February 02, 2007

Modi : Indian Media’s BJP Obsession

by yossarinJanuary 31, 2007
SOurce : offstumped.nationalinterest.in

BJP President Rajnath Singh announced the re-organisation of the Parliamentary Board and the Election Committee. While Yashwant Sinha was brought on as Vice President, Sanjay Joshi was dropped as General Secretary responsible for Organization. The late Pramod Mahajan’s brother in law Gopinath Munde was brought in as a General Secretary while Arun Jaitley made way for Rajiv Pratap Rudy as the party’s spokesperson. Arun Jaitley however had the responsibility of Secretary of the Party’s Parliamentary Board thrust on him. The Rajnath rejig also saw Jaitley, Ananth Kumar, Vinay Katiyar, Thwarchand Gehlot and Om Prakash Mathur retained as General Secretaries and Jual Oram. Kalyan Singh, Bal Apte, Shanta Kumar, Saheb Singh Verma, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Kailash Meghwal retained as vice-presidents.

And so the list goes on and if you were wondering what the fuss was all about well it was not about who was in the rejig but more on who was out of the rejig. The media headline circus says it all. While one called the omission in the rejig as “Rajnath’s bombshell” others called it “cutting to size”, “clipping of wings”, “showing the door”, “losing the top job”, “giving a shocker”, “wiping the past”, “second line war”, “snake and ladder BJP style”.

What takes the cake however are these 2 headlines about 8 hours apart “Dropped Modi Livid” and then “Dropped Modi Not Livid”. So once again what was the fuss all about. If you didnt already know, Narendra Modi was denied the most cherished and vaunted political hot seat that leader’s across the BJP ranks live and die for if the mainstream media were to be believed. So what exactly was Narendra Modi denied

- the Presidency of the BJP ? well think again

- the General Secretariat of the BJP ? well think again

- the Vice Presidency ? well you still dont get it

But then you are not as smart as the eager beaver media political hacks so you could be forgiven for not knowing that a seat in the Central Parliamentary Board of the BJP is such political hot property that the media has been fretting over for the last 48 hours on Narendra Modi’s exclusion from it.

So what explains this Obsessive Compulsive Disorder of the mainstream media when it comes to the happening within the BJP. Offstumped will lay out what the mainstream media never bothers to tell you.

When was the last time you saw the media obsess over who gets appointed to the Congress Working Committee or whatever they call it these days. The very fact that we rarely hear about CWC or its post-Sonia re-incarnate speaks volumes about how the rest of the Congress Party Organization pales into irrelevance in deference to the one woman show the Congress has been reduced to. In fact the AICC Website bears testimony to this fact with Sonia Gandhi splashed all over it. Again when was the last time you saw the media obsess over how Prakash Karat grabbed the top spot in the CPI-M edging over Sitaram Yechury or some of the grass roots leaders from Bengal or Kerala who have really been responsible for keeping the communists in business. The absolute silence on the intrigues of the CPI-M that go on in smoke filled rooms is testimony to how closed the CPI-M party organization is to outside scrutiny and how irrelevant these intra-party intrigues are to the politics of the CPI-M.

So what you have here is a media starved of political masala to fill up the gossip columns and manufacture sensational headlines. And to this sensation famished media the openness and the first among equals tussle within the BJP is ready fodder. Hence you have all of these figments of a lone journalist’s imagination spiced up with loose talk from a multitude of disgruntled out of work politicians of who the BJP has an abundance of supply.

Whether Narendra Modi is losing sleep over his exclusion from an arcane and marginally significant Central Parliamentary Board, the sensation starved journos are unable to contain their insomnia. You see the same Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on display on a range of issues - be it the BJP not commenting on the Saddam Execution or the BJP’s lack of reaction to a flippant Thackeray remark on the President’s hairdo. It is no longer about the substance of issues which if the media had really cared would have invited debate on Sonia’s equating of Strategy with Compulsions. Instead all we have is nit picking on just about anything about the BJP. In fact one begins to wonder if these journos ever really troop out of their smoke filled offices to collect any real facts about news events anymore. Most of the analysis on the Rajnath Singh rejig is replete with empty speculation and ludicruous observations none of which is ever attributed to any source.

Offstumped Bottomline: The media needs to get over its obsessive compulsive BJP disorder and look elsewhere to manufacture sensation. The media coverage of the Rajnath rejig is a welcome reminder to us on the public good in Big B having Aishwarya Rai for a daughter in law and Shilpa Shetty having a Jade Goody for a house mate. Imagine where a media deprived of the inanity of celebrity gossip would go next - Narendra Modi’s bachelorhood ?

Pricing the Risk of War in Iran

F. William Engdahl, 28 January 2006

In the past weeks rumors have circulated widely amid growing tensions around a possible bombing strike against Iran. Among the reports—in violation of all precedent since the 1945 USA bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—is discussion of possible deployment of nuclear bombs by either the United States or Israel, to destroy or render useless the deep underground Iranian nuclear facilities.

The possibility of war against Iran presents a geo-strategic and geopolitical problem of far more complexity than did the bombing and occupation of Iraq. And Iraq has proven complicated enough for the United States. Below we try to identify some of the main motives of the main actors in the new drama and the outlook for possible war.

The dramatis personae include the Bush Administration, most especially the Cheney-led neo-conservative hawks in control now of not only the Pentagon, but also the CIA, the UN Ambassadorship and a growing part of the State Department planning bureaucracy under Condi Rice. It includes Iran under the new and outspoken President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It includes Putin`s Russia, a nuclear-armed veto member of the UN Security Council. It includes a nuclear-armed Israel, whose acting Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, recently declared that Israel could ‘under no circumstances’ allow Iranian development of nuclear weapons ‘that can threaten our existence.’ It includes the EU, especially Security Council Permanent Member, France and the weakening President Chirac. It includes China, whose dependence on Iranian oil and potentially natural gas is large.

Each of these actors has differing agendas and different goals, making the issue of Iran one of the most complex in recent international politics. What’s going on here? Is a nuclear war, with all that implies for the global financial and political stability, imminent? What are the possible and even probable outcomes?

The basic facts

First the basic facts as can be verified. The latest act by Iran’s President, Ahmadinejad, announcing the resumption of suspended work on completing a nuclear fuel enrichment facility along with two other facilities at Natanz, sounded louder alarm bells outside Iran than his inflammatory anti-Israel rhetoric earlier, understandably so. Mohamed El Baradei, Nobel Peace prize winning head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN body, has said he is not sure if that act implies a nuclear weapons program, or whether Iran is merely determined not to be dependent on outside powers for its own civilian nuclear fuel cycle. But, he added, the evidence for it is stronger than that against Saddam Hussein, a rather strong statement by the usually cautious El Baradei.

The result of the resumption of research at Natanz appears to have jelled for the first time, a coalition between USA and the EU, including Germany and France, with China and even Russia, now joining in urging Iran to desist. Last August President George Bush announced, in regard to Iran’s announced plans to resume enrichment regardless of international opinion, that ‘all options are on the table.’ That implied in context a nuclear strike on Iranian nuclear sites. That statement led to a sharp acceleration of EU diplomatic efforts, led by Britain, Germany and France, the so -called EU-3, to avoid a war. The three told Washington they were opposed to a military solution. Since then we are told by Der Spiegel and others the EU view has changed to appear to come closer to the position of the Bush Administration.

It’s useful briefly to review the technology of nuclear fuel enrichment. To prepare uranium for use in a nuclear reactor, it undergoes the steps of mining and milling, conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication. These four steps make up the 'front end' of the nuclear fuel cycle.

After uranium has been used in a reactor to produce electricity it is known as 'spent fuel,' and may undergo further steps including temporary storage, reprocessing, and recycling before eventual disposal as waste. Collectively these steps are known as the 'back end' of the fuel cycle.

The Natanz facility is part of the ‘front end’ or fuel preparation cycle. Ore is first milled into Uranium Oxide (U3O8), or ‘yellowcake,’ then converted into Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) gas. The Uranium Hexafluoride then is sent to an enrichment facility, in this case Natanz, to produce a mix containing 3-4% of fissile U235, a non -weapons-grade nuclear fuel. So far, so good more or less in terms of weapons danger.

Iran is especially positioned through geological fortune to possess large quantities of uranium from mines in Yazd Province, permitting Iran to be self-sufficient in fuel and not having to rely on Russian fuel or any other foreign imports for that matter. It also has a facility at Arak which produces heavy water, which is used to moderate a research reactor whose construction began in 2004. That reactor will use uranium dioxide and could enable Iran to produce weapons grade plutonium which some nuclear scientists estimate could produce an amount to build one to two nuclear devices per year. Iran officially claims the plant is for peaceful medical research. The peaceful argument here begins to look thinner.

Nuclear enrichment is no small item. You don’t build such a facility in the backyard or the garage. France’s large Tricastin enrichment facility provides fuel for the nuclear electricity grid of EdF, as well as for the French nuclear weapons program. It needs four large nuclear reactors, just to provide over 3000 MWe power for it. Early US enrichment plants used gaseous diffusion. Enrichment plants in EU and Russia use a more modern centrifuge process that uses far less energy per unit of enrichment. The latter or centrifuge process is also the Iranian type.

To make weapons grade Uranium requires more than conventional civilian electric power grade uranium fuel.

‘Unmaking’ weapons grade uranium today is also a geopolitically interesting process, not irrelevant to the current dispute over Iran. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, under agreements designed to insure that the Soviet nuclear arsenal would be converted to peaceful uses, military weapons uranium came on to the civilian market under a US-Russian agreement.

Today more than half of all the uranium used for electricity in the USA nuclear power plants comes from Russian military stockpiles. Currently 20% of all electricity produced in the US is nuclear generated meaning that Russian uranium fuels some 10% of all US electricity.

In 1994 a $12 billion contract was signed between the US Enrichment Corporation (now USEC Inc) and Russia's Techsnabexport (Tenex) as agents for the US and Russian governments. USEC agreed to buy a minimum of 500 tonnes of weapons-grade uranium over 20 years, at a rate of up to 30 tonnes/year beginning 1999. The uranium is blended down to 4.4 % U-235 in Russia. The USEC then sells it to its US power utility customers as fuel. In September 2005 this program reached its halfway point of 250 tonnes or elimination of 10,000 nuclear warheads.

Worldwide, one sixth of the global market of commercial enriched uranium is supplied by Russia from Russian and other weapons-grade uranium stocks. Putin has many cards to play in the showdown over Iran’s nuclear program.

The issue of whether Iran was secretly building a nuclear weapon capability first surfaced from allegations by an Iranian exile opposition group in 2002.

Natanz has been under IAEA agency purview since suspicions about Iran’s activities surfaced. It was prompted by reports from an Iranian opposition organization, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), and led IAEA head Mohamed El Baradei to tour Iran’s nuclear facilities in February 2002, including the incomplete plant in that city of Natanz about 300 miles south of Tehran. The NCRI is the political arm of the controversial People's Mujahedeen of Iran, which both EU and US governments officially brand terrorist but unofficially work with increasingly against the Teheran theocracy.

Possible Iranian strategy

It’s undeniably clear that Iran’s newly-elected President Ahmadinejad has a more confrontational policy than his predecessor. The Iranian Ambassador to Vienna, speaking at a conference in Austria where this author was present in September 2005, shocked his audience by stating essentially the same line of confrontational rhetoric: ‘If it comes to war, Iran is ready…’.

Let’s assume that the Western media is correctly reporting the strident militant speeches of the President. We must also assume that in that theocratic state, the ruling mullahs, as the most powerful political institution in Iran, are behind the election of the more fundamentalist Ahmadinejad. It has been speculated that the aim of the militancy and defiance of the US and Israel is to revitalize the role of Iran as the ‘vanguard’ of an anti-Western theocratic Shi’ite revolution at a time when the mullahs’ support internally, and in the Islamic world, is fading.

Let’s also assume Ahmadinejad’s actions are quite premeditated, with the intent to needle and provoke the west for some reason. If pushed against the wall by growing western pressures, Ahmadinejad’s regime has apparently calculated that Iran has little to lose if it hit back.

