Toward a Confrontation With Moscow

At a meeting in March 2009, Secretary Clinton presented her Russian counterpart with a red button that was supposed to read "Reset" in Russian. Instead, it read "Overload." It seemed like an innocent mistake, a syllable lost in translation. But was it, really?

That may well be the question on many Russians’ minds this week, in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow, but also in the wake of news that the new Bulgarian government reneged on its energy agreements with Moscow and signed on to the alternate gas pipeline, designed to bypass Russia.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Though the speech Obama gave at the New Economic School in Moscow on July 7 was well written and well delivered, it is hard to see how the reaction to it could have been anything but incredulity. Having endured seven decades of violent hypocrisy, Russians can smell it a mile away – and Obama’s speech reeked of it.

Take this, for example: "In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries. The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over."

Isn’t it Obama’s own country that routinely dominates and demonizes entire nations, and invents Hitlers du jour to justify its overseas military adventures? And isn’t the most notable theorist of the "grand chessboard" Obama’s old professor from Columbia, Zbigniew Brzezinski, an unrepentant Russophobe?

It gets better. Surely Obama was aware that the U.S. pioneered the method of regime-change now known as the "color revolution" and used it first in Serbia (2000), then in Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004). His Russian audience certainly was. Yet he looked them in the eye and said, "America will not seek to impose any system of government on any other country, nor would we presume to choose which party or individual should run a country."

Finally, even though it was Washington that interfered in Georgia and Ukraine to install friendly regimes; even though it was the U.S. that pushed the hardest for the "independence" of the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo; and it was the U.S. that attacked Serbia in 1999 and Iraq in 2003, in clear violation of international law, Obama had the sheer gall to say:

"State sovereignty must be a cornerstone of international order. Just as all states should have the right to choose their leaders, states must have the right to borders that are secure, and to their own foreign policies. That is true for Russia, just as it is true for the United States. Any system that cedes those rights will lead to anarchy. That is why this principle must apply to all nations – including Georgia and Ukraine. America will never impose a security arrangement on another country."

So who put Yushchenko and Saakashvili in power? Who created the "independent state of Kosovo"? Who invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan? Who has bases in over 150 countries around the planet? The Martians, maybe?

The Gas Gambit

The regime of Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine, put into power by the 2004 "Orange Revolution," signed a charter with the U.S. in December 2008, pledging to cooperate on a variety of agendas. One of these agendas, set out by a joint U.S.-EU declaration from June 2008, was to "encourage the development of multiple pipelines, such as the Nabucco … to supply additional natural gas to Europe from diversified sources."

Sure enough, during a vicious cold snap in January 2009, Yushchenko’s people in the Ukrainian gas consortium fabricated a dispute with Moscow that cut gas deliveries and left most of Europe in a deep freeze. In the words of one Western observer, "Everything about this dispute is negative for the Russians. … And if everyone blames the Russians, Ukraine has nothing to lose."

And what a surprise, EU officials rushed to say that "the crisis should encourage a search for independent energy sources and supply routes, such as the US-backed Nabucco pipeline."

Yushchenko may have gotten a bump in his polling numbers playing the Russophobia card, but his own grip on power was actually weakened, as Prime Minister Tymoshenko successfully ousted his cronies from the gas consortium. Ukraine paid its bills, the gas began to flow, and the episode was quickly forgotten.

Nabucco vs. South Stream

One can see how it would be in the Empire’s interest to paint the Russo-Ukrainian dispute and its chilly consequences for Europe as a pressing reason to build an alternate pipeline. The obsession with bypassing Russia goes back to the early 1990s, when the U.S. engineering giant Bechtel built an oil pipeline (BTC) from Azerbaijan to Turkey, via Georgia. The idea of a gas pipeline to Europe connecting to the BTC was floated in 2002. Though strongly pushed by Washington, Nabucco languished for years as a pipe dream.

In 2007, Moscow put forth two alternate pipelines, bypassing Ukraine and Poland (seen as U.S. client states). The Nord Stream would go under the Baltic Sea and into Germany, while the South Stream would go under the Black Sea and into Bulgaria, from where it would go to Italy via Greece, and to Austria via Serbia and Hungary. However, South Stream was delayed while the U.S. client regime in Serbia dragged its feet for a year on ratifying the contract with Moscow.

By the virtue of its location, Bulgaria was the key to both pipeline projects. The government in Sofia, though a member of the EU and NATO and a client of Washington, nonetheless signed energy agreements with Moscow. At the time of the gas crisis in January ’09, well-informed analysts predicted that Washington might seek regime-change in Bulgaria for that very reason.

Sure enough, just a week after the July 5 general elections, Bulgaria signed on to Nabucco.

Empire’s Pet Project

The July 5 vote went overwhelmingly in favor of a new party, Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB), led by Boyko Borisov. A Communist-era police official who later went into the private security business, Borisov has been the mayor of Sofia since 2005. He campaigned on a promise of fighting corruption and securing a better economic future. One of the first things he did, however, was to suspend the existing energy contracts with Moscow, both the South Stream and a nuclear power plant project.

On Monday, July 13, representatives of Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey officially signed the deal to begin the construction of Nabucco. The chairman of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso of Spain, was present at the signing. The U.S. was represented by Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy Richard Morningstar and Sen. Richard Lugar, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The fact that Washington has a "special envoy for Eurasian energy" in the first place, and that he was present at the signing, indicates that Nabucco is more than just a project for European energy supply. Add to that that Nabucco is supposed to provide a mere 10 percent of Europe’s gas needs if and when it is completed – and assuming the conglomerate finds a supplier – and that Washington and Brussels have ruled out Iran as a source, and everything points to the conclusion that Nabucco is not business, but politics.

Pattern of Hostility

What is someone in Moscow to make of all this? In 1990, the USSR ended the Cold War by effectively surrendering. Far from being a gracious victor, the U.S. enlarged NATO, transformed it into an aggressive military alliance, and claimed the entire world as its rightful sphere of influence. Russia itself was plundered and impoverished by U.S.-sponsored oligarchs under the Yeltsin regime, which was praised as democratic even as it sent tanks against the parliament. Yeltsin also needed American spin doctors to win reelection, while Vladimir Putin and his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, enjoy widespread popular support – but are branded "dictators" in the West.

Now Obama comes to Moscow and lectures Russians about sovereignty, democracy, and international law, even though his own country is the prime violator of all three. Meanwhile, the U.S. is sponsoring a pipeline seeking to bypass Russia. One doesn’t have to be particularly observant to add it all up and see hostility. It seems that Clinton’s gift to Lavrov was not lost in translation after all.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.