Terror war and oil expand US sphere of influence
GIs build bases on Russia's energy-rich flank
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Such considerations haven't escaped notice in Washington, where US Secretary of State Colin Powell last December said that Kazakhstan's oil was becoming of "critical importance."Skip to next paragraph
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And "Caspian reserves could be critical to future global energy supply," notes an analysis earlier this month by the respected, London-based Jane's Foreign Report. "This is in line with the doctrine of 'full-spectrum dominance' that now seems to govern American foreign policy and is manifesting itself in the Caucasus and Central Asia," the report said.
Escaping the template of Cold War rivalry is proving difficult, even though US-Russian economic interests often coincide. "The Russian security establishment still contains a high proportion of dinosaurs," says Anatol Lieven, a regional analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
Many in the US see Russia through old prisms, despite Moscow's demonstrated commitment to helping the US wage war in Afghanistan and elsewhere. "You have people who are still saying Russian policy in the 'near abroad' [the former Soviet states] is a key threat to American interests," Lieven says.
That some in Washington want to keep US troops in Central Asia beyond the Afghanistan campaign "accentuates the fact that the war on terrorism is horribly complicated, and risks being lost by being overloaded with other agendas," Lieven adds. "One problem is that some in the Pentagon are gung-ho for world domination. And then you have [others] who say: 'Hang on a second, we are not prepared for that.' "
Moscow's former domains stretch from Uzbekistan to Ukraine, and have often bristled under Russia's strong-arm tactics to re-exert control. The US arrival may be forcing changes.
"The fact that Russia has acquiesced to US troops in Central Asia and indeed Georgia, shows that Russia itself is prepared to play a much more open and even-handed role in the region," says Julian Lee, a senior analyst at the Center for Global Energy Studies in London. "But we're seeing Russian interest in business channels, rather than political and military ones. It's the sensible way forward."
Some observers say that Putin's KGB background makes him as wary as anyone of American moves but also realistic about the imperative of a pro-West future.
"We are living in the age of a new Rome," notes Andrei Piontkovsky, head of the Center for Strategic Research in Moscow, in an analysis published over the weekend. Dismissing Russia's "boot-licking elite," which he says is "choked with hostility toward the US," Mr. Piontkovsky says that energy reserves and influence at the start of the new century will allow Russia and the US to be "useful partners ... if Russia proves able to overcome its cold war-defeat complex and the United States learns not to trumpet its victories."
Pipelines can be another point of cooperation. The US has long pushed for an oil line from Azerbaijan to Turkey, which deliberately bypasses Russia and Iran. But Russia has a key stake in the year-old, Chevron-led CPC pipeline, which carries Kazakh oil to a Russian Black Sea port.
And though laughed at when first proposed during Taliban rule, plans to build two pipelines, oil and gas, across Afghanistan are now being dusted off. Cutting Russia into any such deal to provide gas to South Asia could make sense, analysts say.
That could help satisfy Russia's bottom line maximum market share. Russian gas reserves are the largest in the world, but a European Union decision this weekend will break Russia's decades-long monopoly there.
"Putin's a realist, and economics are everything," says Szymczak, of "Oil and Gas Eurasia." The result is a tricky balancing act for Putin, as American influence spreads to Russia's borders. "The reality is that a lot of the money to run this country comes from gas sales," Szymczak says. "Putin needs markets to the east or the whole thing unravels, and he's got a bigger problem than just a few people thinking: 'Oh goodness, we've got Americans in Uzbekistan!"