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Showdown in Ukraine: Putin’s Quest for Ports, Oil, Pipelines and Gas

Showdown in Ukraine: Putin’s Quest for Ports, Oil, Pipelines and Gas.

By Claude Salhani | Tue, 25 March 2014 22:44 | 6

Yes, Russia is guilty of meddling in Ukraine, but then again so are the United States and the European Union. The major difference is that far less was said and much less reported by the international media over the Americans’ and Europeans’ interference than of Russia’s actions and the reactions it caused.

Where Russia is involved many in the West believe that one only needs to scratch the surface to see traces of the old Soviet Union begin to resurface. After all, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a former KGB officer. The truth is much more complicated than that: or perhaps somewhat simpler.

The Cold War that divided the East and West maybe over but the old rivalry still lingers. The rivalry between the West and Russia is no longer one over diverging political philosophies, but purely over resources – and the capitalistic gains they produce from mainly oil, gas and pipelines.

The West and in particular the United States seems to be suffering from collective memory disorder and have forgotten all the mud they slapped onto Putin’s face during the past 15 or so years. Or at least they expected him to forget and forgive.

Related Article: Ukraine – Full Circle to the EU Integration Issue

But then again Russian troops did move in to grab control of Crimea, taking over the territory from the Ukrainians. You can counter that argument by pointing to the US and NATO, who not only interfered, but swallowed former Soviet domains bringing them into the North Atlantic alliance, pushing NATO closer to Russia’s borders.

Yes, Russia needs access to warm water ports for its Black Sea fleet and many analysts also believe that this is a major issue of concern for Moscow, which it is. But the plot, as they say, thickens.

There is also another reason for Putin’s intervention in Ukraine and that has to do with Russia elbowing for dominance of the very lucrative and strategically important “energy corridors.”
That is very likely to be the major reason why Putin is willing to risk going to war with the West over Crimea, the pipelines that traverses the Caucasus and the oil and natural gas these pipelines carry westwards to Europe.

Given the geography of the region there are only so many lanes where the pipelines can be laid; and most of them transit through Ukraine. Others travel across Azerbaijan and Turkey. Most of Western Europe’s gas and much of Eastern Europe’s gas travels through Ukraine.

If Russia has vested interest in “recolonizing” Ukraine, the United States on the other hand has its own interests in Ukraine and other former Soviet areas.

What is going on today is nothing short of a race for control of what’s going to dominate the energy markets over the next two or three decades: the energy corridors from Central Asia, the Caucuses and through Russia and Ukraine.

As stated in a report published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, “the proclamation of independence, the adoption of state symbols and a national anthem, the establishment of armed forces and even the presence on Ukrainian territory of nuclear missiles—all important elements of independent statehood—amount little if another power, Russia, controls access to fuel without which Ukraine cannot survive economically.

Related Article: This Week in Energy: How Would LNG Get to Ukraine?

That same report denotes that “Ukraine’s strategic location between the main energy producers (Russia and the Caspian Sea area) and consumers in the Eurasian region, its large transit network, and its available underground gas storage capacities,” make the country “a potentially crucial player in European energy transit” – a position that will “grow as Western European demands for Russian and Caspian gas and oil continue to increase.”

Ukraine’s dependence on Russian energy imports has had “negative implications for US strategy in the region.”

As long as Russia controls the flow of oil and gas it has the upper hand. Russia’s Gazprom currently controls almost a fifth of the world’s gas reserves.

More than half of Ukraine’s and nearly 30% of Europe’s gas comes from Russia.  Moscow wants to try and keep things going its way; Washington and Brussels find it in their interests to try and alter that by creating multiple channels for central Asian and Caspian oil to flow westwards.
Ukraine today finds itself in the center of the new East-West dispute.

Ironically, the very assets that make Ukraine an important player in the new geopolitical game being played out between Washington and Moscow is also its greatest disadvantage.

By Claude Salhani of Oilprice.com

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Bit Tooth Energy: Tech Talk – Natural Gas, China and Russia in the post-Crimea time.

Bit Tooth Energy: Tech Talk – Natural Gas, China and Russia in the post-Crimea time..

TUESDAY, MARCH 25, 2014

The recent takeover of Crimea by Russia has given China a strengthened hand as it continues to negotiate with Gazprom over the supplies of natural gas for the next few years.

