Oil wars and the way to respond to Russia

When the history of the last few years comes to be written it will be likely that historians see the last decade as a decade of wars about oil. The US and UK interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were not just a response to terrorism. They were also about creating democratic regimes governing or close to the oil fields that would be sympathetic to western needs. The West has been less keen to undertake military adventures for regime change in tyrannies without proximity to oil. The US sees the Middle East as a crucial area to influence because it is now a heavy importer of energy.

Putin’s latest assertions of Russian power has only been possible thanks to oil and gas. The giddy rises in the oil price in recent years has filled the Russian coffers and helped pay for the renewed military machine he used in Georgia. His whole political strategy geared to increasing Russian influence and exerting control over territories of the former Soviet Union clustered around Russia is based on the control and exploitation of oil and gas reserves. One of Georgia’s offences is the pipeline that runs across its soil which Russia does not directly control.

The Western response to Putin’s rise has been slow and contradictory. On the one hand the West has decided to continue to treat Russia as a normal democratic state, trying to keep it in the framework of diplomacy through the UN, the G8 and other international fora. On the other hand the West understandably excludes it from NATO, occasionally uses tougher language to condemn Russian actions and speeches, and offers friendship and military support to several of the countries Russia would like within its sphere of influence.

This ambiguity is all too clear once faced with the challenge of the Russian military action within the independent state of Georgia. Russia used the argument familiar to students of 1930s Germany that it needed to intervene to assist the Russian minority within another state. The West rejects this argument on the grounds that one state should not violate the territory and kill the citizens of another state. This case would be stronger if the West had not invaded Iraq and used as one of its arguments to need to help the oppressed minorities under Sadam’s regime. This is not an issue which is going to be resolved by the current welcome truce, nor by further debate about the rights of minorities within states and the basis on which international forces can intervene if ever. This is about the raw balance of power between Russia and the West.

The West needs to play this long as Russia is playing it long. The adventure in Georgia was just to test how far the strengthened Russia can now go. It is not the end of the process of Russia building her strength and expanding her influence and territory. The West needs to take much more action to tackle the cause of its own weakness, its dependence on oil and gas imported from volatile parts of the world or from Russia herself.

The US. the UK and the other major European states need to be more energetic in encouraging the exploitation of more gas, oil and coal from within their own boundaries. They need to be install more hydro power, sensible renewables, nuclear – whatever it takes – to cut dependence on imported oil and gas. World markets may give us a breathing space from ever upwardsprpice movements, and may dent Russian revenues for a bit, but price rises can and will resume after the slowdown unless the West does something much more positive to cut its needs for imports. I have set out before what the UK government could do – why the delay, when Georgia has made the point again that there is a strategic need to do this as well as an economic one.

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11 Comments

  1. Posted August 13, 2008 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Some analysis here, "War Nerdism.

  2. Posted August 13, 2008 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    This is 2 separate subjects. Oil & peace.

    It isn't just the last decade that wars have been about oil – it has been like that since at least WW2 when Germany invaded the Cacausus to reach Russian oilfields & we defended Egypt for similar reasons. If anything I think that with new nuclear power & the potential to grow oil from algae resource wars are likely to be less important in future.

    The Russian question is about limiting competition to non-military means (also about winning that competition & worse, that with China, by ending our embrace of Luddism & getting our economies growing of which I have written before). For that we actively need to embrace international law. The NATO countries have been at the forefront of saying that international law doesn't exist & it is perfectly ok for big countries & alliances to invade smaller ones. The comaprison the Russians have noted is not with the Sudetenland but with NATO's support of the "cleansing" of the Serb enclaves in Croatia (on which Georgia's actions were clearly patterned) & of our bombing of Yugoslavia to seize Kosovo. We have sown that wind & cannot expect, not merely Russia, but anybody to allow us to be a referee enforcing rules that we have already torn up.

    In fact the Russians have gone to some lengths to merely bend laws that we have previously broken.

