02 September 2008

The reason for all wars

I have been sunbathing and adding some more healthy days to my life in Crimea for a while and a question arose when I was watching the semi-radiocative and green sea waters of Evpatoriya.

Why do the ever-glorious, ever-intelligent and ever-diplomatic European countries (and therefore their union, the EU) has succumbed to this irritating position against Russia? Didn't they know that being so dependent on anyone by anything so precious would eventually lead to this shame?

I have asked several locals in Ukraine and witnessed a debate on radio (strange to hear Turkish people discussing the fate of European energy policy instead of some gay-looking overweight people singing detuned over bellydance rhythms.)

The answer is simple:

Severely beaten by the oil crisis in 1970's and the start of 1980's, the European countries, sadly dependent on energy from their factories to their groundheated golf courses, were on the lookout for an alternative, cheaper and a more reliable energy source which is not dominated by a bunch of desert nomads, found an eager seller, Soviet Union.

USSR, through the end of the stagnation area, was also hit hard by the fluctuations in the oil prices because it needed the oil-driven hard cash to supply its over-ineffective and crumbling planned economy. It enjoyed the 70's oil crisis as the price of oil skyrocketed (they simply built more missiles with that income and left the citizens without toilet papers) but was unexpectedly beaten by the 1981 oil glut where the world was practically soaked in oil as the production exceeded the demand. That caused the oil dependent soviet economy to near collapse and urged the soviet central economic planners to look for an alternative import with a similar energy and monetary value, the natural gas. The supply was plenty in the remote and forezn lands of Siberia and godforsaken deserts in the south and the demand was high. As the country had its nuclear arsenal and countless armor to replenish, repair and build through the cold war arms race, the soviet policy was to sell that gas as fast and trouble free as possible and get the hard european cash. The europeans were also smiling as they built numerous pipelines to furnish their factories and celebrate their diminishing dependency on oil.

So the rest is history and so is the USSR, but why still so dependant on Russia where most of that gas lies under the post-soviet dictatorship puppy states like Kazakhstan or other -stan's?

So simple. Nearly all the pipelines that carry the gas from the USSR were built from their sources in Siberia and central Asia through the Slavic borderlands (Russia, Belarus and Ukraine) to their hungry buyers in Europe, mainly because of the geography two big obstacles lay between, Black Sea and Caspian Sea. So dissolve the Soviet Union, paint new flags, elect new dictators but the gas must go through the existing pipeline system, which dramatically lays in Russia and gives him a say (a biiiig big say) over where it goes, how much he buys it and at what price he sells it. A very good deal indeed...

At first, everybody was happy as oligarchs scavenged the Russian energy sector in line with Yeltsin and Russians had pretty much more to worry about than a world domination by armaments or energy since they were plain hungry. As the dust settled and more nationalist and firebrand politicians handed over in Kremlin, they were already notified that the future wars wouldn't be fought with ballistic missiles but with something lighter than air, the gas which let the Mercedes factory in Stuttgart work or heat homes in Champs Elysees. They quickly bullied the semi-dictators in the neighboring -stan countries and secured "the source" and slowly raised the price and check the nonexistent reaction in European countries. As energy price, the main input into cost, increases so does the selling price and keeping competitive in the global market means that you cannot increase the selling price to infinity. One has to keep the prices somehow stable and inevitably go lower on margin. Lower margin means lower revenue, lower revenue leads to lower pay (or eventually layoffs) and these all causes public unrest. See what the policy of resting half of the energy upon Russians leads to...

As I have mentioned before, Europeans are the masters of diplomacy and they always (maybe until now) win at the end. First they tried to control "the source" by intimidating the dictators of -stan's but they failed since most of them are ex-KGB brutes and kept their post-soviet allegiances to Russia (maybe not to wake up dead the next day). So they tried the other thing they are best at, the technology, and hurry their companies to make partnerships with cash hungry oligarchs and dig deep into the Russian energy sector. The problem is the oligarchs are not only cash but also power hungry, leading them into bloody political battles against the government and eventually losing their companies, money and lives into mass nationalisations of energy sector. The western companies, bluffing with their global power, were ever confident that they wouldn't be disturbed through this extravaganza but they watched their CEO's expelled one by one.

There stood another chance for the idle diplomats: If the source does not obey, why not deal with "the tip" of the pipe? Enter Ukraine as the poor, shamelessly corrupt and decaying state which surprisingly houses the most of the pipeline highways from Russia to their eventual destination. The fire of unrest in Ukraine wasn't also hard to relight. The country is a battlefield endlessly for centuries and was left as a bomb in waiting after the collapse of USSR, with hardly the half of the nation yearning to be back in Russia, the big brother. As Ukraine showed slight interests of another role apart from a good puppy of Russia, Russians showed them the stick by closing the gas tap and leaving millions freezing in winter (as Ukraine is also as dependant on gas as Europe) The juicy bone for that puppy was "democracy" and a promise to be a part of the EU, away from the crushing grasps of the Russian masters. They bought it, painted their flags and made revolutions...but eventually they froze a couple of winters more and pay double of what they were paying on gas before the revolution. Here is "democracy" for you...

Losing "the source" and "the tip" may sound like a crushing defeat but there is no defeat in diplomacy (as soldiers die but diplomats prosper) Why not make a by-pass (although a bit costly to build) around the existing pipe? Buying directly from the source is always cheaper than a middle-man (Am I that good in economics?) and this time they had laid their eyes on Caspian fields, the new Arabia as they call it. The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline that would suck the fields dry from Azerbaijan to Turkish Mediterranean ports would need a steady and calm investing background and the Caucasus was the last place to seek those two with a thousand mountain nations cutting each other's throats for fun. So create allies and stick the existing allies together to create a passageway. The "already" ally is Turkey who is waiting for his minuscule share of the pipeline flow and the created ally is Georgia, an already failed state with numerous de-facto breakaway regions (surprisingly yearning to be a part of Russia) and half of its population living abroad to send money to families. So they also painted their flags, made demonstrations and elected a de-facto American spy as their president. Eventually they also froze in the winter as Russians doubled the price of gas, banned their imports and sent fellow Georgians in Moscow by cargo planes. But this time this was the time when the knife hit the bone so the Europeans and their grand master, US, supported the Georgians by public outcries and a visible facelift of the mediocre Georgian army. All this, of course, had nothing to do with the glorious nation of Georgia (who would be left to rot if they were a bit far away from the energy highways as the western powers did in Bosnia a decade ago) bu it was to secure the pipeline. As Russians toyed with Georgians not to fall into this trap, the Georgian president unleashed an uncontrolled and tragically unplanned fury against the breakaway regions who were dug in with their Russian comrades behind their back. The rest is also history, Georgians got slapped, got their Caucasian asses kicked and lost those regions forever. It is vae victis...the winner takes it all. Russia now directly threatens the by-pass energy line and also makes the Caucasus instable, severely disrupting the plans for an additional pipeline (dubbed Nabucco). I think I made it clear why the EU (or even US) cannot make any sanctions against Russia now...they are "still" bound to their bellies...shame.

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