Vladimir Putin and the global realignment
Date: Wednesday, January 12 @ 00:57:55 UTC
By Mike Whitney, smirkingchimp.com
"Russia revealed it was fitting its strategic bombers with cruise missiles capable of delivering a massive precision strike thousands of miles away--giving away the first clear hint of its post-Cold War military strategy."
Putin's fall from grace has been swift and steep. He's gone from the White House penthouse to the Crawford chicken coop in just a matter of weeks. The man who George Bush affectionately refers to as "Pootie-poot" is no longer the trusted ally and bosom companion he was in the first four years of the Bush regime. Instead, Washington is reassessing its connection to the Russian president and reshaping its foreign policy to fit the new developments.
On the surface, the Bush administration is limiting its criticism to Putin's increasingly autocratic behavior; foreclosing on regional elections, shutting down the free press, and upsetting the results of the Ukrainian election. The press has taken a similarly strident approach; offering hard-edged recriminations of his "authoritarian" and anti-democratic actions. It's all twaddle. The US would prefer to do business with tyrants and has offered its tacit support to nearly every despot on the planet.
Putin's vanishing popularity had nothing to do with his tightening grip on state power or his dictatorial behavior. What bothers the administration is Putin's determination to maintain control over Russia's vital resources, his growing resistance to US expansion in central Asia, and his development of high-tech nuclear weapons.
Reasserting State control over vital Resources
Putin rose to power with a broad mandate to clean up the economic system by targeting the "oligarchs"; the seven Russian billionaires who purloined most of Russia's mineral, industrial and media wealth at bargain-basement prices. His ineffectual and (oftentimes) inebriated predecessor Yeltsin gave away the nations crown jewels in a fire-sale that Western capitalists celebrated as a "positive step towards democracy". By all standards it was a dismal failure. Unemployment soared, pensions were cut, food shortages increased, the health care system collapsed and the ruble crashed. Unrestricted, deregulated capital reared its head and the Russian economy floundered aimlessly in recession. The IMF dispatched its neo-liberal goons to assist in the "transition to a market-based economy"; a euphemism for the wanton plundering of public assets and a precipitous decline into unsustainable debt. They applied the same "structural readjustment, privatization, supply-side" mumbo-jumbo that has plagued third-world countries across the globe. Its affects on the Russian economy were as catastrophic as they have been everywhere else.
The country was in virtual meltdown when Putin took the helm. His attack on the oligarchs wrested power back to the state, but it was also lambasted in the West as a march towards tyranny. Not surprisingly, no similar qualms were registered when Putin was hammering Groznyy mercilessly, killing thousands in the process. The selective indignation of the press is geared more towards outrage at financial meddling than it is at the mere murder of innocents.
When oligarch, Mikail Khodorkovsky (Russian oil magnate) decided to use his illicit billions to fiddle the political system, Putin tossed him in the Gulag, where he remains today. Khodorkovsky tried to transfer ownership of Russia's largest oil company Yukos to friends in Israel and put American businessmen in charge of overall operations. It was a clear strategy to shift control of Russia's greatest natural resource to outside of the country. ( "Think for a moment what might have happened if the Yukos owners had managed to sell control of their company last July to Chevron-Texaco or Mobil, as Khodorkovsky intended - Russia as an independent oil exporter would have been on its way to a level of independence that is less than Aramco, the Saudi oil company" John Helmer; Asia Times) Putin responded by arresting him and putting Yukos under state control. In other words, he acted in the public interest. In a century of scarce resources, the Heads-of-State don't have the luxury of allowing ravenous tycoons to abscond with their oil. (If Yukos had been sold to Mobil, Russian oil would have been shipped to the US west Coast rather than Asia. This may explain the administration's displeasure with Putin.)
Putin's actions raised a few eyebrows in Washington. The plot to put Russian oil (now amounting to approximately 10% of world output) in western hands had been temporarily foiled and Putin has shown that he's willing to take strong measures to preserve Russia's natural wealth. (Would anyone blame Venezuela's Chavez if he took similar action?) This, of course, is anathema to the Bush dogma, which defines "freedom" as the amount of wealth that can be successfully navigated into the pockets of the upper 1%. For them, carpet bagging is proof-positive that God pervades the ether. Theft is His Divine injunction. America's Imperial designs on Central Asia
Though Putin is slowly rebuilding the Russian economy, his friendship with Bush has been costly. Behind the jocular cowboy shtick, Bush has cleverly used 9-11 to affect political changes throughout the Caucasus; setting up bases in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Washington has quietly achieved its goal of surrounding Russia and alienating the Kremlin from its former satellites. The new arrangement has also meant lucrative oil deals for American energy giants and the prospects of developing future pipeline routes that will be critical in the coming century. (The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceylon pipeline is anticipated to be up and running by 2005).
As the bases have gone up, Putin has grown more and more agitated, sometimes lashing out angrily at the administration. (Two weeks ago he called Bush's behavior "dictatorial") He is surrounded by the "old guard" who see US ambitions as a noose that is tightening around Russia's neck. The borders are now littered with American bases and Russia's sphere of influence is steadily shrinking. The attempt by Bush to tip the Ukraine election in America's favor (by pumping $650 million into the campaign) has succeeded, but it has sent up a red flag at the Kremlin. Now, Russia can't budge. American cat's paw NATO will be at Moscow's back door and access to the resource-rich Caspian may be cut off.
