THE ROVING EYE Red alert! The Russians are coming!
By Pepe Escobar
Hollywood executives and Washington policymakers are suckers for Russophobia.
Considering the appalling level of political discourse in both these capitals
of mass entertainment, certainly one cannot expect their "opinion leaders" to
have read Professor Paul Kennedy's recent expose of European history packaged
as a crash course to Americans about the inevitable downsizing of the US in the
emerging, multipolar new world order.
Hollywood Russophobia always emerges as caricature, as in the current,
irrepressible humorless Angelina Jolie vehicle Salt - complete with the
former KGB kidnapping babies to be turned into super-agents infiltrated into
the US as sleeper cells, following a career path and patiently waiting to raise
hell and sabotage
Western democracy in the form of killing the president of the United States.
Jolie is as believable as one of those Slavic super-moles as Central
Intelligence Agency-scripted videos of Osama bin Laden.
For its part, Washington Russophobia usually emerges as a US-built Iron Curtain
in reverse, which according to the Pentagon's full spectrum dominance doctrine
rules that US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military bases will
encircle Russia from the Baltic to the Caucasus and Central Asia.
So what's the Russian response? In both Afghanistan and Iran, it carries the
mark of the good chess player; discreet, silent, getting down to business, and
aiming to hit the jackpot.
All jihads lead to Sheberghan
In Afghanistan, the leadership in Moscow always knew this was all about the US
and NATO trying to establish a new hegemony in Central Asia - full spectrum
dominance all over again. But then Moscow found out - following the Chinese
example of investing US$3 billion in mines south of Kabul - that the best of
possible worlds would be to make money while the West got bogged down in a
winless quagmire. Call it the Shanghai Cooperation Organization way of running
rings around NATO.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has just been to Moscow to be greeted by
President Dmitry Medvedev with a slew of projects to the tune of US$1 billion -
from a hydroelectric dam to exploitation of minerals, those same minerals that
led the Pentagon to recently re-excavate its hyperbolic predictions of
Afghanistan as the Saudi Arabia of lithium.
History has a way to sometimes render reality curioser and curioser. The Afghan
mining industry, based in Sheberghan, in remote Jowzjan province, today
controlled by General Abdul Rashid Dostum's militias, was no less than a Soviet
creation. The Uzbek warrior Dostum, currently a minister in Karzai's
government, made his career in the late 1970s pro-Soviet Afghan army before he
opportunistically migrated to the mujahideen during the jihad in the 1980s,
when he became one of former US president Ronald Reagan's "freedom fighters".
Legend has it that when Dostum visited Texas in the late 1990s he was carrying
the treasure map - all the prospection done by the Soviets of Afghanistan's
mineral wealth. Talk about perennial positioning; now Dostum is in the exact
right place to profit from Russia's largesse. Dr Zbigniew "The Grand
Chessboard" Brzezinski may have dealt the Soviet Union a crucial blow - or
Vietnam - in the form of the 1980s jihad.
But it's the Russians who may have the last laugh. Afghanistan will always be
considered by Moscow as under its sphere of influence. Russia is not only well
connected to the Uzbek faction as with the Panjshir faction of the Karzai
administration - via General Mohammed Fahim, Afghanistan's vice president and
uber-lord of local espionage.
New US Afghan War supremo General David "I'm always positioning myself to 2012"
Petraeus' current overdrive to rewrite the AfPak war as the US turning the tide
over the Taliban may elicit subdued roars of laughter in Moscow (not to mention
in Quetta, where al-Qaeda's leaders sit). But now Moscow can even afford to be
magnanimous and let NATO supplies transit in Russian territory. The Russians
know that where it matters - where the good business is, in northern
Afghanistan - their future couldn't be brighter.
All that is nuclear turns into gold
The Bushehr nuclear power plant - the first in the Middle East - launched
jointly last Saturday by Russia and Iran, unmistakably establishes Iran as one
of the world's 29 nuclear power generating nations. But it's also a major coup
for the Russian nuclear industry, in this case represented by state-run
Six months ago, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that Rosatom would be able
to build 25% of the world's nuclear plants (it currently stands at 16%).
Atomstroiexport, Rosatom's civilian construction arm, will build a major plant
in Turkey, and has also set sights on Bangladesh and Vietnam. Bushehr, which
has cost more than $1 billion, will generate 2% of Iran's electricity. Of the
four reactors to be built in Turkey, to the cost of $20 billion, each will
produce 20% more energy than Bushehr.
Rosatom's chief executive Sergei Kiriyenko has been spinning that Bushehr is a
"big international project" which involved more than 10 European Union (EU) and
Asia-Pacific countries. What no one really knows is why this has taken so long,
since Russia agreed to take over in 1992 (Bushehr actually started way back in
1974 by German Kraftwerk Union, a merger of Siemens and AEG. Siemens pulled out
of Iran in 1980).
Everything has been invoked to justify the non-stop delays - US and UN
sanctions, Tehran's suspicions of Moscow, Tehran actually not paying its bills
on time. Now this is all water under the bridge. Kiriyenko also has made a
point to stress that Bushehr "coincides with Russia's position that any country
in the world has the right to nuclear energy for peaceful use" - as long as it
is monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
According to the Tehran-Moscow agreement, Russia supplies the nuclear fuel for
Bushehr and disposes of the spent rods (so Iran cannot use them to extract
plutonium), with everything monitored by the IAEA. Hundreds of Russian
engineers will remain working at Bushehr until 2013 before Tehran takes over
In early August, even the US State Department via chief spokesman Philip
Crowley, was forced to admit, "Bushehr is designed to provide electricity to
Iran. It is not viewed as a proliferation risk because Russia is providing the
needed fuel and taking back the spent nuclear fuel, which is the principal
source of potential proliferation". What Washington has focused on like a laser
is the Natanz uranium-enrichment plant; a second one, under construction, in
Qom; and the heavy-water reactor in Arak, also under construction.
The notion that Tehran might build a "secret" bomb factory underneath Bushehr
is ludicrous; it would be tracked by multiple spy satellites in a flash. So
while strident, armchair warrior US neo-cons parade their ignorance equating an
internationally monitored nuclear power plant with a nuclear bomb factory, the
Russians merrily use it to cash in on further business opportunities.
Moscow knows that what's really at stake in the whole Iran nuclear dossier is
that the US - with its huge nuclear arsenal - and both Britain and France -
with their small nuclear arsenals - simply don't want to have yet another
country from the developing world (like India and Pakistan) crash into their
cozy nuclear weapon club. And neither is Russia interested in contending with
an extra strategic challenge, a possibly nuclear-armed Iran (thus Moscow
playing a constant game of geopolitical chess). What both the West and Moscow
really want is to maintain the current status quo.
And that leads us to the heart of the matter; as long as the US, as well as
Britain and France, don't accept Iranian uranium enrichment, there's simply no
possibility whatsoever of extracting Iranian cooperation on a global,
non-proliferation nuclear agenda. Meanwhile, the Russian nuclear industry will
merrily keep cashing in.