It was not that long ago that Gazprom was riding high around the world, as it supplied large quantities of its own and Turkmen gas to Europe, and was negotiating to sell more into China and Asia in general. Then Turkmenistan and China arranged their own deal, and with the construction of a direct pipeline between the two countries, suddenly the market was no longer running entirely Gazprom’s way. They could no longer mandate that Turkmenistan take the price that they offered at the time that Russia controlled all the pipelines that carried the gas to market. And with that change, and the changing natural gas market, so Gazprom’s fortunes have started to teeter.

At the same time the anticipated Russian market in the United States, which would have been supplied from newly developed Russian Artic reserves such as those in the Shtokman field are no longer needed, as the American shale gases have come onto the market in increasing quantities. The world has, in short, become a somewhat less favorable place for Gazprom and the Chinese have hesitated to commit to a further order of natural gas, in part because they anticipate getting a better deal for the fuel than Gazprom would like them to pay.

Russia would like, and is anticipating, that the deal for some 38 billion cubic meters/year of natural gas, starting in 2018 will be signed when President Putin visits China in May. (In context Russia, which supplies about 26% of European natural gas, sends them around 162 bcm per year). Negotiations over the sale of the gas have dragged on for years, having first started in 2004 but the major disagreement continues to be over price. At a time when Norway is seeing a peak in production and Qatar is moving more of its sales to Asia, Russia had seen an increase in European sales, and has been able to move that gas at a price of $387 per 1,000 cubic meters (or $10.54 per kcf/MMBtu. The price of such gas in the US is quite a bit cheaper.

Figure 1. Natural gas prices in the United States. (EIA )

Russia would like to get a price of around $400 per kcm ($10.89 per kcf) with the slight extra going to pay for the pipeline and delivery costs. Whether the two countries can come to an agreement on the price may well now depend on how vulnerable Russia really is to any pressure on its markets from other sources of natural gas. Japan, for example, is now considering re-opening its nuclear power stations, as the costs for imported fuel are having significant consequences on their attempts at economic growth.

Similarly there is talk that the United States may become a significant player on the world stage by exporting LNG as it moves into greater surplus at home, thereby providing another threat to Russian sales. Part of the problem with that idea comes from the costs of producing the gas, relative to the existing price being obtained for it, and part on the amount of natural gas viably available. Consider that, at present, some of the earlier shale gas fields, such as the Barnett, Fayetteville and Haynesville are showing signs of having peaked.

Figure 2. Monthly natural gas production from shale fields (EIA)

While production from the Marcellus continues to rise, there is some question as to whether the Eagle Ford is reaching peak productionalthough that discussion, at the moment relates more to oil production. However given that it is the liquid portion of the production that is the more profitable this still drives the question.

And in this regard, the rising costs of wells, against the more difficult to assure profits is beginning to have an impact on the willingness of companies in the United States to invest the large quantities of capital into new wells that is needed to sustain and grow production. A recent article in Rigzone took note that the major oil companies are rethinking their strategies of investment, with some reorganization of their plans in particular for investment in shale fields. This raises a question for the author:

Another question for the industry is who will supply the risk capital for exploratory drilling, both on and offshore, if the majors pull back their spending? Onshore, for the past few years, a chunk of that capital has been supplied by private equity investors who have supported exploration and production teams in start-up ventures. They have also provided additional capital to existing companies allowing them to purchase acreage or companies to improve their prospect inventory. Unfortunately, the results of the shale revolution have been disappointing, leading to significant asset impairment charges and negative cash flows as the spending to drill new wells in order to gain and hold leases has exceeded production revenues, given the drop in domestic natural gas prices. Will that capital continue to be available, or will it, too, begin demanding profits rather than reserve additions and production growth?

Before investors put up the money for new LNG plants they need to be assured that there will be a financial return for that investment. Given that it takes time for such a market to evolve, and given the need that Russia has to sustain its market and potentially to increase it, the volumes that the US might put into play are likely to be small, with little other than political impact likely.

If Russia recognizes this, and feels relatively confident that Europe must continue to buy natural gas from Gazprom, particularly with the current move by Europe away from other sources of fuel such as coal, then they are likely to be more resistant to bringing the price down for their Chinese customers. On the other hand if China thinks that it might be able to get a better deal from Iran, were sanctions to ease, or from other MENA countries, then – thinking perhaps that Russia needs the sale more – they might toughen their position and the price debate may continue.

