by Imad Fawzi Shueibi (April 17th 2012)
The media and military attack against Syria is directly related to the global competition for energy, as explained by Professor Imad Shuebi in this masterful article. At a time when the euro area threatens to collapse, where an acute economic crisis has led the U.S. into a debt of up to 14 940 billion, and where their influence is dwindling in the face of the emerging BRICS powers, it becomes clear that the key to economic success and political domination lies mainly in the control of the energy source of the century: gas. It is because she is at the heart of the most colossal gas reserves in the world that Syria is being targeted. The wars of the last century were fought for oil, but a new era has dawned, that of wars for gas.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russians began to feel that the struggle for armament has exhausted them, especially in the absence of the necessary energy sources needed by any industrial country. The American presence in the oil zones for some decades enabled them to grow and have control over the international political decision without much struggle. Therefore, the Russians turned towards energy sources, be them oil or gas. Since the international apportionment does not bear much competition in oil sectors, Moscow sought to manipulate gas in the areas of gas production, transporting or marketing on a large scale.
The starting point was in 1995 when Putin set the strategy of Gasprom Co. to move within the area in which gas exists starting from Russia through Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Iran (for marketing) and the Middle East. Certainly, the projects of the Nord Stream and South Stream will be a historical order of merit/insignia given to Vladimir Putin for his efforts in bringing Russia back to the International arena and for tightening the grip on the European economy which will depend, for decades, on gas as an alternative for oil or depend on gas as well as oil, yet with prioritizing the first; i.e., gas. At this point, it was a must for Washington to hasten to create its peer project; Nabucco, to compete against the Russian project as to gain an international apportionment on the basis of which the next century will be politically and strategically determined.
Gas is the main source of energy in the twenty-first century whether as an alternative for oil, due to recession in oil reserves, or as a source of clean energy. Therefore, having control over the zones of gas reserves in the world is considered to be, for the old as well as modern powers, the basis of international Conflict in its regional manifestation.
Obviously, Russia well read the map and well learnt the lesson, for the lack of world energy resources that are needed to inject industrial institutions with money and energy, and which were not under the control of the Soviet Union, was the reason behind its collapse. Therefore, Russia learnt that the source of energy of the coming century; i.e., the 21st Century, was GAS.
An initial reading of the gas map reveals that gas locates in the following areas, in terms of quantity and access to consumption areas:
1. Russia: beginning with Vyborg and Beregvya.
2. Annexed to Russia: Turkmenistan.
3. The near and further roundabouts of Russia: Azerbaijan and Iran.
4. Captured from Russia: Georgia.
5. Eastern Mediterranean: Syria and Lebanon.
6. Qatar and Egypt.
Moscow hastened to work on two strategic lines; the first of which is setting up a Russian – Chinese (shanghai) century based on the economic growth of the Shanghai Bloc, on the one hand, and the control of gas resources, on the other hand.
Thus, Moscow set the grounds for two projects; the South Stream and the Nord (North) Stream in an attempt to face an American project that aimed at seizing the gas of the Black Sea and the gas of Azerbaijan; the Nabucco Project.
There is, then, a strategic race between two projects so as to have control over Europe and the gas resources.
• The American Project (Nabucco) which centres in Central Asia and the Black Sea and its surroundings. Its storage places are in Turkey while its path starts in Bulgaria, and moves through Romania, Hungary, Czech, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. It was due to pass through Greece, but this idea was ducked for the sake of Turkey.
• The Russian projects; the Nord and South Streams:
a) Nord Stream: It starts in Russia and goes directly to Germany, and from Weinberg to Sasnetz across the Baltic Sea without penetrating Belarus. This helped ease the American pressure there.
b) South Stream: It starts in Russia and moves towards the Black Sea and Bulgaria, then it goes into Greece and then goes towards South Italy, Hungary and Austria.