He is also no rogue agent in opposition to the Iranian clergy. According to the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn of January 24, 2006, Ayatollah Jannati, Secretary of the Guardian Council of the Constitution, stressed Iran's determination to assert its 'inalienable' rights: ‘We appreciate President Ahmadinejad because he is following a more aggressive foreign policy on human rights and nuclear issues than the former governments of Khatami and Rafsanjani,’ the Ayatollah reportedly said. ‘President Ahmadinejad is asking, why only you (western powers) should send inspectors for human rights or nuclear issues to Iran - we also want to inspect you and report on your activities,’ Jannati said. The paper’s Teheran correspondent added, ‘the mood within the country's top leadership remains upbeat and the general belief was that it would be possible to ride out international sanctions - if it comes to that.’

In this situation, some exile Iranians feel it would bolster Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs to be handed a new UN sanction punishment. It could be used to whip up nationalism at home and tighten their grip on power at a time of waning revolutionary spirit in the country.

Ahmadinejad has been taking very provocative, and presumably calculated measures including breaking nuclear-facility seals, to announcing a major conference that would question evidence that the Nazis conducted a mass murder of European Jews during World War II. Yet he also has stressed several times publicly that in accord with strict Islam law, Iran would never deploy a nuclear device, a weapon of mass destruction, and that it is only asserting its right as a sovereign nation to an independent full-cycle civilian nuclear program.

The history of Iran’s nuclear efforts should be noted. It began in 1957 when Reza Shah Pahlevi signed a civilian Atoms for Peace agreement with Eisenhower’s administration. Iran received a US research reactor in 1967. Then in 1974 after the first oil shock, the Shah created the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, explicitly tasked to develop civilian nuclear power to displace oil freeing more oil for export, and for developing a nuclear weapon. The Bushehr reactor complex of civilian power reactors was begun by West Germany in the 1970’s under the Shah, the same time Iran began buying major shares of key German companies such as Daimler and Krupp. After his 1979 ascent to power, Ayatollah Khomeini ordered all work on the nuclear program halted, citing Islamic beliefs that weapons of mass destruction were immoral.

In 1995, the Russian Foreign Ministry signed a contract with the Iranian government to complete the stalled Bushehr plant, and to supply it with Russian nuclear fuel, provided Iran agreed to allow IAEA monitoring and safeguards. According to an article in the March 2004 MERIA Journal, that 1995 Russia-Iran deal included potentially dangerous transfers of Russian technology such as laser enrichment from Yefremov Scientific Research Institute (NIIEFA). Iran's initial deal with Russia in 1995 included a centrifuge plant that would have provided Iran with fissile material . The plant deal was then canceled at Washington’s insistence.

The monitoring of Bushehr continued until the reports from NCRI of secret nuclear weapons facilities in 2002 led to increased pressure on Iran, above all from President Bush, who labeled Iran one of a three nation ‘axis of evil’ in his January 2002 State of the Union speech. That was when the Bush Administration was deeply in preparation of regime change in Iraq however and Iran took a back seat, not least as Washington neo-conservatives such as Ahmad Chalabi had convinced the Pentagon his ties to Teheran could aid their Iraq agenda.

Since that time, relations between Washington and Teheran have become less than cordial. Iran has been preparing for what it sees as an inevitable war with the United States. Brig. Gen. Mohammad -Ali Jaafari, commander of the Revolutionary Guards' army, told the official IRNA news agency on October 9 2005, ‘As the likely enemy is far more advanced technologically than we are, we have been using what is called 'asymmetric warfare' methods. We have gone through the necessary exercises and our forces are now well prepared for this.’ This presumably includes terrorist attacks and the use of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, ballistic missiles.

On January 20 2006 Iran announced it had decided to withdraw investments from Europe. This was the same week UBS Bank in Zurich announced it was closing all Iranian accounts. According to US Treasury reports, Iran has an estimated $103 billion in dollar-denominated assets alone. There is potential to cause short-term financial distress, though likely little more should Iran sell all dollar assets abruptly.

What seems clear is that Iran is defiantly going ahead with completion of an independent nuclear capability and insists it is abiding by all rules of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and IAEA.

Iran also apparently feels well prepared to sit out any economic sanctions. The country is the second largest OPEC oil producer (4 .1 million barrels/day in 2005) next to Saudi Arabia (9.1 million bpd). It is fourth largest in the world just under the total oil production of the USA (4.9 million bpd). Russia with 9.5million bpd production in 2005 takes claim to being the world’s largest oil-producing country.

Iran has also accumulated a strong cash position from the recent high oil price, earning some $45 billion in oil revenue in 2005, double the average for 2001-2003. This gives it a war chest cushion against external sanctions and the possibility to live for months with cutting its oil export all or partly. That is clearly one of the implicit weapons Iran knows it holds and would clearly use in event the situation escalated into UN Security Council economic sanctions. In today’s ultra-tight oil supply market, with OPEC producing at full capacity, there would be no margin to replace 4 million Iranian barrels a day. A price shock level of $130 to $150 is quite likely in that event.

Iran now has decisive influence within the Shi’ite dominated new Iraqi government. The most influential figure in Iraq today is the Shi’ite spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Mohammad al-Sistani, the 75 year old cleric born in Iran. On January 16 2006, after the new Iraqi government offered al-Sistani Iraqi citizenship, he replied, ‘I was born Iranian and I will die Iranian.’ That also gives Teheran significant leverage over the political developments in Iraq.

The Israeli options

Israel has been thrown into a political crisis at just this time of Iran’s strident moves, with the removal of the old warrior, Ariel Sharon, from the scene. Israeli elections will come March 28 for a new government. Contenders include the present acting Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. Israeli media reports that President George W. Bush has decided to do what he can to try and ensure that Olmert, standing in for an incapacitated Ariel Sharon, is elected to be full-time prime minister when Israelis go to the polls on March 28. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has invited Olmert to visit Washington DC, probably sometime next month.

Other reports are that the Vice President, we might say, the ‘spiritual leader’ of the US hawks, Dick Cheney, has been covertly aiding the Benjamin Netanyahu candidacy as new head of the right-wing Likud. Netanyahu is also directly tied to the indicted US Republican money launderer, Jack Abramoff during the time Netanyahu was Sharon’s Finance Minister. Washington journalists report that Vice President Dick Cheney, and his advisers David Addington and John Hannah, are working behind the scenes to ensure that former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu succeeds acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in March. Cheney is working to defeat the more moderate Kadima Party – formed by Ariel Sharon and his more moderate ex-Likud allies – in the March 28 elections.

Bush has not come out with direct vocal support for Olmert, but Olmert has stressed that he will continue to work with America to realize a Palestinian state. Israeli press report the new middle-of -road (Israeli middle) party of Olmert and Sharon – Kadima –

will probably win landslide elections to the dismay of Cheney’s and Karl Rove’s Christian Right and neo-conservative base. According to the Palestine newspaper, Al-Manar, the Bush Administration is conducting secret contacts with the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries in an effort to have them help strengthen Olmert's stature. The US reportedly informed them that it is interested in having Olmert head Kadima and "continue the process that Sharon began to solve the Palestinian-Israel conflict." The paper further reports that Washington feels that Olmert is a ‘smart leader who will be able, with his advisors, to lead the peace process and rebuff the political machinations against him.’

The Bush White House even informed Olmert, according to the paper, that it would like him to keep Sharon's advisors on his team, especially Dov Weisglass and Shimon Peres. Weisglass, Sharon’s personal lawyer and broker of ties to Washington, recently said he was in almost daily contact with Condi Rice.

On January 22, Olmert addressed the issue of Iran. According to Israeli State Radio, he said that Iran was trying to engage Israel in the conflict surrounding Tehran’s ongoing nuclear enrichment efforts, and that he concurs with Ariel Sharon’s position that Israel would not lead the battle against Iran. He said that that ‘responsibility falls first and foremost on the United States, Germany, France and the Security Council. We do not have to be the leaders.’ By contrast, his Defense Minister, Shaul Mofaz, stated Israel will not tolerate Iran achieving nuclear independence, a statement that analysts feel signals a military action by Jerusalem is possible, with or without official US sanction.

This all would indicate that there is a definite split within Israel between a future Olmert government not eager to launch a pre-emptive military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities versus the ever -hawkish neo-conservative-tied Netanyahu. Notably, prominent Washington neo-conservative, Kenneth Timmerman, told Israeli radio in mid January that he expects an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran ‘within the next 60 days,’ i.e. just after Israeli elections or just before. Timmermann is close to Richard Perle, the indicted Cheney chief of staff, Lewis Libby, to Doug Feith and Michael Ledeen.

The question is whether ordinary Israelis are war weary, whether with Palestine or with Iran, and seek a compromise solution. Polls seem to indicate so. However, the very strong showing of Hamas in the January 25 Palestine elections could change the Israeli mood. The day after their vote success, Hamas leader Mahmoud A-Zahhar claimed that his movement will not change its covenant calling for the destruction of Israel, reported the Israeli online news portal Ynet.

Last week, a new element appeared in the chemistry of the long-standing Israeli Likud-US Congress influence nexus. Larry A. Franklin, a former Pentagon Iran analyst and close friend of leading Pentagon neo-conservatives, was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in jail for sharing classified Pentagon information with pro-Israel lobbyists through an influential Washington-based lobby organization, AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC has been at the heart of ties between the Israeli right-wing Likud and members of the US Congress for years. It is regarded as so powerful that it is able to decide which Congressman is elected or re-elected. Previously it had been considered ‘untouchable.’ That is no longer true it seems.

Franklin pleaded guilty last October to sharing the information with AIPAC lobbyists and Israeli diplomat Naor Gilon. Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who were fired from AIPAC in 2004 in the affair, are facing charges of disclosing confidential information to Israel, apparently about Iran. The sentencing is causing major shock waves throughout major US Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith. The conviction has hit a vital lobbying tool of AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobby groups, namely, expenses paid trips for US Congressmen to Israel. Hundreds of politicians are taken to Israel every year by non-profit affiliates of groups like AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee — trips Jewish leaders say are a vital tool in pro-Israel lobbying.

The Bush Administration had tried to bury the Franklin case, unsuccessfully. They could only delay the trial until after the November 2004 US elections. The Franklin scandal in the US as well as the Jack Abramoff lobbying affair, have both hit severe blows to the suspicious money network between Likud and the White House, potentially fatally weakening the Israeli hawk faction of Netanyahu.

The Russian factor in Iran

The role of Putin’s Russia in the unfolding Iran showdown is central. In geopolitical terms, one must not forget that Russia is the ultimate ‘prize’ or endgame in the more than decade long US strategy of controlling Eurasia and preventing any possible rival from emerging to challenge US hegemony.

Russian engineers and technical advisers are in Iran constructing the Bushehr nuclear plant, at least 300 Russian technicians. Iran has been a strategic cooperation partner of the Putin government in terms of opposing US-UK designs for control of Caspian oil. Iran has been a major purchaser of Russian military hardware since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in addition to buying Russian nuclear technology and expertise.

In March 2005 Iran-Russian relations took a qualitative shift closer. That month Moscow agreed to the sale of a ‘defensive’ missile system to Tehran, worth up to $7 billion-worth of future defense contracts. In 2000 Putin had announced Russia would no longer continue to abide by a secret US-Russia agreement to ban Russian weapons sales to Iran that the government of Boris Yeltsin had concluded. Since then, Russian-Iranian relations have become more entwined to put it mildly.

Moscow currently says it is in talks with Iran to build five to seven additional nuclear power reactors on the Bushehr site after completion of the present reactor. Russia expects to get up to $10 billion from the planned larger Bushehr reactors deal and additional arms sales to Iran. It is currently building the reactor on credit to be paid by Iran only after the completion of the project. Sanctions and admonitions will not change Russia's relationship with one of the most demonized states in America's ‘axis of evil.’ Iran has become a major counterweight for Moscow in the geopolitical game for Washington’s total domination over Eurasia, and Putin is shrewdly aware of that potential.

A look at the map (see below), will reveal how geo-politically strategic Iran is for Russia, as well as for Israel and the USA. Iran controls the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the choke point for oil from the Persian Gulf to Japan and the rest of the world. Iran borders the oil-rich Caspian Sea as it does NATO member Turkey.