It will be interesting to see if it resolves within the next few weeks, and if so, at what a price.

Poland Is Quietly Mobilizing Its Army Reservists | Zero Hedge

Poland Is Quietly Mobilizing Its Army Reservists | Zero Hedge.

It seems the words of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk warning that “the world stands on the brink of conflict, the consequences of which are not foreseen… Not everyone in Europe is aware of this situation,” are a little more real than some (US equity buyers) might suspect. As The Week’s Crispin Black reportsat least 7,000 Polish workers in Europe have received call-up papers as army reservists in the last few weeks. Polish authorities dismiss it as “routine” but the men note this has never happened before.

As The Week’s Crispin Black goes on to note,

At least 7,000 reservists have been recalled to the colours for immediate exercises lasting between 10 and 30 days.

They’re told by the Polish authorities that the call-ups are “routine”: but the men say they haven’t been asked before and they’re well aware of the growing alarm in Warsaw at President Putin’s aggression.

Three weeks ago, their Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, called a press conference to warn that “the world stands on the brink of conflict, the consequences of which are not foreseen… Not everyone in Europe is aware of this situation.”

My own view is that Putin was initially more concerned with righting a specific historical wrong in Crimea than starting a new Cold War.  This is still probably the case despite thedawning truth that the EU/Nato Emperor really has no clothes at all. 

But in the worst case scenario of a truly revanchist Russia, Poland certainly has the borders from hell.  Starting from the top, it abuts Kaliningrad (the Russian exclave on the Baltic carved at the end of the war from East Prussia), Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.

None of these borders relies on any natural barriers like rivers or mountain ranges – they are just lines on a map drawn by Stalin in the full flush of victory.  No wonder the Poles are feeling vulnerable.

Read more here

Poland Is Quietly Mobilizing Its Army Reservists | Zero Hedge

Poland Is Quietly Mobilizing Its Army Reservists | Zero Hedge.

It seems the words of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk warning that “the world stands on the brink of conflict, the consequences of which are not foreseen… Not everyone in Europe is aware of this situation,” are a little more real than some (US equity buyers) might suspect. As The Week’s Crispin Black reportsat least 7,000 Polish workers in Europe have received call-up papers as army reservists in the last few weeks. Polish authorities dismiss it as “routine” but the men note this has never happened before.

As The Week’s Crispin Black goes on to note,

At least 7,000 reservists have been recalled to the colours for immediate exercises lasting between 10 and 30 days.

They’re told by the Polish authorities that the call-ups are “routine”: but the men say they haven’t been asked before and they’re well aware of the growing alarm in Warsaw at President Putin’s aggression.

Three weeks ago, their Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, called a press conference to warn that “the world stands on the brink of conflict, the consequences of which are not foreseen… Not everyone in Europe is aware of this situation.”

My own view is that Putin was initially more concerned with righting a specific historical wrong in Crimea than starting a new Cold War.  This is still probably the case despite thedawning truth that the EU/Nato Emperor really has no clothes at all. 

But in the worst case scenario of a truly revanchist Russia, Poland certainly has the borders from hell.  Starting from the top, it abuts Kaliningrad (the Russian exclave on the Baltic carved at the end of the war from East Prussia), Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.

None of these borders relies on any natural barriers like rivers or mountain ranges – they are just lines on a map drawn by Stalin in the full flush of victory.  No wonder the Poles are feeling vulnerable.

Read more here

U.S. could start energy war with Russia – Winnipeg Free Press

U.S. could start energy war with Russia – Winnipeg Free Press.

By: Washington Post

Posted: 03/23/2014 1:41 PM |

A woman holds a banner that reads:

Enlarge Image

A woman holds a banner that reads: “Putin is Occupier” during a rally against the breakup of the country in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (DARKO VOJINOVIC / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES)

Debate has raged over whether the United States can fight Vladimir Putin on the Russian president’s most favourable ground: energy politics. It can, and it should, particularly because there’s an obvious path forward that coincides with American — indeed, world — economic interests. That path is lifting irrational restrictions on exports and making it easier to build natural gas export terminals.

For years, Putin has used his nation’s wealth of oil and natural gas as a cudgel to bully his neighbours. At present, the European Union’s large imports of Russian natural gas discourage a forceful Western response to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the United States is tapping massive reserves of unconventional natural gas. That has not only made the U.S. self-sustaining in gas, but also driven down the price of U.S. gas to a point well below what Europeans are paying for the Russian stuff. If the federal government allowed more of it to be liquefied and exported, would the Russians lose a share of the European market?

