lunes, 26 de octubre de 2009

Obama vs. Fox News

The Obama administration properly identified Fox News as the Media branch of the G.O.P. and that's right. Btw, they excluded the Fox in media briefings and meetings in which journalists can be summoned. If they're not journalists but political foes, they ought be treated as such. It is not enough to have a media to be considered a journalist. It's ludicrous.

In a brilliant article in The Nation titled "Just Don't Call it 'Journalism'", Eric Alterman says:

"It's a sad symbol of the state of contemporary American journalism that the White House communications office is doing more to maintain the honor of the profession than are many journalists. But that's just what's happening in the contretemps over Fox News. Interim White House communications director Anita Dunn has explained to the press that the White House plans to treat Fox "the way we would treat an opponent.... As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don't need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave."

Now, former Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino, says as a derogatory: "Obama's Criticism Of Fox Akin To Chavez Tactics". But... wait: Who, if not the Bush croonies, are less entitled to use the word 'Chávez' as a derogatory word? It is? Why? Please, do yourself a little survey: Look how Chavez is treated in The Nation, Salon, Alternet, etc., and then look the same in the Washington Post, Politico, Mo-Jo, Media Matters, Fox News and so.

To my humble understanding, Chávez is far away from the "Big Satan" nick the rightist press tagged he worldwide. Nor they're morally entitled to do so, at least. Not the "Saddam WMD's"'ers, right?

If someone in the USA had said about his president the half about what the Venezuelan RCTV said on Chávez, it would be jailed for sure. Chávez limited itself to not renewing the State permission to air the propaganda RCTV usually made instead. I published a shocking report on that in my spanish blog. To say nothing on the "Puente Llaguno" affaire, in which the media presented the victims as attackers to try to oust Chávez from the Government in 2002.

Then, again: SOME press do not behave as the press is intend to. And when they behave that way, they can't pretend to be treated so. They must be keep away from the real press treatment. Press criticism is OK and should be encouraged. Rol's usurpation, attacks and ouster attempts is another very different issue.

Such three items in the press behaviour, i.e., rol's usurpation, attacks and ouster attempts, often is known worldwide as 'Colour Revolutions' (CR) or 'Velvet revolutions' or Soft Coups.

To the classical (and successful) CR acknowledged worldwide, i.e., Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, etc., many others were tried (without success yet) in Bolivia and Argentina (2008) and Iran 2009, but they're far from concluded.

In the Argentinian case (where I live), at least, the mainstream media is owned by the rich class, and the message they air say is what the rich class and landowners expects to be assimilated by the masses: Israel is OK, but Palestinians are not, Iran and Venezuela are nearby the evil's axis, Chávez and Ahmadinejad ought to be viewed as cockroaches, and so on.

Is this message familiar to you, live you where you live? Yes, the world press message reach the Argentinian tarmac pristine and without any noticeable distortion. Our 'free press' are no more than local amplifiers of The Global Voice the owners try to sell us.

The Argentinian main media operator, owner of the 73% argentinian licenses share is Clarín. And they ought be charged mainly on ouster attempts they did against our elected President, in a no-yet-so-successful Colour Revolution they tried last year and that they still now try to carry out. Clarín is the Argentinian Fox News Obama's equivalent. But it's another story that deserves itself a further article I will tell you in details anytime soon.

viernes, 2 de octubre de 2009

Iran and the Pipelineistan Opera

Central Asian/Caucasus Gas Pipelines Map: Nabucco (Light Blue, NATO backed)
and South Stream (Purple, Russian Backed)

Jumpin' Jack Verdi, It's a Gas, Gas, Gas

By Pepe Escobar in The Nation

October 1, 2009


Oil and natural gas prices may be relatively low right now, but don't be fooled. The New Great Game of the twenty-first century is always over energy and it's taking place on an immense chessboard called Eurasia. Its squares are defined by the networks of pipelines being laid across the oil heartlands of the planet. Call it Pipelineistan. If, in Asia, the stakes in this game are already impossibly high, the same applies to the "Euro" part of the great Eurasian landmass--the richest industrial area on the planet. Think of this as the real political thriller of our time.

The movie of the week in Brussels is: When NATO Meets Pipelineistan. Though you won't find it in any headlines, at virtually every recent NATO summit Washington has been maneuvering to involve reluctant Europeans ever more deeply in the business of protecting Pipelineistan. This is already happening, of course, in Afghanistan, where a promised pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India, the TAPI pipeline, has not even been built. And it's about to happen at the borders of Europe, again around pipelines that have not yet been built.

