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The Voice of the White House For Sept. 5, 2008

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e times more a national leader than George Bush, has bided his time and patiently awaited his enemy, the United States to attack Russia. Both Washington and Moscow were fully aware of the pending Georgian attack on South Ossetia and both did nothing but wait. Bush saw it as another nail in Putin’s political coffin and Putin saw it for an excellent opportunity of destroying America’s credibility as an ally. The terrified flight of the much-vaunted American equipped and trained Georgian army and the ease with which the Russians were able to occupy any part of Georgia they wanted did not go unnoticed in the NATO countries and aside from the erratic Poles, what we saw in Brussels was embarrassed silence when Bush screamed for action. Our lunatic VP, Cheney, is determined to force NATO to take in Georgia but it is known inside the Beltway that this will never happen. And while Americans listen to badly written speeches and platitudes booming out over the tube, the spectre of possible war goes completely ignored. And around the White House, growingly alarmed Republican and Neocons are wondering if they can pull off another Florida vote stealing gambit again. That’s the trouble with Republicans; they live in the past. Their motto is ‘Look Backward,’ and their watchword is: ‘That which has never been, cannot be.”

Let's talk about World War III

August 26, 2008

by Nikolai Sokov

Asia Times

            It is time to seriously contemplate World War III. The most important elements are already in place. Just as so many experts on the Caucasus have predicted, the region has become a power keg and the main source of great-power rivalry.

                Obviously, disagreements between great powers go far beyond this region and, in fact, conflicts and war in the Caucasus are rather insignificant in their grand games and calculations. Yet the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and Russia all have important symbolic stakes there - there are promises to local players and fears that abandoning them might hurt reputation and global standing.

                Paradoxically, the chances of a major, global armed conflict have increased since the probability of a large-scale nuclear war has declined to zero, in all practical terms. No one fears that the world will be annihilated, and thus the world is now deemed reasonably safe for a conventional war.

                Let us try to imagine how World War III might start. World War I started with the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz-Ferdinand by Serbs in Sarajevo. The act was senseless - Franz Ferdinand was widely believed to be the more sensible and moderate member of the Austrian imperial family. Russia - the ally and patron of Serbia at the time - certainly did not authorize it, although there are rumors that some Russian diplomats and intelligence officers knew about the plans. Yet Russia felt compelled to intervene on the side of Serbia when Austria - predictably - responded with all its military might: just a few years earlier Russia had abandoned Serbia to the mercy of Vienna, and doing this a second time was deemed untenable. This is, in a nutshell, how World War I unfolded.

                Let us move to the South Caucasus now. There is talk in Washington and Brussels that, following what is classified as Russian aggression, Georgia will soon receive a Membership Action Plan (MAP) for joining NATO. The prospects of membership are quite uncertain, however, because some members of NATO (aptly classified by Donald Rumsfeld as "Old Europe") are not enthusiastic. Yet in the United States the idea about "defending Georgia" is very popular, thanks to a large extent to the presidential election campaign in which candidates have been able to use the war in Georgia to their advantage.

                In fact, Georgia does not have to become a member of NATO - a long process fraught with many impediments. It is much easier to simply deploy two or three battalions of US troops in Georgian territory to convert it into a new version of West Germany during the Cold War. Fifty years ago US troops in West Germany served as hostages: American deaths as a result of a Soviet attack would have inevitably drawn the United States into a shooting war with the Soviets. This was one of the more brilliant schemes. We do not know whether it actually worked because we do not know whether the Soviet Union actually planned to attack, but the logic seems sound.

                The advantage of unilateral American guarantees of this sort is that the decision can be made quickly, it will score major political points, and avoid the inevitable squabbles of alliance politics.

                Now, the truly wild card in the game of defending Georgia is whether the Georgian leadership - in the near future this means Mikheil Saakashvili - will be prepared to play as part of a team. One irrefutable fact about what the Russians now call the "five-day war" is that for years the United States very clearly and forcefully warned Georgia to avoid direct conflict with Russia. Yet, Saakashvili and his team went to war, and when they realized they were losing they asked Washington to interfere militarily. This truly casts doubts about whether the same people will care about the US's interests when they obtain "automatic" security guarantees.

                Now imagine the repetition of exactly the same scenario a year from now. With troops in Georgia, the US government will not be able to stay away or back down. Whatever actually provokes hostilities, the US's pro-Georgian and anti-Russian version will prevail. This means America will be at war.

