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The U.S. and The 'Great Game': In Pursuit of Caspian Riches
ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA -- While a sarcastic piece in an Armenian daily voiced resentment at what it saw as the U.S. tilt in favor of Azerbaijan, one Baku pundit urged Washington to take even more "resolute steps towards strategic cooperation" with Azerbaijan. Oppositionist Azadliq warned that, if the U.S. does not push for a "prompt and peaceful settlement" of the Azerbaijan-Armenia dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh and settles instead for a mere "freezing" of the situation, the "generally positive opinion the U.S. enjoys with the Azerbaijan public" will be damaged and Azerbaijan's "independence" will be compromised to Moscow's advantage. Tbilisi's independent Droni found comfort in the words of U.S. senators promising support for Georgian President Shevardnadze on "the withdrawal of Russian military forces from Georgia," and the hopes that a "Bosnian model" for peacekeeping could settle the conflict in Abkhazia.
RUSSIA -- Moscow analysts debated how Russia should respond to the change in the "alignment of forces in the Caucasus" introduced by the U.S.-Azerbaijani "strategic and military" partnership. Centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta suggested that the Kremlin can "keep Armenia as a strong and active strategic ally" in the area and "coordinate" its position on Caspian oil pipelines with Turkmenistan and Iran. Youth- oriented Moskovskiy Komsomolets warned Russia against making friends with just "anyone," since alliance "schemes like Moscow-Tehran- Beijing and Moscow-Minsk-Damascus" ultimately would not help in getting a share of "Caspian riches."
TURKEY -- Taking their cue from Deputy Secretary Talbott's remarks that "collaboration," not a power struggle between Washington and Russia, would be the best avenue to tapping Caspian oil, observers in Istanbul held that "economic competition" might be a peaceful substitute for Turkey's political "rivalries" with Russia. Religious/fundamentalist Milli Gazete greeted the August natural gas deal between Moscow and Ankara as a counterweight to their skirmishing over issues such as Chechnya, Russian support for Kurdish nationalist guerrillas and Russian arms sales and military cooperation agreements with Turkish opponents Greece and Armenia.
This survey is based on 34 reports from 9 countries, published between August 7th and September 9th, 1997.
RUSSIA: "It's Not Oil. It's Geopolitics And Russia's Soft Underbelly"
Alexei Leonov pointed out in neo-communist weekly Pravda (9/8): "It is not so much oil as geopolitics which make Washington so vigorous in the Caspian Sea area. Winston Churchill called it Russia's soft underbelly way back in 1919. And there is no sign that the West thinks differently today."
Eldar Ismailzade wrote in reformist Moskovskaya Pravda (9/4): "Having extensive interests in Azerbaijan's economy, the United States has gained enormous political clout in that country. Wedged between Iran and Russia, Azerbaijan seems to be quite content with its location, taking the American factor as a guarantee of its independence and security. For all that, the attitude of the local public toward the United States itself has been changing for the worse. You can often hear speculation about a national sellout. Some people are worried about the Americans treating Azerbaijan's goal to build a democratic society as being secondary to something else. In order to gain more concessions in the oil industry, they [the Americans] will close their eyes to human right violations, no matter how bad. In that regard, the current situation, in a way, resembles events in Iran where the Americans once grossly underestimated the role of the public."
Alexander Budberg, commenting on U.S. policy in the Caucasus and Central Asia, noted in youth-oriented Moskovskiy Komsomolets (8/20): "Not even the inglorious campaign in Chechnya has made Russian leaders give up their view of imperialism as a 'progressive thing.' For the sake of her abstract interests, Russia will make friends with anyone -- Lukashenko, Hussein and Iranian imams. Many among those close to the Kremlin are busy drawing up schemes like Moscow-Tehran- Beijing and Moscow-Minsk-Damascus, but the more they play around like that, the less we gain by the division of the Caspian riches."
