European energy security continues to erode

The gradual Russian seizure of control of oil and natural gas routes from Central Asia to Europe has been a pet concern of mine in the aftermath of the Russo-Georgian war last summer. It is quite clear to me that the move had two intentions: to destabilize the most democratic country in the region in an effort to increase Moscow's control there, and to send a warning to energy producers in the region to transit their oil and natural gas supplies through Russia (rather than the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan route through Georgia and Turkey).

Yesterday proved that Russia's strategy is working beautifully. Arzu at Flying Carpets and Broken Pipelines gives it to us straight:
On March 27th, following SOCAR director Rovnaq Abdullayev's visit to Moscow, a MOU was signed between the two countries on long- term supplies for Central Asia gas to Russia at market prices. First deliveries are expected by January 2010.

Such bold step taken by Russia is simply a sign of the country's fear for losing its grip over the Caspian basin energy exports. Such an agreement also came as a blow to the EU.

According to Pavel Baev, a senior researcher at Oslo International Peace Research Institute, this new project, could make Nabucco irrelevant, given that Azerbaijan is the most likely gas supplier for Nabucco. Deviating Azerbaijan's gas from Nabucco will also result in reduction of the volume to be pumped available for the pipeline.

"The Azeri situation has significantly changed in the last nine months. The Russia- Georgia war increased Moscow's position in the South Caucasus and showed the relative weakness of the West. There have also been important developments in the policy of Turkey, Azerbaijan's strategic ally, in the region. The visible intensification of the relations between Ankara and Moscow, the proposal for increased cooperation of these two in the Caucasus, the change in Turkish- Armenian relations and rumors of the possibility of solving the NK conflict, led to a reshuffling of the geopolitical situation in the South Caucasus, diminishing the strength of the relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey and placing the pro- western Azerbaijan in a difficult situation" explained Loskot- Strachota, the energy policy analyst at the Centre of Eastern Studies in Warsaw.

There's so much going on here. Arzu is right to bring up the possibility of Azeri petulance over the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border (and see her insightful commentary here). The "Azeri connection," as it were, in the Turko-Armenian dispute remains largely hidden from the Western press -- indeed, I've seen no discussion at all of the ramifications of this move in the Western press whatsoever. The delicacy of this situation is tremendously important, however, and there is worrisomely little evidence that President Obama is taking this into consideration as he stumbles toward a formulation for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation.

Moreover, abject European cowardice on the Russo-Georgian war (and, it should be said, American refusal to do much) has not only left a potentially important ally, and bulwark against resurgent Russian influence in Central Asia, in the lurch at a critical moment; it has also undermined Central Asian confidence in the West and undermined its own energy security to boot. In refusing to take a stand on either the war itself or subsequent peacekeeping missions on the Abkhaz border, Europe left Russia with a greatly strengthened hand in the Caucasus and Central Asia. (And it's hardly surprising, in this context, that the US lost an important base in Kyrgyzstan in the wake of the Caucasian war.) The more oil and natural gas flows through Russia, the more likely Russia is to exacerbate issues with Ukraine -- thus not only further extending its imperial reach, but also increasing its power vis-a-vis Europe.

How much longer Europe, and America, can go on with eyes closed to this danger has yet to be seen -- but the longer we go on, the more the danger grows.