                The Russians cannot back down either, and their pretext will be the exact opposite of Tbilisi's and Washington's. They will be at war as well.

                Obviously, Russian troops can overwhelm the Georgian military, but they do not stand a chance against the United States. Active military doctrine has an answer to that - limited Russian use of nuclear weapons against the military bases from which Americans mount attacks and against command and control centers. We are talking about an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean and perhaps a few US bases in Europe. Welcome to World War III - mostly conventional and spiced with a few nuclear mushrooms here and there.

                The truly fascinating aspect of this gloomy scenario is that the two leading emerging economic and political powers of the world, China and India, are completely outside the game. For them, there are no interests and no stakes, whether real or imaginary, in a US-Russian war over the South Caucasus.

                This is cause for hope. If we can safely live through the transition period as economic and eventually political power shifts from traditional capitals toward Asia, we might avoid a direct clash between major powers and nuclear weapons use. The way economic trends run these days, we only need to be lucky for a few years.

            Dr Nikolai Sokov is senior research associate at James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies at Monterey Institute of International Studies. He is an expert on post-Soviet security politics.


Comment: To say that Russia does not stand a chance against a mighty United States in a war is complete and utter nonsense. Wars are never fought solely by bombers alone and the need for ground forces is patently obvious. Bombers cannot occupy territory after all and Dr. Sokov should know this. The Russians have a large nuclear arsenal, competent delivery systems ,and  a submarine fleet that is quite capable of launching a number of nuclear missiles at American targets. Russia is far bigger than the United States, more spread out and far less concentrated insofar as population is concerned. The U.S. could obliterate Moscow and St.Petersburg but Russia could hit New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Long Beach and the San Francisco Bay Area and inflict terrible losses on their enemy. The idea that a large U.S. carrier fleet anywhere within the range of Russian missiles could be a determinant factor in enforcing American will on Russia borders on the idiotic. The British thought this way when they sent the ‘Repulse’ and ‘Prince of Wales’ out to Singapore in 1941 to terrify the Japanese.. Sailing without escorts, the huge ships were promptly sunk by Japanese bombers. Dr. Sokov’s badly flawed opinions aside, there is no certainty, and much serious doubt, that the United States could win a war against Russia and America’s military, if not her politicians, know it very well. What Putin is conducting, and will conduct, is economic warfare against America and that war he can easily win. Russia has huge deposits of natural gas and oil while America does not. Both China and India are frantic to obtain gas and oil, which they do not have naturally, and most of Europe is now importing various amounts of Russian gas and oil. Saudi Arabia’s fabled oil riches are rapidly running out and Iraq, who has one of the largest holdings of oil, is so disrupted internally, thanks to grossly inept Bush actions that it will be years before they can begin to increase production. The United States once  had an unparalleled opportunity of establishing excellent business and political relations with Russia but chose, instead, to try to loot her resources by supporting the inept Israeli Mafia there. By doing so, America probably lost her best chance for economic and political global security,  and future professors will be writing about the awful career of the worst President in America’s history. Probably in Russian. Brian Harring


Operation Brimstone: The Bluff of the Century

September 4, 2008

by Brian Harring


Taken completely off-guard by the speed of the Russian counteroffensive in South Ossetia and shocked when he realized the implications of  the total inability of the United States to support the anti-Russian government they jobbed into place in Georgia, Bush and his neo-con advisors hit on another plan that they felt would boost America’s image as a great military world power.


Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) 08-4 ‘Operation Brimstone’ commenced on July 21 in North Carolina and off the Eastern US Atlantic coast from Virginia to Florida. Of significance was the participation of British, French, Brazilian and Italian naval forces as part of a multinational US naval exercise specifically directed against Iran by Presidential Order


                This vast naval and air armarmada consists of more than 40 naval units, including carriers, warships and submarines, some of the last nuclear-armed, is in opposition  to the Iranian  Islamic Republic, a concentration last seen just before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003


                Four US aircraft carriers and strike forces are, or will be, positioned in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea.

The backbone of Operation Brimstone are the USS Theodore Roosevelt, USS Ronald Reagan. USS Abraham Lincoln,  and the USS Peleliu Strike Group. The US has  also sent to the Middle East, the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group

                With accompanying frigates and submarines, some 40 war ships will be in a state of readiness, in the region and/or or directly off the Iranian coastline.