The Nabucco project was supposed to compete the two Russian projects, but due to technical problems the project was delayed until 2017 though it was scheduled in 2014. This resolved the race in favor of Russia, at this stage in particular, and urged for the search of supplementary areas supporting either project:
1) The Iranian gas which the U.S. insists on making supportive of the Nabucco gas pipeline in the sense that it passes parallelistically by Georgia’s gas pipeline (and Azerbaijan if possible) to reach an assembling point in Erzurum, Turkey. 2) Gas of the Eastern Mediterranean: Syria, Lebanon and Israel.
Iran took a decision the result of which was signing a number of agreements in July 2011 to transport gas through Iraq to Syria. These agreements make Syria the centre of assembly and production in conjunction with the reserves of Lebanon. This is a space of strategy and energy that geographically opens for the first time and extends from Iran to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Though it was banned and was not allowed for a length of years, it now shows the degree of struggle over Syria and Lebanon at this phase, and shows the emerging role of France that considers the Eastern Mediterranean as a historical region of influence and everlasting interests. The French role now goes along with the French absence ever since the World War II. In other words, France wants to have a role in the world of (gas) from which it has gained (a health insurance) in Libya and wants to gain (a life insurance) in both Syria and Lebanon.
Now, Turkey feels it is going to be lost amid the struggle for gas as long as the Nabucco project is late. At the time when the Nord and South Streams exclude Turkey, the latter knows quite well that the gas of the Eastern Mediterranean has become at a distance from the influence of Nabucco, and so has Turkey.
History of the Game:
For the Nord and South Stream Projects, Moscow established the company of Gazprom in the early 1990s. Remarkably, Germany who wanted to escape, once and for all, the repercussions of the World War II, prepared itself to be a party to the project and a partner of it, as well, whether in terms of establishment, end of the north pipeline or the storage places of the south Stream in the Germanic roundabouts, especially Austria.
Gazprom was founded with the cooperation of Hans-Joachim Gornig; Moscow’s German friend, who was a former vice president of the German Oil and Gas Industrial Company and who supervised the construction of the pipeline network of GDR. The one who headed Gazprom until October 2011 was Vladimir Kotenev who was a former Russian ambassador to Germany.
The Company of Gazprom signed qualitative and easy transactions with German companies, on top of which comes the companies cooperating with the Nord Stream as the giant (E.ON) company for energy, and the giant (BASF) for chemicals where the (E.ON) gets preferences to buy amounts of gas at the expense of Gazprom when gas prices go up. This is considered to be a kind of (political) support of the German energy companies.
Moscow benefited from the liberalization of the European gas markets monopoly to force those markets to disconnect the distribution networks from production facilities. These clashes between Russia and Berlin turn a page of historic hostility to start a new phase of cooperation on the basis of economy as well as repudiation of a heavy weight put on Germany’s shoulders; i.e., the heavy weight of the debt-overburdened Europe that is under the thumb of the U.S. Germany considers that the Germanic Group; Germany, Austria, Czech and Switzerland, has the priority in being the core of Europe, but it should not bear the consequences of the aging of a continent nor the fall of another giant.
Gazprom’s German ventures include its Wingas joint venture with Wintershall, a subsidiary of BASF which is Germany’s largest oil and gas producer and controls 18% of the gas market. Gazprom has given its top German partners unrivaled stakes in its Russian assets. BASF and E.ON each control almost one-quarter of the Yuzhno-Russkoye gas fields that will provide most of the supplies for Nord Stream at a time, which is not a mere coincidence or simulation, when the peer of Gazprom in Germany; called “The Germanic Gazprom”, expands to own 40% of the Austrian Centrex Co. specialized in gas storage. The latter has qualitative expansion into Cyprus; an expansion with which Turkey may not be contented.
Turkey dearly misses assuming a tardy role in the Nabucco Gas Company whereby it is supposed to start storing, marketing and transferring about (31) billion m³ of gas which can go up to (40) billion m³ – at a later stage – in a project that makes Ankara more and more subjugated to the Washington and Nato decisions without having the right to insist on joining the European Union that has rejected it several times.