Significantly, on January 23, the Russian daily, Kommersant reported that Armenia, sandwiched between Iran and Georgia, had agreed to sell 45% control of its Iran-Armenia gas pipeline to Russia’s Gazprom. The Russian daily added, ‘If Russia takes over this [Iran-Armenia] pipeline, Russia will be able to control transit of Iranian gas to Georgia, Ukraine and Europe.’ That would be a major blow to the series of Washington operations to insert US-friendly pro-NATO governments in Georgia as well as Ukraine. It would also bind Iran and Russian energy relations. While the Armenian government denies they have agreed, negotiations continue with Gazprom holding out the prospect of demanding double the price or $110 per 1000 cubic meters rather than the present $54 unless Armenia agree to sell the stake to Gazprom.

Russia is pursuing a complex strategy regarding its cooperation with Iran. Minatom, the Russian nuclear energy group announced some time back that Russia was in discussion with Teheran to increase Iran's nuclear capacity by 6000 megawatts by 2020. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed a year ago that Moscow would supply Iran with fuel for the Bushehr reactor even if it did not sign the IAEA Additional Protocols. While Putin has assured the world that Iran must demonstrate full NPT compliance before the Russian nuclear transfers occur, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated previously that the IAEA's failure to condemn Iran opened the door for Russia to help build future reactors in that country. Putin has managed to put Russia square in the middle of the present global showdown over Iran, a position which clearly tells some in Moscow that Russia is indeed again a ‘global player’. Undoubtedly more.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, in a January 18 discussion with the daily, Nezavisimaya gazeta, stated, ‘It is not profitable for Russia to impose sanctions on Iran, since we just recently signed an agreement to sell them nearly $1 billion worth of medium-range anti-aircraft weapons. These modern weapons are capable of hitting targets up to 25 kilometers away and will probably be used to defend various testing sites in Iran. Therefore, if some attempt is made to strike at the country and the deliveries from Russia are made quickly enough, we can expect a strong response. In other words, Iran will be able to defend itself.’

Ivanov added a significant caveat: ‘However, if ballistic missiles are used, then nuclear sites can be targeted effectively. We must not forget that Russia has its experts working on some of these sites, and is not interested in a military scenario, if only to protect them.’

Russia’s current strategy is to renew its earlier offer, rejected initially by Teheran, to take the uranium fuel from Iran to Russia for reprocessing, thus defusing the crisis significantly. On January 25, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said that Tehran views Moscow’s offer to have Iran’s uranium enriched in Russia as a ‘positive development,’ but no agreement has been reached between the countries, according to an AP report.

Larijani repeated Iran’s threat to renew enrichment activities if it is referred to the UN Security Council. Moscow has proposed having Iran’s uranium enriched in Russia, then returned to Iran for use in the country’s reactors — a compromise that could provide more oversight and ease tensions, at least in theory, with the United States and European Union over Iran’s nuclear program. Talks have continued over the specifics, including Tehran’s proposal to have China involved in the Russian enrichment process.

Following his meeting with Russian Security Council chief Igor Ivanov, Larijani told press, ‘Our view of this offer is positive, and we are trying to bring the positions of the sides closer.’ Further talks come in February, after the planned emergency IAEA meeting of February 2. Iran opposition groups claim the Russian talks are merely a ploy to divide the West and buy more time. Larijani and Ivanov said in a joint statement that Tehran’s nuclear standoff must be resolved by diplomatic efforts in the U.N. atomic watchdog agency.

The China factor in Iran

China, in its increasingly urgent search for secure long-term energy supplies, especially oil and gas, has developed major economic ties with Iran. It began in 2000, when Beijing invited Iranian President Khatami for a literal red carpet reception and discussion of areas of energy and economic cooperation. Then in November 2004, curiously at the occasion of the second Bush election victory, the relation took a major shift as China signed huge oil and gas deals with Teheran.

The two countries signed a preliminary agreement worth potentially $70 billion to $100 billion. Under the terms, China will purchase Iranian oil and gas and help develop Iran's Yadavaran oil field, near the Iraqi border. That same year, China agreed to buy $20 billion in liquefied natural gas from Iran over a quarter-century.

Iran’s Oil Minister stated at the time, ‘Japan is our number one energy importer for historical reasons . . . but we would like to give preference to exports to China.’ In return China has become a major exporter of manufactured goods to Iran, including computer systems, household appliances and cars.

In addition to selling Iran its computers and home appliances, Beijing has been one of the largest suppliers of military technology to Teheran since the 1980’s. Chinese arms trade has involved conventional, missile, nuclear, and chemical weapons. Outside Pakistan and North Korea, China's arms trade with Iran has been more comprehensive and sustained than that with any other country.

China has sold thousands of tanks, armored personnel vehicles, and artillery pieces, several hundred surface-to-air, air-to-air, cruise, and ballistic missiles as well as thousands of antitank missiles, more than a hundred fighter aircraft, and dozens of small warships. In addition, it is widely believed that China has assisted Iran in the development of its ballistic and cruise missile production capability, and has provided Iran with technologies and assistance in the development of its clandestine chemical and nuclear weapons programs. In addition, China has supplied Iran scientific expertise, technical cooperation, technology transfers, production technologies, blueprints, and dual-use transfers.

In sum, Iran is more than a strategic partner for China. In the wake of the US unilateral decision to go to war against Iraq, reports from Chinese media indicated that the leadership in Beijing privately realized its own long-term energy security was fundamentally at risk under the aggressive new pre-emptive war strategy of Washington. China began taking major steps to outflank or negate total US domination of the world’s major oil and gas resources. Iran has become a central part of that strategy.

This underscores the Chinese demand that the Iran nuclear issue be settled in the halls of the IAEA and not at the UN Security Council as Washington wishes. China would clearly threaten its veto were Iran to be brought before the UN for sanctions.

EU relations with Iran

The EU is Iran’s main trading partner concerning both imports and exports. Clearly, they want to avoid a war with Iran and all that would imply for the EU. The EU’s Balance of Trade (BoT) with Iran is negative due to large imports of oil. Germany’s new CDU-led government under Chancellor Angela Merkel has made a clear point of trying to reaffirm close ties with Washington following the tense relations under former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who openly opposed the Iraq war along with France’s Chirac in 2002 and 2003.

Chirac for his part is the subject of major controversy since he held a speech January 19 in which he overturned the traditional French nuclear doctrine of ‘no first strike’ to say, were a terrorist nation to attack France, he would consider even nuclear retaliation as appropriate. The mere declaration by a French President has sent an uproar internationally. Whether it was French psychological warfare designed to pressure Iran or the reflection of a fundamental change in French nuclear doctrine to one of pre -emptive strike or something similar is so far not clear. What is clear is that the Chirac government will not stand in the way of a US decision to impose UN sanctions on Iran. Whether that also holds for a US-sanctioned nuclear strike is not clear.

The EU-3, whose negotiations diplomatically have so far produced no results, are now moving towards some form of more effective action against Iran’s decision to proceed with reprocessing. The only problem is that other than nuclear sabre rattling, the EU has few cards to play. It needs Iranian energy. It is also aware of what it would mean to have a war in Iran in terms of potential terror retaliations. The EU to put it mildly is highly nervous and alarmed at the potential of a US-Iran or Israel-US vs Iran military showdown.

The Bush Administration role in Iran

Unlike the Iraq war buildup where it became clear to a shocked world that the Bush Administration was going to war regardless, with Iran Washington has so far been willing to let the EU states take a diplomatic lead, only stepping up pressure publicly on Iran in recent weeks. On January 19 the US repeated that neither it nor its European partners want to return to the negotiating table with Iran. ‘The international community is united in mistrusting Tehran with nuclear technology,’ said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. ‘…The time has come for a referral of Iran to the [UN] Security Council,’ she added. Rice's choice of the word ‘referral’ was deliberate. If Iran is only ‘reported’ to the Security Council, debate would lack legal weight. A formal ‘referral’ is necessary if the Council is to impose any penalty, such as economic sanctions.

The neo-conservatives, although slightly lower profile in the second Bush Administration, are every bit as active, especially through Cheney’s office. They want a pre-emptive bombing strike on Iran’s nuclear sites.

But whatever Cheney’s office may be doing, officially, the Bush administration is pursuing a markedly different approach than it did in 2003, when its diplomacy was aimed at lining up allies for a war. This time, U.S. diplomats are seeking an international consensus on how to proceed, or at least, cultivating the impresion.

Iraq and the deepening US disaster there has severely constrained possible US options in Iran. Back in 2003 in the wake of the Iraqi ‘victory,’ leading Washington neo-conservative hawks were vocally calling on Bush to ‘Move on to Tehran’ after Saddam Hussein. Now, because of the “bloody quagmire” in Iraq, the US is severely constrained from moving unilaterally. With 140,000 troops tied down in Iraq, the US military physically cannot support another invasion and occupation in yet another country, let alone Iran.

Because of Iran's size, a ground invasion may require twice as many troops as in Iraq, says Richard Russell, a Middle East specialist at the National Defense University in Washington. While an air campaign could take out Iran's air defenses, it could also trigger terrorism and oil disruptions. Washington is internally split over the issue of a successful nuclear strike against Iran.

AIPAC and Abramoff impact Washington

Another little-appreciated new element in the US political chemistry around the Bush White House are two devastating legal prosecutions which have hit the heart of the black and grey money network between Washington Republicans and the Israeli right-wing Likud.

Jack Abramoff, the financial patron of several prominent Republicans, including ex-House Majority Leader, Tom Delay, and Steve Rosen, the key force behind AIPAC, were two of the most influential Jewish lobbyists in Washington before legal scandals effectively ended their careers and sent them scrambling to stay out of prison.

Abramoff has pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy arising out of his work lobbying for Indian gambling casino interests. That scandal could implicate far more Congressmen and even some in the White House.

Rosen is fighting allegations that as chief strategist at AIPAC, he received and passed classified national security information, received from Larry Franklin, to unauthorized parties. Perhaps it is coincidence that two such high-profile damaging cases to the lobbying power of right-wing Israeli hawk elements surface at the same time, at just this time when war drums are pounding on Iran.

AIPAC's drama began August 2004, when on the eve of the Republican National Convention, the FBI raided the organization's offices, looking for incriminating documents. A year later, in August 2005, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia indicted Rosen, by then AIPAC's director of foreign policy issues, and Keith Weissman, who had been an AIPAC Iran analyst. The government disclosed it had had the men under surveillance for more than four years and alleged that they had received and passed along classified information. The indictment named a Pentagon aide, Lawrence Franklin, as their co-conspirator. Franklin, who has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, pleaded guilty in October 2005 to passing classified documents to unauthorized persons and improperly storing such documents in his home. He was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison last week.

Bush, as de facto head of his party, faces a potentially devastating November Congressional election. With the quagmire of Iraq continuing and more Americans asking what in fact they are dying for in Iraq if not oil, Bush’s popularity has continued to plunge. He has now only 46 per cent of popular support. More than 53 per cent of people have expressed unfavorable opinion of Bush. The Hurricane Kartina debacle of bungled response by the White House, the growing perception that Bush has ‘lied’ to the public, all are working to seriously undermine Republican chances in November.

The stench of insider deals, not only with Cheney’s Halliburton is growing stronger and getting major media coverage, which is new. Conservative traditional Republicans are outraged at the unprecedented Federal spending binge Bush Republicans have indulged to protect their own special interests. In a recent article, Michael Reagan, conservative son of the late President, wrote, “Republican congressional leaders promised individual members of Congress up to $14 million ‘in free earmarks,’ (i.e. special spending allocations) if they would support, which they did, the massive $286.5 billion Bush transportation bill.” According to Reagan, “The bill came to a total of 6,300 earmarked projects costing the taxpayers $24 billion, a clear case of bribery. The people being bribed were members of Congress. The people making the bribes were members of Congress. Congressmen bribing congressmen.”

A recent Fox News poll indicated that Americans saw the Republican congressional majority as materially more corrupt and more responsible for the current spate of scandals than the Democrats by a wide margin.


In January 2003 President Bush signed a classified Presidential Directive, CONPLAN 8022-02. Conplan 8022 is a war plan different from all prior in that it posits ‘no ground troops.’ It was specifically drafted to deal with ‘imminent’ threats from states such as North Korea or Iran.

Unlike the warplan for Iraq, a conventional one, which required coordinated preparation of air, ground and sea forces before it could be launched, a process of months even years, Conplan 8022 called for a highly concentrated strike combining bombing with electronic warfare and cyberattacks to cripple an opponent’s response—cutting electricity in the country, jamming communications, hacking computer networks.