                In addition to these 40-odd war ships, there are some 36 US and allied war vessels operating under USCentcom as part of a Combined Maritime Force (CMF) involved in Maritime Security  US Central Command (CENTCOM) under the command of General Petraeus, coordinates out of Bahrain, the Maritime Security Operations (MSO) in Middle East waters ( Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Red Sea and Indian Ocean).

Although the American media has agreed not to publish any information on this task force, the Russians, and others, have. Now, the entire composition of this huge armada is known to many and the political motives for it are also known.

 In essence, George Bush and his Israeli neocon “advisors” are livid that their puppet state of Georgia was invaded by the Russians, after Georgia, with American assistance and certainy, full foreknowledge, invaded one of their provinces that was trying to join Russia. The subsequent debacle highlighted by U.S. media  film clips of burning or wrecked Georgian tanks (falsely indentified by American media sources as Russian) and reports of the panic stricken flight of the US -trained Georgian army enraged both Bush and his Israeli allies. It has become well-known that the Israelis were planning to attack Iran from two air bases in Georgia but the unexpected rout of the Georgian army forced them to rapidly flee the country, leaving their intelligence drones and trucks full of top secret papers behind for the Russians to capture. Naturally, none of this was ever reported in the American media.

Though there was no realistic way that either Bush or his neocon manipulators could put a good face on this collapse of their plans, nevertheless, they both have tried. Bush has threatened Russia with international shame and desirion but his hoped-for “strong response” by NATO was a dismal failure.       NATO might be able to fight a war, with a reasonable chance of success, against Andorra but none of the original members of NATO have even the slightest desire to engage in warfare with Russia. They have muttered softly and done nothing.

Enraged by NATO’s inaction, Bush has decided to show Russia, and Israel (with massive American help…as usual) his is to be taken seriously, which he no longer is, and convince Iran that they will no longer tolerate being thwarted, frustrated and, even worse, ignorerd. Bush and the lunatic Cheney hit on the moronic idea of establishing a partial naval blockade of Iran in the Persian Gulf to deny Iran imports of benzene and other refined oil products.

The plan, which has been leaked, both from Washington and Isreali sources, is that beause Iran imports at least 40% of its refined fuel products from Gulf neighbors, will retaliate for the embargo by shutting the Strait of Hormuz oil route chokepoint, in which case the US naval and air force stand ready to reopen the Strait and fight back any Iranian attempt to break through the blockade. An Iranian attack on the massive armada would then be used as an excuse to obliterate Tehran and areas where Israel claims that “atomic weapons” are being produced.

From intercepted diplomatic messages, it is very clear that Israel views these huge forces as back-up for a possible Israeli military attack on Iran’s nuclear installations.

The Israelis are hysterical because of the failure of their Georgian adventures and the Bush people are too obsessed with losing face to realize that by sending a huge, lumbering task force into the Persian Gulf, they have put their ships, the security of Israel and the entire fighting capabilities of the U.S. Navy at serious risk.

The frantic planners of this nonsense do not seem to realize that that there is only a narrow navigible channel in the Persian Gulf  allowing the deep draft super tankers to pass through. At the choke-point of the Hormuz Strait, the blockage of this specific area would seal  in the American task force and leave it entirely at the mercy of batteries of Surface-to-Surface Russian missiles, sold by that country to Iran, [but in fact, manned by Russian specialists]. If the Straits of Hormuz are blocked, not only will the entire taskforce be trapped but no Gulf oil can get out to the waiting world markets. The Iranian/Russian plans to block these vital straits in the case of attack have had years in which to be polished, and given their nature, would be impossible to either halt or neutralize.

If Iran is attacked by either the United States or the Israeli Air Force, there will be retaliation by the Iranians. Iranian leaders have made it clear repeatedly that an attack on Iran by the Israeli Air Force will be regarded as an attack by the United States. The potential consequences of Bush’s ill-thought and unhinged actions could very well ignite a major war, and  since any kind of diplomacy on the part of the Bush administration is non-existent, such a war is by no means impossible to contemplate

                If the Israeli Air Force attacks Iran, this will create an instant unified resistance movement by Muslims throughout the Middle East. This will include Sunni Muslims. The hatred of the Israelis by Muslims in the region is so intense that even though the Israeli Air Force attacks at Shi'ite nation, Sunni leaders will not be in a position to publicly justify such an attack. They would risk a revolution in their own countries if they did this. The best that the Israelis could expect would be silent neutrality. Retaliation on the part of Iran will be expected by all Muslim nations in the Middle East. The Russian weapons that most concern Israeli officials are the S-300 surface-to-air missile and the Iskander-E, a surface-to-surface missile with a reported maximum range of 170 miles. Iskander (NATO reporting name SS-26 Stone) is a short range, solid fuel propelled, theater quasiballistic missile system produced in Russia The launching equipment is mobile, easy to disperse from satellite observation and capable of quick response.

