Crescent” and “Sunni Triangle” to demonize the forces of resistance in the Middle East. [33] These terms serve the war, balkanization, and finlandization agendas in the Middle East.

On the other side of the chasm stand Iran and all the forces opposed to foreign intervention in the Middle East; these forces have been called the “Radicals” by the White House. In reality, Iran and these independent and indigenous forces form the “Resistance Bloc” in the Middle East. The Resistance Bloc is not a formal alliance nor is it organized as a genuine bloc, but its members all share a common interest against foreign control of their societies. The members of the Resistance Bloc are as follows;
(1) The democratically-elected Hamas-led Palestinian government in the Gaza Strip and all the Palestinians groups, including Hamas, the Popular Palestinian Struggle Front, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Marxist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, that are opposed to Israel, the U.S., and Mahmoud Abbas;
(2) Lebanon, more or less as a state, as well as Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Amal Movement, the El Marada Movement, the Lebanese Communist Party, the Lebanese Democratic Party, the Lebanese Islamic Front, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Tashnaq), the Syrian Social Nationalist Party of Lebanon, and their political allies in Lebanon;
(3) The multitude of various political and combative Iraqi groups that form the Iraqi Resistance;
(4) Sudan;
(5) Syria;
(6) The rebel groups in Yemen, which are Shiite Muslims in the north and west and include Sunni Muslims in the south and east;
(7) And Iran.
Qatar and Oman closely coordinate with the Resistance Bloc. Oman is also considered an Iranian ally in Tehran. Both Qatari and Omani leaders exercise flexible foreign policies and realize that it would be against their national interests to contain themselves in any regional alliance against Iran and the Resistance Bloc or, by the same token, even against the U.S. and its regional clients. This is why Qatar and Oman are used as intermediaries between Iran and the Resistance Bloc on one side and the U.S. and the Coalition of the Moderate on the other side.

Since 2009 and 2010, the position of Turkey is not clear. Ankara has begun to publicly criticize its Israeli ally and is beginning to be touted by Iran and Syria as a member of their Resistance Bloc. Turkey has also entered into agreements with Syria, Iran, Lebanon, and Russia that look like the seeds for the creation of a common market and political bloc in the Middle East that would mirror the European Union.

U.S. influence in the Middle East is said to be ending. It appears that many American allies and clients in the Middle East are also looking at switching camps to protect their interests. This could be the case within the March 14 Alliance in Lebanon and in regards to Ankara.

In the Middle East, the frontlines for Eurasia are the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, occupied Iraq, and Yemen. Yemen, situated on the southernmost tip of the Arabian Peninsula, is the newest of these frontlines in the Middle East and is geo-strategically located on an important point on the map. The maritime corridor running past Yemen is internationally the most important in terms of shipping. The Red Sea connects to the Indian Ocean through the Gate of Tears (Bab al-Mandeb) that runs through the Gulf of Aden.

The danger of a catastrophic global war igniting from the Middle East exists. The front in the Middle East is central to the U.S. strategy in Eurasia. Since 2001, this front has been fluctuating between cold and hot wars that are now aimed at containing Iran and its allies. The region is both a powder keg and geo-political volcano.

The Central Asian Front: A War for Control of the Heartland of Eurasia

Central Asia is the heart of Eurasia and at the centre of the Eurasian Heartland. The U.S. and NATO push into Eurasia is aimed at control of this region in its entirety. The region is a major geo-strategic hub that conveniently flanks Iran, China, Russia, the Caspian Sea, and the Indian sub-continent. From a military and spatial standpoint, Central Asia is an ideal place to create a wedge between the major Eurasian powers and to establish a military presence for future operations in Eurasia.

Central Asia, as the bulk of an area called the “Eurasian Balkans” (the other portions include Georgia, Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Caucasian constituent republics of the South Federal District and the North Caucasian Federal District of the Russian Federation, Iran, and Turkey to a limited extent), can also be used to destabilize the areas it flanks and Eurasia. The NATO occupation of Afghanistan is tied to this objective. Atollah Loudin, an Afghan official who is the chair of the Justice and Judiciary Committee of Afghanistan, has gone on the record to say that the U.S. is using Afghanistan as a military and intelligence base to infiltrate and pursue its strategic objectives in Pakistan, Central Asia, Russia, Iran, and China. [34]

Central Asia also has vast oil, natural gas, and mineral resources. The energy resources of the region rival those of the Middle East. In the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski: “As an overlay to all this, Central Asia now witnesses a very complicated inter-play among the regional states and Russia, the United States (especially since September 11, 2001), and China.” [35] The 2001 invasion of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan was initiated with the objective of establishing a foothold in Central Asia and a base of operations to isolate Iran, divide the Eurasians from one another, to prevent the construction of pipelines going through Iran, to distance the Central Asian countries from Moscow, to take control of the flow of Central Asian energy, and to strategically strangle the Chinese.

Most importantly, control over Central Asia would disrupt the “New Silk Road” being formed from East Asia to the Middle East and Eastern Europe. It is this “New Silk Road” that will make China the next global superpower. Thus, the U.S. strategy in Central Asia is meant to ultimately prevent the emergence of China as a global superpower by preventing the Chinese from having access to the vital energy resources they need. The U.S. and E.U. rivalry with Russia over energy transit routes has to be judged alongside preventing the construction of a trans-Eurasian energy corridor from reaching China from the Caspian Sea Basin and from the Persian Gulf.

Central Asia has been the scene of war and colour revolutions. An active war still rages in Afghanistan, which has spread into Pakistan. The instability in Kyrgyzstan could spill over into becoming a civil war. Any future conflict against Iran, Syria, and Lebanon also threatens to engulf Central Asia.

The South Asia and Indian Ocean Fronts: Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and the Waves

South Asia or the Indian sub-continent is comprised of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and the island states of Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Afghanistan is sometimes considered a part of South Asia. Similar to Central Asia, the northern portion of South Asia, which is Pakistan and the northern states of the Republic of India, serves as a transit land route between the Middle East and East Asia. This northern area also straddles Central Asia. The southern portions of South Asia is also centrally located in regards to the Indian Ocean and both the southern portion of South Asia, which is the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, and the Indian Ocean littoral serve as a transit maritime route from the Middle East and Africa to East Asia

In South Asia, the aims of the U.S and NATO are to prevent the creation of a secure energy route to China and to control the flow of energy resources and the territories they would go through. India also shares an interest in this. Indian cooperation with the U.S. and NATO, however, comes at the expense of Indian national security. The instability in Kashmir is an example.

The instability in Pakistan is a direct result of the goal of preventing the creation of a secure energy route to China. The U.S. and NATO do not want a strong, stable, and independent Pakistan. They would rather see a divided and feeble Pakistan that can easily be controlled and would not take orders from Beijing or ally itself within the Eurasian camp. The instability in Pakistan and the terrorist attacks against Iran that have been originating from the Pakistani border are meant to prevent the establishment of a secure energy route to China.

Moreover, U.S and NATO objectives in South Asia also include using India as a counter-weight against China. This is the same strategy that Britain applied on the European continent between various European powers and the same strategy the U.S. used in the Middle East in regards to Iran and Iraq during the Iraq-Iran War. In this context, after the 2010 NATO Summit in Lisbon, NATO has asked for military ands security dialogue with New Delhi. [36]

The rivalries between the U.S., China, and India have had a direct bearing on the militarization of the Indian Ocean. A naval arms race has been underway in the Indian Ocean. Both India and China are racing to procure and build as many naval ports as possible while they expand their navies.

The maritime shipping route that passes the territorial waters of Sri Lanka is vital to Chinese energy security. In this context, geo-politics also has had a direct impact on the nature of the Sri Lankan Civil War. In 2009, the Chinese and their allies supported the Sri Lankan government in the hope of seeing a stable political environment on the island state so as to secure the Chinese naval presence and the cooperation of Sri Lanka. After the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War, Colombo joined the SCO as a “dialogue partner” like Belarus.

The militarization of the Indian Ocean has not stopped and is merely underway. Internal tensions in Pakistan and India, the regional tensions in South Asia between its states, and the tensions between New Delhi and Beijing all are threats to Eurasian cohesion and security.