Conplan 8022 explicitly includes a nuclear option, specially configured earth-penetrating ‘mini’ nukes to hit underground sites such as Iran’s. In summer 2005 Defense Secretary Rumsfeld approved a top secret ‘Interim Global Strike Alert Order’ directing round-the-clock military readiness, to be directed by the Omaha-based Strategic Command (Stratcom), according to a report in the May 15, 2005 Washington Post. Previously, ominously enough, Stratcom oversaw only the US nuclear forces. In January 2003 Bush signed on to a definition of ‘full spectrum global strike’ which included precision nuclear as well as conventional bombs, and space warfare. This was a follow-up to the President’s September 2002 National Security Strategy which laid out as US strategic doctrine a policy of ‘pre-emptive’ wars.

The burning question is whether, with plunging popularity polls, a coming national election, scandals and loss of influence, the Bush White House might ‘think the unthinkable’ and order a nuclear pre-emptive global strike on Iran before the November elections, perhaps early after the March 28 Israeli elections.

Some Pentagon analysts have suggested that the entire US strategy towards Iran, unlike with Iraq, is rather a carefully orchestrated escalation of psychological pressure and bluff to force Iran to back down. It seems clear, especially in light of the strategic threat Iran faces from US or Israeli forces on its borders after 2003 that Iran is not likely to back down from its clear plans to develop the full nuclear fuel cycle capacities and with it, the option of developing an Iranian nuclear capability.

The question then is what will Washington do? The fundamental change in US defense doctrine since 2001, from a posture of defense to offense has significantly lowered the threshold of nuclear war, perhaps a global nuclear conflagration.

Geopolitical risks of nuclear war

While the latest Iranian agreement to reopen Russian talks on Russian spent fuel reprocessing has taken some of the edge off for the moment, on January 27 President Bush announced publicly that he backed the Russian compromise, along with China and El Baradei of the IAEA. Bush signalled a significant backdown, at least for the moment, stating, ‘The Russians came up with the idea and I support it…I do believe people ought to be allowed to have civilian nuclear power.’ At the same time Rice’s State Department expressed concern the Russian-Iran talks were a stalling ploy by Teheran.

Bush added ‘However, I don’t believe that non-transparent (sic) regimes that threaten the security of the world should be allowed to gain the technologies necessary to make a weapon.’ The same day, Secretary Rice at Davos told the World Economic Forum that Iran’s nuclear program posed ‘significant danger’ and that Iran must be brought before the UN Security Council. In short, Washington is trying to appear ‘diplomatic while keeping options open.

Should Iran be brought before the UN Security Council for violations of the NPT and charges of developing weapons of mass destruction, it seems quite probable that Russia and China would veto imposing sanctions such as economic embargo on Iran for reasons stated above. The timetable for that is likely sometime around March-May, that is, after a new Israeli government is in place.

At that point there are several possible outcomes.

* The IAEA refers Iran to the UN Security Council which proposes increased monitoring of the reprocessing facilities for weapons producing while avoiding sanctions. In essence Iran would be allowed to develop its full fuel cycle nuclear program and its sovereignty is respected so long as it respects NPT and IAEA conditions. This is unlikely for the reasons stated above.

* Iran like India and Pakistan or even China, is permitted to develop a small arsenal of nuclear weapons as a deterrent to the growing military threat in its area posed by the United States from Afghanistan to Iraq to the Emirates, as well as by Israel’s nuclear force. The West extends new offers of economic cooperation in the development of Iran’s oil and gas infrastructure and Iran is slowly welcomed into the community of the WTO and cooperation with the West. A new government in Israel pursues a peace policy in Palestine and with Syria and a new regional relaxation of tensions opens the way for huge new economic development in the entire Middle east region, Iran included. The Mullahs in Iran slowly loose influence. This scenario, desireable as it is is extremely unlikely in the present circumstances.

* President Bush, on the urging of Cheney, Rumsfeld and the neo-conservative hawks, decide to activate CONPLAN 8022, an air attack bombing Iran’s presumed nuclear sites, including for the first time since 1945, with deployment of nuclear weapons. No ground troops are used and it is proclaimed a swift surgical ‘success’ by the formidable Pentagon propaganda machine. Iran, prepared for such a possibility, launches a calculated counter-strike using techniques of guerrilla or ‘assymetrical warfare’ against US and NATO targets around the world.

The Iran response includes activating trained cells within Lebanon’s Hezbollah; it includes activating considerable Iranian assets within Iraq, potentially in de facto alliance with the Sunni resistance there targeting the 135,000 remaining US troops and civilian personnel. Iran’s assymetrical response also includes stepping up informal ties to the powerful Hamas within Palestine to win them to a Holy War against the US-Israel ‘Great Satan.’ Israel faces unprecedented terror and sabotage attacks from every side and from within its territory from sleeper cells of Arab Israelis. Iran activates trained sleeper terror cells in the Ras Tanura center of Saudi oil refining and shipping. The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia around Ras Tanura contains a disenfranchised Shi’ite minority which have historically been denied the fruits of the immense Saudi oil wealth. There are some 2 million Shi’ia Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Shias do most of the manual work in the Saudi oilfields, making up 40 percent of Aramco's workforce.

Iran declares an immediate embargo of deliveries of its 4 million barrels of oil a day. It threatens to sink a large VLCC oil super -tanker in the narrows of the Strait of Hormuz, chocking off 40% of all world oil flows, if the world does not join it against the US-Israeli action. The strait has two 1 mile wide channels for marine traffic, separated by a 2 mile wide buffer zone, and is the only sea passage to the open ocean for much of OPEC oil. It is Saudi Arabia’s main export route.

Iran a vast, strategically central expanse of land, more than double the land area of France and Germany combined, with well over 70 million people, and one of the fastest population growth rates in the world is well prepared for a new Holy War. Its mountainous terrain makes any thought of a US ground occupation inconceivable at a time the Pentagon is having problems retaining its present force to maintain the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations. World War III begins in a series of miscalculations and disruptions. The pentagon’s awesome war machine, ‘total spectrum dominance’ is powerless against the growing ‘assymetrical war’ assaults around the globe.

Clear from a reading of their public statements and their press, the Iranian government knows well what cards they hold and what not in this global game of thermo-nuclear chicken.

Were the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis to risk launching a nuclear strike on Iran, given the geopolitical context, it would mark a point of no return in international relations. Even with sagging popularity, the White House knows this. The danger of the initial strategy of pre-emptive wars is that, as now, when someone like Iran calls the US bluff with a formidable response potential, the US is left with little option but to launch the unthinkable-nuclear first strike.

There are saner voices within the US political establishment, such as former NSC heads, Brent Scowcroft or even Zbigniew Brzezinski, who clearly understand the deadly logic of Bush’s and the Pentagon hawks’ pre-emptive posture. The question is whether their faction within the US power establishment today is powerful enough to do to Bush and Cheney what was done to Richard Nixon when his exercise of Presidential power got out of hand.

It is useful to keep in mind that even were Iran to possess nuclear missiles, the strike range would not reach the territory of the United States. Israel would be the closest potential target. A US pre-emptive nuclear strike to defend Israel would raise the issue of what the military agreements between Tel Aviv and Washington actually encompass, a subject which neither the Bush Administration nor its predecessors have seen fit to inform the American public about.

Who can challenge religious parties in Pashtun dominated areas of Pakistan?

Asfandyar Wali: Profile of Pakistan's Progressive Pashtun Politician
By Hassan Abbas
Terrorism Monitor: Volume 5, Issue 2 (February 1, 2007)

On January 10, Pakistan's secular and Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) won a critical electoral battle in Bajaur Agency. The ANP political party is led by the seasoned politician Asfandyar Wali Khan. The election struck a blow to pro-Taliban elements in the region, and also marks the revival of a party that appeared to be hibernating during the recent Talibanization process. The Pakistani military's hidden alliance with religious political parties made it difficult to effectively tackle the Taliban threat in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the United States. After 2003, the military opted for a show of brute force in Pakistan's tribal belt which created more problems than it solved. The ANP was routed in national and provincial elections in 2002 because anti-Musharraf and anti-American sentiments were at their peak leading to support for the religious alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). The mistakes committed by the United States in Afghanistan in terms of not providing enough financial resources for reconstruction and overwhelming dependence on military options to tackle extremists also contributed toward the marginalization of the liberal and progressive forces in the region, including the ANP.

Nevertheless, the potency of Pashtun nationalist forces should not be underestimated. Given their checkered history and traditional support base, they are potentially an effective and viable political force to challenge the religious extremists in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the adjacent Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). This analysis profiles Asfandyar Wali and his party, which has shown determination in reversing the radical Islamist political trends in the Pashtun-dominated areas of Pakistan.

Background: History of the Awami National Party

The ANP was formed in 1986 through the merger of several left-leaning political parties. Khan Abdul Wali Khan (the father of Asfandyar Wali) was elected as its first president. Wali Khan, son of the legendary Pashtun political leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, died in 2006. Ghaffar Khan was known as Bacha Khan and as "Frontier Gandhi" because he was a close associate of India's leader Mahatma Gandhi. A believer in non-violence, Ghaffar Khan was an ardent supporter of the idea of a united, independent and secular India. To achieve this goal, he founded a political movement known as Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God), also commonly referred to as the Surkh Posh (Red Shirts), during the 1920s. It became a powerful force in the Pashtun-dominated region. The Pashtuns and tribal elders of the region, however, voted to join Pakistan in 1947, as the idea of the nation of Pakistan proved to be quite attractive to the Muslim identity felt among the majority of Pashtuns. Geographic disconnection with the newly emerged independent India also led many Pashtuns to opt for Pakistan, despite being adherents of Ghaffar Khan who was aligned with the Indian National Congress. Ghaffar Khan was thrown in jail by the newly formed state of Pakistan, yet Pashtun nationalism continued to remain very relevant to the politics of the area.

Ghaffar Khan, who had briefly championed the cause of Pashtunistan (an independent state for Pashtuns) in 1947, spent most of his life either in jail, on house arrest in Pakistan, or in exile in Kabul. He died in 1988 and was buried in Jalalabad, Afghanistan as per his wishes. His name is highly respected and popular among Pashtuns on both sides of the border.

Wali Khan was no different. Despite being called a traitor by some (due to his family's links with India and their brief campaign in 1947 for an independent Pashtunistan), he was an important political leader in his own right. He was a strong proponent of provincial autonomy and a leading light in the National Awami Party (NAP), a national political party with leftist inclinations. In the 1970 elections, NAP, led by Wali Khan, did well in the NWFP and in Balochistan province, earning a place in the ruling coalitions in both of the aforementioned provinces. These governments, however, were short lived as Wali Khan was again jailed and his party barred from politics by the federal government on the controversial pretext of conspiring against the state of Pakistan.

In summation, when the ANP emerged in 1986, the party was neither new to politics nor led by any armchair politician. Since then, it has participated in five national and provincial elections. It continued to have a presence in the National Assembly (except in 2002) and always had a fair representation in the NWFP assembly. For instance, in the NWFP legislature, out of a total of 80 seats, the ANP secured 10 seats in 1988, 23 seats in 1990, 18 seats in 1993 and 32 seats in 1997. In the 2002 elections, the ANP could manage only seven seats in an expanded assembly of 124 as a result of the fallout from U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

Who is Asfandyar Wali?

Asfandyar Wali, the elected president of ANP, is also heir to the legacy of Ghaffar Khan. An astute politician, he has been an elected senator since 2003. Previously, he served in the NWFP provincial assembly (1990) and two national assemblies of Pakistan (1993, 1997).

He holds an MBA and was a political activist associated with the Pakhtun Student Federation during his college days. His home, Wali Bagh in Charsadda, was an ideal nursery for political training since this has been the headquarters of Pashtun nationalist forces for more than half a century. The political upheavals that his family faced groomed him further. During the 1990s, the ANP lost some of its credibility due to corruption scandals that it had been associated with while in the government. The party, however, was then run by Naseem Wali (wife of Wali Khan and stepmother of Asfandyar Wali). Therefore, Asfandyar's reputation escaped this stigma since he was not in the driver's seat of the party's decision-making process. Since then, some notorious and corrupt ANP leaders were sidelined (and in some cases removed from party positions) by Asfandyar Wali when he took over the party leadership in 2000.