                In essence, the trapped U.S. fleet would be like ducks in a bathtub and the potential damage to our naval units would be catastrophic.


Map - Click to zoom


Strait of Hormuz

                Located between Oman and Iran, the Strait of Hormuz connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.


                Hormuz is the world's most important oil chokepoint due to its daily oil flow of 16.5-17 million barrels (first half 2008E), which is roughly 40 percent of all seaborne traded oil (or 20 percent of oil traded worldwide). Oil flows averaged over 16.5 million barrels per day in 2006, dropped in 2007 to a little over 16 million barrels per day after OPEC cut production, but rose again in 2008 with rising Persian Gulf supplies.


                At its narrowest point the Strait is 21 miles wide, and the shipping lanes consist of two-mile wide channels for inbound and outbound tanker traffic, as well as a two-mile wide buffer zone. The majority of oil exported through the Strait of Hormuz travels to Asia, the United States and Western Europe. Currently, three-quarters of all Japan’s oil needs pass through this Strait. On average, 15 crude oil tankers passed through the Strait of Hormuz daily in 2007, along with tankers carrying other petroleum products and liquefied natural gas (LNG).

                Closure of the Strait of Hormuz would require the use of longer alternate routes at increased transportation costs. Alternate routes include the 745 miles-long Petroline, also known as the East-West Pipeline, across Saudi Arabia from Abqaiq to the Red Sea. The East-West Pipeline has a capacity to move five million-bbl/d. The Abqaiq-Yanbu natural gas liquids pipeline, which runs parallel to Petroline to the Red Sea, has a 290,000-bbl/d capacity. Other alternate routes could include the deactivated 1.65-million bbl/d Iraqi Pipeline across Saudi Arabia (IPSA), and the 0.5 million-bbl/d Tapline to Lebanon. Oil could also be pumped north to Ceyhan in Turkey from Iraq.


Order of Battle: Operation ‘Brimstone’

{Операция 'Самородная сера'

Объединенное Осуществление Целевой группы (JTFEX) 08-4}

Carrier Strike Group Nine

USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN72) nuclear powered supercarrier with its Carrier Air Wing Two Destroyer Squadron Nine:

USS Mobile Bay (CG53) guided missile cruiser

USS Russell (DDG59) guided missile destroyer

USS Momsen (DDG92) guided missile destroyer

USS Shoup (DDG86) guided missile destroyer

USS Ford (FFG54) guided missile frigate

USS Ingraham (FFG61) guided missile frigate

USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG60) guided missile frigate

USS Curts (FFG38) guided missile frigate

Plus two nuclear hunter-killer submarines, currently unidentified

Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group

USS Peleliu (LHA-5) a Tarawa-class amphibious assault carrier

USS Pearl Harbor (LSD52) assault ship

USS Dubuque (LPD8) assault ship/landing dock

USS Cape St. George (CG71) guided missile cruiser

USS Halsey (DDG97) guided missile destroyer

USS Benfold (DDG65) guided missile destroyer

Carrier Strike Group Two

USS Theodore Roosevelt (DVN71) nuclear powered supercarrier with its Carrier Air Wing Eight [Set sail for the Gulf on August 5]

Destroyer Squadron 22

USS Monterey (CG61) guided missile cruiser

USS Mason (DDG87) guided missile destroyer

USS Nitze (DDG94) guided missile destroyer

USS Sullivans (DDG68) guided missile destroyer

USS Springfield (SSN761) nuclear powered hunter-killer submarine

IWO ESG ~ Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group

USS Iwo Jima (LHD7) amphibious assault carrier with its Amphibious Squadron Four and with its 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

USS San Antonio (LPD17) assault ship

USS Velia Gulf (CG72) guided missile cruiser

USS Ramage (DDG61) guided missile destroyer

USS Carter Hall (LSD50) assault ship

USS Roosevelt (DDG80) guided missile destroyer

USS Hartford (SSN768) nuclear powered hunter-killer submarine

Carrier Strike Group Seven

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN76) nuclear powered supercarrier with its Carrier Air Wing 14 and   Destroyer Squadron 7

