Saturday, January 13, 2007

Gas Giant

I think this is one of the more interesting and under-reported stories (understandably so; it's not like there's nothing else going on right now), in that it could set the tone of power politics in Europe for the foreseeable future.

Europe is fretting over its energy supplies following Russia's decision on Monday to halt oil exports to western Europe because of a pipeline dispute with Belarus.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated that Germany may rethink its plan to phase out nuclear power generation. Media commentators in Germany are furious with Russia.

See, Pooty-Poot, he of the transparently benevolent soul and dreamy blue eyes, is consolidating power both internally (squashing dissent; brazenly assassinating journalists and defectors; nuclear terrorism) and externally (restoring an entente relatioship with the ascendant Chinese; shaking down neighbors with exorbitant and sudden price increases on energy resources).

So far Putin's tactics have worked, whether on independence-minded former soviet states such as Ukraine, or de facto satellite dictatorships such as Belarus.

Business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"The case of Belarus harbors a lesson for western Europe: Russia is once again showing how irresponsibly it is handling its increased global role. The world's second largest oil exporter and most important gas producer should be aware that trust and reliable supplies are the most important assets in the energy industry."

"It's precisely this asset that Moscow is putting at stake in its row with Belarus. And in the wake of the conflict with Ukraine, the Kremlin is again proving that it's prepared to use energy supplies as a political weapon. That is why Europe must lessen its dependence on Russian oil and gas despite all Moscow's assurances of friendship."

"And Russia must accept the rules on dispute settlement enshrined in the European Energy Charter. The Russian mechanism of simply turning off oil and gas supplies or doubling prices whenever there's a row is more than impertinent."

Stay tuned on this one. Whether it's murdering and imprisoning political enemies, continuing a dirty war in Chechnya, false-flag terrorism in his own country, or shaking down his neighbors just to remind them who holds all their energy cards, Putin's got major hand right now, and he's clearly not shy about using it. Right now he's just waiting to see what our next move on Iran is going to be, given Russia's business interests in that country. This is Big Picture Strategery stuff, and no doubt Putin is twenty moves ahead of The Decider. If he can use this to start wedging the U.S. and Europe, he will.

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