The Great Game for the Oil & Gas of the Caspian Region
September 26, 2001
President Bush’s “crusade” against the Taliban of Afghanistan has more to do with control of the immense oil and gas resources of the Caspian Basin than with “rooting our terrorism.” Once again an American president from the Bush family is leading Americans down an oil-rich Middle Eastern warpath against “enemies of freedom and democracy.”
The focus on religion-based terrorism serves to conceal important aspects of the Central Asian conflict. President Bush’s noble rhetoric about fighting for justice and democracy is masking a less noble struggle for control of an estimated $5 trillion of oil and gas resources from the Caspian Basin.
One of the material results of the elder Bush’s Desert Storm campaign in 1991 was to secure access to the huge Rumaila oil field of southern Iraq, which was accomplished by expanding the boundaries of Kuwait after the war. This allowed Kuwait, a former British protectorate where American and British oil companies are heavily invested, to double its prewar oil output.
The Trepca mine complex in Kosovo, one of the richest mines in Europe, was seized last year by front companies for George Soros and Bernard Kouchner, two members of the New World Order gang who devastated Serbia. A similar geopolitical strategy, influenced by Zionist planners, to control the valuable mineral resources of the Caspian Basin underlies the planned aggression against Afghanistan, a Central Asian nation that occupies a strategic position sandwiched between the Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
Central Asia has enormous quantities of undeveloped oil resources including 6.6 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, waiting to be exploited. The former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are the two major gas producers in Central Asia. Today, the only existing export routes from the area lead through Russia. Investors in Caspian oil and gas are interested in building alternative pipelines to Turkey and Europe, and especially to the rapidly growing Asian markets. India, Iran, Russia and Israel are working on a plan to supply oil and gas to south and south-east Asia through India but instability in Afghanistan is raising a great threat to this effort.
Afghanistan lies squarely between Turkmenistan, home to the world’s third largest natural gas reserves, and the lucrative markets of the Indian subcontinent, China and Japan. A memorandum of understanding has been signed to build a 900-mile natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan, but the ongoing civil war and absence of a stable government in Afghanistan have delayed the project. Afghanistan was at the center of the so-called “Great Game” in the 19th century when Imperial Russia and the British Empire in India vied for influence. Today, its geographical position as a potential route for oil and natural gas pipelines makes Afghanistan extremely important to energy magnates seeking control of these precious resources.
Enron, a Texas-based gas and energy company, together with Amoco, British Petroleum, Chevron, Exxon, Mobil and Unocal are all engaged in a multi-billion dollar frenzy to extract the reserves of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, the three newly independent Soviet republics that border on the Caspian Sea. An array of former cabinet members from the George H. Bush administration has been actively involved in negotiations with the former Soviet republics on behalf of the oil companies. The deal makers include James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, John Sununu and, notably, Dick Cheney, now vice president.
THE ISRAELI CONNECTION
Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are also closely allied with Israeli commercial interests and Israeli military intelligence. In Turkmenistan, a “former” Israeli intelligence agent, Yosef A. Maiman, president of Merhav Group of Israel, is the official negotiator and policy maker responsible for developing the energy resources of Turkmenistan.
“This is the Great Game all over,” Maiman told the Wall Street Journal about his role in furthering the “geopolitical goals of both the U.S. and Israel” in Central Asia. “We are doing what U.S. and Israeli policy could not achieve – controlling the product,” he said.
“Those who control the oil routes out of Central Asia will impact all future direction and quantities of flow and the distribution of revenues from new production,” said energy expert James Dorian in Oil & Gas Journal on Sept. 10.
Foreign business in Turkmenistan is dominated by Maiman’s Merhav Group, according to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA). Maiman, who was made a citizen of Turkmenistan by presidential decree, serves as Turkmenistan’s “official negotiator” for its gas pipeline, special ambassador, and “right-hand man” for the “authoritarian” President Saparmurad Atayevich Miyazov, a former Politburo member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
The Merhav Group of Israel officially represents the Turkmen government and has brokered all of the energy projects in Turkmenistan, contracts worth many billions of dollars. Merhav has been contracted to modernize existing natural gas infrastructure and will build new facilities in an oil refinery in the city of Turkmenbashi on the Caspian Sea. Merhav refuses to disclose its sources of financing. In keeping with Israeli political interests, Maiman’s planned pipelines bypass Iran and Russia. Maiman has said that he would have no objection to dealing with Iran, “when and if Israeli policy allows it.”
Iran has accused the United States of trying to keep regional pipelines from passing through Iran. Creating a counterbalance to Iran’s regional influence was a cornerstone of the Clinton administration, which was concerned that Iran could gain too much control over Caspian exports. “This is a common interest for the U.S. and Israel,” said Dr. Nimrod Novik, vice president of Merhav. “The primary interest is to prevent the development of Turkish strategic dependence on Iran, given the unique emerging strategic relationship between Turkey and Israel.”