USS Chancellorsville (CG62) guided missile cruiser

USS Howard (DDG83) guided missile destroyer

USS Gridley (DDG101) guided missile destroyer

USS Decatur (DDG73) guided missile destroyer

USS Thach (FFG43) guided missile frigate

USNS Rainier (T-AOE-7) fast combat support ship


                Note: The USS Iwo Jima and USS Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Groups have USMC Harrier jump jets and an assortment of assault and attack helicopters. The Expeditionary Strike Groups have powerful USMC Expeditionary Units consisting of two USMC GROUND ASSAULT UNITS (MAF’S) earmarked for utilization for securing the straights which is a bottle neck with amphibious armor and ground forces trained for operating in shallow waters and in seizures of land assets, such as Qeshm Island (a 50 mile long island off of Bandar Abbas in the Gulf of Hormuz and headquarters off the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps). USS Theodore Roosevelt , the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Iwo Jima .

                Already in place are the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea opposite Iranian shores and the USS Peleliu which is cruising in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The USS Theodore Roosevelt equipped with 80-plus combat planes, was carrying an additional load of French Naval Rafale fighter jets from the French carrier Charles de Gaulle. France's E2C Hawkeye early warning aircraft was assigned to the 4th Squadron began flight operations with Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 aboard Roosevelt, marking the first integrated U.S. and French carrier qualifications aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier. French Rafale fighter aircraft assigned to the 12th Squadron also joined. the following naval forces, which are already deployed in the Persian Gulf  and which consist of :

·         the nuclear powered USS Ronald Reagan Carrier and its Strike Group Seven;

·         the USS Iwo Jima,

·         -the British Royal Navy ‘s HMS Illustrious Carrier Strike Group,  aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal

·         several French warships, including the nuclear hunter-killer submarine Amethyste

·         Brazil’s navy frigate Greenhalgh and Italy’s ITS Salvatore Todaro (S 526) submarine.

                Also positioned in the region are the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea and the USS Peleliu which is currently in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

.Putin's Ruthless Gambit

The Bush Administration Falters in a Geopolitical Chess Match

September 2, 2008

by Michael T. Klare


                Many Western analysts have chosen to interpret the recent fighting in the Caucasus as the onset of a new Cold War, with a small pro-Western democracy bravely resisting a brutal reincarnation of Stalin's jack-booted Soviet Union. Others have viewed it a throwback to the age-old ethnic politics of southeastern Europe, with assorted minorities using contemporary border disputes to settle ancient scores.


Neither of these explanations is accurate. To fully grasp the recent upheavals in the Caucasus, it is necessary to view the conflict as but a minor skirmish in a far more significant geopolitical struggle between Moscow and Washington over the energy riches of the Caspian Sea basin -- with former Russian President (now Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin emerging as the reigning Grand Master of geostrategic chess and the Bush team turning out to be middling amateurs, at best.


The ultimate prize in this contest is control over the flow of oil and natural gas from the energy-rich Caspian basin to eager markets in Europe and Asia. According to the most recent tally by oil giant BP, the Caspian's leading energy producers, all former "socialist republics" of the Soviet Union -- notably Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- together possess approximately 48 billion barrels in proven oil reserves (roughly equivalent to those left in the U.S. and Canada) and 268 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (essentially equivalent to what Saudi Arabia possesses).


During the Soviet era, the oil and gas output of these nations was, of course, controlled by officials in Moscow and largely allocated to Russia and other Soviet republics. After the breakup of the USSR in 1991, however, Western oil companies began to participate in the hydrocarbon equivalent of a gold rush to exploit Caspian energy reservoirs, while plans were being made to channel the region's oil and gas to markets across the world.


Rush to the Caspian


In the 1990s, the Caspian Sea basin was viewed as the world's most promising new source of oil and gas, and so the major Western energy firms -- Chevron, BP, Shell, and Exxon Mobil, among others -- rushed into the region to take advantage of what seemed a golden opportunity. For these firms, persuading the governments of the newly independent Caspian states to sign deals proved to be no great hassle. They were eager to attract Western investment -- and the bribes that often came with it -- and to free themselves from Moscow's economic domination.