The East Africa Front: Somalia, Ethiopia, and Sudan

In East Africa the U.S. and NATO strategy is to block China from access to regional energy resources and to setup a choke point to control international shipping. Like Central Asia, U.S. aims in East Africa, as well as the entire African continent, are to hinder China from superpower status. Military control over East Africa and its geo-strategically important waters has been intensifying since the 1990s. A large NATO naval armada permanently sails in the waves off the Horn of Africa and off the coast of East Africa ready to cordon the seas. The involvement of the U.S. military in Yemen is directly tied to the U.S. geo-strategy in East Africa and plans to control the maritime waterways there, as well as East African energy and the movement of international shipping. The piracy problem off the coast of Somalia and the demonization of Sudan are consequences of these strategic objectives.

Looking at Somalia, the conditions that have led to the piracy problem were nurtured to give the U.S. and NATO a pretext for militarizing the strategic waterways of the region. The U.S. and NATO have wanted anything except for stability in the Horn of Africa. In December 2006 the Ethiopian military invaded Somalia and overthrew the Islamic Courts Union (I.C.U.) government of Somalia. The Ethiopian invasion took place at a point in Somalia when the I.C.U. government had relatively stabilized Somalia and was close to bringing a state of lasting peace and order to the entire African country.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) coordinated the 2006 invasion of Somalia. The Ethiopian land invasion was synchronized with the U.S. military and saw the joint intervention of the U.S. military alongside the Ethiopians through U.S. Special Forces and U.S. aerial attacks. [37] General John Abizaid, the commander of CENTCOM, went to Ethiopia and held a low-profile meeting with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on December 4, 2006 to plan the attack on Somalia. Approximately three weeks later the U.S. and Ethiopia both attacked and invaded Somalia. [38]

The Somali I.C.U. government was defeated and removed from power and in its place the Somalian Transitional Government (STG), an unpopular government subservient to U.S. and E.U. edicts, was brought to power under the Ethiopian and U.S. military intervention. Marshall law was also imposed in Somalia by the Ethiopian military. At the international level, the I.C.U. government was demonized and the invasion was justified by the U.S., Britain, Ethiopia, NATO, and the Somalian Transitional Government as a part of the “Global War on Terror” and a war against sympathisers and allies of Al-Qaeda.

The Somalian Transitional Government and its leaders were immediately accused of collaborating in the dismantling of Somalia and being clients of the U.S. and other foreign powers by Somali parliamentarians and citizens. [39] The Speaker of the Transitional Somali Parliament, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, accused Ethiopia of deliberately sabotaging “any chance of peace in Somalia.” [40] The Somali Speaker and other Somali parliamentarians who were taking refuge in Kenya were immediately ordered to leave Kenya by the Kenyan government for opposing the Ethiopian invasion of their country. [41] Their expulsion was ordered at the behest of the U.S. government.

The extent of U.S. influence over Ethiopia and Kenya and of the U.S. role in directing the invasion of Somalia can also be understood by the testimony of Saifa Benaouda:
At the Kenyan border, she was detained by soldiers, including three Americans, who had American flag patches on their uniforms, she said. She was then, by turns, imprisoned in Kenya, secretly deported back to Mogadishu, then spirited to Ethiopia, where she was fingerprinted and had her DNA taken by a man who said he was American. She was interrogated by a group of men and women, who she determined by their accents to be Americans and Europeans, she said. [42]
Ethiopia deliberately sabotaged the peace talks in next-door Somalia under American orders. The country is now divided and in the north, Puntland and Somaliland are virtually independent states. Instead of the stability and peace that the I.C.U. government was bringing, bands of pirates, militias, and a group called Harakat Al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen or simply Al-Shabaab have been allowed to take control of Somalia. Al-Shabaab is the equivalent of the pre-2001 Taliban in Afghanistan. [43]

The instability brought about by Ethiopia and the U.S. has helped justify the militarization of East Africa by the military forces of the U.S. and NATO. The Russian, Chinese, and Iranian navies have also deployed their warships into the region on anti-piracy and maritime security missions. [44] These naval deployments, however, are also strategically symmetric counter-moves to the U.S. and NATO naval build-up in the waters of East Africa, from the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

Sudanese oil goes to China and the trade relations of Khartoum are tied to Beijing. This is why Russia and China oppose U.S., British, and French efforts to internationalize the domestic problems of Sudan at the U.N. Security Council. Moreover, it is due to Sudan’s business ties to China that Sudanese leaders have been targeted by the U.S. and E.U. as human rights violators, while the human right records of the dictators that are their clients and allies are ignored.

Although the Republic of Sudan is not traditionally considered to be in the Middle East, Khartoum has been engaged as a member of the Resistance Bloc. Iran, Syria, and Sudan have been strengthening their ties and cooperation since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Israeli war against the Lebanese and the subsequent deployment of international military forces, predominately from NATO countries, onto Lebanese soil and water did not go unnoticed in Sudan either. In is in context of this resistance that Sudan has also been deepening its military ties with Tehran and Damascus.

Sudanese leaders have sworn to resist the entrance of NATO or any international forces into their country. Sudan has made it clear that they will see these forces as invaders who want to plunder the national resources of Sudan. Second Vice-President Ali Osman Taha of Sudan has vowed that the Sudanese government would maintain its opposition to any foreign intervention under the pretext of peacekeeping forces for Darfur (Darfour) and has hailed Hezbollah as a model of resistance for Sudan. [45] In a show of solidarity for Sudanese resistance, Dr. Ali Larijani on behalf of Iran has also led an international parliamentary delegation to Khartoum, in March 2009, when a politically-motivated arrest warrant was issued by the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) for Omar Hassan Ahmed Al-Basher, the Sudanese president.

Khartoum has been under intense U.S. and E.U. pressure. While there is a humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the underlying causes of the conflict have been manipulated and distorted. The underlying causes are intimately related to economic and strategic interests and not ethnic cleansing. Both America and its E.U. partners are the main authors behind the fighting and instability in Darfur and Southern Sudan. The U.S., the E.U., and Israel have assisted in the training, financing, and arming of the militias and forces opposed to the Sudanese government in these regions. They lay blame squarely on Khartoum’s shoulders for any violence while they themselves fuel conflict in order to move in and control the energy resources of Sudan.

Tel Aviv has boasted about militarily intervening in Sudan to upset weapons transactions between Hamas and Iran going through Sudan and Egypt, but Israeli activities have really been limited to sending weapons to opposition groups and separatist movements in Sudan. Israeli arms have entered Sudan from Ethiopia for years until Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia, which made Ethiopia lose its Red Sea coast, and bad relations developed between the Ethiopians and Eritreans. Since then Israeli weapons have been entering Southern Sudan from Kenya. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Southern Sudan has also been helping arm the militias in Darfur. The Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), a U.S. client, has also been sending arms to both the militias in Darfur and the SPLM.
The extent of Israeli influence with Sudanese opposition groups is significant. The Sudan Tribune reported on March 5, 2008 that separatist groups in Darfur and Southern Sudan had offices in Israel:
[Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] supporters in Israel announced establishment of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement office in Israel, a press release said today. “After consultation with the leadership of SPLM in Juba, the supporters of SPLM in Israel have decided to establish the office of SPLM in Israel.” Said [sic.] a statement received by email from Tel Aviv signed by the SLMP secretariat in Israel. The statement said that SPLM office would promote the policies and the vision of the SPLM in the region. It further added that in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement the SPLM has the right to open in any country including Israel. It also indicated that there are around 400 SPLM supporters in Israel. Darfur rebel leader Abdel Wahid al-Nur said last week he opened an office in Tel Aviv. [46]
There is a power sharing arrangement between Omar Al-Basher and the SPLM, which has a strong grip over Southern Sudan. The leader of the SPLM, Salva Kiir Mayardit, is the First Vice-President of Sudan and the President of Southern Sudan. The SPLM has strong ties with Israel and its members and supporters regularly visit Israel and Sudan’s other enemies. It is due to this that Khartoum removed the Sudanese passport restriction on visiting Israel in late-2009 to satisfy the SPLM. [47] Salva Kiir Mayardit has also said that Southern Sudan will recognize Israel when it separates from Sudan.