The story is more complicated than that. Russian gas, which doesn’t need to be liquefied to move (by pipeline) into the European market, would enjoy significant price advantages over imported U.S. gas. The interaction of private buyers and sellers would probably direct U.S. exports to places where gas is more profitable to sell, such as Japan and Korea. The result would be a bounty for the U.S. economy and an improved American trade deficit — but not much direct displacement of Russian gas in Europe.

But that’s also not the end of the story. The U.S. entry into the Asian market would diminish Russia’s opportunity to profit there, as it aims to do. Contributing to an already widening and more diverse global supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) would also give European importers more flexibility in sourcing their fuel — from the United States, Qatar, or others — the sort of market conditions that have already enabled Europeans to renegotiate gas contracts with Russia. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Michael Levi points out that Putin might end up with an uncomfortable choice between maintaining market share in Europe and slashing his prices more.

Ramping up U.S. exports would take years, but the effects would not only be long-term, as some critics charge. Action that communicates a certain intent to allow more LNG exports would send a signal that “the U.S. is open for business,” as the Eurasia Group’s Leslie Palti-Guzman puts it. That could deter Putin from playing the energy card and help many buyers in negotiating long-term contracts.

The economic case for allowing natural gas exports is compelling on its own. Doing so would bring money into the country and uphold the vital principle that energy resources should flow freely around the globe, making the markets for the fuels the world economy needs as flexible and robust as possible. The more major suppliers there are following that principle, the less control predatory regimes such as Putin’s will have over the market.

Obama Demands Russia Leave G-8; June Summit Cancelled While Ukraine Deploys Army Along Borders | Zero Hedge

Obama Demands Russia Leave G-8; June Summit Cancelled While Ukraine Deploys Army Along Borders | Zero Hedge.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron stated that it is “absolutely clear” that the G-8 Summit scheduled for June in Sochi, Russia will not go ahead. But it is President Obama that appears to be pressing the hardest for major changes:

  • OBAMA SAID TO PRESS ALLIES TO SUSPEND RUSSIA FROM G8: WSJ

This comes at a time when Ukraine forces are being withdrawn from Crimea and deployed to North, South, and East borders of the region.  Meanwhile, Ukraine is taking its soldiers pulled from Crimea and deploying them along all other borders.

  • UKRAINE’S PARUBIY: PRIORITY IS TO PROTECT BORDERS, LEAVE CRIMEA
  • UKRAINE DEPLOYS ARMY TO NORTH, SOUTH, EAST BORDERS: PARUBIY
  • UKRAINE HAS MOBILIZED MORE THAN 10,000 PEOPLE, PARUBIY SAYS

David Cameron says G-8 Summit Scrapped…

There will be no G8 summit in Russia this year, David Cameron said in a further ign of efforts to isolate Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

The Prime Minister said it was “absolutely clear” the meeting could not go ahead.

Speaking in The Hague ahead of a meeting of G7 leaders, he said: “We should be clear there’s not going to be a G8  summit this year in Russia. That’s absolutely clear.”

Preparations for the planned June summit in Sochi had already been suspended as a result of Russia’s actions in neighbouring Ukraine.

And Obama is calling for Russia to be kicked out of the G-8.

  • OBAMA SAID TO PRESS ALLIES TO SUSPEND RUSSIA FROM G8: WSJ

Obama Demands Russia Leave G-8; June Summit Cancelled While Ukraine Deploys Army Along Borders | Zero Hedge

Obama Demands Russia Leave G-8; June Summit Cancelled While Ukraine Deploys Army Along Borders | Zero Hedge.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron stated that it is “absolutely clear” that the G-8 Summit scheduled for June in Sochi, Russia will not go ahead. But it is President Obama that appears to be pressing the hardest for major changes:

  • OBAMA SAID TO PRESS ALLIES TO SUSPEND RUSSIA FROM G8: WSJ

This comes at a time when Ukraine forces are being withdrawn from Crimea and deployed to North, South, and East borders of the region.  Meanwhile, Ukraine is taking its soldiers pulled from Crimea and deploying them along all other borders.