If you had to put that Euro part of Pipelineistan into a formula, you might do so this way: Nabucco (pushed by the US) versus South Stream (pushed by Russia). Be patient. You'll understand in a moment.

At the most basic level, it's a matter of the West yet again trying, in the energy sphere, to bypass Russia. For this to happen, however--and it wouldn't hurt if you opened the nearest atlas for a moment--Europe desperately needs to get a handle on Central Asian energy resources, which is easy to say, but has proven surprisingly hard to do. No wonder the NATO Secretary General's special representative, Robert Simmons, has been logging massive frequent-flyer miles to Central Asia over these last few years.

Just under the surface of an edgy entente cordiale between the European Union (EU) and Russia lurks the possibility of a no-holds-barred energy war--Liquid War, as I call it. The EU and the US are pinning their hopes on a prospective 3,300-kilometer-long, $10.7 billion pipeline dubbed Nabucco. Planning for it began way back in 2004 and construction is finally expected to start, if all goes well (and it may not), in 2010. So if you're a NATO optimist, you hope that natural gas from the Caspian Sea, maybe even from Iran (barring the usual American blockade), will begin flowing through it by 2015. The gas will be delivered to Erzurum in Turkey and then transported to Austria via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.

Why, you might ask, is the pipeline meant to save Europe named for a Verdi opera? Well, Austrian and Turkish energy executives happened to see the opera together in Vienna in 2002 while discussing their energy dilemmas, and the biblical plight of the Jews exiled by King Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar), a love story set amid a ferocious struggle for freedom and power, swept them away. Still, it's a stretch to turn aluminum tubes into dramatic characters.

Of course, the operatic theater here isn't really in the tubing, it's in the politics and strategic implications that surround the pipeline. In Eastern Europe, for instance, Nabucco is seen not as a European economic or energy project, but as a creature of Washington, just like the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey that President Bill Clinton and his crew backed so vigorously in the 1990s and which was finally finished in 2005. For those who have never believed the Cold War is over--the Eastern Europeans among them--once again it's the good guys (the West) against the commies...sorry, the an energy-rich OK Corral.

The Great Borderless Gas Bazaar

Russia's answer to Nabucco is the 1,200-kilometer-long, $15 billion South Stream pipeline, also scheduled to be finished in 2015; it is slated to carry Siberian natural gas under the Black Sea from Russia to Bulgaria. From Bulgaria, one branch of the pipeline would then run south through Greece to southern Italy while the other would run north through Serbia and Hungary towards northern Italy.

Now, add another pipeline to the picture, the $9.1 billion Nord Stream that will soon enough snake from Western Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany, which already imports 41.5 percent of its natural gas from Russia. The giant Russian energy firm Gazprom holds a controlling 51 percent of Nord Stream stock; the rest belongs to German and Dutch companies. The chairman of the board is none other than former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Put this all together and Russia, with its pipelines running in all directions and firmly embedded in Europe, spells trouble for Nabucco's future and frustration for Washington's New Great Game plans to contain the Russian energy juggernaut. And that's without even mentioning Ukhta which, chances are, you've never heard of. If you aren't in the energy business, why should you have? After all, it's a backwater village in Russia's autonomous republic of Komi, 350 kilometers from the Arctic Circle. Built by forced labor, it was once part of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag archipelago. By 2030, however, you'll know its name. By then, a pipeline from remote Ukhta will be flooding Europe with natural gas and the village will be one of Nord Stream's key transit nodes.

While Nabucco as well as South Stream remain virtual, Nord Stream is a Terminator on the run. By 2010, it will be tunneling under the Baltic Sea heading for Germany. By 2011, it should be delivering the goods and a second pipe--12 meters wide, 100,000 tubes long--will be under construction to double its capacity by 2014. Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller pulls no punches: this, he says, will be "the safest and most modern pipeline in the world."

How can Verdi lovers possibly compete? In the middle of a global recession, Gazprom is spending at least $20 billion to conquer Europe via Nord and South Stream. The strategy is a killer: pump gas under the sea directly to Europe, avoiding messy transit routes across troublesome countries like Ukraine. No wonder Gazprom, which today controls 26 percent of the European gas market, is expected to have a 33 percent share by 2020.

In other words, in many ways, the Nabucco versus South Stream energy war already looks settled. Nabucco is, at best, likely to be a secondary pipeline, incapable, as Washington once hoped, of breaking the EU away from energy dependence on Russia.

Brussels, predictably, is in its usual multilingual policy mess. Most bureaucrats at its monster, directive-churning body, the European Commission, publicly bemoan the "pipeline war." On the other hand, Ona Jukneviciene, chairwoman of the committees at the European Parliament dealing with Central Asia, admits that Nabucco cannot be the only option.