    Law is not a luxury but a necessity for any society & as the world gets smaller adherence to international law becomes ever more vital. We should work with the Russians & everybody else to strengthen such law & establish consistent & relatively impartial rules on ethnic sovereignty (& many other things) and then to keep them. Note that consistency of law is more important than abstract justice. The alternative is what happened in August 1914 but with modern weapons.

  3. Posted August 13, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    the best way to respond is to garner an outcry around the world… http://www.enewsreference.com/newspaper/russi.htm

  4. Posted August 13, 2008 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Its following the road that Neil Craig suggests is what has got us here. Britain needs to be strong and look after ourselves as no one else will. My whole attitude changed when we had the ERM problems and our 'partners' in Europe hung us out to dry.

    They will again.

  5. Posted August 13, 2008 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    My point is that we didn't follow that road. I assert that it is a matter if record that we did intervene in Yugoslavia.

    This was in breach of international law & establishes exactly the precedent that makes any complaint about what Russia is doing in Georgia non-credible. I wish we had done otherwise.

    Even Iran & North Korea are not completely foolish enough to believe the "needs to be strong and look after ourselves" entirely outweigh the disadvantages of making the whole world your enemies.

  6. Posted August 13, 2008 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    I think, myself, that the correct parallel is perhaps the British in America in the 18th century, the French in Algeria (de Gaulle), the Turks in the Balkans (Gladstone) or perhaps the Americans in Iwo Jima (no prisoners taken). The problem here is, surely, the break up of Empires. When great powers are publicly humiliated, they turn on the former subject peoples and thrash them.
    Oil merely complicates this and, thanks to the absolute lemming tendency of the Green/Luddites, atomic power, coal power and oil and gas power have been left out of the equation in favour of Global Warming, wind power and "using your car less and getting on your bike".
    Despite the article in the Telegraph this morning by David Cameron, I do hope that we keep out of the new "Bulgarian Atrocities" in Georgia and also that we can (at last) get our power crisis sorted out fairly soon. You are totally right there, John.

  7. Posted August 14, 2008 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    We are dependent on foreign energy. We always have been, but previously we thought our energy suppliers were also friendly, and that we all acted in mutual self-interest. Now our suppliers are potentially hostile to us. Until we do something about that, if we can do something about that, Putin and his successors will hold all the cards. And, unless we gain independent sources of energy, if we can, the day may come when Putin's time will seem relaxed.

  8. Posted August 15, 2008 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    On a raw balance of power there is little comparison between Russia and the West. Even taking into account the impact of the rising price of energy Russia still has an economy smaller than that of Spain with very little industrial base. I believe that the minorities in Georgia have a right to self-determination, and that we in the West should not therefore automatically assume that Georgia is an aggrieved party deserving of Western support. Never-the-less the Russian military intervention shows it retains all its old autocratic instincts and that we need to regard it as a potential threat to democracies in Eastern Europe.

    We should:
    (i) Remind our European partners that NATO is the only body able to deter the Russians and the only forum through which the UK will provide military guarantees to Continental countries. The UK must never get into a position where it and France are guaranteeing to intervene militarily in support of 25 other EU member-states through an “autonomous European defence” (to use Sarkozy’s phrase) which in reality would be no more capable of deterring a major land power in Eastern Europe than the ‘guarantees’ which the UK and France offered Poland in 1939.
    (ii) Re-orientate defence budgets away from the war on terror towards the type of military platforms needed to deter any renewed ambitions in Eastern Europe on the part of Russia.
    (iii) Reconstitute the G8 without the Russians. The G8 was and should be an informal organisation of the leading industrial states of the democratic world. Russia is neither an industrial state nor a real democracy. The Russian seat at the top table of the western world is (like EU defence guarantees) the product of woolly thinking by Tony Blair who always prioritised short-term personal relationship building with leaders like Putin or Chirac over long-term thinking as to the consequences of the concessions he made to them.
    (iv) Negotiate privileged long-term gas & oil supply contracts with more reliable partners (e.g. Norway), ensure our domestic energy production is not for export, build nuclear power stations, and encourage greater use of electric power in personal transport, home heating and other areas that currently rely on imported oil and gas.