In terms of political orientation, the ANP is a nationalist Pashtun party that aspires to make Pakistan a truly democratic state. It also pushes for provincial autonomy and social justice. It was one of the very few political forces in Pakistan that was openly critical of how the Afghan resistance against the former Soviet Union in the 1980s was labeled as a jihad and sponsored from Pakistan (with the help of U.S. and Saudi money). Framing the conflict in religious terms meant increased influence of Islamic parties and decreased relevance of secular parties like the ANP. The ANP remained critical of Pakistan's pro-Taliban policies in the pre-9/11 phase. Their warnings, however, fell on deaf ears.

In the present political context, the ANP is actively challenging the NWFP religious alliance MMA and is critical of Musharraf's policies in the tribal belt. Despite official obstacles, Asfandyar visited Pakistan's tribal areas in November 2006 to hold political consultations with his supporters to the dismay of pro-government tribal elders (Dawn, November 18, 2006). If Afghan President Hamid Karzai respects and trusts anyone in Pakistan, it is the ANP and Asfandyar Wali. The idea of a regional Pashtun peace jirga (that was discussed at the recent Bush-Musharraf-Karzai meeting in Washington) was a brainchild of the Asfandyar-Karzai dialogue. Asfandyar had articulated his support of this idea when he visited Washington in early 2006. The Pakistani government, however, is wary of this concept despite its commitment to the United States to undertake such an exercise since it fears that such an arrangement may lessen the Pakistani government's direct role in the Pashtun areas. Islamabad, therefore, is now backtracking by delaying and modifying the spirit of the regional jirga idea.

In Pakistan, it is difficult to challenge the military-intelligence establishment. Asfandyar, however, continues to do so, and recently he argued that the Pakistani government, instead of introducing new political or economic reforms in the tribal areas, has turned the region into a battlefield by using it as "a sanctuary for their guests" (Daily Times, September 28, 2006). Responding to Pakistan's recent proposal to fence and mine the Pak-Afghan border in an effort to control the Taliban's movements, he bluntly called it a conspiracy to divide the Pashtuns.

An Interview with Asfandyar Wali: A Way Out

In a telephone interview with Asfandyar Wali on January 13, he argued that a Pashtun peace jirga involving Pashtun nationalists, civil society actors and religious players from both sides is the last hope for the region. He interpreted the recent ANP victory in the Bajaur elections as a bright spot in the overall troubling scenario and made a case for allowing liberal political parties to operate and function in the tribal areas. This can only happen, he emphasized, if the Political Parties Act of Pakistan is extended to FATA.

In reference to the causes of conflict in the tribal areas, he lamented the fact that only pro-government maliks (tribal elders who are on the government payroll) are engaged and mushiraan ("people's" maliks who are financially independent) were completely ignored. This led to a failure in resolving the crisis in FATA. Furthermore, he thinks that Pakistan should have distinguished between the pre-9/11 foreigners who are by now well settled in the area and the post-9/11 foreigners that came in to find a sanctuary.

He also believes that fundamentalist forces are now battling for influence and territory in Sind and Punjab provinces. He was very confident that the "ANP is in a position to take on MMA in NWFP and tribal areas, but we are not in a position to take on the establishment." When asked what his expectations are from the international community and the United States, he replied: "the international community should ensure a level playing field for all political forces in the region." Elaborating on this further, he narrated a humorous Pashto proverb that can be roughly translated as: "I don't need any charity, but please chain your dog."


Critics of ANP argue that supporting Asfandyar and his party might lead to the cessation of the NWFP from Pakistan and even to the unification of Pashtun areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is unlikely since the Pashtuns of Pakistan are well entrenched in the political system and have been integrated socially and culturally into the national fabric of the country. Another relevant criticism fired at the ANP is its provincial or nationalist identity. Since its inception, however, the ANP has always had some representation in the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan and has never called for a separate homeland. What it has asked for is more provincial autonomy, which is within the restraints and provisions of the federal constitution of Pakistan.

The ANP as a political party, however, needs better organization. To be able to pursue its liberal and progressive agenda it will have to join hands with other secular forces in the NWFP as well as in other parts of Pakistan. The Bajaur by-election was a test case for the ANP. The seat was vacated by Haroon ur Rashid, an MMA representative who resigned his seat in protest against the bombing of a madrassa in which 80 people were killed (Daily Times, January 15). The ANP won because the MMA boycotted the election and other political parties (the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muslim League-N) supported its candidate. Still, it was a success since a member of Pakistan Muslim League-Q, supported by President Musharraf's followers, was also a candidate.

The crux of the matter is that Asfandyar Wali and the ANP are potentially capable of reversing the Talibanization trend in the tribal areas provided that the Pakistani establishment recognizes the high stakes involved, such as the growing influence of religious extremists in the region and the increasing number of suicide attacks within Pakistan itself. One may also hope that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' policy statement declaring "success in Afghanistan is our top priority" leads to significant financial investment in the development of Afghanistan, crippling the appeal of the Taliban in the region (The Nation, January 18). Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's latest announcement that President Bush would ask Congress for $10.6 billion in aid for Afghanistan will, if approved, be a step forward for peace and stability in the region.

February 01, 2007

The Emerging Russian Giant Plays its Cards Strategically

By F William Engdahl, October 20, 2006

On October 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin flew to the German city of Dresden for a summit on energy issues with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. On the agenda were proposed plans to more than double German import of Russian natural gas. Putin told the German Chancellor that Russia would ‘possibly’ redirect some of the future natural gas from its giant Shtokman field in the Barents Sea. The $20 billion project is due to come online 2010. Putin’s Dresden talks followed an earlier summit in Paris in late September with Putin and French President Chirac and Merkel. A week after his Dresden talks, the Indonesian Navy Chief of Staff announced a remarkable shift away from that country’s traditional purchases of NATO military equipment. Indonesia will buy twelve modern Kilo-Class and Lada-Class Russian submarines. Indonesia cited advantages of cost and reliability over NATO French or German equivalents.

These developments underscore the re-emerging of Russia as a major global power. The new Russia is gaining in influence through a series of strategic moves revolving around its geopolitical assets in energy—most notably its oil and natural gas. It’s doing so by shrewdly taking advantage of the strategic follies and major political blunders of Washington. The new Russia also realizes that if it does not act decisively, it soon will be encircled and trumped by a military rival, USA. The battle, largely unspoken, is the highest stakes battle in world politics today. Iran and Syria are seen by Washington strategists as mere steps to this great Russian End Game.

In recent years major attention has been paid to the emergence of a China economic colossus. What is generally missing in these discussions is the fact that China will not be able to emerge as a truly independent global power over the coming decade unless it is able to solve two strategic vulnerabilities—its growing dependence on energy imports for its economic growth, and its inability to pose a credible nuclear deterrence to a US nuclear first strike.

Russia is the one remaining power which still has sufficient military deterrence potential in its strategic nuclear arsenal, and is expanding same, as well as abundant energy to make a credible counterweight to global US military and political primacy. A Eurasian combination of China and Russia and allied Eurasian states, essentially the states in and around the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, do present a potential counterweight to unilateral USA dominance. An understanding of recent Russian developments in this light is essential to understand United States foreign policy as well as global politics at present.

Russia`s Strategic Dilemma

Since the devastating setbacks two years ago from the US-sponsored ‘color revolutions’ in Georgia, and then Ukraine, Russia has begun to play its strategic energy cards extremely carefully, from nuclear reactors in Iran to military sales to Venezuela and other Latin American states, to strategic market cooperation deals in natural gas with Algeria.

At the same time, the Bush Administration has dug itself deeper into a geopolitical morass, through a foreign policy agenda which has reckless disregard for its allies as well as its foes. That reckless policy has been associated with former Halliburton CEO, Dick Cheney, more than any other figure in Washington.

The ‘Cheney Presidency,’ which is what historians will no doubt dub the George W. Bush years, has been based on a clear strategy. It has often been misunderstood by critics who had overly focused on its most visible component, namely, Iraq, the Middle East and the strident war-hawks around the Vice President and his old crony, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld.

The ‘Cheney strategy’ has been a US foreign policy based on securing direct global energy control, control by the Big Four US or US-tied private oil giants - ChevronTexaco or ExxonMobil, BP or Royal Dutch Shell. Above all, it has aimed at control of all the world`s major oil regions, along with the major natural gas fields. That control has moved in tandem with a growing bid by the United States for total military primacy over the one potential threat to its global ambitions - Russia. Cheney is perhaps the ideal person to weave the US military and energy policies together into a coherent strategy of dominance. During the early 1990s under father Bush, Cheney was also Secretary of Defense.

The Cheney-Bush administration has been dominated by a coalition of interests between Big Oil and the top industries of the American military-industrial complex. These private corporate interests exercise their power through control of the government policy of the United States. An aggressive militaristic agenda has been essential to it. It is epitomized by Cheney`s former company, Halliburton Inc., at one and the same time the world`s largest energy and geophysical services company, and the world`s largest constructor of military bases.

To comprehend the policy it`s important to look at how Cheney, as Halliburton CEO, viewed the problem of future oil supply on the eve of his becoming Vice President.

‘Where the Prize Ultimately Lies’:
Cheney`s 1999 London speech

Back in September 1999, a full year before the US elections which made him the most powerful Vice President in history, Cheney gave a revealing speech before his oil industry peers at the London Institute of Petroleum. In a global review of the outlook for Big Oil, Cheney made the following comment:

By some estimates there will be an average of two per cent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead along with conservatively a three per cent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from? Governments and the national oil companies are obviously controlling about ninety per cent of the assets. Oil remains fundamentally a government business. While many regions of the world offer great oil opportunities, the Middle East with two thirds of the world‘s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies. Even though companies are anxious for greater access there, progress continues to be slow. It is true that technology, privatisation and the opening up of a number of countries have created many new opportunities in areas around the world for various oil companies, but looking back to the early 1990‘s, expectations were that significant amounts of the world‘s new resources would come from such areas as the former Soviet Union and from China. Of course that didn‘t turn out quite as expected. Instead it turned out to be deep water successes that yielded the bonanza of the 1990‘s.

The Cheney remarks are worth a careful reading. He posits a conservative rise in global demand for oil by the end of the present decade, i.e. in about 4 years. He estimates the world will need to find an added 50 million barrels of daily output. Total daily oil production at present hovers around the level of some 83 million barrels oil equivalent. This means that to avert catastrophic shortages and the resultant devastating impact on global economic growth, by Cheney`s 1999 estimate, the world must find new oil production equal to more than 50% of the 1999 daily global output, and that, by about 2010. That is the equivalent of five new oil regions equal to today`s Saudi Arabian size. That is a whopping amount of new oil.

Given that it can take up to seven years or more to bring a new major oilfield into full production, that`s also not much time if a horrendous energy crunch and sky-high oil and gas prices are to be averted. Cheney`s estimate was also based on an overly conservative estimate of future oil import demand in China and India, today the two fastest growing oil consumers on the planet.

A second notable point of Cheney`s 1999 London comments was his remark that, ‘the Middle East with two thirds of the world‘s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.’ However, as he revealingly remarked, the oil ‘prize’ of the Middle East was in national or government hands, not open to exploitation by the private market, and thus, hard for Cheney`s Halliburton and his friends in ExxonMobil or Chevron or Shell or BP to get their hands on.

At that time, Iraq, with the second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, was under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Iran, which has the world`s second largest reserves of natural gas, in addition to its huge oil reserves, was ruled by a nationalist theocracy which was not open to US private company oil tenders. The Caspian Sea oil reserves were a subject of bitter geopolitical battle between Washington and Russia.

Cheney`s remark that ‘Oil remains fundamentally a government business,’ and not private, takes on a new significance when we do a fast forward to September 2000, in the heat of the 2000 Bush-Cheney election campaign. That month Cheney, along with Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and many others who went on to join the new Bush Administration, issued a policy report titled, ‘Re -building America`s Defenses.’ The paper was issued by an entity named Project for the New American Century (PNAC).

Cheney`s PNAC group called on the new US President-to-be to find a suitable pretext to declare war on Iraq, in order to occupy it and take direct control over the second largest oil reserves in the Middle East. Their report stated bluntly, ‘While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification (sic), the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein ...’

Cheney signed on to a policy document in September 2000 which declared that the key issue was ‘American force presence in the Gulf,’ and regime change in Iraq, regardless whether Saddam Hussein was good, bad or ugly. It was the first step in moving the US military to ‘where the prize ultimately lies.’