As for Reinhard Mitschek, managing director of the Nabucco consortium, he tries to put a brave face on things when he stresses, "we will transport Russian gas, Azeri gas, Iraqi gas." As for the top European official on energy matters, Andris Piebalgs, he can't help being a pragmatist: "We'll continue to work with Russia because Russia has energy resources."

From a business point of view, it's tough to argue with South Stream's selling points. Unlike Nabucco, it will offer cheaper, all-Russian natural gas that won't have to transit through potential war zones, and while Nabucco will always deliver limited amounts of Caspian natural gas to market, South Stream, given Russian resources, will have plenty of room to increase its output.

The fact is that, as of now, Nabucco still has no guaranteed sources of gas. In order for the gas to come from energy-rich Turkmenistan, to take but one example, the Turkmen leadership would have to break a deal they've already made with Russia, which now buys all of that country's export gas. There's no way that Moscow is likely to let one of the former Soviet Republics do that easily. In addition, both Russia and Iran could well be capable of blocking any pipeline straddling the floor of the Caspian Sea.
Gazprom will pay to build South Stream, and then distribute and sell gas it already controls to Europe; Nabucco, on the other hand, has to rely on a messy consortium of six countries (Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Germany) simply to finance one-third of its prospective costs, and then convince wary international bankers to shell out the rest.

The Pentagon does the Black Sea

So what does Washington want out of this mess? That's easy. Rewind to then-prospective Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her Senate confirmation hearings on January 13, 2009. There, she decried Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas and issued an urgent call for "investments in the Trans-Caspian energy sector." Think of it as a signal: the new Obama administration would be as committed to Nabucco as the Bush administration had been.

What is never spelled out is why. Enter the Black Sea, that crucial geo-strategic stage where Europe meets the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Enter, thus, Bulgaria, home to a new Pentagon air base in Bezmer, one of six new strategic bases being built outside the US and as potentially important to Washington's future games as the stalwart air bases in Incirlik, Turkey, and Aviano, Italy, have been in the past. (Aviano was the key US/NATO base for the bombing of the Bosnian Serbs in 1995 and the seventy-eight-day bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999.)

With the Pentagon's bases already creeping within a stone's throw of Southwest and Central Asia, it doesn't take a genius to imagine the role Bezmer might play in any future attack on Iran (something the Russian defense establishment has already taken careful note of). With both Romania and Bulgaria now part of NATO, Article 5 of the alliance's charter now applies. NATO can take action "in the event of crises which jeopardize Euro-Atlantic stability and could affect the security of Alliance members."

In this way, Pipelineistan meets the American Empire of Bases.

Young Turks and Wily Russians

Why is everyone so damn hooked on Central Asian oil and gas? Elshad Nasirov, deputy chairman of the state-owned Azerbaijani oil company SOCAR, sums the addiction up succinctly enough: "This is the place where there is oil and gas in abundance. It is not Arab, not Persian, not Russian, and not OPEC."

It's the Caspian and, unfortunately for Europe, the region could, in energy terms, turn out to be not the caviar for which it's renowned but so many rotten fish eggs. No one knows, after all, whether the EU will ever be able to buy Iranian gas via Nabucco. No one knows whether the Central Asian "stans" have enough gas to supply Russia, China, and Turkey, not to mention India and Pakistan. No one knows whether any of their leaders will have the nerve to renege on their deals with Gazprom.

Ever since a 2008 British study determined that Turkmenistan may have natural gas reserves second only to Russia on the planet, the European Commission has been on a no-holds-barred tear to lure that country into delivering some of its future gas directly to Europe--and not through the Russian pipeline system either. Turkmenistan's inscrutable leader, the spectacularly named Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, just has to say the word, but despite the claims of EU officials that he has agreed to send some gas Europe-wards, he's never offered a public word of confirmation. No wonder: with Nabucco unbuilt and a pipeline from his country to China still under construction, Turkmenistan can play Pipelineistan games only with Russia and Iran. In fact, Russia essentially controls the flow of Turkmen gas for the next fifteen years.

Should Gurbanguly someday say the magic word--and assuming the Russians don't throw a monkey wrench into the works--he can marry Turkey, as the key transit country, with the EU and let them all sing Verdi till the sheep come home. In the meantime, angst is the name of the game in Europe (and so in Washington).

A declassified dossier from the FSB, the Russian heir to the KGB, is adamant: considering Nabucco's shortcomings, "Russia will remain the primary supplier of energy to Europe for the foreseeable future." Call it a matter of having your gas and processing it, too. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been making the point for years. If Europe tries to snub it, Russia will simply build its own liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants, to facilitate storage and transport, and sell its LNG all over the world.

