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Bulletin : Published
Wednesday, September 04, 2002
Subject: Control of Central Asia's oil is the real goal
Some day Muslims will wake up, and throw the shayyateen out of their
and their leaders who lay with them.
Control of Central Asia's oil is the real goal
By Ben Aris in Moscow and Ahmed Rashid in Lahore
For all the talk of international alliances and the future of
the real game in Central Asia is control of the region's lucrative oil
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russia has kept Central Asia's huge
and gas reserves bottled up by restricting access to export pipelines -
of which run over Russian territory.
The United States has been pushing alternative pipeline projects out of
do not run over Russian soil.
The US National Security Adviser, Condoleeza Rice, assured the Kremlin
week that Washington had no designs on Central Asia even as a new oil
pipeline started up, strengthening Russia's influence in the region.
One of the main reasons that Washington supported the Taliban between
and 1997 was the attempt by the US oil giant Unocal to build a gas
from Turkmenistan, through Taliban-controlled southern Afghanistan, to
Pakistan and the Persian Gulf. At the time, the US and Unocal hoped the
Taliban would swiftly conquer the country.
When the first tanker at the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossisk was
loaded with oil pumped from Kazakhstan through the Caspian Pipeline
Consortium's pipeline, it looked like the rivalry between Moscow and
Washington was over. But as US interests intensify in the region,
nervous about giving Washington a toehold.
Dr Rice's statements were designed to allay fears. She said in an
the Russian daily Izvestia: "I want to stress this: our policy is not
against the interests of Russia. We do not harbour any plans aimed at
squeezing Russia out of there."
Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have some of the largest reserves of oil
in the world, but Russia cut them off from international markets as all
their export pipelines run over Russian territory. The US tried
to break the Kremlin's stranglehold over the region, but Dr Rice's
were the strongest sign yet that Washington is prepared to concede
dominance of the region.
US-Russian relations have been recast since the terrorist
attacks in America.
In a brave decision, President Vladimir Putin thumbed his nose at
generals still labouring under Cold War prejudices and gave the
Central Asian states to play host to US forces. Uzbekistan and
are allied to Moscow through the Russian-led Commonwealth of
States, and have donated airfields.
After a decade of grand promises of an oil pipeline by international
firms failed to materialise, Kazakhstan has sided with the Russians.
The Caspian Pipeline Consortium's line is the first big one to be built
since the fall of the Soviet Union. Led by Chevron, CPC brought
governments of Kazakhstan, Russia and Oman, as well as several other
companies, for financing.
Most of the 1,850-kilometre route runs across Russian territory.
The war in Afghanistan may have brought an end to America's ambitions
area as a quid pro quo for Russia's co-operation in the US-led
when peace and a stable government eventually comes to Kabul, US oil
companies will be looking closely at Afghanistan because it offers the
shortest route to the Gulf for Central Asia's vast quantities of
oil and gas.
The companies have invested $US30billion ($59billion) in developing oil
gas fields in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan but
exporting to the West involves lengthy and expensive pipelines.
Washington is currently proposing a $US3billion pipeline from
the Caspian Sea, through Georgia, to Turkey's Mediterranean coast - a
lengthy and expensive project.
US companies could build a similar pipeline from Central Asia through
Afghanistan to Karachi at half the cost, if the next Afghan government
guarantee its security.
Russia fears that is exactly what the Americans want and, now that US
are based in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, they will not leave.
The Telegraph, London
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