Alexei Baliyev wrote in official government Rossiyskaya Gazeta(8/16): "The situation in the Middle East and Central Asia gives Washington little hope for stable influence and presence there. Gradual Iran-Iraq normalization and a sudden escalation of tension in Palestine, which has grave political consequences for the Americans, may damage the 'oil-export bridge' between those regions and the United States. Naturally, under the circumstances, more and more regions, primarily those with huge and as yet untapped oil reserves, are pronounced 'vital' for the United States.... Washington wants the Caucasus and Central Asia to be independent -- of Russia, of course.... The Caspian Sea has witnessed the emergence of economic and political alliances involving Washington and Ankara, as well as Moscow and all countries in that region. So Azerbaijan will in the end have to compromise with Russia, Turkmenistan, Iran and Kazakhstan. After all, the United States and Turkey are no 'near abroad' for Baku."
Asya Gadzhizade stated in centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta (8/16): "President Aliyev's first official visit to the United States opened a new chapter in Azerbaijanian-American relations and somewhat changed the alignment of forces in the Caucasus. Henceforth the two countries will be strategic and military partners.... Now Russia will have to take that into account, as it deals with Azerbaijan, and make concessions on many international issues."
Experts from the Institute for Diaspora and Integration Studies judged in centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta (8/14): "In its desire to secure a foothold in the South Caucasus, the West pursues largely geopolitical and geostrategic interests. The fear of becoming totally dependent on the world's five leading oil-producing countries -- including Iran and Iraq -- far more than the none too obvious Caspian Sea riches, has forced the West to intervene. Maintaining a status quo until Russia gets stronger economically and militarily meets her strategic interests. Being weak, she cannot offer an acceptable solution to the Karabakh problem. It is important, though, that she keep Armenia as a strong and active strategic ally, a kind of 'Russian Israel in the Caucasus.' Also, she better delay its oil projects before finally deciding on the status of the Caspian Sea, coordinating her position with Turkmenistan and Iran."
Elmar Guseinov said on page one of reformist Izvestia (8/14): "Having brought U.S. oil companies to the Caspian shores, Aliyev is trying to lure American gold-mining corporations as well. Gold and oil are a good compensation for those giants starting to lobby Azerbaijan's interests in Washington. The Americans appear to be playing an ever greater role in solving the Karabakh problem."
Mikhail Vignansky commented in reformist Segodnya (8/8) on the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili's visit to Tbilisi: "Overall, the trip was more proof of America's increased interest in Georgia and regional stability.... Clearly, Tbilisi will keep trying to make the most of the U.S.' interests, as well as of Russia's, in its search for solutions to internal problems, primarily the Abkhazian conflict."
Sami Kohen wrote in mass-appeal Milliyet (9/9): "As soon as the Turkish delegation arrived in Baku, the foreign minister of Azerbaijan gave his message: 'Which one matters for Turkey? Money or brotherhood?' The bottom line was very clear: If Turkey opens its border gate for trade with Armenia, then we will have to forget about the pipeline route which will go via Turkey.... Turkey should note Baku's sensitivity and should accept the terms that Azerbaijan imposed for realization of the Caucasus pipeline project. Azerbaijan is an indispensable element of Turkish foreign policy. Aside from brotherhood, there are also money advantages, and the oil pipeline is certainly one of the most important ones. Azerbaijan is also important because of Turkey's strategic interests. It acts as a security zone between Iran and Russia. The ideal solution is reconciliation between Azerbaijan and Armenia through the OSCE Minsk group's efforts, a group where Turkey also is represented. This will bring peace and stability to the Caucasus, and it will pave the way for Turkey to pursue a dynamic and balanced policy on the Caucasus and Central Asia."