  9. Posted August 19, 2008 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    It’s America messing on our doorstep which is causing the problem for us and for Russia, as it’s expansionist – enlargement – globalization policies are shrinking nations and badly displacing the balance of power both economically and militarily. So given that we use Monetarist Policies which require continual expansion as opposed to Social Economics which require political accountability, we have the raw edge of capitalist hunger eating up the world like there’s no tomorrow and causing difficulties such as we see in Georgia.

    Also, when the Warsaw Pact was replaced by the – “CFE” it provided “balance” of power.

    Then US military bases were planned for Romania and Bulgaria.
    Russia said this meant a re-visit to the Treaty was necessary, but the U.S disagreed. Diplomacy and relations between the west and Russia obviously suffered a blow that day yet the west failed to take account of Russia’s ordinary right to retain the equalibrium militarily. Why ?

    We then had the European Security Council asking the U.S. for anti-IBM sites which were then planned in the Czech Rep and Poland which escalated the rift already present between Russia and the west over the “snubbed” Russian approach to reconsider the “CFE”.

    Russia asked for a joint excercise and was snubbed again and I can see that Russia would feel suspicious of the wests intentions when the anti-IBM sites would basically make Russia’s nuclear capability all but meaningless, thus leaving it defenceless.

    Russia gave warning in July that it would “suspend” its agreement on CFE and America simply ignored it and so did Britain. Gordon Brown even personally snubbed Dmitri Medvedev when he sought discussions following his election and I have to wonder whether Brown is on U.S gas himself as he’s looking incapable of any diplomatic skill whatsoever ?

    The Anti-IBM sites will have the capability of destroying Russia’s nuclear deterrent but the west’s will remain in place against Russia – Thus creating a position of openly weakening Russian military capability and leaving it “defenceless”.

    Russia called into question the bases and offerered joint operations but wass snubbed and its peacekeepers are shortly thereafter attacked in South Ossetia by a Georgian tank division, so regardless of the rights and wrongs of Russia’s own actions it then launches into Georgia to remove the threat against it and to clear the area so it isn’t open to attack again, next time by a much bigger force.

    Incidentally, through-out this period, the west is insulting and threatening Russia as opposed to realising that a non-NATO and non-EU country had just made an unprovoked attack against the de facto independent one time soviet Oblast South Ossetia killing a thousand or so of its citizens and causing mass damage in defiance of the agreement it made with Russia of non-force.

    At the moment a Joint emergency NATO meeting has the US and UK arguing the case for making a response to Russia which will reduce its strategic strength – WHY ?

    France and Germany are against action of this kind against Russia and they argue with America and the UK – Thus division is created in NATO.

    Russia said yesterday it was considering withdrawal of its partner position with NATO, it gave warnings it would have no choice but to increase its military and return to a balance of power in Europe by signalling it would attack the bases if placed in Poland and the Czech Republic which would otherwise leave Russia defenceless.
    The “cold war” is being created by America and Britain’s refusal to see that the balance of power has to be maintained.

    Further, they seek NATO and EU membership of a country or countries which are openly hostile to Russia and once Georgia is allied to Europe then Europe will have no choice but to defend it if it is subjected to another retaliatory attack by Russia if some mad man happens to want a fight in South Ossetia or elsewhere.

    Meanwhile, Russia arms itself in accordance with its right to defend itself against what is perceived as obvious western aggression provoked by the NATO Alliance which is dominated by America and the UK.

    The EU is inviting into its midst, extremely hostile countries with an axe to grind against Russia, and Russia in its attempts to check this balance is being snubbed by so called “diplomats”.

    Everything is not fine on the eastern front which will soon become the European Front with us in the thick of it unless some sense is brought into the equation and either balance is restored or we take a unilateral opposite stance to leave the European centre of conflict to others more inclined to want to cause trouble rather than “create peace” with its biggest neighbour Russia.

