Image courtesy of heartlandanalyst.com
When Mackinder championed the Heartland Theory, when the Brits hastily ran up to Afghanistan to check the Russian advancement, or when ZBig laid down the Grand Chessboard, they had one thing in mind. A territory’s worth depended on its resources and/or access [And though this sounds old-school at a time when AI or IOT are the most discussed things, the one constant that is going to keep holding the world a hostage for some more time, is energy – whether it runs us, or hides under some surface]. The concept of global dominance is predicated on energy control and access, and – being someone that excels in playing by the rules – a major part of Putin’s overarching mission naturally, is access/control on oil, gas, and uranium.
To get a very quick look at what has Putin achieved so far: UN Commission on Limits of Continental Shelf awarded Russia, in 2014, 20,000 sq miles of Arctic. Rosneft acquired 30% of Exxon Mobil Projects in US(!), Gulf of Mexico and Canada. Lukoil likewise has major shares in Iraq. Europe remains completely in the hands of Russia as their richest customer. Then there is the giant: Rosneft (Marin Katusha likes to call it PutinOil) – whose importance in todays’ world could never be understood completely till you settle down with the fact that this company can, in near future, acquire the discretion to raise, or turn off supplies to entire continents – OPEC or no OPEC.
Gazovaya Promyshlennost. Or, the ‘Gas Industry’. You and I know it only as Gazprom. A giant that was trapped and rotting in a swamp of unpaid bills from customers like Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics and engaged in malpractices like selling small percentage stakes of the subsidiary at throwaway prices like $1200 and so on, when Putin set his eyes on it. Today Gazprom produces 17% of the global production and sits on a transmission system that is 172.1 thousand kilometres in length (the largest probably). With an interest towards Africa has extended its relations with the state energy biggie Sonatrach of Algeria (Algeria is one of the big guys in African natural-gas), and, with an interest towards Asia – that most of the rest of the producers were not too bothered with so busy were they courting rich Europe – extended its relation with China. [The 30 years deal with China is so huge that Alexei Pushkov once took an open dig at Obama saying he should stop dreaming about isolating Russia, because he had no idea about how that looked].
Finally, Uranium. For a detailed background of why Uranium is so damn important, you would need to follow the trail and dive deeper. For now, lets just know that ‘Uranium is still the only fuel that can produce base-load electricity economically without exhaling greenhouse gas and other unwelcome hydrocarbons.’ The fact finds resonance in the actions too. When Japan was struck with the Fukushima disaster, there was a lot of noise about shutting down of nuclear power plants. And then? Nothing. Zip. Yes, the focus now is on newer plant designs that are ‘safer’, after Fukushima.
If you are serious about reducing your carbon footprint, there are no other known alternatives. Which means that the global consumption is going to rise. But that’s only a part of the story. Mining this thing is not easy. There are hundreds of real and imagined issues. And if one manages to overcome that, the other and definitely bigger issue is conversion and enrichment of the ore. And amidst this stands a few facts:
The name here? Rosatom. This is a Russian giant, that is building more nuclear power plants in the whole world than anyone else; assignments that run into billions and billions of dollars. It is like Iran wants 8 plants, Bangladesh wants 1, India wants 7 more and China wants a few dozen. (For more on Putin’s chess moves along the uranium board, you all can follow the saga of Doronod, Khan Resources, and ARMZ.)
‘Here is where Russia stands: on track to control 58% of the global yellowcake… and soon to hold half of all global enrichment capacity. There is a word for this: stranglehold.’
Finally, and back to geostrategic alliances and imperatives, the one very, very interesting name that MUST surface in this piece: Israel.
Consider these facts: Half of Israelis have ties with Russia and parts of East Europe, being from Jewish immigrants from there. A politically active bloc of Russian speakers makes up of 20% of Israel’s population. 10,000 Russian Jews migrate to Israel every year. Bilateral trade is flush; and so is tourism. The Israel FM is a Soviet born chap who maintains good relations with Moscow. Both the countries’ uneasiness about radical Islam is well-known.
Now for a few effects: Israel kept mum when Russia got involved in Georgia, and even suspended their arms trade with that small state. When Putin got Crimea back in, Israel declined to vote against him. A 20-years deal between Gazprom and Levant LNG got signed; an Israel-Cyprus-Russia partnership is being proposed – and these have the potential to be rather big in the near future.
The fun part is that most of us are completely unaware of these facts. And when you get the ‘why’, you would finally be able to see the light under why despite Syrian animosity, there has never been a flareup between Israel and Russia.
Well, the story is like this: Israel used to be the only nation in entire Middle East with no hydrocarb reserves. And as a state existing surrounded by oil and gas, and none-too-friendly neighbours, it had its own set of apprehensions. That has magically changed of late: some trillions of cubic feet of gas and billions of barrels of shale oil have been discovered in Israeli waters and land. With that, a few things come up: Israel would have its domestic consumption sorted. Israel might have excess reserves that they might want to move to Europe (Israel-Cyprus-Russia, and possibly Greece, in a future pipeline project): A game changer by miles; because then Middle East oil and gas would no longer remain a hostage to dictators and kings and abrupt regime changes. Putin is aiming to build on just that.
I am not saying that Israel would leave USA behind and walk away. I am not saying that it won’t. I am not saying similarly that Putin would dump Iran and Syria. I am not saying he won’t. I am saying that that is some serious geostrategic crossroads that Middle East would find itself on, when the time comes. And if this is being designed, then there are only a handful that would gain.
[There is another interesting mega-case of the Weakening of the Petrodollar; but that would warrant a separate essay. Someday soon.]
So? So, while the western MSM sings its la-la-land song of how Vlad is a thug with a gunslinger’s gait – a crude last century remnant of the archaic ‘Soviet’ – an anomaly that hates gays and the whole host of things that have come to represent ah-so-wonderful-post-modern-world of today and that he would soon burn-out on his own… This is how the New Game is being controlled by the underground earthquake called Vladimir Putin and his St Petersburg Boys – most of who remain unknown to the world.