The events in Sudan and Somalia are linked to the international thirst and rivalry for oil and energy, but are also part of the aligning of a geo-strategic chessboard revolving around control for Eurasia. The militarization of East Africa is part of the preparations for a confrontation with China and its allies. East Africa is an important front that will heat up in the coming years.

The East Asia Front: The Shadow War against China

In this current century, all roads lead to East Asia and China. This will become more and more so as this century progresses. In East Asia a shadow war is being waged against the Chinese. If the globe were a chessboard and the rivals and opponents of the U.S. and NATO were chess pieces, China would be the king piece, while Russia would be the queen piece. The U.S. and NATO march to war will ultimately lead to East Asia and the borders of the Chinese. From the eyes of America, in the words of Brzezinski, “China is unfinished business.” [48]

In East Asia, the U.S. and its allies support the breakaway republic of Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, and use it as a strategic base against mainland China. Taiwan also administers some of the small islands in the South China Sea, which along with Taiwan Island or Formosa, overlook the strategic shipping lanes to China. A missile shield project, similar to the one in Europe directed against Russia and its CSTO allies, has also been in the works in East Asia for years that includes the use of Taiwan.

The U.S. and its allies are also interested in North Korea and Myanmar as a means of encircling the Chinese. Both North Korea, in Northeast Asia, and Myanmar, in Southeast Asia, are close Chinese allies. The pretext of a threat from North Korea is being used to justify the elements of the missile shield project being built in Northeast Asia. Of special importance in Southeast Asia is the port and naval facilities that Myanmar is constructing to give the Chinese a far more secure energy lifeline in the Indian Ocean that circumvents Malacca and Taiwan.
There have also been internal operations underway against Beijing. In Chinese Turkistan, where Xinjiang Autonomous Region is located, the U.S. and its allies have been supporting Uyghur separatism based on a matrix of Uyghur ethnic nationalism, pan-Turkism, and Islam to weaken China. In Tibet the aims are the same as in Xinjiang, but the U.S. and its allies have been involved in far more intensified intelligence operations there.

Breaking Xinjiang and Tibet from China would heavily obstruct its rise as a superpower. The estrangement of both Xinijang and Tibet would take vast resources in these territories away from China and the Chinese economy. It would also deny China direct access to the ex-Soviet Republics of Central Asia. This would effectively disrupt the land route in Eurasia and complicate the creation of an energy corridor to China.

Any future governments in an independent Xinjiang or an independent Tibet could act like Ukraine under the Orangists in regards to disrupting Russian gas supplies to the European Union over political differences and transit prices. Beijing as an energy consumer could be held hostage like European countries were during the Ukrainian-Russian gas disputes. This is precisely one of the objectives of the U.S. in regards to stunting the Chinese.

The Latin America and Caribbean Fronts: America versus the Bolivarian Bloc

The struggle in Latin America has spanned from South America to the Caribbean and Central America or Mesoamerica. It has been a struggle between the local or regional countries allied under the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas or ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana para las Américas). ALBA has pushed for political and economic self-determination in an area that the leaders of the U.S. have seen as their own “backyard” since 1823 under the Monroe Doctrine. In their struggle for independence, these regional countries in Latin America and the Carribean have become allied with the Eurasians against America and its allies.

With the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998 and the start of his presidency in 1999, Venezuela became the force that would establish the seeds of the Bolivarian Bloc, which is named after Simón José Bolívar, the man who led Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Columbia, Ecuador, and Panama to independence in their struggle against Spain. The Bolivarian government in Caracas would go to the aid of Cuba and end the American attempts to isolate Havana by openly declaring solidarity with Cuba and expanding ties. The bilateral agreements signed by Cuba and Venezuela would form the nucleus of the Bolivarian Bloc and the model of the expanded format of the alliance under ALBA.

In 2006, the alliance between Havana and Caracas began to take in new members. In 2006, Evo Morales would become the new president of Bolivia and Bolivia would become allied with both Venezuela and Cuba. In 2007, one year later, Rafael Correa would become the president of Ecuador and Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader, would become the president of Nicaragua. Both Ecuador and Nicaragua instantly joined the alliance between Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela. In 2008, Honduras under President Manuel Zelaya, who was elected in 2006, would also enter ALBA. In all these countries the Bolivarian leaders would work for economic and constitutional reform to remove the local oligarchies allied with U.S. interests in Latin America.

To reduce their dependency on the U.S., the Bolivarian Bloc has also introduced its own unified regional monetary compensation framework, called the SUCRE (Sistema Único de Compensación Regional). [49] The implementation of the SUCRE follows the same steps as the euro, being used initially on a virtual basis for trade and eventually as a hard currency. This is part of a joint move away from the U.S. dollar by the Bolivarians and the Eurasians.

The White House, the Pentagon, the U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Congress have viciously attacked the Bolivarian Bloc and its leaders in language that exposes so-called U.S. democratic values as being false pretexts for invasions and international aggression. This U.S. rhetoric has also been in tune with a U.S. program for regime change and covert operations in Latin America. During the course of all these events the U.S. embassies and American diplomats in these Latin American countries would be implicated in supporting violence against the Bolivarian governments.

In 2002, the U.S. supported a failed coup against Chávez by elements of the Venezuelan military. In Bolivia, since 2006, the leadership of the energy-rich eastern departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, and Tarija started pushing for autonomy with the help of U.S. funding from the Office of Transition Initiatives of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In 2008, civil strife began when the leaders of the eastern departments started to seize local government buildings, energy facilities, and infrastructure as part of an attempt to separate from Bolivia. The American-supported failed attempts to divide Bolivia were part of the attempt by the U.S. government to retain control over Bolivian natural gas.

In Honduras, the weakest link in the Bolivarian Bloc, a military coup d’état supported by the U.S., under the cloud of a constitutional crisis, would replace Manuel Zelaya in 2008. The outcry and clamour against the military coup in Honduras would be so strong that the U.S. government would publicly act as if it were opposed to the American-engineered coup in Honduras. A United Nations General Assembly meeting under the presidency of Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, a Christian priest of the Roman Catholic Church, would unanimously condemn the coup in Honduras. In 2010, the U.S. would also support an attempted coup in Ecuador by police units against Rafael Correa and his government.

The U.S. has been militarizing the Caribbean and Latin America to regain its control of the Americas. The Pentagon has been arming Columbia and deepening its military ties with Columbia to counter Venezuela and its allies. On October 30, 2009 the Columbian and U.S. governments would also sign an agreement that would allow the U.S to use Columbian military bases.

American-garrisoned Haiti also serves the broader hemispheric agenda of the U.S. to challenge the Bolivarian Bloc using the westernmost ridge of the island of Hispaniola. Haiti is located just south of Cuba. Geographically it is situated in the best position to simultaneously assault Cuba, Venezuela, and the states of Central America, like Nicaragua. The catastrophic 2010 earthquakes and the instability that the U.S. has created in Haiti through multiple invasions of Haiti make the project to subvert the Caribbean and Latin America far less conspicuous. Looking at the map and the militarization of Haiti it is unambiguous that the U.S. plans to use Haiti, like Columbia and Curaçao, as a hub for military and intelligence operations. Haiti would also prove as an invaluable base in the scenario of a broader conflict waged by the U.S. and its proxies against Caracas and its regional allies.

It is clear that U.S. is loosing its grip in the Americas. Not only does the U.S. government want to prevent this, but it also wants to ensure that it does not lose the energy reserves of countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia to the energy-hungry Chinese. Under fair global competition there is no way that the U.S. will be able to match what Beijing is willing to offer the nations of Latin American and the Caribbean for their energy exports and resources. Ultimately, the U.S. is still planning on resorting to aggression in order to control Latin America and the Caribbean. This is why the Bolivarians have allied themselves with Russia, Iran, China, and their Eurasian entente.

The Arctic Front: Controlling Future Energy Reserves

Tense rivalry involving the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Norway, and the Russian Federation has emerged in the Arctic Circle for the North Pole’s vast resources. Aside from Russia, all the nations involved are members of NATO. Russia has the greatest claim to the area due to its territorial expanse in the region.

Under the backdrop of this rivalry for natural resources, the Arctic Circle is being militarized by NATO and Russia. In Orwellian terms, these NATO countries claim that they are working for peace and stability through military means and the improvement of their combat capabilities in an area of the globe that does not need a large military presence. Logically this is nothing other than double-speak. Why the need for better combat readiness and capabilities in the Arctic? In this context, the U.S., Canada, Denmark, and Norway have been working together against the Russian Federation.