Russia and Turkmenistan are in a battle to conquer the Turkish gas market, and the supplier that offers the best price will emerge as the winner. “This is a great race,” Maiman says, “Whoever takes Turkey first wins. Whoever comes second will have lean years.” Although the United States needs Russian assistance in its campaign against Afghanistan, when I asked Alex Chorine of Caspian Investor what kind of relationship existed between the Russian and Western/Israeli energy companies doing business in the Caspian Basin, Chorine said, “They act as enemies.”
One of Maiman’s proposed pipelines would bring Turkmenistan’s gas and oil to Turkey via Azerbaijan and Georgia. Maiman’s Merhav Group is also involved in a $100 million project that would reduce the flow of water to Iraq by diverting water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to southeastern Turkey.
Israeli officials boast of having “excellent relations” with Azerbaijan, where an Israeli company, Magal Security Systems, has a contract to provide security at Baku airport. Magal is one of several Israeli companies that will “turn Israel into a major player in Azerbaijan” by providing security for the 1,200 mile pipeline taking oil from the Caspian to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea.
Enron, the biggest contributor to the Bush campaign of 2000, conducted the feasibility study for a $2.5 billion trans-Caspian gas pipeline, which is being built under a joint venture agreement signed in February 1999 between Turkmenistan and two American companies, Bechtel and General Electric Capital Services. Maiman acted as the intermediary between the Turkmenistan and the U.S. firms, but won’t discuss “his cut” or whether he will receive a stake in the pipeline. The Merhav Group hired the Washington lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates and spent several million dollars to “encourage” U.S. officials to push for the trans-Caspian pipeline.
CRITICAL FOR WHOM?
During the Clinton administration, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson and “special adviser to the president” Richard Morningstan promoted the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, calling it “critical to the economic survival of Turkmenistan.” The relationship between Israel, Turkey and the United States is the major factor for the selection of the Baku-Ceyhan route, which could be extended to bring oil directly to energy-deficient Israel. Energy experts, however, question the wisdom and expense of this route. Companies are under pressure from the United States and Israel to invest in east-west pipelines, although most companies would prefer cheaper north-south pipelines through Iranian territory, according to WRMEA.
The U.S. firm Unocal was leading a pipeline project to bring Turkmenistan’s abundant natural gas through Afghanistan to the growing markets of Pakistan and India, until the turmoil in Afghanistan led them to withdraw from the project in 1998. The planned pipeline would carry gas from the Turkmen Dauletabad fields, among the world’s largest, to Multan in Pakistan, with a planned extension to India. The line from Dauletabad through Afghanistan is planned to transport 15 billion cubic feet of gas per year for 30 years. This pipeline is on hold until the political and military situations in Afghanistan improve.
There is a second Unocal project to build a 1,030-mile oil pipeline called the Central Asian Oil Pipeline Project, which would start at Chardzhou in Turkmenistan linking Russia’s Siberian oil field pipelines to Pakistan’s Arabian coast. This line could transport 1 million barrels a day of oil from other areas of the former Soviet Union. It would run parallel to the gas line route through Afghanistan and branch off in Pakistan to the Indian Ocean terminal in Ras Malan.
Before the sun set on the apocalyptic day that New York’s gleaming twin towers collapsed, the U.S. government had already decided to blame the attack on Osama Bin Laden, the Saudi-born guerrilla leader, and the Taliban government of Afghanistan which harbored him. Although the U.S. government did not present evidence in support of its case against Bin Laden, Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Sept. 23, “I think in the near future, we will be able to put out a paper, a document, that will describe quite clearly the evidence that we have linking him to this attack.”
When it was reported that the Taliban might turn Bin Laden over to face justice, the Bush administration said that surrendering Bin Laden would not prevent an American-led attack on Afghanistan. An international plan to remove the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban from power has been a subject of international diplomatic discussions for months and was reportedly raised by India during the Group of Eight summit in July in Genoa, Italy.
The Indian press reported in June that, “India and Iran will ‘facilitate’ U.S. and Russian plans for ‘limited military action’ against the Taliban if the contemplated tough new economic sanctions don’t bend Afghanistan’s fundamentalist regime.” The invasion plans described in the Indian press in June may come to pass in October: “Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will lead the ground attack with a strong military back up of the U.S. and Russian. Vital Taliban installations and military assets will be targeted.” The economic reasons for the multinational assault against the Taliban were explained: “Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan are threatened by the Taliban that is aiming to control their vast oil, gas, and other resources by bringing Islamic fundamentalists into power.”
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