Anyway it's worth paying attention to what the St. Petersburg State Mining Institute (where Putin earned his doctorate) has to say. According to the institute, Russia has only twenty years' worth of its own natural gas reserves left. Since Russia plans to sell up to 40 percent of its gas abroad, "Russian" gas may in the future actually mean Central Asian gas. All the more reason for the Russians to make sure that those massive Turkmen and other reserves flow north, not west.

Whatever Washington thinks, the Europeans know that energy independence from Russia is, in reality, inconceivable. Bottom line when it comes to natural gas: Europe needs everything--Nord Stream, South Stream and Nabucco. The bulk of the natural gas in this Pipelineistan maze may well turn out to be Central Asian anyway, and a substantial part could be Iranian, if the Obama administration ever normalizes relations with Iran.

That, then, is the current state of play in the European wing of Pipelineistan. Russia seems to have virtually guaranteed its status as the top gas supplier to Europe for the foreseeable future. But that brings us to Turkey, a key regional power for both the US and the EU. As President Obama has recognized, Turkey is both a real and a metaphorical bridge between the Christian and Muslim worlds. It is also an ideal transit country for carrying non-Russian gas to Europe and is now playing its own suitably complex Pipelineistan game.

Chances are that, like Ukhta in far off Siberia, you've never heard of Yumurtalik either. It's a fishing port squeezed between the Mediterranean Sea and the Taurus mountains, very close to Ceyhan, the terminal for two key nodes of Pipelineistan: the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline from Iraq and the monster BTC pipeline. Turkey wants to turn Yumurtalik-Ceyhan into nothing less than the Rotterdam of the Mediterranean.

Even as it dreams of future EU membership, however, Turkey worries about antagonizing Moscow. And yet, being aboard the Nabucco Express and already fully committed to the functioning BTC pipeline puts the country on a potential collision course with Russia, its largest trading partner. Of course, this does not displease Washington.

On the other hand, the Turkish leadership draws ever closer to Iran, which provides 38 percent of Turkey's oil and 25 percent of its natural gas. Ankara and Tehran also have geopolitical affinities (especially in fighting Kurdish separatism). Together, they offer the best alternative to the Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Georgia) in terms of supplying Europe with Iranian natural gas. All this, of course, drives Washington nuts.

Needless to say, the Nabucco consortium itself would kill to have Iran as a gas supplier for the pipeline. They are also familiar with realpolitik: this could happen only with a Washington-blessed solution to the Iranian nuclear dossier. Iran, for its part, knows well how to seduce Europe. Mohammad-Reza Nematzadeh, managing director of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), has insisted Iran is Europe's "sole option" for the success of Nabucco.

Is Russia just watching all this gas go by? Of course not. In October 2007, Putin signed a key agreement with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: if Iran cannot sell its gas to Nabucco--a likelihood, given the turbulence of American domestic politics and its foreign policy--Russia will buy it. Translation: Iranian gas could end up, like Central Asian gas, heading for Europe as more "Russian" gas. With its European and Iranian policies at cross-purposes, Washington will not be amused.

When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to "rethink Nabucco" if the tricky negotiations for Turkey to enter the EU drag on forever, EU leaders got the message (as much as France and Germany may be against a "Europe without borders"). Pragmatically, most EU leaders know very well that they need excellent relations with Turkey to one day have access to the big prize, Iranian gas; and that puts Europe's energy and EU membership inclinations at loggerheads.

Last July in Ankara, Nabucco was formally launched by an inter-governmental agreement. The representatives of Turkey, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary were there. Obama's special Eurasian envoy, Richard Morningstar (a veteran of the BTC adventure), was there as well. The Central Asian stans were not there.

But crucially, Gurbanguly, ever the showman, finally made an entrance without ever leaving Turkmenistan, (almost) uttering the magic words in a meeting with his ministers in the capital, Ashgabat, on July 10: "Turkmenistan, staying committed to the principles of diversification of supply of its energy resources to the world markets, is going to use all available opportunities to participate in major international projects--such as, for example, [the] Nabucco project."

At the Vienna headquarters of Nabucco, the mantra remains: this is "no anti-Russian project." Still, everyone knows that Russia's leaders are eager to kill it, and not a soul, from Brussels to Vienna, Washington to Ashgabat, knows how to link Central Asia to Europe via a non-Russian pipeline, at the cost of more than $10 billion, without some assurance that Turkmeni, Kazakh, Azerbaijani and/or Iranian natural gas will be fully (or even partially) on board. Who would be foolish enough to invest that kind of money without some guarantee that hundreds of miles of aluminum tubes won't remain empty? You don't need Verdi to tell you this is one hell of a quirky plot for a global opera.

jueves, 1 de octubre de 2009

EU Investigators Debunk Saakashvili's Lies

New Report on Russia-Georgia War

By Benjamin Bidder in Moscow
Zoom - AP - Der Spiegel

In this Sept. 4, 2008 photo, a girl plays near a ruined building in Tskhinvali.