Canada and the U.S. have also been streamlining their Arctic policies, because Canada is the strongest challenger in terms of territorial size to Russia. The U.S. is working through Canada to tap the energy resources of the Arctic. Both Ottawa and Moscow have claimed the Lomonosov Ridge as an extension of their continental shelves.

Prime Minister Steven Harper and the Canadian government have demanded that the underwater boundaries of the region be settled and have diplomatically warned Moscow to stand-down in regards to the Russian claim to the Arctic: “Canada will maintain control of our Arctic lands and waters and will respond when others take actions that affect our national interests.” [50] Ottawa’s three Arctic priorities are:
(1) Demarcating the Arctic;
(2) Receiving international recognition of Canadian control over the Lomonosov Ridge as an extension of the continental shelf extending from Canadian territory;
(3) An Arctic security regime under the platform of Arctic governance and emergency measures. [51]
The NATO agenda in the Arctic starts as early as 2006, when Norway invited all NATO and its associates for its Cold Response drills. Canada too has continuously held Arctic exercises to demonstrate its sovereignty in the Arctic, but starting in 2010 U.S. and Danish troops were involved in Operation Nanook 10. [52] This is a sign of NATO cooperation against Russia. According to a Canadian military press release the military drills were intended “to strengthen preparedness, increase interoperability and exercise a collective response to emerging challenges in the Arctic.” [53] Aside from a Russian claim to the Lomonosov Ridge, there is no other situation that could be seen as an emerging challenge that warrants a collective military response by Canada, the U.S., and Denmark.

The battle over the Arctic is well underway. By virtue of its territory, Russia has the largest territorial claim. Yet, the U.S., Canada, and Denmark refuse to recognized this. A crisis between NATO and Russia, which will be supported by China, over claims about Arctic resources will emerge at a future point.


Russia Rules Pipelineistan
Nabucco - the alleged gas Holy Grail from the Caspian Sea to Europe, 4,000 kilometers from Turkey to Austria - is the perennial Pipelineistan soap opera. Part of the gas to supply Nabucco may come from Azerbaijan. Another part might - a very problematic "might" - come from Turkmenistan. But every self-respecting energy analyst knows

Nabucco could only possibly work if it was supplied by natural gas from Iran. That will happen over Washington's collective dead body. So, once again, the spineless European Union (EU) political "leadership" - once again acting like the poodles of choice - gloriously sabotaged what it has always billed as its most ambitious energy project; caved in to US pressure; and ultimately sacrificed its energy independence. And all this from people who never lose an opportunity to decry that Europe is a "gas hostage" to Russia's Gazprom.

As with all things Pipelineistan, there are layers and layers of nuance. Moscow is pulling out all the stops to prevent Iran from eventually joining Nabucco - because its top policy agenda is to extend its stranglehold over the EU's gas supply to 30%.

The crucial Azerbaijan gas angle is centered on the huge Shah Deniz 2 fields. For what is called the Southern Corridor, via Italy, two possible pipelines are in competition. Then there are two others competing on a Northern/Balkans route; one of them is Nabucco; the other, faithful to the acronym-laden ethos of Pipelineistan, is the South East Europe Pipeline (SEEP). Only next year will the world know the end chapter for this never-ending soap opera.

For the Southern Corridor, the favorite is TAP (Trans-Adriatic pipeline), a Swiss-German-Norwegian joint venture. TAP will use infrastructure already in place and only needs investment in a short underwater pipeline from Greece to Italy. Norway's Statoil, crucially, is a 25.5% partner in the exploitation of Shah Deniz 2 fields; that makes things way easier.

For the Northern/Balkans route, the fat lady may be about to sing for Nabucco. The favorite to win is a BP project, much cheaper than Nabucco, and with no need to use Turkmen gas. BP - of Gulf of Mexico polluting fame - happens to be the major stockholder of Shah Deniz 2. Azerbaijan - mired in corruption - can be reasonably described as BP country. Even his close ally Washington knows Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is something of a Mafia boss. The Azeris, by the way, happen to be very popular in Washington courtesy of the Israeli lobby.

We play chess the win-win wayA certified winner in this complex Pipelineistan battle is Turkey. After all, any gas from Azerbaijan towards Europe must transit through Turkey. Since last December, in fact, Turkey and Azerbaijan have a memorandum in place committing both to the construction of the TANAP (Trans-Anatolian Pipeline). TANAP will eventually become part of the Southern Corridor.

Even if Azerbaijan decides to sell its extra gas wealth to Russia, Turkey also wins. Turkey has authorized the underwater passage of the Russian-Italian (Vladimir Putin-Silvio Berlusconi?) South Stream pipeline in its territory in return for even more robust trade and energy ties with Russia.

But most of all Russia wins. South Stream is a go. Gazprom for its part has increased its charm offensive all across Central Asia; this means that the more Gazprom imports gas from them, the less gas will be available for Europe (unless it is sold by Russia ...)

With Putin back in the presidency in May, the strategy that he laid out back in 2000 is graphically paying all kinds of dividends. Gazprom's head Alexei Miller - appointed by Putin - is totally invested in creating a complex economy of scale with energy supplying countries in the region, applying a very Chinese "win-win" mentality.

The leadership in Azerbaijan, for instance, knows very well that Russia is the only player capable of determining what goes on in the Caucasus - and on top of it offers great energy deals. So here's the writing on the wall; Russia under Putin will be even more influential from the Caucasus to Central Asia.

For this to work, Russia had to torpedo Nabucco. In fact, the European-wide financial crisis took care of it. Nabucco may end up costing a staggering $25 billion - and counting. Nabucco's construction "might" start by the end of 2014 and be finished by the end of 2017; but all dates have been incessantly postponed for years. Azerbaijan could only provide less than half of the gas. Nobody anywhere really knows what will be Turkmenistan's game. And Iran has been ruled out by His Master's Voice - Washington.

Still, the TCP (Trans-Caspian Pipeline) - between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan - remains in the cards. That, in theory, would be the gate for Europe to finally have (indirect) access to the Central Asian energy wealth of the Caspian Sea. Ashgabat and Baku seem to be in synch about it - the whole thing helped by EU-brokered negotiations. Turkey has also endorsed it. But Russia under Putin will do whatever it takes to bomb the TCP idea.

Still the most pressing question seems to be whether anybody in Brussels will wake up from its masochistic haze, stop the sanction nonsense, and talk energy with Iran.

Pepe Escobar is the author ofGlobalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His most recent book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).


The Oil Road Through Damascus

Middle East oil transit routes are at risk from Islamist revolutions and Iranian threats. Does Syria present an opportunity for the West to bypass the most troubling oil chokepoints? Is that a strong driver behind the West's interest in the Syrian rebellion? Instability all along the oil road is at its highest point in decades, and Syria's history as a perennial spoiler and location as a potential energy path cannot have been missed.

Consider the recent pressures on Middle East oil shipping routes: Iranian influence on the Shi'ite-dominated government in Iraq has caused significant worry in Washington. Iran's influence in Iraq can be viewed, Stratfor notes, as a greater "arc of influence" from Iran to Iraq, extended through Syria and into Lebanon. The West's strategy is to contain Iran's foreign influence and prevent Iran's development of nuclear weapons. Syria would be a natural target for this strategy.
  • Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to economic sanctions or military action aimed at its nuclear program. Over 17 million barrels of oil per day flow through the Strait , and the mere threat of closure has kept oil prices elevated.
  • Somali pirate activity has expanded well beyond Somalia into the Red Sea, and northeast into the Indian Ocean as far as Oman, Pakistan and India. In 2008, these pirates captured the Sirius Star, a tanker that carried 2 million barrels of oil.
  • Yemen, which sits in a key position on the Bab-el-Mandab strait, separating the Arabian peninsula from the horn of Africa, struggles with a rebellion against the Saleh regime. It has also been a hot zone of internecine conflict between Sunni and Shi'ite communities and has also been a hotbed of al-Qaeda activity and drone attacks against Islamist militants.
  • The Arab Spring in Egypt has seen the rise of Islamist interests inimical to the West and Israel, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which is highly-anti-Western. Since then, diplomatic tensions between Egypt and the US have risen dramatically. Because the Arab Spring was largely stoked and triggered by the explosion of food prices in a very poor part of the world, and they have not abated, the level of desperation and radicalism displayed in Egypt to the West is likely to worsen.
  • A single "Suezmax" tanker sunk in the Suez Canal would cause an explosion in world energy prices. If the Suez Canal and/or the SUMED pipeline, were closed, as the Suez was by Nasser in 1957 , then oil tankers would have to travel an additional 9,600 kilometers around Africa to reach its destination. This fact has never been lost on Western logisticians .
As a result, Middle East oil shipping lanes have always attracted a strong, expensive and provocative Western military presence.