As a matter of fact, the strategic ties through gas become even more strategic in politics where Moscow lobbies effective on the Social Democratic Party of Germany in North-Rhine Westphalia; the major industrial base that is home to the RWE (Neurath power plant) for electricity utilities and E.ON subsidiary.
Such an influence is recognized by the head of energy policies in the Green Party; Hans Joseph Fell, that four German companies related to Russia play a role in formulating the German Energy Policy through a very complicated network that lobbies ministers and manipulates the Public Opinion via the Eastern European Economic Relations Committee that represents German companies and has close business relations in Russia and countries of the Former Soviet Union Bloc.
Therefore, there is an indispensible silence on the part of Germany vis-à-vis the accelerating Russian influence. This silence is based on the necessity to improve the so-called “Energy Security” in Europe.
Remarkably, Germany now considers the policy of (easing and pacifying) suggested by the European Union to cover the Euro crisis would hinder the Russian – German investments for a long time. This reason, together with other reasons – stand behind the German dawdling in saving the euro laden with European debts. However, it should be taken into consideration that Germany and its Germanic bloc can bear those debts alone.
Every time Europeans oppose Germany and its policy regarding Russia, Berlin asserts that the Europe’s Utopian plans are unenforceable and may push Russia to sell its gas in Asia. This will, definitely, eighty-six the energy security in Europe.
This Russian – German engagement was not simple when Putin could employ the legacy of the Cold War regarding the presence of three million Russian-speakers living in Germany who comprised the second largest group after the Turks. He was also adept at employing a network of Eastern German officials who had been recruited to look after the interests of the Russian companies in Germany, let alone recruiting a number of ex-Eastern German State Security Service agents (ex-Stasi agents) including Gazprom Germania’s director of personnel and its director of finance, and director of finance of the Nord Stream Consortium Matthias Warnig who the Wall Street Journal reported as having helped Putin recruit spies in the Eastern – Germany City of Dresden when Putin was a young KGB operative.
To be fair, Russia’s employment of its former relations was not unripe; rather, it was for the benefit of Germany as a whole. That made the clash between the two countries not possible as long as interests were attained by both parties without having one dominating the other.
The Nord Stream Project, the major link between Russia and Germany, has been inaugurated recently with pipeline cost of 4.7 billion euros. Although the Nord Stream Pipeline links Russia and Germany, Europeans’ recognition that such a project would be part of the Energy Security made France and Holland hasten to declare it a European project. In this regard, it is good to mention that Lindner of the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations said without hesitation that it was a European not a German project and that they would not lock Germany into greater dependence on Russia. Such a declaration indicates the apprehension of the expanding Russian influence in Germany; however, the project of the Nord Stream, in structure, represents Moscow’s plan not the EU’s.
Russians can cripple energy distribution to Poland and other countries the way they like and will be able to sell gas to whoever pays more. However, the importance of Germany to Russia lies, practically, in the fact that it constitutes a platform from which to launch its strategy across the continent where Gazprom Germania has stakes in twenty-five joint projects in Britain, Italy, Turkey, Hungary and other countries. This – actually – leads us to say that Gazprom will – after a while – become one of the largest companies of the world if not the largest.
Not only did Gazprom leaders build this project, they also tried to interfere in the Nabucco Project that will – as aforementioned – be delayed until 2017, taking into consideration that the latter constitutes a serious challenge. Therefore, Gazprom – which owns 30% of a project designed for building a second major huge pipeline that reaches Europe roughly along Nabucco’s route; a project even Gazprom supporters call “political” – began a political auctioneering to show its muscles by stopping Nabucco or crippling it.
Nevertheless, Moscow hastened to buy up gas in Central Asia and the Caspian in a bid to starve Nabucco at the same time it is ridiculing Washington politically, economically and strategically.
