Posted by: russiaoilandgas | August 14, 2007

Don’t Get Overheated on Prospects of a New Cold War

putin russia russian west oil gas diplomacy cold warIt’s reasonable to say that Russia’s rediscovery of assertive diplomacy has caused its fair share of hysteria and alarm in the West. These days, hardly a day goes by when one of the British, American or Australian media outlets doesn’t run a negative story about Russia. Whether it’s Russia’s propensity to use its oil and gas resources as leverage to get it’s way, the independence (more specifically, the lack of independence) of the judiciary and media, the antics of Nashi – Russia’s politicized youth movement – or the Litvinenko affair, there’s always some easy target for a slothful  journalist to turn into a ‘New Cold War’ article.

To be sure, modern Russia is not a liberal utopia radiating benevolence and enlightenment to the rest of the world; and it’s fair to say that there are aspects of contemporary Russia that should concern the diplomats, realpolotik acolytes and liberal advocates alike. But we at Oil and Gas Eurasia believe the ‘New Cold War’ is more lazy journalism than real danger. Pat Davis Symczak tells us why in this excellent article.

If you aspire to be a great writer and you have a great editor, you both know to keep cliché out of your narratives. So please, hit the “delete ” key when those voices in your head urge you to type the phrase “New Cold War ” in that next story about Russia. As a reader, I ’m ready to throw up!

This week, The Guardian newspaper, in writing about Britain ’s expulsion of Russian diplomats over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko made the observation: “Emotions are bubbling, the temperature is rising and people are already talking about a return to the Cold War.” How often do we read or hear this from reporters on both sides of the Atlantic these days?

I have a university degree in International Relations. But I don ’t think you need one to understand that today ’s world is different from what it was during the Cold War. The Cold War was a bloodless continuation of the Second World War. Nazism fell, then Communism. The Bipolar, predictable world we lived in 20 years ago is no more. Today, a Superpower stands alone in the world and we all live with more uncertainty than we care to admit. So, since we ’re helpless to understand what is going on around us, let alone able to do anything about it, we conjure up ghosts of past systems that give us comfort. We understand those ghosts and they ’re friendly.

Today, we live in a “Post 911 World” (sorry for the cliché but if you have to use one, it ’s more accurate.) The West doesn’t know who its enemies and neither does Russia (which incidentally is thought of as more of a Western country than an Eastern country, despite its blending of both cultures.) Terrorism is the enemy today and terrorist attacks may come not just from the outside but also from within, perpetrated by even the “native born”, as Britons and Russians especially understand. Economic competition comes from out of Asia, and in particular China.

Yes, Russia is scary. It controls the largest natural gas reserves in the world, the largest offshore Arctic hydrocarbon deposits, and in terms of oil it, out produces Saudi Arabia. But in a fight,that ’s someone you want on your side – as we had in both world wars in the first half of the 20th century.

What gets the West so angry these days is that Russia is now in a position to demand a partnership of equals, and the West doesn’t like the back talk. The West was overly condescending in the wake of the Soviet breakup and now it has to show humility. That ’s embarrassing. So what do you do if you can ’t get your way by negotiation? You punch the other guy in the nose! Or if you ’re a country, you cancel the visas of a few of the other side ’s diplomats and escort them to the airport, or you declare war.

The Guardian was “man enough” to actually admit the obvious in print. And while I began this tirade with a kick at their use of the phrase “Cold War”, I’d like to quote what else they wrote in their July 16,2007 article headlined “A Radioactive Relationship” found at
“Our own rhetoric is misjudged too. We accuse the Russians of playing politics with energy and pipelines, as if the Americans had never prevented Western oil companies from building pipelines through Iran. We deplore President Putin’s moratorium on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (although the West has not ratified it), as though the Americans had not first denounced the Anti-Ballistic Missile Agreement. We deplore the Russian refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the alleged perpetrator of the crime, even though their constitution does not permit it. At the same time, we tell them that we cannot extradite Boris Berezovsky, the former Russian businessman now living in London, because our courts won ’t allow it. The Russians call all that double standards. They have a point.”

I thought the same thing when Russia suggested the use of Soviet era radar systems in Azerbaijan to protect against missile attacks from Iran and elsewhere to the South.
Azerbaijan is an independent country, it is perceived to be friendly to the West. It ’s no secret that Azerbaijan has occasionally hinted that it would like to be a part of NATO. It ’s oil and gas assets are being developed for the most part by BP. So, why have our (I say “our” speaking as a Westerner) defensive hardware in Poland and Czech Republic? It sure looks like we think that Russia is the enemy. But since I’m from Chicago, I’m thinking there is a less dramatic reason – money! Open your dictionary of American Political Life and look under the letter “P” for “Pork Barrel”.

A “Pork Barrel Project” is a reward for political loyalty. It is a government-funded project that creates jobs and fosters economic development. This makes politicians popular with voters and the politicians stay in office. I think I may be expelled from Chicago’s Polish neighborhood next time I visit my hometown, but I can’t help but seeing this all as nothing but a big “pork roast” that will go over well with the aging political constituency that thrives on Cold War nostalgia.

Even The Guardian agrees that ultimately we all “follow the money.” Consider the closing paragraph of the article I quoted earlier: “David Milliband says he does not want to damage the broader relationship: we (British) and the Russians have too many interests in common. He is right. But there will be storms ahead for some months before we get back to business as usual, as we always do.” (Underline added by OGE.)

Originally posted on


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