An overland alternative?

Good generals study tactics, great generals study logistics.
- General Omar Bradley

The search for non-naval oil routes is not a new topic. In 2003, shortly after the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon requested a feasibility study on the possible revival of the long-defunct Mosul-Haifa oil pipeline route. This pipeline was activated by the British in 1935 to transfer Iraqi oil to the Mediterranean. It was shut down in 1948 by Iraq in the aftermath of Israel's founding.

While there was much discussion on the pipeline's revival, the general conclusion was that such an effort would be entirely infeasible, because such a pipeline would be a magnet for terrorist attacks due to the regional stigma attached to Israel. This concern is confirmed by the recent rash of pipeline attacks on Egyptian energy flows to Israel. Thus, most pipelines in the region entirely bypass Israel.

However, properly secured, a pipeline through Israel, Syria or Lebanon to the Mediterranean would be of tremendous value. The important phrase here is "properly secured". Otherwise, one choke point would be exchanged for another, potentially more vulnerable one. Such a route would only be feasible if it were shielded from the blackmail and sabotage so common to the region. Until now, a major Syrian pipeline would have been a pipe dream.

Why not Syria already?

Although there are pipelines through Syria today, they are of miniscule importance compared to major arteries such as Egypt's SUMED and would do little to replace the Strait of Hormuz-Suez route. For decades, the Assad regime effectively locked itself out of any meaningful commercial links with the West through a combination of wars, dark alliances and support for terror groups across the region.

In the Cold War, Syria's strong alignment with the USSR, repeated attacks against Israel, both militarily and through its support and shelter of anti-Western terror groups, made it extremely unreliable as a host for pipelines upon which so many nations would depend. In particular, the alignment with the USSR was seen as a political threat by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council nations. [1]

During the Lebanese Civil War, Syria actively supported Shi'ite factions and came to dominate Lebanon in the aftermath of the country's civil war. Furthermore, the country harbored Imad Mugniyeh, the prime suspect in the 1983 bombing of a US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, in which nearly 300 US and French servicemen were killed. He was finally assassinated in 2008, in Damascus.

After the Cold War, Syria continued to dominate Lebanon, and was allegedly a key player in the assassination of president Rafic Hariri, a Sunni. Though this led to the "Cedar Revolution" that drove most of Syria's uniformed troops out of Lebanon and loosened its grip on the country, Syria's continued support of terror organizations in Lebanon and the political wing of Hezbollah kept it at odds with the West.

Hopes that Bashar al-Assad would initiate a new era of peace and openness with the West were dashed early on. He sheltered a number of key leaders from Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist Party, and did almost nothing to stem the flow of money, fighters and weapons back into Iraq. Assad's Syria continued to pursue the development of weapons of mass destruction, which included the attempt to construct a secret nuclear reactor, with the assistance of North Korea, in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The reactor was destroyed by Israeli bombers on September 6, 2007 as part of Operation Orchard .

Syria worked hard to earn its status as a pariah nation, which is why even whispers of a super-pipeline route are so belated. Even with an Assad-dominated Syria, and there are feasibility studies underway to add significant additional crude oil pipeline capacity from Iraq through Syria, as well as an underwater pipeline to Turkey. There is also an opportunity for Syria in the natural gas transport space. Syria would be the logical choice to host a branch for Egyptian liquefied natural gas into the Nabucco pipeline network.

The dangerous road ahead

At this point there is little Bashar can do to save his regime. The high food prices that lit the fires of the Arab Spring remain, and the slaughter of so many demonstrators has made untenable any hopes Assad would have to live peacefully in Syria even if he resigned. With the exceptions of Russia and Iran, Syria's traditional commercial partners, including oil companies, have unified to isolate and starve the regime.

The ultimate question for the outcome of the overland super-pipeline is what will fill the power vacuum after Assad's collapse? If Syria descends into sectarian civil war, it would be some time before such a project could proceed. Iran will fight for control of the country in the same way it did for Lebanon and Iraq - through a combination of supporting political movements and terror tactics. Some of these have allegedly already come into play to fight for the Assad regime.

Similarly, Turkey has a major stake in the outcome in Syria. Its most immediate interest there is to prevent a destabilizing tide of refugees from Syria, but the more strategic interests are manifold. Turkey's leadership, embodied by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, wants to see Turkey re-assert a dominant economic and political position in the region. To have that role in Syria, Iranian influence would have to be driven away. Likewise, Russian influence in Syria, projected from its military hub of Tartus, is not desirable from the Turkish point of view.

Add in the discovery of huge offshore natural gas reserves in Lebanon and Israel, and the precedent of Iranian natural gas embargos to Turkey , and the overall potential impact Syria can have on energy transport, and it becomes clear that Syria carries huge weight in Turkish foreign policy formulation.

How far will Turkey go? Is it prepared to offer its troops as peacekeepers? Will the US and its allies accept the costs of a long-term Turkish presence to contain Iran, and/or guard a critical energy artery as they guard naval routes from the Persian Gulf? The Syrian people - Alawi, Shiite, Sunni, Christian and Kurd alike, do not have fond memories of Ottoman domination. Whatever happens, the iron law remains: the spice must flow.

Note: 1. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates

Ronnie Blewer is an IT security and systems management professional with a strong interest in global economic and foreign policy issues. Mr. Blewer has degrees in Russian language and Political Science from Louisiana State University. To contact him via e-mail, he can be reached at

Copyright 2012 Ronne Brewer

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.


Russian Navy Ready to Break Syria Blockade Says Arms Agency

Russian Navy warships will be sent to defend Russian merchant shipping in the event of a blockade due to the situation in Syria, the deputy head of Russia's military technical cooperation agency said at the Farnborough air show in Britain on Wednesday. "The fleet will be sent on task to guarantee the safety of our ships, to prevent anyone interfering with them in the event of a blockade. I remind you, there are no limits," Vyacheslav Dzirkaln said, when asked about the navy's actions in the event of a blockade.

The Defense Ministry said on Tuesday a Russian naval task force was on its way to carry out naval exercises in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Seas. The task force comprises warships from Russia's Northern, Baltic and Black Sea Fleets, a ministry official told RIA Novosti. The Russian cargo ship Alaed, which was carrying a cargo of renovated Mil Mi-25 helicopter gunships to Syria, was forced to stop on June 18 and return to Russia after its insurance cover was withdrawn by a British insurer.

Dzirkaln said Russia has not embargoed its existing arms contracts with Syria and will fulfill existing contracts for air defense systems and helicopters, in clarification of a statement made on Monday which indicated no new arms deliveries would be made by Moscow to Damascus. Syrian opposition expressed concern on Wednesday over the departure of Russian warships to the Mediterranean as the presence of the Russian Navy near the Syrian coast could encourage the Assad regime to use even more violence against protesters.

"We have discussed this problem with Russia," senior member of Istanbul-based opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) Burham Ghalioun told a news conference at RIA Novosti. "We are concerned with the fact that these maneuvers coincide with the escalation of the situation [in Syria]."