  • UKRAINE’S PARUBIY: PRIORITY IS TO PROTECT BORDERS, LEAVE CRIMEA
  • UKRAINE DEPLOYS ARMY TO NORTH, SOUTH, EAST BORDERS: PARUBIY
  • UKRAINE HAS MOBILIZED MORE THAN 10,000 PEOPLE, PARUBIY SAYS

David Cameron says G-8 Summit Scrapped…

There will be no G8 summit in Russia this year, David Cameron said in a further ign of efforts to isolate Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

The Prime Minister said it was “absolutely clear” the meeting could not go ahead.

Speaking in The Hague ahead of a meeting of G7 leaders, he said: “We should be clear there’s not going to be a G8  summit this year in Russia. That’s absolutely clear.”

Preparations for the planned June summit in Sochi had already been suspended as a result of Russia’s actions in neighbouring Ukraine.

And Obama is calling for Russia to be kicked out of the G-8.

  • OBAMA SAID TO PRESS ALLIES TO SUSPEND RUSSIA FROM G8: WSJ

Interpreting Putin’s Decision | The Diplomat

Interpreting Putin’s Decision | The Diplomat.

Interpreting Putin’s Decision
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Interpreting Putin’s Decision

From Western weakness to its Eurasian Union project, a look at the factors that drove the annexation of Crimea.

By Wei Zongyou
March 23, 2014

People around the world were astounded by Vladimir Putin’s rapid decision to annex Crimea in response to the latter’s referendum to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, which Kiev and the West view as illegal. The decision also drew worldwide criticism and vehement condemnation by the West and Ukraine, and triggered a second wave of economic sanctions from the United States, and soon afterwards Europe. Relations between Russia and the West are at their chilliest since the end of the Cold War.

So why has Putin risked Russia’s economic welfare and political space to swallow Crimea, push Ukraine out, and alienate the entire Western world? Is Putin “in another world” as German Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed he is? In my opinion, there are at least two considerations behind Putin’s decision.

The first is the realist, geo-political consideration. In Putin’s world, since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Russia has lost nearly one fourth of its geography, one half of its population, and more than half of its GDP. Among the “lost” territories are those that are strategically important or militarily advanced, such as Ukraine and the Baltic states. With the eastward expansion of NATO, and the integration of former Soviet satellite states and republics in Eastern Europe and the Baltics into Europe, the traditional buffer zone between Russia and the West is increasingly squeezed and Russia’s space for strategic maneuvering becomes smaller with each year. When Russia craved for entry into the West, this might not have been particularly worrisome or embarrassing for Moscow. But since Russian leaders decided long ago that joining the West was neither particularly helpful to Russia’s political standing nor particularly attractive in terms of economic gains, it has begun to view the expansion of the West at its own strategic expense as both ill-intentioned and threatening.

Ukraine holds a unique position in Russia’s geo-strategic consideration. First, it is crucial territory in the passage of Russia’s oil exports to Europe. Each year more than one third of the oil Russia ships to Europe travels via the Ukraine pipeline. Second, Crimea gives Russia’s Black Sea Fleet access to the Black Sea. If the pro-West Kiev government were to have decided to end its lease to the Russian naval base in Crimea, Russia would have lost its strategic gateway to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Third, Ukraine is deemed the most crucial member of Russia’s Eurasia Union project, an economic and strategic plan to closely connect Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Central Asia. If all goes according to plan, this union will integrate these former Soviet republics and now independent countries economically, politically, and diplomatically with Russia, and go some way to restoring the glory of the Soviet empire at its peak. The “coup d’état” in Kiev and the political orientation of the new government put all these things in jeopardy, if Russia remains disinterested and passive.

The second consideration is more psychological in nature. Following the end of Cold War, embracing the West was the first priority of Russian foreign policy. But to Moscow’s dismay, it found that the West still harbored strong reservations and considerable distrust. Years spent courting and wooing provided little of what Russia craved most: equal membership in the West and economic prosperity. Though Russia became part of the exclusive G8, it never enjoyed the full status and say of the other seven members, always remaining an “other.” Economically, the shock remedy proposed by the West and faithfully implemented by Boris Yeltsin didn’t bring the expected economic benefit. Instead, it took Russia’s economy into freefall, leaving the average Russian worse off than before. Russia’s look West ended in humiliation and disaster.