But there turned out to be a major catch: It was neither obvious nor easy to figure out how to move all the new oil and gas to markets in the West. After all, the Caspian is landlocked, so tankers cannot get near it, while all existing pipelines passed through Russia and were hooked into Soviet-era supply systems. While many in Washington were eager to assist U.S. firms in their drive to gain access to Caspian energy, they did not want to see the resulting oil and gas flow through Russia -- until recently, the country's leading adversary -- before reaching Western markets.


What, then, to do? Looking at the Caspian chessboard in the mid-1990s, President Bill Clinton conceived the striking notion of converting the newly independent, energy-poor Republic of Georgia into an "energy corridor" for the export of Caspian basin oil and gas to the West, thereby bypassing Russia altogether. An initial, "early-oil" pipeline was built to carry petroleum from newly-developed fields in Azerbaijan's sector of the Caspian Sea to Supsa on Georgia's Black Sea coast, where it was loaded onto tankers for delivery to international markets. This would be followed by a far more audacious scheme: the construction of the 1,000-mile BTC pipeline from Baku in Azerbaijan to Tbilisi in Georgia and then on to Ceyhan on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. Again, the idea was to exclude Russia -- which had, in the intervening years, been transformed into a struggling, increasingly impoverished former superpower -- from the Caspian Sea energy rush.


Clinton presided over every stage of the BTC line's initial development, from its early conception to the formal arrangements imposed by Washington on the three nations involved in its corporate structuring. (Final work on the pipeline was not completed until 2006, two years into George W. Bush's second term.) For Clinton and his advisors, this was geopolitics, pure and simple -- a calculated effort to enhance Western energy security while diminishing Moscow's control over the global flow of oil and gas. The administration's efforts to promote the construction of new pipelines through Azerbaijan and Georgia were intended "to break Russia's monopoly of control over the transportation of oil from the region," Sheila Heslin of the National Security Council bluntly told a Senate investigating committee in 1997.


Clinton understood that this strategy entailed significant risks, particularly because Washington's favored "energy corridor" passed through or near several major conflict zones -- including the Russian-backed breakaway enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. With this in mind, Clinton made a secondary decision -- to convert the new Georgian army into a military proxy of the United States, equipped and trained by the Department of Defense. From 1998 to 2000 alone, Georgia was awarded $302 million in U.S. military and economic aid -- more than any other Caspian country -- and top U.S. military officials started making regular trips to its capital, Tbilisi, to demonstrate support for then-president Eduard Shevardnadze.


In those years, Clinton was the top chess player in the Caspian region, while his Russian presidential counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, was far too preoccupied with domestic troubles and a bitter, costly, ongoing guerrilla war in Chechnya to match his moves. It was clear, however, that senior Russian officials were deeply concerned by the growing U.S. presence in their southern backyard -- what they called their "near abroad" -- and had already had begun planning for an eventual comeback. "It hasn't been left unnoticed in Russia that certain outside interests are trying to weaken our position in the Caspian basin," Andrei Y. Urnov of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared in May 2000. "No one should be perplexed that Russia is determined to resist the attempts to encroach on her interests."


Russia Resurgent


At this critical moment, a far more capable player took over on Russia's side of the geopolitical chessboard. On December 31, 1999, Vladimir V. Putin was appointed president by Yeltsin and then, on March 26, 2000, elected to a full four-year term in office. Politics in the Caucasus and the Caspian region have never been the same.


Even before assuming the presidency, Putin indicated that he believed state control over energy resources should be the basis for Russia's return to great-power status. In his doctoral dissertation, a summary of which was published in 1999, he had written that "[t]he state has the right to regulate the process of the acquisition and the use of natural resources, and particularly mineral resources [including oil and natural gas], independent of on whose property they are located." On this basis, Putin presided over the re-nationalization of many of the energy companies that had been privatized by Yeltsin and the virtual confiscation of Yukos -- once Russia's richest private energy firm -- by Russian state authorities. He also brought Gazprom, the world's largest natural gas supplier, back under state control and placed a protégé, Dmitri Medvedev -- now president of Russia -- at its helm.


Once he had restored state control over the lion's share of Russia's oil and gas resources, Putin turned his attention to the next obvious place -- the Caspian Sea basin. Here, his intent was not so much to gain ownership of its energy resources -- although Russian firms have in recent years acquired an equity share in some Caspian oil and gas fields -- but rather to dominate the export conduits used to transport its energy to Europe and Asia.