The EU fact-finding mission on the Russia-Georgia war has published its findings in a much-anticipated report. The authors blame Georgia for the war but also assign partial responsibility to Russia. Both countries have reacted angrily to the findings, with the Russia ambassador to NATO saying the report is only "pseudo-balanced."

The truth about the war between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August 2008 sounds somewhat convoluted, at least as expressed in the final report of the independent EU fact-finding mission charged with establishing the causes of the conflict. "Georgian claims of a large-scale presence of Russian armed forces in South Ossetia prior to the Georgian offensive on 7/8 August could not be substantiated by the mission," reads the document, which was published Wednesday. To put it more simply: It was Georgia who started the war.

This is the conclusion that the team of European investigators, headed by the Swiss diplomat and Caucasus expert Heidi Tagliavini, have reached after spending almost a year visiting the Georgian capital Tbilisi, Moscow and the locations of the fighting in a bid to reconstruct the course of the conflict. Their findings fill some 1,000 pages.

Just a few days ago, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had insisted in an interview with US broadcaster CNN that no one took seriously reports that his country was responsible for the war. Responding to an interviewer question about a recent SPIEGEL story which reported that the EU committee had put the blame for the conflict on Georgia, Saakashvili said: "Everybody who was there, and there were serious people there, everybody knows what happened." According to Saakashvili's version of events, which he had distributed officially in a government report on the war, the night-time attack by Georgia on the breakaway region of South Ossetia on Aug. 7, 2008 was a preemptive strike directed against Russian armored columns which had supposedly already advanced into South Ossetia.

Already on the first day of the war, the brawny Georgian General Mamuka Kurashvili appeared on television in his dress uniform and boasted that Georgia had decided to "reestablish constitutional order in the entire region."

Indignant Reactions

The EU report, which is extensive, detailed and well-informed, makes clear that the Georgian claims are completely fabricated. "It was Georgia which triggered off the war when it attacked (South Ossetian capital) Tskhinvali" said Heidi Tagliavini, the mission head, in a statement. Although the EU commission tactfully avoided using the word "lie," the report implies that Saakashvili did not tell the truth about how the war started.

Tbilisi is now predictably outraged at the results of the fact-finding mission. Georgia did not by any means use "disproportionate force," stresses Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili. "We see Russia's actions as aggression, because the country invaded the Tskhinvali region with its troops."

Russian politicians, for their part, feel that the report's conclusions strengthen their position. "If the commission has acknowledged that it was Georgia who started the war, as Russia has repeatedly said, we can only welcome such a conclusion," said Natalia Timakova, a spokeswoman for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

'Ambiguous Formulations'

Yet the triumphant mood in Moscow was tinged by a hint of bitterness. "The report has a major flaw," complained Sergei Makarov, a member of the Duma for the Kremlin party United Russia and a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. "It does not address the US's role in the conflict."

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry also expressed its resentment about "ambiguous formulations" in the report -- a reference to passages in which the authors make it clear that they consider Russia to have been partly responsible for escalating the conflict. The report concludes that the mass issuing of Russian passports to South Ossetians, as well as to residents of another breakaway republic of Abkhazia, was in violation of international law. It also criticizes the fact that Moscow trained and armed South Ossetian troops.

In addition, the report's authors conclude that the reason given by Russia to justify the campaign to its own population was completely unsubstantiated. The Russian authorities had claimed that the Georgians had committed a previously planned genocide against the South Ossetian people. According to Kremlin propaganda, the Georgian offensive caused 2,000 deaths in a single night. Russia later reduced its figure for total South Ossetian civilian casualties to 162. "Although it should be admitted that it is not easy to decide where the line must be drawn, it seems, however, that much of the Russian military action went far beyond the reasonable limits of defense," the European investigators conclude.

Sentences like this one have irritated the Russian ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin. "This report has a pseudo-balanced approach," Rogozin told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "All the parties are criticized a little, including the Ossetians, the Russians and Georgia's Western patrons. But one no longer sees the wood for the trees."

According to Rogozin, the key thing is that the EU mission has clearly stated that Georgia started the hostilities. "But if the Russian military response has been criticized as being too harsh, then this is surely a matter of taste," Rogozin complained. "I certainly think it was still too lax."