It was Putin who saved Russia from its miserable condition. He readjusted both Russia’s domestic and foreign policies, and distanced the country from the West, instead seeking opportunities to resurrect past Soviet glories. As the Russian economy improved, the West found that its time was passing. The 2008 economic crisis hit the U.S. and Europe hard and they found themselves more reliant on the emerging powers, Russia included. It is Britain, France, and even Germany who are now busy appealing to Russian oil barons to buy more and invest more. The balance of power between Russia and the West has shifted. The small war in Georgia in the summer of 2008 only strengthened this trend and the response from the West impressed Russia greatly: Europe is rotten and the U.S. has become too weak to lead. Then came the Arab Spring and the Syria crisis. In the former case, the U.S. “led from behind,” and in the latter it was Russia that decided the course of the Syria civil war.

Russians, and especially Putin learned a hard lesson from the post-Cold War romance with the West: For all the talk of democracy and freedom, the fact remains that the strong dictate to the weak.

With Europe rotten and United States weakened, a resurgent and confident Russia will definitely not let a geo-strategically important former Soviet republic fall entirely into the West’s camp. By annexing Crimea, Putin not only secured Russia’s naval base and its strategic gateway to the Black Sea, he also sent a powerful message to Ukraine and the West: Ignore Russia’s legitimate strategic concerns at your own peril.

Wei Zongyou, is Professor and Vice Dean of the Institute of International and Diplomatic Affairs, Shanghai International Studies University, Shanghai, China. His main research interests cover Sino-U.S. Relations, american foreign policy, humanitarian intervention and R2P

Interpreting Putin’s Decision | The Diplomat

Interpreting Putin’s Decision | The Diplomat.

Interpreting Putin’s Decision
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Interpreting Putin’s Decision

From Western weakness to its Eurasian Union project, a look at the factors that drove the annexation of Crimea.

By Wei Zongyou
March 23, 2014

People around the world were astounded by Vladimir Putin’s rapid decision to annex Crimea in response to the latter’s referendum to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, which Kiev and the West view as illegal. The decision also drew worldwide criticism and vehement condemnation by the West and Ukraine, and triggered a second wave of economic sanctions from the United States, and soon afterwards Europe. Relations between Russia and the West are at their chilliest since the end of the Cold War.

So why has Putin risked Russia’s economic welfare and political space to swallow Crimea, push Ukraine out, and alienate the entire Western world? Is Putin “in another world” as German Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed he is? In my opinion, there are at least two considerations behind Putin’s decision.

The first is the realist, geo-political consideration. In Putin’s world, since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Russia has lost nearly one fourth of its geography, one half of its population, and more than half of its GDP. Among the “lost” territories are those that are strategically important or militarily advanced, such as Ukraine and the Baltic states. With the eastward expansion of NATO, and the integration of former Soviet satellite states and republics in Eastern Europe and the Baltics into Europe, the traditional buffer zone between Russia and the West is increasingly squeezed and Russia’s space for strategic maneuvering becomes smaller with each year. When Russia craved for entry into the West, this might not have been particularly worrisome or embarrassing for Moscow. But since Russian leaders decided long ago that joining the West was neither particularly helpful to Russia’s political standing nor particularly attractive in terms of economic gains, it has begun to view the expansion of the West at its own strategic expense as both ill-intentioned and threatening.

Ukraine holds a unique position in Russia’s geo-strategic consideration. First, it is crucial territory in the passage of Russia’s oil exports to Europe. Each year more than one third of the oil Russia ships to Europe travels via the Ukraine pipeline. Second, Crimea gives Russia’s Black Sea Fleet access to the Black Sea. If the pro-West Kiev government were to have decided to end its lease to the Russian naval base in Crimea, Russia would have lost its strategic gateway to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Third, Ukraine is deemed the most crucial member of Russia’s Eurasia Union project, an economic and strategic plan to closely connect Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Central Asia. If all goes according to plan, this union will integrate these former Soviet republics and now independent countries economically, politically, and diplomatically with Russia, and go some way to restoring the glory of the Soviet empire at its peak. The “coup d’état” in Kiev and the political orientation of the new government put all these things in jeopardy, if Russia remains disinterested and passive.