Russia Sending Warships on Maneuvers Near Syria

Russia said on Tuesday that it had dispatched a flotilla of 11 warships to the eastern Mediterranean, some of which would dock in Syria. It would be the largest display of Russian military power in the region since the Syrian conflict began almost 17 months ago. Nearly half of the ships were capable of carrying hundreds of marines.
The announcement appeared intended to punctuate Russia’s effort to position itself as an increasingly decisive broker in resolving the antigovernment uprising in Syria, Russia’s last ally in the Middle East and home to Tartus, its only foreign military base outside the former Soviet Union. The announcement also came a day after Russia said it was halting new shipments of weapons to the Syrian military until the conflict settled down.
Russia has occasionally sent naval vessels on maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean, and it dispatched an aircraft-carrying battleship, the Admiral Kuznetsov, there for maneuvers with a few other vessels from December 2011 to February 2012. There were rumors in recent weeks that the Russians planned to deploy another naval force near Syria.
But the unusually large size of the force announced on Tuesday was considered a message, not just to the region but also to the United States and other nations supporting the rebels now trying to depose Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.
Tartus consists of little more than a floating refueling station and some small barracks. But any strengthened Russian presence there could forestall Western military intervention in Syria.
The Russian announcement got a muted response in Washington. “Russia maintains a naval supply and maintenance base in the Syrian port of Tartus,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. “We currently have no reason to believe this move is anything out of the ordinary, but we refer you to the Russian government for more details.”
The announcement came as a delegation of Syrian opposition figures was visiting Moscow to gauge if Russia would accept a political transition in Syria that excludes Mr. Assad. It also coincided with a flurry of diplomacy by Kofi Annan, the special Syria envoy from the United Nations and the Arab League, who said Mr. Assad had suggested a new approach for salvaging Mr. Annan’s sidelined peace plan during their meeting on Monday in Damascus.
While the Kremlin has repeatedly opposed foreign military intervention in Syria, Russian military officials have hinted at a possible role in Syria for their naval power. The ships have been presented as a means either to evacuate Russian citizens or to secure the fueling station at Tartus.
A statement by the Defense Ministry said ships had embarked from ports of three fleets: those of the Northern, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, and would meet for training exercises in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Taking part, the statement said, would be two Black Sea Fleet landing craft that can carry marines: the Nikolai Filchenkov and the Tsezar Kunikov.
Russia’s Interfax news agency cited an unnamed military official as saying that an escort ship, the Smetlivy, would stop in Tartus for resupplying in three days — though it had presumably recently left its home port of Sevastopol, in the Black Sea.
Another contingent, from the Arctic Ocean base of Severomorsk, in the Murmansk Fjord, will take longer to arrive. That convoy includes three landing craft with marines escorted by an antisubmarine ship, the Admiral Chabanenko.
The voyage to the Mediterranean was unrelated to the Syrian conflict, the official said, but the boats laden with marines would stop in Tartus to “stock up on fuel, water and food.”
Visits on Tuesday by Mr. Annan to Iran, the Syrian government’s most important regional ally, and Iraq, Syria’s neighbor to the east, which fears a sectarian spillover from the conflict, came as a deadline of July 20 approaches. That is when the United Nations Security Council is to decide whether to renew the mission of 300 observers in Syria charged with monitoring the introduction of Mr. Annan’s peace plan. The observers’ work was suspended nearly a month ago because it was too dangerous.
At a news conference in Tehran, Mr. Annan reiterated his view that the Iranians had a role to play in resolving the conflict, despite objections from the United States. Mr. Annan also said Mr. Assad had proposed altering the peace proposal so that the most violent areas of the country would be pacified first. The current plan calls for an immediate cessation of all violence everywhere as a first step.
“He made a suggestion of building an approach from the ground up in some of the districts where we have extreme violence — to try and contain the violence in these districts and, step by step, build up and end the violence across the country,” Mr. Annan told reporters in Tehran.
There was no immediate word on whether the suggested new approach would be accepted by Mr. Assad’s opponents. But in Moscow, a delegation from the Syrian National Council, the umbrella opposition group in exile, suggested they had no interest in engaging with him.
“What brings together the opposition today is our consensus on the need to topple Assad’s regime and build a new political system,” Bassma Kodmani, a member of the delegation, said at a news conference in Moscow.
The delegation members, who are to meet on Wednesday with Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, also said they would not ask that Russia grant Mr. Assad asylum — something Russian officials have said they are not considering anyway.
Andrew E. Kramer reported from Moscow, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Thomas Erdbrink from Tehran, Duraid Adnan from Baghdad, Peter E. Baker from Washington and Dalal Mawad from Beirut.
Nabucco Pipeline Might Be Abandoned by June

The long-planned Nabucco natural gas pipeline, once envisioned as stretching from Azerbaijan to Austria, will be abandoned by the end of June, a Russian report says. Citing unnamed London oil and gas analysts, the Itar-TASS news agency reported the European Commission-backed project to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russia for natural gas supplies will officially fall victim to changing market conditions before June is over. The news agency said British experts have concluded Nabucco’s backers — which include Austria’s OMV, Germany’s RWE, Hungary’s MOL, Turkey’s Botas, Bulgarian Energy Holding and Romania’s Transgaz — will abandon the USD10 billion effort as competitors appear to be gaining traction.

The consortium that controls Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II gas field in the Caspian Sea is scheduled in late June to choose between a scaled-down version of Nabucco (dubbed Nabucco West) and the BP-backed South East Europe Pipeline as the candidate to go up against the Trans Adriatic Pipeline in a final decision on which will transport billions of cubic meters of gas annually to Europe.

The Shah Deniz consortium includes BP as well as Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company SOCAR.

The original vision for the Nabucco was for it to have a transport capacity of 31 billion cubic meters per year but, under the Nabucco West version, that has been scaled back to 10 billion cubic meters. And while the first iteration was to run 2,500 miles from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II gas fields through Georgia, Turkey and Eastern Europe to Austria, the downsized pipeline would be 800 miles, starting at the Bulgarian-Turkish border.

Comments last week from BP Chief Executive of Refining and Marketing Iain Conn to an audience in Berlin also seemed to cast doubt on Nabucco’s viability, the EUobserver reported, as quoted by UPI.

While Conn said the choice of an Azerbaijan-European pipeline connection would be “transparent” with “no pre-determined winner,” he added that BP’s own SEEP proposal “offers an efficient routing into and through these strategically important markets” in southeastern Europe, while not similarly praising Nabucco. is an online media product of Public Services Ltd. The company was founded in January 2010 with the mission to develop knowledge in the field of energy, public services and utilities. The team of Public Services has worked on numerous projects and products in diverse sectors of public services.


The World’s Most Resource-Rich Countries

24/7 Wall St. performed a detailed analysis of the 10 most plentiful and valuable natural resources on earth. Using estimates of each country’s total reserves and the market value of these resources, we determined the 10 countries that have the most valuable supplies of natural resources. Some of these commodities, including uranium, silver and phosphate, are not as valuable as others because of low demand or because they are too rare. However, in the cases of oil, natural gas, timber and coal, reserves can be worth tens of trillions of dollars in some countries, because demand is high and resources are relatively plentiful.

Read the ten most resource-rich countries in the world

Since the beginning of the year, rising prices at the pump have focused attention on crude oil and the global economic recovery. Crude oil remains the largest source of transportation fuel in the world. Because it remains expensive to recover the oil we know about and to find new undiscovered oil, rising pump prices reflect the scarcity or, at least, the potential scarcity of crude.

The value of oil as a scarce natural resource is clear, based on its effect on these countries’ total resource values. Six of the 10 countries with the most valuable overall reserves in the 10 categories combined have among the top 10 oil reserves. For some countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, oil represents more than 85% of the nation’s natural resource worth. In the case of Kuwait, which has the 12th most valuable natural resources overall, oil is its only commodity that falls among the top 10 for reserves.

The supply of oil in contrast to the supply of natural gas, especially in the domestic U.S. market, could not be more stark. New drilling techniques have taken over the industry in the past few years, leading to a supply glut and a corresponding drop in price. It is difficult to predict how long these low prices will last, but it is worth keeping in mind that hydraulically fractured wells produce gas quicker and taper off faster than conventional gas wells. At some point, probably a decade or two away, shale gas production also will decline.

For the time being, gas plays a major role in the world’s resource markets. Six of the 10 countries that have the most valuable natural resource reserves in the world are also within the top 10 that have the most natural gas. Combined, Russia and Iran account for more than 40% of the world’s natural gas.

Lumber prices are recovering after bottoming at just above $200 per contract (110,000 board feet). That’s after falling from as high as around $450 in 2005. The world’s forests, while arguably renewable, are inarguably the world’s most valuable resource after fresh water. Their value here is computed by assuming all the timber is cut and sold for sale. One could make a good argument that as a filter for carbon dioxide emissions and as a producer of fresh water, the world’s timberlands are even more valuable untouched than they are when cut down and sold.