    At this time I don’t believe it is possible to convince Russia we are not actually its enemies without evidence that the balance of power is maintained, without which the region and all of Europe will undoubtedly be entering into a long period of not so peaceful relations and the economics of Europe will be in jeopardy of failing to recover itself in at least the medium term.

    I think they should all sit down and look at this through Russian eyes and the UK should stop this automatic attachment it has to anything American because it would be us in the frame both economically and politically if the situation ever escalated beyond words, and another rebuilding of Europe and the UK under a Marshall Plan II – along with all that 2nd 60 year loan would entail – is not the only thing which is advisable to avoid if Russia is offended and not handled with more respectful diplomacy.

    • Posted August 19, 2008 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      OK – that is the argument for appeasement of Russia (a decaying and therefore very dangerous Empire).
      On the other side we have journalists like Anna Politkovskaya who told us (before she was murdered) that the place is a hive of corruption and crooks in power. The murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London and then the promotion of the suspect to the Duma was another thing. Now the Russians are about to take over BP – quite illegally natch. It is beginning to show that Russia has slipped back into its historic corruption: the eighteenth century without the enlightenment. Dostoyevsky without Tolstoy.
      The parallel with Hitler's Germany is this. Hitler was a racist and German Nationalist and, overlooking his racism, it was easy to understand, with sympathy, how he wanted to unite the German Volk wherever they might be.
      Putin and his government are totally corrupt. They are not running a legal state, but one where might is right. If we do not send out the right signals early (like now), they will assume that we are weak and they will keep on pushing until we stop them.

  10. Posted August 20, 2008 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    When Georgia launched its attack, in which they clearly were deliberately targeting the civilian popilation the options were reduced to 2.

    1) Russia does nothing (possibly going to the UN where any action would have been discussed for days & then vetoed, as we did with Croatia in Krajina). This would have meant the genocide of 10s of thousands of people, many of them Russian citizens, whose peace Russia had, by international agreement with Georgia undertaken to support. The rest would have been "cleansed". All with what must be assumed to be the support of, at least, the US (again as happend in Krajina).

    2) Russia acts to stop it & takes the responsibilty to permanently stop it.

    Anybody who says they shouldn't have done #2 is automatically going for #1 & must face that fact.

    Even if you don't think supporting the genocide of 10s of thousands of slavic people is morally wrong it is worth considering the effect on Russia.

    What we are telling them, by our reaction, is, once again, that despite all our promises & all our calls for respecting the rule of law, except in Kosovo, there are, yet again, no circumstances where we can be trusted not to turn on them. No enemy, however genocidal, we will not support against these communists (who haven't been communist for 20 years). That, to quote our Moslem ex-Nazi friend, the Bosnian President "their can be neither peace nor co-existence" with slavic Orthodox peoples (though he said it about all Christians & Jews).

    Considering that Russia still has a major nuclear stockpile that would be an unwise message to send, particularly if we meant it. I sincerely hope we don't.

2 Trackbacks

  • By 1930s redux « Curly’s Corner Shop, the blog! on August 16, 2008 at 10:57 am

    […] John Redwood makes the same point in his blog: The West needs to play this long as Russia is playing it long. The adventure in Georgia was just to test how far the strengthened Russia can now go. It is not the end of the process of Russia building her strength and expanding her influence and territory. The West needs to take much more action to tackle the cause of its own weakness, its dependence on oil and gas imported from volatile parts of the world or from Russia herself. […]

  • By Curly’s Corner Shop on August 16, 2008 at 11:35 am

    […] John Redwood makes the same point in his blog: The West needs to play this long as Russia is playing it long. The adventure in Georgia was just to test how far the strengthened Russia can now go. It is not the end of the process of Russia building her strength and expanding her influence and territory. The West needs to take much more action to tackle the cause of its own weakness, its dependence on oil and gas imported from volatile parts of the world or from Russia herself. […]

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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