Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Ukrainian Civil War and Energy Geopolitics: Pawn in the New Great Game.

"The bloody pictures from Odessa have shown us that we are just a few steps away from a military confrontation," German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Ukraine is already effectively in a state of civil war caused by increased polarisation between the Russian leaning eastern regions and the central and western areas of Ukraine. The prospect of a conflagration was always likely after February's violent overthrow of Yanukovych's government.

The Euromaidan Protests were about moving Ukraine towards an EU membership that European states had dangled before Ukrainians and that was supported by a good number from across Ukraine tired with twenty years of corrupt government and economic stagnation.

Unfortunately, as far back as the Orange Revolution of 2004, it was evident that the Ukrainian far right was active in mass protests. In the wake of the global economic crash of 2008 and the growing unpopularity of Tymoshenko's government it was the far right in the shape of Svoboda that was benefitting.

Back in 2012 it was Svoboda, a party that holds 33 seats in the Rada, which captured 10% of the vote. It's phenomenal rise, along with the growth of armed ultra nationalist paramilitaries, was consistently downplayed by EU governments and  western 'democracy promotion' NGOs

The naivety and foolishness of EU diplomats such as the useless Baroness Ashton and others in thinking that the Euromaidan protests would stay peaceful is still evident in recent utterances about Ukraine only now heading towards civil war or 'military confrontation'.

Washington's diplomacy has proved both ruthless and inept during the crisis now. Only with the Odessa fire outrage has John Kerry started to use weasel words condemning 'all sides involved in the violence'. So the he Kiev government, is tried to affect distance from the Right Sector paramilitaries causing trouble there.

The fact is ,however, that Right Sector paramilitaries had influence in the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. That and the build up of tensions stoked by the Kiev interim government's banning of Russian as an official language and nationalist rhetoric created the space for pro-Russian militants to launch an uprising.

The Kiev government of Yatsenuk has dubious legitimacy. Given that there were to be elections in May 2014, bringing the date back a year, it should have proceded cautiously. Yet it necessarily failed to reassure the eastern regions its interests were being taken into account.

The very make up of the Kiev government is hardly one of national unity. The inclusion of Svoboda in cabinet positions after the previous president was ousted by violence led by far right ultra nationalists being seen to be rewarded with power. So militants in the east copied those tactics.

The US and some more forthrightly anti-Russian EU states such as Poland had always wanted to get a new government that would decisively push through radical IMF reforms, put Ukraine on track for not only EU membership but also NATO accession as part of one package.

This way of proceeding is typical of what Naomi Klein terms the 'shock doctrine' The problem is that many in the eastern industrial regions of Kharkhiv and Donetsk realise that the Kiev administration is forcing large economic reforms on them without their consent and only then calling elections.

One reason Yanukovych refused the EU trade deal back in 2013, a decision which ostensibly triggered off the Euromaidan Protests, was that it would have entailed opening Ukraine up too quickly to EU competition and ended up decimating industries in the east trading mostly with Russia.

If Russia can be held to account for tacitly supporting pro-Russian militants, the US is equally as responsible for having ratcheted up the possibility of civil war by so unconditionally backing a government that lacks legitimacy for a large number of Ukrainians in the south and east.

This policy has less to do with selflessly promoting democracy as with the global ambition of the US and EU states to curtail Russia and Gazprom's control over oil and gas supplies. With the crises in the Middle East from Libya to Egypt and Syria, EU states in particular have sought to diversify gas supplies.

With the US, UK and France humiliated over Syria back in 2013 by Putin's use of diplomacy to prevent them launching a missile attack, the Western Powers have been all the more intent on decisively rolling back Russian influence in and around the Black Sea where large gas reserves exist.

The proxy war in Syria between the West and Russia is mostly concerned with control over potential reserves of gas off the coast of Cyprus and oil and gas pipeline routes between the Gulf and the East Meditteranean where Russia, as in Sevastapol in the Crimea, has a naval base at the port of Tarsous.

Iran, a regional power close to Russia and against the West, wants to construct a pipeline from the South Pars Gas Field that it shares with Qatar through Shia dominated Iraq and an Assad held Syria. Qatar and Saudi Arabia want to thwart that aim and Qatar to build a rival gas pipeline to the west.

Energy geopolitics is crucial to understanding Ukraine as well as Syria as the 2lst century is more and more in Michael Klare's words 'a race for what is left'. Many EU states are obsessed with energy security as they consume 25% of the world's gas but produce a mere 2%.

The US has now embarked on a more adventurous foreign policy precisely because of its shale oil and gas 'revolution'. Washington has every interest in pushing its energy interests agressively in Ukraine because it has become more energy independent ( hence Nuland's comment "Fuck the EU ")

The US has a great interest in shale gas reserves Ukraine where US diplomats such as John Tefft had praised the councils of Lviv and Ivano Frankivsk ( both dominated by Svoboda ) for ratifying the contract with Chevron for exploration of the reserves in the western Ukraine.

Ukraine is of colossal importance as a transit zone for oil and gas pipelines between the east and west. The geopolitical tug of war was made worse by Russia's annexation of Crimea which has effectively halted Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell's plans to drill for gas off the south west Crimean coast.

Ukraine's civil war takes its place as one of the latest conflicts where the New Great Game for resources has made worse pre-existing ethnic and sectarian tensions and where the Great Powers show utter ruthlessness in pursuing their geopolitical ambitions.

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