Six of the countries with the most timber are featured on this list. Russia, which tops the list, has the most lumber in the world. Brazil and Canada, which hold the second and third spots for timber, are also on the overall list.

Coal’s big problem is that it’s dirty and there is no cheap way to clean it up. Proposals to cut carbon dioxide emissions add billions to the cost of new coal-fired electricity generation plants and at least hundreds of millions to retrofits. Of the two main types of coal, metallurgical and thermal, demand for the more costly metallurgical coal is determined primarily by demand for steel, which in turn depends on an expanding economy. Lower priced thermal coal has a limited future, but, like crude oil, that limit could be decades away.

Coal is one of the most plentiful and valuable resources for some of the countries on this list, most notably the United States. The U.S.’s total combined resource value is $45 trillion. The estimated value of the country’s coal reserves is approximately two-thirds of that — just shy of $30 trillion. Russia, China and Australia also have ample and valuable quantities of this commodity.

Using the most recent uniformly available data on reserves and global market prices, 24/7 Wall St. calculated the total value of the proved reserves of 10 of the most valuable resources, by country. They include oil, natural gas, coal, timber, gold, silver, copper, uranium, iron ore and phosphate. Using sources, which include the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Bloomberg and Financial Visualizations, 24/7 Wall St. identified the current market price of the 10 resources, as well as the reserves available for those resources. In many cases, including coal, oil and natural gas, prices vary based on type. In these cases, 24/7 Wall st. used the price for what is widely considered the benchmark commodity. When there was no established benchmark, we used an average of the most common types sold.

These are the 10 most resource-rich countries in the world.

10. Venezuela
> Total resource value: $14.3 trillion
> Oil reserves (value): 99.4 billion barrels ($11.7 trillion)
> Natural gas reserves (value): 170.9 cu. ft. ($1.9 trillion)
> Timber reserves (value): not in top 10
Venezuela is among the 10 largest resource holders for iron, natural gas and oil. The South American nation’s natural gas reserves are eighth in the world at 170.9 trillion cubic feet. These reserves account for just over 2.7% of global supply. Venezuela’s oil wealth of 99 billion barrels is the sixth-largest in the world, and account for 7.4% of total global supply. This is based on an estimate that does not include another 97 billion barrels of the country’s extra heavy sour crude, which OPEC included last year in its report on the cartel’s resources. When that estimate is included, Venezuela’s position on this list jumps substantially.
9. Iraq
> Total resource value: $15.9 trillion
> Oil reserves (value): 115 billion barrels ($13.6 trillion)
> Natural gas reserves (value): 111.9 trillion cu. ft. ($1.3 trillion)
> Timber reserves (value): not in top 10
Iraq’s greatest resource is its oil, of which it has 115 billion barrels of proved reserves. This accounts for nearly 9% of the world’s total. Despite being relatively easy to extract, much of these reserves remain untapped because of political differences between the central government and Kurdistan concerning ownership of the oil. Iraq also has among the greatest reserves of phosphate rock in the world, worth more than $1.1 trillion. However, these deposits are completely underdeveloped.
8. Australia
> Total resource value: $19.9 trillion
> Oil reserves (value): not in top 10
> Natural gas reserves (value): not in top 10
> Timber reserves (value): 369 million acres ($5.3 trillion)
Australia’s natural wealth comes from its vast amounts of coal, timber, coal, copper and iron ore. The country is in the top three for total reserves of seven of the resources on our list. Australia has by far the most gold in the world, at 14.3% of global supply. It also has 46% of the global uranium supply, also easily the most. In addition, the country has significant quantities of natural gas offshore the northwest coast, some of which it shares with Indonesia.
7. Brazil
> Total resource value: $21.8 trillion
> Oil reserves (value): not in top 10
> Natural gas reserves (value): not in top 10
> Timber reserves (value): 1.2 billion acres ($17.5 trillion)
Brazil’s sizable gold and uranium reserves largely contribute to its place on this list. It also owns 17% of the world’s iron ore supply, the second most of any nation. Its most valuable natural resource, however, is timber. The country owns 12.3% of the world’s timber supply, valued at $17.45 trillion. In order to maintain consistency in the international numbers we used to make our calculations, we did not include Brazil’s relatively recent discovery of vast quantities of crude oil offshore in what is usually called the presalt. The estimated crude presalt reserves could reach 44 billion barrels, which would propel Brazil’s place up the list.
6. China
> Total resource value: $23 trillion
> Oil reserves (value): not in top 10
> Natural gas reserves (value): not in top 10
> Timber reserves (value): 450 million acres ($6.5 trillion)
The value of China’s resources is heavily based on coal and rare earth minerals. The two resources, combined, provide more than 90% of the country’s total resource value. China also has significant coal deposits, which account for more than 13% of the world’s total. Recently, major shale gas deposits were also discovered in the country. Once estimates of their size become available, China’s status as a world leader in natural resources will further improve.
5. Iran
> Total resource value: $27.3 trillion
> Oil reserves (value): 136.2 billion barrels ($16.1 trillion)
> Natural gas reserves (value): 991.6 trillion cu. ft. ($11.2 trillion)
> Timber reserves (value): not in top 10
Iran shares the Persian Gulf’s gigantic South Pars/North Dome gas field with Qatar. The country is home to nearly 16% of the world’s natural gas reserves — just under one quadrillion cubic feet. The country also has the third-largest amount of oil in the world, with 136.2 billion barrels of proved reserves. This is more than 10% of the world’s oil. The country is having problems realizing the monetary value of its resources due to its estrangement from international markets, stemming from its refusal to abandon its nascent nuclear development program.
4. Canada
> Total resource value: $33.2 trillion
> Oil reserves (value): 178.1 billion barrels ($21 trillion)
> Natural gas reserves (value): not in top 10
> Timber reserves (value): 775 million acres ($11.3 trillion)
Prior to the addition of its oil sands deposits to its proved reserves total, Canada probably would not have even made this list. The oil sands added about 150 billion barrels to Canada’s total in 2009 and 2010. According to most recent estimates, the country now has 178.1 billion barrels, giving it an estimated 17.8% of total global reserves, the second highest behind Saudi Arabia. The country also mines a good deal of the world’s phosphate, even though its deposits of phosphate rock are not among the top 10 in the world. The country also has the second-largest proved reserves of uranium and the third-most available timber.
3. Saudi Arabia
> Total resource value: $34.4 trillion
> Oil reserves (value): 266.7 billion barrels ($31.5 trillion)
> Natural gas reserves (value): 258.5 trillion cu. ft. ($2.9 trillion)
> Timber reserves (value): not in top 10
Saudi Arabia has nearly 20% of the world’s oil — the greatest share among all countries. In fact, all of the country’s resource value is derived from hydrocarbons — either oil or gas. The kingdom has the world’s fifth-largest amount of proved natural gas reserves. Because these resources are depleting, Saudi Arabia eventually will run out of them and lose its high standing on this list. However, this will not happen for several decades.
2. United States
> Total resource value: $45 trillion
> Oil reserves (value): not in top 10
> Natural gas reserves (value): 272.5 trillion cu. ft. ($3.1 trillion)
> Timber reserves (value): 750 million acres ($10.9 trillion)
The U.S. has 31.2% of the world’s proved coal reserves. Worth an estimated $30 trillion, this is by far the most valuable supply of any nation on earth. There is also 750 million forested acres in the country, which are worth nearly $11 trillion. Timber and coal combined are worth roughly 89% of the country’s total natural resource value. The U.S. is also in the top five nations globally for copper, gold and natural gas.
1. Russia
> Total resource value: $75.7 trillion
> Oil reserves (value): 60 billion barrels ($7.08 trillion)
> Natural gas reserves (value): 1,680 trillion cu. ft. ($19 trillion)
> Timber reserves (value): 1.95 billion acres ($28.4 trillion)
Russia is the world’s richest country when it comes to natural resources. It leads all other nations in the size of both its natural gas and timber reserves. The country’s vast size is both a blessing and a curse since economical transportation for gas (pipelines) and for timber (railroads) are significantly costly to build. In addition to having such large gas and timber reserves, Russia has the world’s second-largest deposits of coal and the third-largest deposits of gold. Additionally, it has the second-largest estimated deposits of rare earth minerals, although none are currently being mined.