Russia already enjoyed a considerable advantage since much of Kazakhstan's oil already flowed to the West via the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), which passes through Russia before terminating on the Black Sea; moreover, much of Central Asia's natural gas continued to flow to Russia through pipelines built during the Soviet era. But Putin's gambit in the Caspian region evidently was meant to capture a far more ambitious prize. He wanted to ensure that most oil and gas from newly developed fields in the Caspian basin would travel west via Russia.


The first part of this drive entailed frenzied diplomacy by Putin and Medvedev (still in his role as board chairman of Gazprom) to persuade the presidents of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to ship their future output of gas through Russia. Success was achieved when, in December 2007, Putin signed an agreement with the leaders of these countries to supply 20 billion cubic meters of gas per year through a new conduit along the Caspian's eastern shore to southern Russia -- for ultimate delivery to Europe via Gazprom's existing pipeline network.


Meanwhile, Putin moved to undermine international confidence in Georgia as a reliable future corridor for energy delivery. This became a strategic priority for Moscow because the European Union announced plans to build a $10 billion natural-gas pipeline from the Caspian, dubbed "Nabucco" after the opera by Verdi. It would run from Turkey to Austria, while linking up to an expanded South Caucasus gas pipeline that now extends from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Erzurum in Turkey. The Nabucco pipeline was intended as a dramatic move to reduce Europe's reliance on Russian natural gas -- and so has enjoyed strong support from the Bush administration.


It is against this backdrop that the recent events in Georgia unfolded.


Checkmate in Georgia


Obviously, the more oil and gas passing through Georgia on its way to the West, the greater that country's geostrategic significance in the U.S.-Russian struggle over the distribution of Caspian energy. Certainly, the Bush administration recognized this and responded by providing hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to the Georgian military and helping to train specialized forces for protection of the new pipelines. But the administration's partner in Tbilisi, President Mikheil Saakashvili, was not content to play the relatively modest role of pipeline protector. Instead, he sought to pursue a megalomaniacal fantasy of recapturing the breakaway regions of Abhkazia and South Ossetia with American help. As it happened, the Bush team -- blindsided by their own neoconservative fantasies -- saw in Saakashvili a useful pawn in their pursuit of a long smoldering anti-Russian agenda. Together, they walked into a trap cleverly set by Putin.


It is hard not to conclude that Russian prime minister goaded the rash Saakashvili into invading South Ossetia by encouraging Abkhazian and South Ossetian irregulars to attack Georgian outposts and villages on the peripheries of the two enclaves. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reportedly told Saakashvili not to respond to such provocations when she met with him in July. Apparently her advice fell on deaf ears. Far more enticing, it seems, was her promise of strong U.S. backing for Georgia's rapid entry into NATO. Other American leaders, including Senator John McCain, assured Saakashvili of unwavering U.S. support. Whatever was said in these private conversations, the Georgian president seems to have interpreted them as a green light for his adventuristic impulses. On August 7th, by all accounts, his forces invaded South Ossetia and attacked its capital city of Tskhinvali, giving Putin what he long craved -- a seemingly legitimate excuse to invade Georgia and demonstrate the complete vulnerability of Clinton's (and now Bush's) vaunted energy corridor.


Today, the Georgian army is in shambles, the BTC and South Caucasus gas pipelines are within range of Russian firepower, and Abkhazia and South Ossetia have declared their independence, quickly receiving Russian recognition. In response to these developments, the Bush administration has, along with some friendly leaders in Europe, mounted a media and diplomatic counterattack, accusing Moscow of barbaric behavior and assorted violations of international law. Threats have also been made to exclude Russia from various international forums and institutions, such as the G-8 club of governments and the World Trade Organization. It is possible, then, that Moscow will suffer some isolation and inconvenience as a result of its incursion into Georgia.


None of this, so far as can be determined, will alter the picture in the Caucasus: Putin has moved his most powerful pieces onto this corner of the chessboard, America's pawn has been decisively defeated, and there's not much of a practical nature that Washington (or London or Paris or Berlin) can do to alter the outcome.


There will, of course, be more rounds to come, and it is impossible to predict how they will play out. Putin prevailed this time around because he focused on geopolitical objectives, while his opponents were blindly driven by fantasy and ideology; so long as this pattern persists, he or his successors are likely to come out on top. Only if American leaders assume a more realistic approach to Russia's resurgent power or, alternatively, choose to collaborate with Moscow in the exploitation of Caspian energy, will the risk of further strategic setbacks in the region disappear.


                Michael T. Klare is professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (Metropolitan Books).