'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, August 08, 2008

A Dirty Adventure (Part 2) 

Turns out the that Israelis have been supplying the US trained Georgian army with weapons. It was reported that they stopped such sales a few days ago:

Israel has decided to halt all sales of military equipment to Georgia because of objections from Russia, which is locked in a feud with its tiny Caucasus neighbor, defense officials said Tuesday.

The officials said the freeze was partially intended to give Israel leverage with Moscow in its attempts to persuade Russia not to ship arms and equipment to Iran. They spoke on condition of anonymity as Israel does not officially publish details of its arms sales.

Russia has repeatedly refused to comment on reports its is selling S-300 air defense missiles to Iran.

Among the items Israel has been selling to Tbilisi are pilotless drone aircraft. Russian fighters shot one down in May, according to UN observers.

Other types of weaponry include the following:

. . . . Israel has also been supplying Georgia with infantry weapons and electronics for artillery systems, and has helped upgrade Soviet-designed Su-25 ground attack jets assembled in Georgia, according to Koba Liklikadze, an independent military expert based in Tbilisi. Former Israeli generals also serve as advisers to the Georgian military.

Interesting. Israeli arms sales to Georgia are purportedly halted, and the Georgians invade South Ossetia in less than a week. There are also reports today that the Georgians have shot down Russian aircraft, which brings this story from April to the top of the queue:

Russia asked Israel last week whether it had supplied Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to Georgia, for it to use in military operations against secessionists from Abkhazia.

An Israeli security source confirmed that the UAVs being used by Georgia are manufactured by Israeli firm Elbit. A diplomatic source in Jerusalem said that the Russians did not have proof of this, however, and that the request for clarifications was based on suspicions. He added that Israel does not sell any attack weapons to countries that border with Russia and only sells them defensive equipment.

Georgia accused Russia of using a MiG-29 to shoot down one of its UAVs over Abkhazia and produced a video to back up its claim. The video was shot by the UAV seconds before it was shot down, and it shows a MiG-29. Georgia's president said he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and demanded an end to the "unjustified aggression against Georgia's sovereign territory."

Of course, the subject that keeps intruding into this saga is Iran. Is the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia meant to pressure the Russians into severing economic and military ties with the Iranians? The Israelis supposedly halted arms sales to Georgia in an effort to persuade the Russians to refuse to supply Iran with a new air defense system. Did that effort fail, or was it merely a pretense before the launching of the Georgian invasion?

Perhaps, the invasion has also been prompted by competition between the US, Russia and Europe over access to hydrocarbons in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Along these lines, consider this July 30th article by former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar:

From the details coming out of Ashgabat in Turkmenistan and Moscow over the weekend, it is apparent that the great game over Caspian energy has taken a dramatic turn. In the geopolitics of energy security, nothing like this has happened before. The United States has suffered a huge defeat in the race for Caspian gas. The question now is how much longer Washington could afford to keep Iran out of the energy market.

Gazprom, Russia's energy leviathan, signed two major agreements in Ashgabat on Friday outlining a new scheme for purchase of Turkmen gas. The first one elaborates the price formation principles that will be guiding the Russian gas purchase from Turkmenistan during the next 20-year period. The second agreement is a unique one, making Gazprom the donor for local Turkmen energy projects. In essence, the two agreements ensure that Russia will keep control over Turkmen gas exports.

The consequences for the US are reportedly significant:

Until fairly recently Moscow was sensitive about the European Union's opposition to the idea of a gas cartel. (Washington has openly warned that it would legislate against countries that lined up behind a gas cartel). But high gas prices have weakened the European Union's negotiating position.

The agreements with Turkmenistan further consolidate Russia's control of Central Asia's gas exports. Gazprom recently offered to buy all of Azerbaijan's gas at European prices. (Medvedev visited Baku on July 3-4.) Baku will study with keen interest the agreements signed in Ashgabat on Friday. The overall implications of these Russian moves are very serious for the US and EU campaign to get the Nabucco gas pipeline project going.

Nabucco, which would run from Turkey to Austria via Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary, was hoping to tap Turkmen gas by linking Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan via a pipeline across the Caspian Sea that would be connected to the pipeline networks through the Caucasus to Turkey already existing, such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline.

But with access denied to Turkmen gas, Nabucco's viability becomes doubtful. And, without Nabucco, the entire US strategy of reducing Europe's dependence on Russian energy supplies makes no sense. Therefore, Washington is faced with Hobson's choice. Friday's agreements in Ashgabat mean that Nabucco's realization will now critically depend on gas supplies from the Middle East - Iran, in particular. Turkey is pursuing the idea of Iran supplying gas to Europe and has offered to mediate in the US-Iran standoff.

The geopolitics of energy makes strange bedfellows. Russia will be watching with anxiety the Turkish-Iranian-US tango. An understanding with Iran on gas pricing, production and market-sharing is vital for the success of Russia's overall gas export strategy. But Tehran visualizes the Nabucco as its passport for integration with Europe. Again, Russia's control of Turkmen gas cannot be to Tehran's liking. Tehran had keenly pursed with Ashgabat the idea of evacuation of Turkmen gas to the world market via Iranian territory.

Bhadrakumar skillfully exposes the Russians and the Iranians as commercial competitors even as they remain involuntary geopolitical allies. For our purposes, however, the essential thread that emerges from his analysis is the urgency for the US (and the Israelis) to act quickly to disrupt Russia's ability to bring natural gas from Turkmenistan to the European market. Otherwise, the US will be forced, to the great dismay of Israel, to broker a deal with Iran so as obtain access to Iranian natural gas to break the Russian monopoly.

Hence, we now see a Georgian invasion of South Ossetia about a week after the Russian announcement of its natural gas agreements with Turkmenistan. If one accepts this reasoning, the invasion of South Ossetia is a strong signal that the US prefers confrontation with the Russians over negotiating a new commercial relationship with the Iranians. In other words, it suggests that the US still sees war as the ultimate solution of its disagreements with them.

The invasion also suggests that the US is incapable of choosing an ally in the region, and persists in the hope that it can economically and militarily dominate both the Russians and the Iranians, and through them, just about every country in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Such arrogance is likely to be ruinous for all involved. A dirty adventure, indeed.

(Hat tip to Big Bopper for pointing out the Israeli connection.)

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