Russia Shifts From Resource Nationalism to Globalism

President Vladimir Putin left global oil executives in little doubt as to who was the master of the world's largest energy reserves at Russia's answer to Davos. The sky over St Petersburg was turning white at the end of the longest day of the year, and the financiers and leaders of global industry who had gathered as Putin's guests at this year's forum were retiring to lavish parties and rooftop bars. But the chief executives of BP, ConocoPhillips, Shell and Chevron stood with a dozen colleagues in a dark, chairless foyer, shifting from foot to foot on Thursday as they waited three hours for an audience.

"No one was angry," said a European chief executive as he whiled away the wait by hashing out an equipment issue with a colleague. "There was a lot to talk about."

Putin has kept them waiting in the past, both for meetings and for deals, sometimes for years as they struggled to find a way in with a government that controls access to some of the world's largest untapped oil and gas reserves. Putin, whose conviction that strategic resources should be in the hands of the state was laid out in his doctoral dissertation, has shown a willingness in the past few months to share prospective oil riches on a scale unprecedented since Russia's early post-Soviet years.

Three Arctic drilling deals, personally brokered by energy tsar Igor Sechin in the final days of Putin's four-year spell as prime minister, have opened up new possibilities after a decade in which Russia became a byword for resource nationalism. The appeal of advanced Western technology needed to tap increasingly remote and challenging fields, and the attendant promise of a more modern, healthy economy has chipped away at the Kremlin's jealous guard of its natural resources.

It has also set off debate around long-standing tax policies that are designed to skim off oil industry revenues but have proven costly in terms of investment in new barrels. "What strikes me is that they are very much aware of the fact that they have to open up to other countries," Maria van der Hoeven, head of the International Energy Agency, said in an interview at the annual St Petersburg International Economic Forum.

"It has to do with investments and it has to do with markets, with market diversification. They need to find the right methods to do that, the right regulatory framework to get the (international oil companies) coming into the country."


When Putin finally joined the CEOs, he was at pains to be welcoming, first giving the floor to Peter Voser, the CEO of Shell, which has been identified in media reports as a potential new investor in Shtokman, a troubled Barents Sea gas project. "Twenty-five percent of our oil is produced by companies with foreign partners. That should tell you how open our industry is to foreign capital. Not in all countries is there such broad participation by foreigners," he told the executives.

"I just got back from Mexico, where the G20 was held, and (the oil industry) is almost completely state controlled. In a market-oriented country like Norway, there is really just one big company, Statoil."

Russia has one thing in common with those countries: declines in its old production base, though Russia has managed to keep pumping at ever higher rates, hitting post-Soviet output peaks thanks to new fields launched at great cost. So it was that Sechin, a former military translator in Africa, found himself defending his decision to share the state oil company's reserves with foreigners at the company's annual meeting last week when a skeptical shareholder asked him whether such deals were in Russia's national interest.

His answer echoed a refrain that has been repeated since the Rosneft first announced its intent to grant a foreign oil company access to a new hydrocarbon province that could harbor fields like the Soviet-era "supergiants" which sustained the country through its last decades: Our reserves, their capital, their risk and, most of all, their technology.


If the executives' long wait for Putin belied a welcoming stance, the body language with Exxon executives - notable by their absence at the table with Putin - has been easier to read. CEO Rex Tillerson, who flew to a Black Sea refinery town this month at Rosneft's invitation for a strategy presentation with Putin, was photographed seated next to the Russian president, inclining his head for a private word.

Exxon executives were guests of honor at Rosneft's AGM, where Sechin had frank praise for the American major and its focus on delivering value to shareholders. An executive at a rival major said he believed that was not what won over Sechin and his Kremlin patron. "They have really gone in with technology," the executive said.

The challenge faced by the Russian industry, said a source from a company with a long history in offshore drilling, is to move from standardized bulk drilling and top-down design decisions at old West Siberian fields to unpredictable environments and prospective projects where new technology must be developed and honed along the way.

Therein is the deep attraction of technology transfer for the Russian government, which is caught in a Catch-22 situation: With 50 percent of its budget revenue from energy, it can neither afford to let the industry stagnate, nor can it remain so heavily dependent on a volatile commodity. Most immediately for Rosneft, it must invest in future output growth while simultaneously retooling its Soviet-built refineries to meet rising demand for high-specification gasoline and prevent politically damaging petrol shortages.

The order of the queue of executives at Rosneft's stand at the St Petersburg convention centre was telling. Behind Eni and Statoil - there to finalize their drilling deals - was Andrei Kostin, CEO of state bank VTB, on hand to sign a new financing deal to help build a new refinery near Moscow. It was a reminder that, despite Rosneft's outward-looking stance of recent months, its concerns - and the Kremlin's - gravitate back to the domestic marketplace.

And with little build on outside the energy industry besides a crippled Soviet industrial base and a small if growing band of entrepreneurs, the Kremlin must pin its hopes for a modern economy on its oldest resource of all. "Russia's energy sector is, perhaps, now, and must remain over the near term, the driver for modernization of the country's economy," said Sechin.


Putin warns of outside forces that wish to split Russia and take over its natural resources

President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that there are people in the world who wish to split up Russia and take over its vast natural resources, and others who would like to "rule over all mankind," a veiled reference to the United States. Speaking in front of Moscow's iconic St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square, Putin told a group of military cadets and youth group members that while "an overwhelming majority of people in the world" are friendly toward Russia, there are some who "keep saying to this day that our nation should be split."

"Some believe that we are too lucky to possess so much natural wealth, which they say must be divided," Putin said, speaking on National Unity Day. "These people have lost their mind," he added with a smile. Many Russians fear that their country's rapidly declining population and enormous natural wealth could one day leave it vulnerable to outside predators. But the theme of invasion was central to Sunday's holiday, which Putin created by decree in 2005 to commemorate the defense of Russia from a Polish-Lithuanian incursion in the beginning of the 17th century.

Putin on Sunday referred to the battle as a turning point in Russia's history that united the nation. Not missing a chance to take a shot at the United States, Putin said there are people who "would like to build a unipolar world and rule over all of mankind." He counted them as among the minority in the world who do not maintain a "friendly attitude" toward Russia. He said any attempt to establish a unipolar world was doomed to fail.

"Nothing of this kind has ever occurred in our planet's history, and I don't think it will ever happen," the president said.

Putin has been highly critical of the United States for the invasion of Iraq and opposes its plans to build a limited missile shield in central Europe. Concern about outside forces wanting the division of Russia arose last month during Putin's three-hour nationally televised call-in show. A Siberian worker asked Putin about comments he said were made years ago by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright suggesting that Siberia had too many natural resources for one country.

"I know that some politicians play with such ideas in their heads," Putin replied, adding that such talk was "political erotica."

Putin, whose two-term presidency ends next year, said Russia will continue playing an active role in foreign policy and there are many people who look to Russia as a defender of small nations' rights and interests. Intended to invoke patriotism, National United Day has been hijacked by extreme nationalist groups that call for ridding Russia of foreigners and returning the pre-communist monarchy.


Putin says Russia will defend natural resources in Siberia

President Vladimir Putin vowed Thursday that Russia would defend its vast natural resources in Siberia, saying Russia was 'not Iraq' and would not allow outsiders to gain control of its resources. "Thank God Russia is not Iraq. Russia has the strength and the means to defend itself," Putin said during a live television question-and-answer session with Russians from around the country. He dismissed talk of any outside country getting direct control over Russia's abundant natural resources in Siberia and contrasted the situation with that in Iraq.

"The best example are the events in Iraq, a country which was challenged in defending itself and which had enormous oil reserves. And everyone has seen what happened there. They learned to shoot at each other. But so far, establishing order has not really worked out."

He was responding to a question from a resident of the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, who had asked him to comment on a remark by a former US official suggesting that Russia should share the natural wealth of Siberia. "I know you are worried about this,' Putin said. 'I know that these kinds of ideas are circulating in the minds of some politicians,' he added, without elaborating. Putin said Russia was working on strengthening and modernising its army and navy as was its 'right' and added that 'we will continue to do this."