Mass-appeal Hurriyet said in a piece by Ferai Tinc (9/5): "Centrazbat-97", a joint exercise scheduled to start on September 15, will bring Turkish-American and Russian air force units together for the first time in Central Asia. What is the main purpose for this exercise? I think that this is the first attempt at cooperating to guarantee the pipeline routes. Is this meant as a threat against Iran? Although the Pentagon says there is no intention to send a message to Iran, it adds that, 'If they read this as a message, there is nothing we can do.' However you look at it, the U.S. military is taking its first step into the forbidden zone. Washington invited Turkey to join this exercise. Turkey has not confirmed its participation yet, but I was informed that two (Turkish) generals will go to Kazakhstan as observers. Centrazbat-97 also signifies another important development: The United States is abandoning its policy of regarding the Caucasus and Central Asia as Russia's backyard. And Turkey takes its place among the key players of the Great Game. I hope that the Great Game chooses as its theme peace and prosperity, rather than power struggles and oil sharing among the imperialists."
Ferhat Koc told readers of religious/fundamentalist Milli Gazete(9/2): "Turkey and Russia signed a natural gas deal last week. This agreement can be defined as Turkey's most important foreign policy initiative in recent days. Although the agreement is economic by nature, but it has also elements of (possible) foreign policy achievements. Turkey and Russia are competing against each other on Caspian oil reserves. Russia supports the PKK as a reprisal for Turkey's helping Chechnya. Russia also plans to oppose Turkey through its arms sales and military cooperation agreements with Serbia, Greece and Armenia. Russia is moving fast on arming Turkey's neighbors, all of whom present problems for Turkey. If Russia continues to oppose Turkey this way, Turkey might approach the United States. These types of rivalries and polarizations can pave the way for peace only if they can be turned into an economic competition. That's why the natural gas agreement between Turkey and Russia is very important."
Under the headline above, readers of mass-appeal Milliyet saw this by Sami Kohen (8/22): "Recently the Clinton administration developed a new policy on the Caucasus and had rapprochement with the regional countries, Azerbaijan in particular. Two weeks ago, three American oil giants signed $8 billion worth of deals with the president of Azerbaijan. The special U.S. interest in the Caucasus is a result of its strategic and economic benefits. One of the regional experts, Dr. Ariel Cohen, is predicting, in a report which he prepared for the administration, that Caspian oil reserves will replace Middle East sources in the 2000 years. Therefore, the economic and strategic interests of the United States require closer ties with this region. He also warns against a possible Russian blockade and advises the United States to take countries in this region, and Turkey in particular, to its side to break the Russian influence."
Retired Ambassador Sukru Elekdag maintained in mass-appeal Milliyet(8/18): "World oil reserves were divided right after World War I, and the United Kingdom received the biggest share. Now we witness the second round of sharing world oil reserves. Caspian sea oil is now believed to be the world's richest reserve and as a result of this development, Washington completely changed its policies toward the Caspian and Central Asia. Deputy Secretary of State Talbott announced Washington's new policy, and said that collaboration is the best possible way to use the rich oil reserves in this region. He hinted that a power struggle between Washington and Russia should not take place, because if that happens, both sides will be losers. Stability in the region will serve everybody's interest, including Moscow.... Russia reacted positively to Talbott's message. And this development will introduce a new era of Turkish-American cooperation on the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline."
Religious/fundamentalist Milli Gazete ran this by Ferhat Koc (8/8): "The recent visit to the United States by the Azerbaijan president highlighted the bargaining over the future of Caspian oil resources, and the change in U.S. policy toward the Caucasus. The Azeri president has already signed a deal in Washington with the four American oil giants. Both the United States and Azerbaijan will gain from this deal. The oil agreement also shakes up the power balance in the Caucasus. The United States now pursues a different line toward the problems in that region, which upsets the Armenians. Armenia fears seeing an oil lobby replacing the Armenian lobby."
Independent, opposition Golos Armenii (8/26) stressed, "It is not a secret that in the last years America is busy exclusively with exporting the 'American dream' and testing ideas of world rule -- of course, in the name of peace on the planet. For this, it is necessary to make everyone believe that 'America represents the forces of the world,' a 'peace factor,' giving 'peace for the entire planet.' These expressions were present in absolutely all responses of American Senator Jack Reed to the questions of Armenian journalists. There was so much talk of peace that we unwillingly remembered the 'peacekeeping' NATO bombings in the Balkans....
