Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Nov 8 17:45:47 MST 1999

>New to list.
>Any comment on Chechnya recently?
>Al Whitlock

This is the conclusion of an article I wrote on Kosovo for New
Interventions. It relates Yugoslavia's problems to imperialist desire to
control oil access and predicts that this would spill over into the former
Soviet Union.


Bad enough for the stubborn Serbs to resist privatization, their
misfortunes were compounded when they decided to locate their nation
inconveniently within a trade route that was seen as essential to the
delivery of oil from newly accessible fields adjacent to east of the
Caspian Sea. The collapse of the Soviet Union had made private investment
in these fields by western oil corporations feasible. Discovering oil was
one thing, transporting it was another. If the Balkans, a key link in the
chain, was not "stabilized" beforehand, then billions of dollars in
investments might go to naught. Stabilization of the Balkans had everything
to do with supplying energy to the West, a key element of imperialist
strategies in both of the twentieth century's world wars.

For a comprehensive analysis of the role of Caspian oil and the Balkans
war, I would recommend Gregory Nowell's article in the latest Left Business
Observer. Nowell, an associate professor of political science at
SUNY-Albany, is the author of "Mercantile States and the World Oil Cartel"
(Cornell, 1994). In the article titled "The Caspian energy game," Nowell
makes the case that if Yugoslavia was a key link in the chain connecting
oil supplies in the former Soviet Union to their lucrative western markets:

"The remaining imponderable at this time is the development of southeastern
Europe. Romania and Bulgaria clearly have hopes that they might take
Caspian crude oil shipments from Supsa, refine them, load them on a barge,
and ship them up to Europe, all the way to Rotterdam even (thanks to newly
completed canal work) on the Danube. Before the current war on Serbia, the
President of Romania was advocating that construction of a pipeline from
Romania to Trieste via Yugoslavia. This would tie into the whole western
European market. In any case, Danubian barge shipments could establish an
energy distribution pattern that could eventually be supplanted by
pipelines, perhaps overland via the Danubian basin or across Yugoslavia to
Trieste. Another pipeline project under active development would run from
Burgos, Bulgaria’s Black Sea port, to an Albanian port on the Adriatic."

Even as the bombs were falling on Belgrade, a capitalist think-tank
discussed plans for such oil transportation routes in anticipation of a
Serb defeat. The Centre for European Policy Studies recommended "A System
for Post-War South-East Europe (Plan for Reconstruction, Openness,
Development and Integration" that would include the following provision as
part of rebuilding the infrastructure of the devastated region:

"Important decisions on the location of new oil and gas pipelines from CIS
countries, which would pass through the region, can only be taken in the
post-war context of increasing integration with the EU. Financing would be
obtained from the EIB (Export-Import Bank) and IFI's (International Funding
Institutions). Safe and cheap supplies of hydrocarbons would in turn
facilitate investment in new and efficient non-nuclear power stations."

Oil supplies were not just critical in western imperialist calculations,
they are very likely a possible source of China's objection to NATO
aggression. In a May 6, 1999 Financial Times article (James Kynge, "Beijing
anxious to ensure oil supplies are more secure"), China, the second largest
energy consumer in the world, is depicted as requiring forty percent of its
oil through import by 2010, up from less than 20 percent now. Because of
this, China is seeking to diversify its supplies and the Caspian oilfields
reckon highly in their strategic plans. Since oil-rich Kazakhstan borders
China's Moslem-dominated northwest region, it is not far-fetched to
conclude that the bid of the KLA to create an effectively Moslem state
might appear as a threat. As one Chinese official put it in a May 10 FT
article (Kynge, "Walking the Tightrope"), "Where will NATO stop? Will they
next intervene in Azerbaijan or maybe in Tajikstan on China's border?"

Clearly the Chinese and the Russians had cause for alarm, since within
three months following imperialism's victory in Yugoslavia, a new war has
broken out with a number of the same elements: ethnic rebels fighting to
wrest control of strategically placed oil assets from the tarnished rump of
a workers state. I speak here of the Dagestan rebellion, which pits Moslem
guerrillas against Yeltsin's regular army and air force. The Dagestans are
being supported by the Chechen republic, which won its Kosovo type
independence without any support from the West.

While the Chechen and Dagestan rebels did not require the kind of massive
aid that the KLA received from the west, there is little doubt that key
element of the government sensitive to the needs of the petroleum sector of
heavy industry saw their fight as consistent with their own goals. These
goals, according to a report in the June 25, 1998 Journal of Commerce
(Michael S. Lelyveld, "Trade bill embroils Senate in the Caucasus'
problems; Measure would authorize funds to all 8 former Soviet republics")
effectively wed "national liberation" aspirations with the economic
interests of the world's most powerful corporations:

"A bitter ethnic battle in the Caucasus spilled over into Congress this
week as U.S. corporate and oil interests won a key vote on aid to the
region in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"The panel approved the Silk Road Strategy Act, sponsored by Sen. Sam
Brownback, R-Kan., after an amendment by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., lost on
a 10-8 party-line vote late Tuesday.

"The Silk Road legislation would 'target assistance to support the economic
and political independence of the countries of the South Caucasus and
Central Asia.'' But behind the measure's bland title is a widening web of
international and U.S. business alliances with stakes in the outcome of a
10-year-old war. . .'

"The congressional action comes during a new flurry of contract signings
with Azerbaijan, despite continuing reports of disappointing returns from
the Caspian at a time of falling oil prices. Although the country has
signed some $30 billion worth of deals with foreign oil companies, analysts
are becoming increasingly concerned about recent drilling results."

So oil and "human rights" interventions dovetail with each other neatly.

The Yeltsin government has its hands filled with the Dagestan rebellion, a
province that is twice the size of Chechnya. An August 13, 1999 NY Times
article (Carlotta Gall, "Dagestan Skirmish Is Big Russian Risk") outlines
the high stakes in the fight:

"For Russia, Dagestan retains an important strategic value. Dagestan
commands 70 percent of Russia's shoreline to the oil-producing Caspian Sea
and its only all-weather Caspian port at Makhachkala. It provides the
crucial pipeline links from Azerbaijan, where Russia maintains important
oil interests. Geographically placed between Chechnya and the Caspian and
Azerbaijan, it has served as a containing buffer, controlling the Chechens'
access to the outside world."

As this war unfolds, it would not be surprising if western human rights
organizations funded by people like George Soros will begin to publicize
atrocities against Dagestan freedom fighters. In this event, it will be
important for the left to retain a sense of proportion and solid class
instincts. If the recent war against Yugoslavia would indicate, imperialist
aggressions in the name of "human rights" are nothing new. They are, after
all, what accounted for the horrible slaughter of World War One and which
also precipitated the Zimmerwald Conference resistance. In the face of such
open bellicosity in pursuit of oil and privatization, it is incumbent upon
us in the international left to reinvigorate the Zimmerwaldist traditions.

Louis Proyect
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