Putin has been moving quickly to counter the sudden projection of American power into the region. Secretly, he has been developing a new generation of high-tech weaponry to ward off the encroaching American onslaught.
Moscow; AFP reports: "Russia revealed it was fitting its strategic bombers with cruise missiles capable of delivering a massive precision strike thousands of miles away--giving away the first clear hint of its post-Cold War military strategy." And, that's not all. These long-range conventional cruise missiles are attached to intercontinental bombers would be capable of penetrating US defense systems. Putin also announced on Dec 6, that Russia had successfully tested a "hypersonic intercontinental missile that uses cruise missile technology to zigzag and avoid being shot down once it re-enters the earth's atmosphere...Russia also announced that it was making its most feared and powerful trans-Atlantic missile mobile within the next two years." (AFP)
"Mobile nukes", "hypersonic intercontinental missiles", and, apparently, more surprises in the very near future. Russia is tooling up for war in a major way.
The western media has completely ignored these developments, but there's no disputing that American national security is gravely affected by the Russian nuclear built-up. For all practical purposes, George Bush has single-handedly restarted the Cold War and hastened the growth of newer and more lethal nuclear weapons. America's expansionist activities in central Asia have created a standoff that has the potential for disaster.
It appears that Putin was never seriously duped by Bush. The boorish displays of male comradely and Texas bravado were lost on the KGB alumna. The announcement of these new weapons systems implies that Putin must have begun work on them soon after Bush withdrew from the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) treaty. Trust in Bush never clouded Putin's judgment; he went straight from his "soul-mate's" retreat in Crawford to the Russian weapons-production facility. Global Realignment: Russia-China Axis?
In a December 16, article, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern stated that China and Russia have entered into an agreement for "substantial military exercises on Chinese territory in 2005" and that "Sino-Russian strategic coordination has attained an unprecedentedly high level". This is yet another sign that America's intrusion into central Asia is causing concern. Both China and Russia understand Washington's game and are building their alliances accordingly. Now we're faced with two major regional powers "ganging up" on the new kid on the block. This doesn't augur well for the Bush team. Russia can do a great deal to address China's energy needs and they can also provide them with deadly weapons systems. Central Asia is rapidly shaping up to be the most volatile area on the planet.
Ironically, a confrontation between the East and West may occur in the Middle East rather than in Asia. Russia has important contracts with Iran for developing nuclear plants and for oil exploration. They've also doubled their shipments of oil being transported via the Caspian and through Iran from last year. Similarly, China just signed a massive $200 billion deal with Iran for oil, natural gas and pipeline development. These deals may have a dramatic affect on the decisions that are currently being made in the Oval Office. China's negotiations with Iran have been accompanied by escalating rhetoric from the White House. It's clear that Bush and Co. feel that military action may be their only opportunity to control Iranian oil. Without that oil, both the American economy (which is underwritten by $7 trillion of debt) and the dollar are headed for the dumpster. The future management of the global economy depends in large part on who controls the flow of oil from Iraq and Iran. Despite the ludicrous claims of "fighting terrorism" or "spreading democracy", the underlying reality is not hard to grasp. The hand on the oil spigot, rules the world. (Note: the Atlantic Monthly confirms that the Pentagon has already simulated an invasion of Iran)
We're entering a new period of global instability. The post-war system of alliances is crumbling and the centers of power are shifting like tectonic plates. America's "go-it-alone", preemptive strategy has put the dominoes in motion and everywhere nations are retrenching. In many ways, this leaves the US with very little room to maneuver. If China tires of our saber-rattling and stops buying US bonds, the dollar will certainly crash. Similarly, if Putin decides to counter American moves in Ukraine or Iran by switching to the Euro, the shock-waves would be felt around the globe. (As this is being written officials at the central banks of both Russia and Indonesia said that their banks were considering reducing the share of dollars in their reserves. Even more alarming were reports that China's central bank may have trimmed its purchases of American Treasury bonds) America's recklessness has undoubtedly convinced many of the worlds leaders that it can no longer be trusted as a responsible guardian of the global economic system. The actions of China and Russia are probably just the first of many shots over America's bow. The empire's vulnerabilities will become more apparent as time goes by. Proliferation, realignment and economic sabotage are three salient signs that US plans face stormy seas ahead. It looks like Putin may figure prominently in whatever crisis America will meet in the very near future.
Note: "For a decade Washington has backed the Turkish and Azerbaijan governments to steer the export of Caspian region crude oil away from Russia. Russia's newest riposte has been to ally the Russian and Iranian oil industries, and open up the shortest, cheapest and most lucrative oil route of all, southwards out of the Caspian to Iran." (John Helmer) This route poses the greatest imaginable threat to the Bush administrations plans for controlling the transport of oil from the Caspian Basin. The administration's covert involvement in the fraudulent Azerbaijan elections, their clandestine role in the coup in the Republic of Georgia ("Rose Revolution") and, of course, the war in Iraq have all been focused on the ultimate goal of controlling the vast resources of the Caspian region. The Russian-Iranian connection poses a serious challenge to those aims.) Read "Putin's Hands on the Oil Pumps" by John Helmer, Asia Times for an excellent analysis of the current dilemma.