The second consideration is more psychological in nature. Following the end of Cold War, embracing the West was the first priority of Russian foreign policy. But to Moscow’s dismay, it found that the West still harbored strong reservations and considerable distrust. Years spent courting and wooing provided little of what Russia craved most: equal membership in the West and economic prosperity. Though Russia became part of the exclusive G8, it never enjoyed the full status and say of the other seven members, always remaining an “other.” Economically, the shock remedy proposed by the West and faithfully implemented by Boris Yeltsin didn’t bring the expected economic benefit. Instead, it took Russia’s economy into freefall, leaving the average Russian worse off than before. Russia’s look West ended in humiliation and disaster.

It was Putin who saved Russia from its miserable condition. He readjusted both Russia’s domestic and foreign policies, and distanced the country from the West, instead seeking opportunities to resurrect past Soviet glories. As the Russian economy improved, the West found that its time was passing. The 2008 economic crisis hit the U.S. and Europe hard and they found themselves more reliant on the emerging powers, Russia included. It is Britain, France, and even Germany who are now busy appealing to Russian oil barons to buy more and invest more. The balance of power between Russia and the West has shifted. The small war in Georgia in the summer of 2008 only strengthened this trend and the response from the West impressed Russia greatly: Europe is rotten and the U.S. has become too weak to lead. Then came the Arab Spring and the Syria crisis. In the former case, the U.S. “led from behind,” and in the latter it was Russia that decided the course of the Syria civil war.

Russians, and especially Putin learned a hard lesson from the post-Cold War romance with the West: For all the talk of democracy and freedom, the fact remains that the strong dictate to the weak.

With Europe rotten and United States weakened, a resurgent and confident Russia will definitely not let a geo-strategically important former Soviet republic fall entirely into the West’s camp. By annexing Crimea, Putin not only secured Russia’s naval base and its strategic gateway to the Black Sea, he also sent a powerful message to Ukraine and the West: Ignore Russia’s legitimate strategic concerns at your own peril.

Wei Zongyou, is Professor and Vice Dean of the Institute of International and Diplomatic Affairs, Shanghai International Studies University, Shanghai, China. His main research interests cover Sino-U.S. Relations, american foreign policy, humanitarian intervention and R2P

89% of Venetians Vote for Independence

89% of Venetians Vote for Independence

Inspired by Scotland’s hopes for independence and hot on the heels of Crime’a 95% preference for accession to Russia, 89% of the citizens of Venice voted for their own sovereign state in a ‘referendum’ on independence from Italy. As The Daily Mail reports, the proposed ‘Repubblica Veneta’ includes the five million inhabitants of the Veneto region and has been largely driven by the wealthy ‘who are tired of supporting the poor and crime-ridden south’ (Venice pays EUR71bn in taxes and receives only EUR21bn in services and investment). The ballot appointed a committee of ten who immediately declared independence from Italy. Venice may now start withholding taxes from RomeWonder why the US, Europe, and Japan have not announced the referendum “illegal” and announced sanctions yet?

Via The Daily Mail,

Venetians have voted overwhelmingly for their own sovereign state in a ‘referendum’ on independence from Italy.

Inspired by Scotland’s separatist ambitions, 89 per cent of the residents of the lagoon city and its surrounding area, opted to break away from Italy in an unofficial ballot.

The proposed ‘Repubblica Veneta’ would include the five million inhabitants of the Veneto region and could later expand to include parts of Lombardy, Trentino and Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Wealthy Venetians, under mounting financial pressure in the economic crisis, have rallied in their thousands, after growing tired of supporting Italy’s poor and crime ridden Mezzogiorno south, through high taxation.

Campaigners say that the Rome government receives around 71 billion euros  each year in tax from Venice – some 21 billion euros less than it gets back in investment and services.

The ballot also appointed a committee of ten who immediately declared independence from Italy. Venice may now start withholding taxes from Rome.

Campaigner Paolo Bernardini, professor of European history at the University of Insubria in Como, northern Italy, said it was ‘high time’ for Venice to become an autonomous state once again.

‘Although history never repeats itself, we are now experiencing a strong return of little nations, small and prosperous countries, able to interact among each other in the global world.’

‘The Venetian people realized that we are a nation (worthy of) self-rule and openly oppressed, and the entire world is moving towards fragmentation – a positive fragmentation – where local traditions mingle with global exchanges.’

‘We are only at the Big Bang of the movement – but revolutions are born of hunger and we are now hungry. Venice can now escape.’

So how long will it before Barosso, Van Rompuy, Obama, Abe and th rest declare this referendum “illegal” and seek sanctions against the people of Venice…

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