"Then (Reed) recalled the joint peacekeeping efforts of Russian and American soldiers in Bosnia, as well as the diplomatic efforts of Russian and American mediators in the negotiation process of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem settlement. Reed also noted that because Karabakh reached advantage in the process of the military campaign, the United States thinks it appropriate to 'preserve balance.' What this balance means from the point of view of official Washington will become apparent in September, when, according to Reed, 'We will see who will win.'... In the name of peace. The United States does everything only in the name of peace and the American dream."
The Azerbaijani press dwelled on the signing of an agreement to develop and exploit gold, silver and copper fields which are in part located in Azeri territory presently occupied by Armenian forces. Oppositionist Millat's Kerem Eyyamorlu pointed out (8/23), "It was just earlier this month, during his visit to the United States, that President Aliyev, while at a meeting of the Azerbaijani-American Chamber of Commerce, said that it wasn't enough that American companies were only cooperating with Azerbaijan in the oil sector. And now, under the direction of former Bush Chief of Staff and Clinton adviser John Sununu, an agreement was signed between the Azerbaijani state 'Gold' company and the R.V. Investment group to jointly exploit gold, silver and copper reserves in several regions of Azerbaijan.
"From our perspective, the signing of this agreement is highly valued in that it may lead to many new opportunities for joint ventures between the United States and Azerbaijan. We also think that this agreement will act as a catalyst in encouraging businessmen from other countries to look at other ways of cooperating with our country in the economic sphere. This will also be encouraging news to foreign businessmen who have so far hesitated to create wider economic relations with Azerbaijan due to their concerns over its political stability and lack of basic legislation which is so necessary for the realization of such investments.... We have already, out of necessity, found that it is necessary for foreign companies to specify how Azerbaijani interests will be served as a result of the exportation of our resources. It is still early to tell which conditions of the 'gold agreement' signed on August 20 are truly profitable to Azerbaijan and which aren't. This will determine its real value."
Oppositionalist Millat held in a piece by Rahil Burdjelijev (8/16), "A widening of Iran's relations with China and Russia certainly endangers America's interests. From the very beginning, Iran is likely to cooperate with these countries in the military sphere.... With the break-up of the USSR and the expansion of NATO, America wishes to be seen as the world's only success. Iran could be a potential participant in a counter alliance with China and Russia.
"This would be a direct threat to U.S. interests in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Near East."
Qabil Suleymanov observed in pro-government Panorama (8/12), "What we until quite recently considered unlikely to happen is now gradually but definitely taking shape. It has turned out that Caspian oil is capable of reorienting the position of the American administration.... It no longer seems appropriate to speak about the leading states' Caucasus policies as being passive, especially when it comes to Azerbaijan. Moreover, one can assert that their interests are growing and that observers are already refering to these interests as being strategic rather than short term.
"However, we must not succumb to illusions. Rich energy resources do not necessarily mean political or economic stability. Yes, there are the enchanting examples of Norway and Saudi Arabia. But there are also the cases of Venezuela and Nigeria in which internal squabbles combined with the absence of a consistent approach by foreign governments to these nations' political systems have created nasty situations despite the presence of considerable oil reserves. The pathological assumption that Uncle Sam will solve all our problems without requiring us to lift a finger may end up as a bad joke at our expense. Only we can define the future of our state. We expect not only oil dollars but also the necessary political support. The West not only expects long-term, unhindered access to the estimated 100-200 billion barrels of oil derived from Caspian energy resources, but also an appropriate political policy. This boils down to some kind of trade-off."
Rasim Korpulu said in oppositionist Millat (8/9), wrote, "Establishing good relations with this country can not be equated with solving Azerbaijan's problems and, first and foremost, the Karabakh conflict. Any country other than Azerbaijan which plays a major role in settling any of Azerbaijan's problems will certainly be acting in its own interests rather than the interests of Azerbaijan."