No coincidence that Cheney immediately got the task of heading a Presidential Energy Task Force review in early 2001, where he worked closely with his friends in Big Oil, including the late Ken Lay of Enron, with whom Cheney earlier had been involved in an Afghan gas pipeline project, as well as with James Baker III.

Buried in the debate leading to the US bombing and occupation of Iraq in March 2003 was a lawsuit under the US Freedom of Information Act brought by Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, initially to find data on Cheney`s role in the California energy crisis. The suit demanded that Vice President Cheney make public all documents and records of meetings related to his 2001 Energy Task Force project.

The US Commerce Department in summer 2003 ultimately released part of the documents, over ferocious Cheney and White House opposition. Amid the files of the domestic US energy review was, curiously enough, a detailed map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as two charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and ‘Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.’ The ‘foreign suitors’ included Russia, China and France, three UN Security Council members who openly opposed granting the US UN approval for invading Iraq.

The first act of post-war occupation by Washington was to declare null and void any contracts between the Iraqi government and Russia, China and France. Iraqi oil was to be an American affair, handled by American companies or their close cronies in Britain, the first victory in the high-stakes quest, ‘where the prize ultimately lies.’

This was precisely what Cheney had alluded to in his 1999 London speech. Get the Middle East oil resources out of independent national hands and into US-controlled hands. The military occupation of Iraq was the first major step in this US strategy. Control of Russian energy reserves, however, was Washington`s ultimate ‘prize.’

De-construction of Russia: The ‘ultimate prize’

For obvious military and political reasons, Washington could not admit openly that its strategic focus, since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, had been the dismemberment or de-construction of Russia, and gaining effective control of its huge oil and gas resources, the ‘ultimate prize.’ The Russian Bear still had formidable military means, however dilapidated, and he still had nuclear teeth.

In the mid-1990s Washington began a deliberate process of bringing one after the other former satellite Soviet state into not just the European Union, but into the Washington-dominated NATO. By 2004 Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia all had been admitted into NATO, and the Republic of Georgia was being groomed to join.

This surprising spread of NATO, to the alarm of some in western Europe, as well as to Russia, had been part of the strategy advocated by Cheney`s friends at the Project for the New American Century, in their ‘Rebuilding America`s Defenses’ report and even before.

Already in 1996, PNAC member and Cheney crony, Bruce Jackson, then a top executive with US defense giant, Lockheed Martin, was head of the US Committee to Expand NATO, later renamed the US Committee on Nato, a very powerful Washington lobby group.

The US Committee to Expand NATO also included PNAC members Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Stephen Hadley and Robert Kagan. Kagan`s wife is Victoria Nuland, now the US Ambassador to NATO. From 2000 - 2003, she was a foreign policy advisor to Cheney. Hadley, a hardline hawk close to Vice President Cheney, was named by President Bush to replace Condoleezza Rice as his National Security Adviser.

The warhawk Cheney network moved from the PNAC into key posts within the Bush Administration to run NATO and Pentagon policy. Bruce Jackson and others, after successfully lobbying Congress to expand NATO to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in 1999, moved to organize the so-called Vilnius Group that lobbied to bring ten more former Warsaw Pact countries on Russia`s periphery into NATO. Jackson called this the ‘Big Bang.’

President Bush repeatedly used the term ‘New Europe’ in statements about NATO enlargement. In a July 5, 2002 speech hailing the leaders of the Vilnius group, Bush declared, ‘Our nations share a common vision of a new Europe, where free European states are united with each other, and with the United States through cooperation, partnership, and alliance.’

Lockheed Martin`s former executive, Bruce Jackson, took credit for bringing the Baltic and other members of the Vilnius Group into NATO. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 1, 2003, Jackson claimed he originated the ‘Big Bang’ concept of NATO enlargement, later adopted by the Vilnius Group of Baltic and Eastern European nations. As Jackson noted, his ‘Big Bang’ briefing ‘proposed the inclusion of these seven countries in NATO and claimed for this enlargement strategic advantages for NATO and moral (sic) benefits for the democratic community of nations.’ On May 19, 2000 in Vilnius, Lithuania, these propositions were adopted by nine of Europe`s new democracies as their own. It became the objectives of the Vilnius Group. Jackson could also have noted the benefits to US military defense industry, including his old cronies at Lockheed Martin, with the creation of a vast new NATO arms market on the borders to Russia.

Once that NATO goal was reached, Bruce Jackson and other members of the NATO eastern expansion lobby, closed the US Committee on Nato in 2003, and, seamlessly, in the very same office, re-opened as a new lobby organization, the Project on Transitional Democracies, which according to their own statement was ‘organized to exploit the opportunities to accelerate democratic reform and integration which we believe will exist in the broader Euro-Atlantic region over the next decade.’ In other words, to foster the series of Color Revolutions and regime change across Russian Eurasia. All three principals of the Project on Transitional Democracies worked for the Republican Party, and Jackson and Scheunemann have close ties with major military contractors, notably Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

Jackson and other PNAC and U.S. Committee on NATO members also created a powerful lobby organization, the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI). CLI`s advisory panel included hardline Democrats such as Rep. Stephen Solarz and Sen. Robert Kerrey. It was dominated by neo-conservatives and Republican Party stalwarts like Jeane Kirkpatrick, Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, William Kristol, and former CIA Director, James Woolsey. Serving as honorary co-chairs were Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ). Jackson related that friends in the White House had asked him to create the CLI in 2002 to replicate the success he had had pushing for NATO expansion through his US Committee on NATO by establishing an outfit aimed at supporting the administration`s campaign to convince Congress and the public to support a war. “People in the White House said, ‘We need you to do for Iraq what you did for NATO’,” Jackson told American Prospect magazine in a January 1, 2003 interview.

In brief, NATO encirclement of Russia, Color Revolutions across Eurasia, and the war in Iraq, were all one and the same American geopolitical strategy, part of a grand strategy to ultimately de -construct Russia once and for all as a potential rival to a sole US Superpower hegemony. Russia - not Iraq and not Iran - was the primary target of that strategy.

During a White House welcoming ceremony to greet the ten new NATO members in 2004, President Bush noted that NATO`s mission now extended far beyond the perimeter of the alliance. ‘NATO members are reaching out to the nations of the Middle East, to strengthen our ability to fight terror, and to provide for our common security,’ he said. But NATO`s mission now would extend beyond even global security. Bush added, ‘We`re discussing how we can support and increase the momentum of freedom in the greater Middle East.’ Freedom, that is, to come into the orbit of a Washington-controlled NATO alliance.

The end of the Yeltsin era put a slight crimp in the US plans. Putin began slowly and cautiously to emerge as a dynamic national force , committed to rebuilding Russia, following the IMF-guided looting of the country by a combination of Western banks and corrupt Russian oligarchs.

Russian oil output had risen since the collapse of the Soviet Union to the point that, by the time of the 2003 US war on Iraq, Russia was the world`s second largest oil producer behind Saudi Arabia.

The real significance of the Yukos Affair

The defining event in the new Russian energy geopolitics under Vladimir Putin took place in 2003. It was just as Washington was making it brutally clear it was going to militarize Iraq and the Middle East, regardless of world protest or UN niceties.

A brief review of the spectacular October 2003 arrest of Russia`s billionaire ‘oligarch’ Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and state seizure of his giant Yukos oil group, is essential to understand Russian energy geopolitics.

Khodorkovsky was arrested at Novosibirsk airport on October 25, 2003, by the Russian Prosecutor General`s office on charges of tax evasion. The Putin government froze shares of Yukos Oil because of tax charges. They then took further actions against Yukos, leading to a collapse in the share price.

What was little mentioned in Western media accounts, which typically portrayed the Putin government actions as a reversion to Soviet-era methods, was what had triggered Putin`s dramatic action in the first place.

Khodorkovsky had been arrested just four weeks before a decisive Russian Duma or lower house election, in which Khodorkovsky had managed to buy the votes of a majority in the Duma using his vast wealth. Control of the Duma was to be the first step by Khodorkovsky in a plan to run against Putin the next year as President. The Duma victory would have allowed him to change election laws in his favor, as well as to alter a controversial law being drafted in the Duma, ‘The Law on Underground Resources.’ That law would prevent Yukos and other private companies from gaining control of raw materials in the ground, or from developing private pipeline routes independent of the Russian state pipelines.

Khodorkovsky had violated the pledge of the Oligarchs made to Putin, that they be allowed to keep their assets - de facto stolen from the state in the rigged auctions under Yeltsin - if they stayed out of Russian politics and repatriated a share of their stolen money. Khodorkovsky, the most powerful oligarch at the time, was serving as the vehicle for what was becoming an obvious Washington-backed putsch against Putin.

The Khodorkovsky arrest followed an unpublicized meeting earlier that year on July 14, 2003 between Khodorkovsky and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Following the Cheney meeting, Khodorkovsky began talks with ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco, Condi Rice`s old firm, about taking a major state in Yukos, said to have been between 25% and 40%. That was intended to give Khodorkovsky de facto immunity from possible Putin government interference by tying Yukos to the big US oil giants and, hence, to Washington. It would also have given Washington, via the US oil giants, a de facto veto power over future Russian oil and gas pipelines and oil deals. Days before his October 2003 arrest on tax fraud charges, Khodorkovsky had entertained George H.W. Bush, the representative of the powerful and secretive Washington Carlyle Group in Moscow. They were discussing the final details of the US oil company share buy-in of Yukos.

Yukos had also just made a bid to acquire rival Sibneft from Boris Berezovsky, another Yeltsin-era Oligarch. Yukos/Sibneft, with 19.5 billion barrels of oil and gas, would then own the second-largest oil and gas reserves in the world after ExxonMobil. Yukos/Sibneft would be the fourth largest in the world in terms of production, pumping 2.3 million barrels of crude oil a day. The Exxon or Chevron buy-up of Yukos/Sibneft would have been a literal energy coup d´etat. Cheney knew it; Bush knew it; Khodorkovsky knew it.

Above all, Vladimir Putin knew it and moved decisively to block it.

Khodorkovsky had cultivated very impressive ties to the Anglo-American power establishment. He created a philanthropic foundation, the Open Russia Foundation, modeled on the Open Society foundation of his close friend George Soros. On the select board of Open Russia Foundation sat Henry Kissinger and Kissinger`s friend, Jacob Lord Rothschild, London scion of the banking family. Arthur Hartman, a former US Ambassador to Moscow, also sat on the foundation`s board.

Following Khodorkovsky`s arrest, the Washington Post reported that the imprisoned Russian billionaire had retained the services of Stuart Eizenstat - former deputy Treasury Secretary, Undersecretary of State, Undersecretary of Commerce during the Clinton Administration - to lobby in Washington for his freedom. Khodorkovsky was in deep with the Anglo-American establishment.

Subsequent western media and official protest about Russia`s return to communist methods and raw power politics, conveniently ignored the fact that Khodorkovsky was hardly Snow White himself . Earlier, Khodorkovsky had unilaterally ripped up his contract with British Petroleum. BP had been a partner with Yukos, and had spent $300 million in drilling the highly promising Priobskoye oil field in Siberia.

Once the BP drilling had been done, Khodorkovsky forced BP out, using gangster methods that would be unlawful in most of the developed world. By 2003 Priobskoye oil production reached 129 million barrels, equivalent to a value on the market of some $8 billions. Earlier, in 1998, after the IMF had given billions to Russia to prevent a collapse of the Ruble, Khodokorvosky`s Bank Menatep diverted an eye-popping $4.8 billion in IMF funds to his hand-picked bank cronies, some US banks among them. The howls of protest from Washington at the October 2003 arrest of Khodorkovsky were disingenuous, if not outright hypocritical. As seen from the Kremlin, Washington had been caught with its fat hand in the Russian cookie jar.

The Putin-Khodorkovsky showdown signaled a decisive turn by the Putin government towards rebuilding Russia and erecting strategic defenses from the foreign onslaught led by Cheney and friend Tony Blair in Britain. It took place in the context of a brazen US grab for Iraq in 2003 and of a unilateral Bush Administration announcement that the USA was abrogating its solemn treaty obligations with Russia under their earlier Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, in order to go ahead with development of US missile defenses, an act which could only be viewed in Moscow as a hostile act aimed at her security.