Outlining Europe’s and – later – the world’s Map:
Gazprom operates gas facilities in Austria; i.e., facilities in the strategic Germanic roundabouts. It also leases facilities in Britain and France. However, the growing number of storage facilities in Austria will be the basis for drawing the energy map of Europe since it is going to provide the Slovenian, Slovakian, Croatian, Hungarian, Italian and somewhat German benefiting from a newly-established a repository called (Katrina) which Gazprom builds in cooperation with Germany with the aim of exporting gas to the hubs of Western Europe.
Gazprom established a joint storage facility with Serbia to export gas to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia itself. Feasibility studies have been conducted on similar storage ventures in the Czech Republic, Romania, Belgium, Britain, Slovakia, Turkey, Greece and even France. Such a venture, on the part of Gazprom, strengthens Moscow’s position as a provider of 41% of Europe’s needed supplies of gas. This, undoubtedly, means an substantial change in the relations between the East and the West in the short, mid and long runs. It also indicates an ebb in the American influence or a collision being prepared to along with considering the missile shield to establish a new world order where gas is the most essential pillar of its formation. This is a clear indication of the heating struggle in the Middle East over gas of the Eastern Coast of the Mediterranean.
Nabucco in a tight spot:
Nabucco was conceived to funnel gas 3,900 kilometers from Turkey to Austria and was designed to carry 31 bcm of natural gas annually from the Middle East and the Caspian region to markets in Europe. The Nato-American-French hastening towards decisively ending all matters in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Lebanon in a way that harmonizes with their interests, lies in the necessity to maintain calm situations supporting the investment and transportation of gas. Syria responded by signing a contract that aims at transferring gas from Iran to Syria passing by Iraq. As a matter of fact, it is the very Syrian and Lebanese gas that is the focal point of the struggle that aims at annexing it either to the Nabucco gas reserves or Gazprom, thus, the South Stream.
The consortium of Nabucco consists of the German energy companies REW, Austrian OML, Turkish Botas, Bulgarian Energy Holding Company and Romanian Transgaz.
Five years ago, the initial costs of the rival project of Gazprom were estimated to be $ 11.2 billion and the project was expected to have lesser prices than the Russian one. The costs could drive up to reach $ 21.4 billion by 2017. This raises many questions about the viability of this economic project in particular taking into consideration that Gazprom has had enough deals in various regions in an attempt to encompass Nabucco that would feed on the surplus capacity of the gas of Turkmenistan, especially when we know that the ineffective pursuit of the Iranian gas precludes the possibility of achieving the Nabucco dream. This is, in fact, one of the unknown secrets of the struggle over Iran that has gone too far into defiance by choosing Iraq and Syria to be routes for its gas transport, or – at least – part of that route.
Thus, Nabucco’s best hope lies in gas supplies from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz 2 field which would almost be the only source of a project that seems to be stumbling from the very beginning. This manifests in the accelerating deals and in Moscow’s success in buying the sources of Nabucco, on the one hand, and the hardships encountered in achieving geopolitical changes in Iran and the Mediterranean (Syria and Lebanon), on the other hand. This comes at a time in which Turkey hastens to claim a share in the Nabucco Project either through signing a contract with Azerbaijan to buy 6 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas in 2017 or trying to lay hands on Syria and Lebanon with the aim of hampering the transfer of Iranian oil or receiving a share of the Lebanese or Syrian gas affluence (or Syria and Lebanon altogether). The race towards occupying a position in the New World Order escalates through gas and other things ranging from small military services to the strategic domes of the missile shield.
Perhaps what poses a threat to Nabucco most is Russia’s attempt to ditch it through negotiating over more advantageous and competitive contracts of gas supplies in favor of Gazprom’s Nord and South Streams, hampering, thus, any effort to endow the United States and Europe with any kind of influence, politics and energy wise, whether in Iran or the Mediterranean. Moreover, Gazprom could be one of the most important investors or operators of the new gas fields in Syria or Lebanon. The date of August 16, 2011 was not randomly chosen by the Syrian Ministry of Oil to announce the discovery of a gas well in the Area of Qarah in the Central Region of Syria near Homs. The well has the capacity of producing 400.000 cubic metres a day (146 million cubic metres a year). However, the Syrian Ministry of Oil did not breathe a syllable about the Mediterranean Gas.