According to Elxan Sahinoglu in oppositionist Azadliq (8/9), "There is a pressing need for the United States to take resolute steps toward strategic cooperation with this country. Otherwise, promises without substantive follow-up action may gradually lead to the deterioration of the generally positive opinion the United States enjoys with the Azerbaijan public. There exists a considerable contingent of Azerbaijanis who, with the encouragement of Moscow, would like to change the existing pro-American atmosphere. Such changes would not only damage the independence of Azerbaijan, but also signal the failure of Washington's policy in the region.
"The joint statement, signed by the leaders of the two states, emphasizes the need for a prompt and peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Of course, at first glance, it looks as if the United States agreed to join the (Minsk group) co- chairmanship because it was interested in resolving the conflict. However, over time, Minsk group visits have failed to produce any tangible results. While Baku concedes to new proposals forwarded by the Minsk group, the other side sticks to its old policies and positions, thereby protracting the peace process. For some unknown reason, no mechanism has been launched which would force Yerevan to sit down at the negotiation table.
"By undermining efforts to stabilize the region, Armenia is also indirectly violating U.S. interests. In this case, one could anticipate that Azerbaijan, which adds to both America's economic and political power, could hope for at least a 'Dayton-like' resolution of the Karabakh conflict. By saying that 'both parties should make the necessary difficult decisions, (with respect to Karabakh),' Clinton demonstrated that U.S. diplomatic efforts are in no hurry to help Baku in its efforts to quickly resolve the Karabakh conflict. In general, one is left with the impression that Washington may limit its efforts to merely creating conditions for freezing the conflict."
In the view of independent Droni (8/18), "American senators are spending their...time in Georgia. They promise us that there will be more visits by businessmen, diplomats and most importantly, huge amounts of money pouring to our country. Seems like everybody's coming to Georgia.... Americans surprised us with their high regard for economic and democratic reforms in the country. They say we deserve an increase in assistance. If Congress approves our guest's recommendation and the president signs it, Georgia will receive as much as $100 million in the next fiscal year. In that case Georgia will the become third or fourth largest recipient of U.S. assistance in the world.
"In Senator McConnell's words, 'The United States has vital strategic interests in Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. Americans are here to stay.' Everybody knows what it means for a country to become a sphere of the strategic interests of the United States. It generally follows that development of a statehood and lifestyle in that country takes a route acceptable to the United States. The strategic interests of the United States in Georgia are connected with the oil business.... Now (senators) talk more openly about Abkhazia and the withdrawal of Russian military forces from Georgia. Senator McConnell mentioned that discussion of the Abkhazian problem was not a specific purpose of his visit, but he promised his support in case Shevardnadze decides to go ahead with implementation of the 'Bosnian model' with participation of international peacekeeping forces.... Americans know by now that they will have reliable partners in the government to entrust with huge assistance and U.S. strategic interests."
Electronic and print coverage of the visit of Senators McCain, Gramm and Hutchison to Georgia included this piece in independent Resonance(8/14), "In the last few weeks, the U.S. government came up with a program to stimulate a build-up of the strategic political and economic interests in the southern Caucasus. Naturally, visits to Georgia by high-ranking U.S. officials have increased. U.S. senators, (the first such delegation in Georgia) told the president that democratic and economic reforms are implemented with success unparalleled in the CIS countries.... Senator McCain said that the U.S. Congress, being very impressed with Georgia's achievements, voted to double U.S. assistance."
Independent weekly Seven Days stated (8/14), "The discussion (in the meetings with Georgian officials) focused on Russian (and any other foreign) peacekeeping forces in Georgia.... The interest of journalists was stirred by the words of Senator McCain: 'When Georgia regains full sovereignty, there will be no foreign troops in the country.'"
Herbert Kremp noted in an editorial in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (8/26), "The naval maneuvers to which Ukraine has invited the riparian states of the Black Sea and the United States is a demonstration of Russia's weakness and its marginalization in the area of Turkey's straits. Moscow feels thrown back to the time when the Western European powers prevented the czarist empire from closing the Black Sea to foreign fleets and safeguarding free access to the Mediterranean.... Today, Ukraine and its Crimean peninsula are no longer part of Russia, and Kiev is cooperating with NATO. In this respect, the maneuvers and the participation of the United States are for Russian policy and for its historical prestige more than a symbolic strike."
Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger argued in an editorial in right-of-center Frankfurter Allgemeine (8/21), "The crude oil and natural gas reserves in and along the Caspian Sea may not reach the dimension which made the Persian Gulf the key region of global politics and the global economy, but they are big enough to move the Caucasus and Central Asia closer to the center of strategic considerations. Those who are able to get permanent access to Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan will get a considerable say about future energy supplies and, in addition, will be able to refer to foreign policy interests in the region.
"It is the mixture of geopolitics and the prospect for lucrative deals in the energy sector that prompted the Clinton administration to enter into a remarkable engagement at the Caspian Sea. It is not surprising that Moscow is following this engagement with skepticism. Boris Yeltsin has now complained about the 'uninhibited advance' of the United States. But Moscow cannot simply issue a decree to get rid of this powerful competitor for oil, gas and influence."
Center-left Gazeta Wyborcza said in a piece (8/9-10) by Leopold Unger, "Clinton... received with honors Heydar Aliyev, former member of the Bolshevik Politburo and former chief of the KGB, who seized power by force in post-Soviet Azerbaijan. To make things even more ironic, it did not matter to Clinton that Azerbaijan... is on the list of countries excluded from U.S. assistance. This is not all. Aliyev also met with the cream of the American business elite. Among those introducing him were the former Secretary of State James Baker, and the former advisers to the president for security matters -- Brzezinski and Scowcroft.
"Why all of this change? What is the reason for this sudden flow of empathy and appreciation for the leader of a country where respect for democracy and human rights is exactly contrary to what the United States nurtures at home and demands in its foreign policy [for others] to observe? The answer is clear: the bottom line. Not the bottom of moral values, but the bottom of the Caspian Sea -- which has oil and gas deposits. In Washington, Aliyev signed a $10 billion contract with Chevron, Exxon and Mobil -- the three largest U.S. oil concerns -- which provides for a 'joint' exploitation of the Caspian Sea's deposits.... This is the way the Americans are establishing themselves in a region whose oil and gas deposits are estimated to be around $4 trillion....
"But it is not only business which is at stake.... Turkmenistan claims that the deal signed by Aliyev is illegal because two of the zones [to be exploited by the United States] belong to Turkmenistan.... Iran has already warned that the contract will trigger a crisis in this 'seismic' area. Armenia does not conceal that it is disappointed -- in spite of its strong lobby in Washington, Aliyev's relationship with the American (oil) giants strengthens Azerbaijan in its war [with Armenia.]... Last but not least -- Russia.... The invasion of American capital and technology will deprive Moscow of access to the [Caspian Sea] deposits.... Politically, Moscow is losing control over this extremely rich and strategically important zone, which not so long ago it treated like a colony."
EGYPT: "Iran And Its Neighbors In Central Asia"
Mohamed Safar Eid, columnist for pro-government Al Akhbar, suggested (8/28): "The victory of Khatami in the Iranian elections is not the only reason for the American attention to Iran. Iran is of strategic importance to its neighbors in Central Asia... especially in oil and natural gas projects... Washington's craving for Central Asian oil will make it bow to its trade interests and regard Iran with a new look, not the old American view of the Middle East."
INDIA: "The New Great Game"
Pundit K. Subramanyam penned this for the pro-economic reforms Economic Times (8/7): "The Chinese arms relationships and their nuclear and missile proliferations to Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia would appear to be their countermove against the U.S. thrust into Central Asia. This is the 'great game' already being played; Washington may not choose to take note of it but other nations in the region do. China has discovered that so long as Washington is hooked on China trade, it cannot be penalized for its transgressions of non-proliferation treaty or missile technology control regime. China can use its proliferation as a bargaining leverage vis-a-vis the United States and to acquire a hold over the Islamic countries of West and Southwest Asia... The name of the game is the U.S. attempt to sustain its unipolarity and Chinese ambition to emerge as the foremost power -- the Middle Kingdom -- of the world."
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