By 2003, indeed, it took little strategic military acumen to realize that the Pentagon hawks and their allies in the military industry and Big Oil had a vision of a United States unfettered by international agreements and acting unilaterally in its own best interests, as defined, of course, by the hawks. Their recommendations were published by one of the many Washington hawk conservative Think-Tanks. In January 2001 The National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP) issued Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control, just as the Bush-Cheney Administration began. The report, demanding a unilateral US end to nuclear force reduction, was signed by 27 senior officials from past and current administrations. The list included the man who today is Bush`s National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley; it included the special assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Stephen Cambone, and it included Admiral James Woolsey, the former head of CIA and chairman of the Washington NGO, Freedom House. Freedom House played a central role in Ukraine`s US-sponsored ‘Orange Revolution’ and all other ‘Color Revolutions’ across the former Soviet Union.

These events were soon followed by the Washington-financed series of covert destabilizations of a number of governments in Russia`s periphery which had been close to Moscow. It included the November 2003 ‘Rose Revolution’ in Georgia which ousted Edouard Shevardnadze in favour of a young, US-educated and pro-NATO President, Mikheil Saakashvili. The 37-year-old Saakashvili had conveniently agreed to back the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline that would avoid Moscow pipeline control of Azerbaijan`s Caspian oil. The United States has maintained close ties with Georgia since President Mikheil Saakashvili has come to power. American military trainers instruct Georgian troops and Washington has poured millions of dollars into preparing Georgia to become part of NATO.

Following its Rose Revolution in Georgia, Woolsey`s Freedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Soros Foundation and other Washington-backed NGOs organized the brazenly provocative November 2004 Ukraine ‘Orange Revolution.’ The aim of the Orange Revolution was to install a pro-NATO regime there under the contested Presidency of Viktor Yushchenko, in a land strategically able to cut the major pipeline flows from Russian oil and gas to Western Europe. Washington-backed ‘democratic opposition’ movements in neighboring Belarus also began receiving millions of dollars of Bush Administration largesse, along with Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan and more remote former Soviet states which also happen to form a barrier between potential energy pipelines linking China with Russia and the former Soviet states like Kazkhstan.

Again, energy and oil and gas pipeline control lay at the heart of the US moves. Little wonder, perhaps, that some people inside the Kremlin, notably Vladimir Putin, began to wonder if Putin`s new born-again Texan partner-in-prayer, George W. Bush, was in fact speaking to Putin with forked tongue, as the Indians would say.

By the end of 2004 it was clear in Moscow that a new Cold War, this one over strategic energy control and unilateral nuclear primacy, was fully underway. It was also clear from the unmistakable pattern of Washington actions since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, that End Game for US policy vis-à-vis Eurasia was not China, not Iraq, and not Iran.

The geopolitical ‘End Game’ for Washington was the complete de-construction of Russia, the one state in Eurasia capable of organizing an effective combination of alliances using its vast oil and gas resources. That, of course, could never be openly declared.

After 2003 Putin and Russian foreign policy, especially energy policy, reverted to their basic response to the ‘Heartland’ geopolitics of Sir Halford Mackinder, politics which had been the basis of Soviet Cold War strategy since 1946.

Putin began to make a series of defensive moves to restore some tenable form of equilibrium in face of the increasingly obvious Washington policy of encircling and weakening Russia. Subsequent US strategic blunders have made the job a bit easier for Russia. Now, with the stakes rising on both sides - NATO and Russia – Putin`s Russia has moved beyond simple defense to a new dynamic offensive, to secure a more viable geopolitical position, using its energy as the lever.

Mackinder`s Heartland and Brzezinski`s Chess Game

It`s essential to understand the historic background to the term geopolitics. In 1904, an academic British geographer named Halford Mackinder made an address before the Royal Geographic Society in London which was to give the British Empire and later the United States a roadmap to change history. In his speech, titled, ‘The Geographical Pivot of History,’ Mackinder sought to define the relation between a nation`s or region`s geography - its topography, relation to the sea or land, its climate - with its politics and position in the world. He posited two classes of powers: sea powers including Britain and the United States as well as Japan; and he posited the large land powers of Eurasia, which, with development of the railroad, were able to unite large land masses free from dependency on the seas.

For Mackinder, an ardent Empire advocate, the implicit lesson for continued hegemony of the British Empire following the 1914-1917 World War, was to prevent at all costs a convergence of interests between the nations of East Europe - Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria-Hungary - and the Russia-centered Eurasia ‘Heartland’ or ‘pivot’ land,as he termed it. After the Versailles peace talks, Mackinder summed up his ideas in the following famous dictum:

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland;

Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;

Who rules the World-Island commands the world.

Mackinder`s Heartland was the core area of Eurasia, and the World-Island was all of Eurasia, including Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Great Britain, never a part of Continental Europe, he saw as a separate naval or sea-power. The Mackinder geopolitical perspective shaped Britain`s entry into the 1914 Great War, it shaped her entry into World War Two. It shaped Churchill`s calculated provocations of an increasingly paranoid Stalin, beginning 1943, to entice Russia into what became the Cold War.

From a US perspective, the 1946-1991 Cold War era was all about who shall control Mackinder`s World-Island, and, concretely, how to prevent the Eurasian Heartland, centered on Russia, from doing just that. A look at a polar projection map of US military alliances during the Cold War makes the point: The Soviet Union had been geopolitically contained and prevented from any significant linkup with Western Europe or the Middle East or Asia. The Cold War was about Russian efforts to circumvent that NATO-centered Iron Curtain.

Former US National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, writing in the post-Soviet era in 1997, drew on Mackinder`s geopolitics by name, in describing the principal strategic aim of the United States to keep Eurasia from unifying as a coherent economic and military bloc or counterweight to the sole superpower status of the United States.

To understand US foreign policy since the onset of the Bush-Cheney Presidency in 2001, therefore, it`s useful to cite a revealing New York Council on Foreign Relations Foreign Affairs article by Brzezinski from September/October 1997:

‘Eurasia is home to most of the world`s politically assertive and dynamic states. All the historical pretenders to global power originated in Eurasia. The world`s most populous aspirants to regional hegemony, China and India, are in Eurasia, as are all the potential political or economic challengers to American primacy. After the United States, the next six largest economies and military spenders are there, as are all but one of the world`s overt nuclear powers, and all but one of the covert ones. Eurasia accounts for 75 percent of the world`s population, 60 percent of its GNP, and 75 percent of its energy resources. Collectively, Eurasia`s potential power overshadows even America`s.

‘Eurasia is the world`s axial supercontinent. A power that dominated Eurasia would exercise decisive influence over two of the world`s three most economically productive regions, Western Europe and East Asia. A glance at the map also suggests that a country dominant in Eurasia would almost automatically control the Middle East and Africa. With Eurasia now serving as the decisive geopolitical chessboard, it no longer suffices to fashion one policy for Europe and another for Asia. What happens with the distribution of power on the Eurasian landmass will be of decisive importance to America`s global primacy….’ (emphasis added-w.e.)

If we take the words of Washington strategist Brzezinski and understand the axioms of Halford Mackinder as the driving motive for Anglo, and later, American foreign policy for more than an entire century, it begins to become clear why a reorganized Russian state under the Presidency of Vladimir Putin has gone into motion to resist the overtures and overt attempts at deconstruction being promoted by Washington in the name of democracy. How has Putin acted to shore up Russian defenses? In a word: energy.

Russian energy geopolitics

In terms of the overall standard of living, mortality and economic prosperity, Russia today is not a world class power. In terms of energy, it is a colossus. In terms of landmass it is still the single largest nation in land area in the world, spanning from the Pacific to the door of Europe. It has vast territory, vast natural resources, and it has the world`s largest reserves of natural gas, the energy source currently the focus of major global power plays. In addition, it is the only power on the face of the earth with the military capabilities able to match that of the United States despite the collapse of the USSR and deterioration in the military since.

Russia has more than 130,000 oil wells and some 2000 oil and gas deposits explored of which at least 900 are not in use. Oil reserves have been estimated at 150 billion barrels, similar perhaps to Iraq. They could be far larger but have not yet been exploited owing to difficulty of drilling in some remote arctic regions. Oil prices above $60 a barrel begin to make it economical to explore in those remote regions.

Currently Russian oil products can be exported to foreign markets in three routes: Western Europe via the Baltic Sea and Black Sea; Northern route; Far East to China or Japan and East Asian markets . Russia has oil terminals on the Baltic at St. Petersburg for oil and a newly expanded oil terminal at Primorsk. There are added oil terminals under construction at Vysotsk, Batareynaya Bay and Ust-Luga.

Russia`s state-owned natural gas pipeline network, its so-called ‘unified gas transportation system’ includes a vast network of pipelines and compressor stations extending more than 150,000 kilometers across Russia. By law only the state-owned Gazprom is allowed to use the pipeline. The network is perhaps the most valued Russian state asset outside the oil and gas itself. Here is the heart of Putin`s new natural gas geopolitics and the focus of conflict with western oil and gas companies as well as the European Union, whose Energy Commissioner, Andras Piebalgs, is from new NATO member Latvia, formerly part of the USSR.

In 2001, as it became clear in Moscow that Washington would find a way to bring the Baltic republics into NATO, Putin backed the development of a major new oil port on the Russian coast of the Baltic Sea in Primorsk at a cost of $2.2 billion. This project, known as the Baltic Pipeline System (BPS), greatly lessens export dependency on Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The Baltic is Russia`s main oil export route, carrying crude oil from Russia›s West Siberian and Timan-Pechora oil provinces westward to the port of Primorsk in the Russian Gulf of Finland. The BPS was completed in March 2006 with capacity to carry more than1.3 million barrels/day of Russian oil to western markets in Europe and beyond.

The same month, March 2006, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was named chairman of a Russian-German consortium building a natural gas pipeline going some 1,200 km under the Baltic Sea. Majority shareholder in this North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP) project, with 51%, is the Russian state-controlled Gazprom, the world`s largest natural gas company. The German companies BASF and E.On each hold 24.5%. The project, estimated to cost €4.7 billion, was started late 2005 and will connect the gas terminal at the Russian port city of Vyborg on the Baltic near St. Petersburg with the Baltic city of Greifswald in eastern Germany. The Yuzhno-Russkoye gas field in West Siberia will be developed in a joint venture between Gazprom and BASF to feed the pipeline. It was Gerhard Schroeder`s last major act as Chancellor, and provoked howls of protest from the pro-Washington Polish government, as well as Ukraine, who both stood to lose control over pipeline flows from Russia. Despite her close ties to the Bush Administration, Chancellor Angela Merkel has been forced to swallow hard and accept the project. Germany`s industry is simply dependent on the Russian energy import. Russia is by far the largest supplier of natural gas to Germany.

The giant Shtokman gas deposit in the Russian sector of the Barents Sea, north of the Murmansk harbor, will ultimately also be a part of the gas supply of the NEGP. When completed in two parallel pipelines, NEGP will supply Germany up to 55 billion cubic meters more a year of Russian gas.

In April 2006 the Putin government announced the first stage of construction of the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean Pipeline (ESPO), a vast oil pipeline from Taishet in the Irkutsk Region near Lake Baikal in East Siberia, to Perevoznaya Bay on Russia`s Pacific Ocean coast, to be built at a cost of more than $11.5 billion. Transneft, the Russian state-owned pipeline company will build it. When finished, it will pump up to 1.6 million barrels/day from Siberia to the Russian Far East and from there on to the energy-hungry Asia -Pacific, mainly to China. The first stage is due to be completed by end of 2008. In addition, Putin has announced plans to construct an oil refinery on the Amur River near the China border in Russia`s Far East to allow sale of refined product to China and Asian markets. Presently the Siberian oil can only be delivered to the Pacific via rail.

For Russia, the Taishet to Perevoznaya route will maximize its national strategic benefits while taking oil exports to China and Japan into account at the same time. In the future, the country will be able to export oil to Japan directly from the Nakhodka Port. Oil-import-dependent Japan is frantic to find new secure oil sources outside the unstable Middle East. The ESPO can also supply oil to the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People`s Republic of Korea through building from Vladivostok branch lines leading to the two countries and to China via a branch pipe between Blagoveshchensk and Daqing. The Taishet route provides a clear roadmap for energy cooperation between Russia and China, Japan and other Asia-Pacific countries.

Sakhalin: Russia reins in Big Oil

In late September 2006 a seemingly minor dispute exploded and resulted in the revocation of the environmental permit for Royal Dutch Shell`s Sakhalin II Liquified Natural Gas project, which had been due to deliver LNG to Japan, South Korea and other customers by 2008. Shell is lead energy partner in an Anglo-Japanese oil and gas development project on Russia`s Far East island of Sakhalin, a vast island north of Hokkaido Japan.