The Nord and South Streams lessened the importance of the American policy that appeared to be lagging behind. However, the sings of detest between the states of Central Europe and Russia have ebbed, but Poland does not seem to be dragging out of the play soon, nor does the US seem to be willing to retreat since it announced in late October 2011 the shift in the energy policies after the discovery of coal mines in Europe which will lessen dependence on Russia … and the Middle East. This seems to be a far-reaching or long-term goal due to the fact that there is a number of procedures to be taken before starting commercial production of coal. This coal can be attained from unconventional sources in the rocks found at thousands of feet underground by using the techniques of rock fracturing and the hydraulic fracturing of high pressure water. Those techniques are used to pump liquids and sand into a well to release gas. This issue, however, is coated with environmental risks due to the impacts of the fracturing techniques on water reserves.
Sino-Russian cooperation in the field of energy is the power orienting the Sino-Russian strategic partnership. This is, in fact, what experts point to as the “base” for the double veto in the UNSC that came in favour of Syria.
Cooperation in the energy field is what lubricates the acceleration of the partnership between the two giants. It is not only a matter of gas supplies with preferences to China but it is a process that urges China to participate in gas distribution through selling new assets and facilities, in addition to attempting to have joint control over the executive administrations of the gas distribution networks where Moscow currently shows resilience in prices of gas supplies provided that they are allowed to access the local Chinese markets because of the profits there. It was agreed, thus, on that Russian and Chinese experts could work together in the following domains:
“coordinating energy strategies in Russia and china; predicting and outlining prospective scenarios; and developing market infrastructure, energy efficiency and sources of alternative energy”.
Despite cooperation in the field of energy, there are other strategic interests that represent in the mutual Chinese – Russian conception of the risks of the American so-called project “Missile Shield”. Not only has Washington involved Japan and South Korea in the Missile Shield, but it has also sent an invitation to India in early September 2011 to be a partner in the very project. Moscow’s concerns intersect with Beijing’s as regards Washington’s moves to revive the Strategy of Central Asia; i.e., the Silk Road. This project is the same as that initiated by George Bush (Greater Central Asia Project) to roll back Russia and China’s influence in Central Asia in collaboration with Turkey to resolve the situation in Afghanistan by 2014 so as to arrange for the Nato influence there. There are increasing allusions from Uzbekistan to play host of the Nato for such a project. Here, Vladimir Putin estimates that what can foil the Western invasion on Russia’s back scenes in Central Asia will be the expansion of the joint Russian-Kazakhstani-Belarusian economic space in cooperation with Beijing.
This image of the international struggle mechanisms allows access to see one side of the process of the New World Order Formation based on struggling for military influence and on holding the backbone of age; namely, energy, on top of which comes gas.
The Gas of Syria:
As Israel started oil and gas extraction, it was clear that the basin of the Mediterranean had entered the game and that Syria was either to be attacked or that the whole region was going to enjoy peace since the twenty-first century was the century of clean energy.
What we know about this issue is that the Mediterranean basin is the wealthiest in gas and that Syria would be the wealthiest state, according to the Washington Institute which also speculates that struggle between Turkey and Cyprus would heat due to Ankara’s inability to bear its losses of the Nabucco gas despite the contract Moscow signed with Ankara on December 2011 to transport part of the South Stream gas via Turkey.
Embracing the secret of the Syrian gas will let all know how big the game over gas is. Who controls Syria could control the Middle East, grip on the Gateway to Asia, possess the Key to Russia’s House, as Catherine 2nd put it, and could set foot on the Silk Road, according to China. Most importantly, they who could penetrate Syria for gas have the ability to dominate the world especially that the coming century is the Century of Gas. And with the contract Damascus signed to transport Iranian gas to the Mediterranean through Iraq, the geopolitical space would open and the gas space would close on the scene of Nabucco that used to be Europe and Turkey’s lifeline. Syria, undoubtedly, would be the key to the coming epoch.