At the same time, the Putin government announced environmental requirements had also not been met by ExxonMobil for their De Kastri oil terminal built on Sakhalin as part of its Sakhalin I oil and gas development project. Sakhalin I contains an estimated 8 billion barrels of oil and vast volumes of gas, making the field a rare Super-Giant oil find, in geologists` terminology.

In the early 1990s the Yeltsin government made a desperation bid to attract needed investment capital and technology into exploiting Russian oil and gas regions at a time the government was broke and oil prices very low. In a bold departure, Yeltsin granted US and other western oil majors generous exploration rights to two large oil projects, Sakhalin I and Sakhalin II. Under a so-called PSA or Production Sharing Agreement, ExxonMobil, lead partner of the Sakhalin I oil project, got tax-free Russian concessions.

Under the terms of the PSAs, typical between major Anglo-American oil majors and weak Third World countries, Russia`s government would instead get paid for the oil and gas rights in a share of eventual oil or gas produced. But the first drops of oil to Russia would flow only after all project production costs had first been covered. PSAs were originally developed by Washington and Big Oil to facilitate favorable control by the oil companies of large oil projects in third countries. The major US oil giants, working with the James Baker`s James Baker Institute, which drafted Dick Cheney`s 2001 Energy Task Force Review, used the PSA form to regain control over Iraq`s oil production, hidden behind the façade of an Iraqi state-owned oil company.

Shortly before the Russian government told ExxonMobil it had problems with its terminal on Sakhalin, ExxonMobil had announced yet another cost increase in the project. ExxonMobil, whose attorney is James Baker III, and which is a close partner to the Cheney-Bush White House, announced a 30% cost increase, something that would put even further off any Russian oil flow share from the PSA. The news came on the eve of ExxonMobil plans to open an oil terminal at De Kastri on Sakhalin. The Russian Environment Ministry and the Agency for Subsoil Use suddenly announced the terminal did ‘not meet environmental requirements` and is reportedly considering halting production by ExxonMobil as well.

Britain`s Royal Dutch Shell under another PSA holds rights to develop the oil and gas resources in Sakhalin II region, and build Russia`s first Liquified Natural Gas project. The $20 billion project, employing over 17,000 people, is 80% complete. It`s the world`s largest integrated oil and gas project, and includes Russia`s first offshore oil production, as well as Russia`s first offshore integrated gas platform.

The clear Russian government moves against ExxonMobil and Shell have been interpreted in the industry as an atttempt by the Putin government to regain control of Russian oil and gas resources it gave away during the Yeltsin era. It would cohere with Putin`s emerging energy strategy.

Russia-Turkey Blue Stream gas project

In November 2005 Russia`s Gazprom completed the final stage of its 1,213 kilometer $3.2 billion Blue Stream gas pipeline. The project brings gas from its gas fields in Krasnodar, then by underwater pipelines across the Black Sea to the Durusu Terminal near Samsun on the Turkish Black Sea coast. From there the pipeline supplies Russian gas to Ankara. When it reaches full capacity in 2010 it will carry an estimated 16 billion cubic meters gas a year.

Gazprom is now discussing transit of Russian gas to the countries of South Europe and East Mediterranean, including based on new contracts and new volumes of gas. Greece, South Italy and Israel all are in some form of negotiation with Gazprom to tap gas from the Blue Stream pipeline across the territory of Turkey. A new route for the gas supply is being developed now - the one via the countries of East and Central Europe. The interim title of the project is the South-European Gas Pipeline. The main issue here is to establish a new gas transmission system, both from Russian origin and from the third countries.

In sum, not including the emerging potentials of Gazprom`s entry into the fast-developing Liquified Natural Gas markets globally, energy, oil and gas and nuclear, is firmly at the heart of Russian attempts to build new economic alliance partners across Eurasia in the coming showdown with the United States.

US plans for ‘Nuclear Primacy’

The key to the ability of Putin`s Russia to succeed is its ability to defend its Eurasian energy strategy with a credible military deterrent, to counter now-obvious Washington military plans for what the Pentagon terms Full Spectrum Dominance.

In a revealing article titled ‘The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy,’ in the March/April 2006 Foreign Affairs, the magazine of the New York Council on Foreign Relations, authors Kier Lieber and Daryl Press made the following claim,

‘Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike. This dramatic shift in the nuclear balance of power stems from a series of improvements in the United States› nuclear systems, the precipitous decline of Russia›s arsenal, and the glacial pace of modernization of China›s nuclear forces. Unless Washington›s policies change or Moscow and Beijing take steps to increase the size and readiness of their forces, Russia and China -- and the rest of the world -- will live in the shadow of U.S. nuclear primacy for many years to come.’

The US authors claim, accurately, that since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia`s strategic nuclear arsenal has ‘sharply deteriorated.’ They also conclude that the United States is and has been for some time, intentionally pursuing global nuclear primacy. The September 2002 Bush Administration National Security Strategy explicitly stated that it was official US policy to establish global military primacy, an unsettling thought for many nations today given the recent actions of Washington since the events of September, 2001.

One of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld`s priority projects has been the multi-billion dollar construction of a US missile defense. It has been sold to American voters as a defense against possible terror attacks. In reality, as has been openly recognized in Moscow and Beijing, it is aimed at the only two real nuclear powers, Russia and China.

As the Foreign Affairs article points out, ‘the sort of missile defenses that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one -- as an adjunct to a U.S. first-strike capability, not as a stand-alone shield. If the United States launched a nuclear attack against Russia (or China), the targeted country would be left with a tiny surviving arsenal -- if any at all. At that point, even a relatively modest or inefficient missile-defense system might well be enough to protect against any retaliatory strikes, because the devastated enemy would have so few warheads and decoys left.

In the context of a United States which has actively moved the troops of its NATO partners into Afghanistan, now Lebanon, and which is clearly backing the former USSR member Georgia, today a critical factor in the Caspian Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Turkey oil pipeline, in Georgia`s move to join NATO and push Russian troops away, it is little surprise that Moscow might be just a bit uncomfortable with the American President`s promises of spreading democracy through a US-defined Greater Middle East. The invented term, Greater Middle East is the creation of various Washington think -tanks close to Cheney including his Project for the New American Century, to refer to the non-Arabic countries of Turkey, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asian (former USSR) countries, and Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. At the G-8 Summit in Summer 2004 President Bush first officially used the term to refer to the region included in Washington`s project to spread ‘democracy’ in the region.

On October 3, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that Russia would ‘take appropriate measures’ should Poland deploy elements of the new US missile defense system. Poland is now a NATO member. Its Defense Minister, Radek Sikorski was a former Resident in Washington at Richard Perle`s hawkish AEI think-tank. He was also Executive Director of the New Atlantic Initiative, a project designed to bring the former Warsaw Pact countries of eastern Europe into NATO under the guise of spreading democracy. The United States is also building, via NATO, a European Missile Defense System.

The only conceivable target of such a system would be Russia in the sense of enabling a US first strike success. Completion of the European missile defense system, the militarization of the entire Middle East, the encirclement of Russia and of China from a connected web of new US military bases, many put up in the name of the War on Terror, all now appear to the Kremlin as part of a deliberate US strategy of Full Spectrum Dominance. The Pentagon refers to it also as ‘Escalation Dominance,’ the ability to win a war at any level of violence, including a nuclear war.

Moscow`s military status

Moscow has not been entirely passive in the face of this growing reality. In his May 2003 State of the Nation Address, Vladimir Putin spoke of strengthening and modernizing Russia`s nuclear deterrent by creating new types of weapons, including for Russia`s strategic forces, which will ‘ensure the defense capability of Russia and its allies in the long term.’ Russia stopped withdrawing and destroying its SS-18 MIRVed missiles once the Bush Administration unilaterally declared an end to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and its de facto annulling of the Start II Treaty.

Russia never stopped being a powerful entity that produced state-of-the-art military technologies -- a trend that continued from its inception as a modern state. While its army, navy and air force are in derelict conditions, the elements for Russia›s resurgence as a military powerhouse are still in place. Russia has been consistently fielding top-notch military technology at various international trade shows, and has been effective in the demonstration of its capabilities.

In spite of financial and economic difficulties, Russia still produces state-of-the-art military technologies, according to a 2004 analysis by the Washington-based think tank, Power and Interest News Report (PINR). One of its best achievements after the dissolution of the Soviet Union has been its armored fighting vehicle BMP-3, which has been chosen over Western vehicles in contracts for the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Russia›s surface-to-air missile systems, the S-300, and its more powerful successor, the S-400, are reported to be more potent than American-made Patriot systems. The once-anticipated military exercise between the Patriot and the S-300 never materialized, leaving the Russian complex with an undisputed, yet unproven, claim of superiority over the American system. Continuing this list is the Kamov-50 family of military helicopters that incorporate the latest cutting-edge technologies and tactics, making them an equal force to the best Washington has. European helicopter industry sources confirm this.

In recent joint Indo-American air force exercises, where the Indian Air Force was equipped with modern Russian-made Su-30 fighters, the Indian Air Force out-maneuvered American-made F-15 planes in a majority of their engagements, prompting US Air Force General Hal Homburg to admit that Russian technology in Indian hands has given the US Air Force a ‘wake-up call.’ The Russian military establishment is continuing to design other helicopters, tanks and armored vehicles that are on par with the best that the West has to offer.

Weapons export, in addition to oil and gas, has been one of the best ways for Russia to earn much-needed hard currency. Already, Russia is the second-largest worldwide exporter of military technology after the United States. As reported in various magazines, journals and periodicals, at present, Russia›s modern military technology is more likely to be exported than supplied to its own armies due to the existing financial constraints and limitations of Russia›s armed forces. This has implications for America›s future combat operations since practically all insurgent, guerrilla, breakaway or terrorist armed formations across the globe -- the very formations that the United States will most likely face in its future wars -- are fielded with Russian weapons or its derivatives.

Russian nuclear arsenal has played an important political role since the end of the Soviet Union, providing fundamental security for the Russian state. After a bitter intra-services fight within the Russian General Staff which lasted from 1998 to 2003, the General Staff realized along with the Defense Ministry that a further policy of neglect of nuclear forces in favor of funding rebuilding conventional forces in the face of tight budget constraints, was not tolerable. In 2003 Russia had to buy from Ukraine strategic bombers and ICBMs warehoused there. Since then strategic nuclear forces have been a priority. Today, the finances of the Russian state, thanks largely to high prices of oil and gas exports, are on a strong footing. The Russian Central Bank has become one of the five largest dollar reserve holders with reserves of more than $270 billions.

The material foundation of the Russian military is its defense industry. After 1991 the Russian Federation inherited the bulk of the Soviet defense industrial complex.

Today, with little fanfare, the US is building up its influence and military presence in the Middle East despite a general draw-down in its military commitments and expenditure. It is putting huge resources into the periphery countries of the Russian Heartland of Eurasia. Why? Oil is a large part of the answer. But oil seen in geopolitical terms. The ultimate game, and the stakes are the highest, is to render permanently impotent the Eurasian land power, Russia, to control its access to the seas and to China - just as Mackinder argued. The push for a US ‘nuclear primacy’ over Russia is the factor in world politics today which has the most potential for bringing the world into a World War III, a nuclear conflagration by miscalculation.

The Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO), founded several years ago by Russia and China to bring together select Eurasian countries for common dialogue. Founded in June 2001 by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, its stated goal initially was to facilitate ‘cooperation in political affairs, economy and trade, scientific-technical, cultural, and educational spheres as well as in energy…’ Iran`s Ahmadinejad was invited as an honored observer last June and Iran is being encouraged by Russia and China to join SCO. Today SCO remains on the surface rather a rather amorphous discussion forum. Given a bit more provocation from Washington and NATO, that could change rapidly into the core of a broader Eurasian military and energy alliance to counter-weigh US nuclear primacy. The nightmare of Halford Mackinder would be fulfilled, ironically, owning largely to the unilateral and aggressive foreign policy of an over-confident United States.

The basic argument of the Mackinder`s geopolitics is still relevant: ‘The great geographical realities remain: land power versus sea power, heartland versus rimland, centre versus periphery...’ This Russia understands every bit as much as Washington.