Oil rush in Central Asia
While beating the drums for a second war against Iraq, the American media has paid relatively little attention to an equally significant development in US foreign policy: the drive to gain control of the huge oil and gas resources of the Caspian Sea region. The combined energy reserves of the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are estimated at over 100 billion barrels, the third largest in the world after the Persian Gulf and Siberia.
On November 12 the direct shipment of Caspian Sea oil to the world market resumed, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the opening of the rebuilt pipeline from Baku through war-torn Chechnya to the Russian port of Novorossisk on the Black Sea. President Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan is one of two Communist Party regional chieftains before the breakup of the USSR to retain power today, in large measure because of the resources provided by huge contracts with Western oil firms.
The other surviving former Stalinist party boss, Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, has had similar success in holding power through control of oil resources. He visited Washington and Houston November 18-20 and signed contracts with Texaco, Mobil, Chevron and other US oil companies which are worth a staggering $600 billion over the next 40 years.
Foreign oil companies have already pumped $3.5 billion into the Kazak economy since 1991, establishing joint ventures with the state oil company in the huge Tengiz oilfield (Chevron, Mobil), the Karaganak oilfield (Texaco, British Gas) and an oil exploration site offshore in the Caspian Sea (Mobil, Shell). While the oil companies rush to exploit Kazakhstan's energy resources, the working class population faces severe poverty and widespread fuel and power shortages.
Nazarbayev has established close ties with US imperialism, carrying out the most rapid privatization of any of the former Soviet republics, authorizing joint military exercises with American forces on Kazak soil, and appointing as his prime minister Nurlan Balgimbayev, a former employee of Chevron Oil who went on to head the state-run Kazakoil.
During his Washington visit, Nazarbayev was honored at a private dinner in the exclusive Metropolitan Club, hosted by longtime Democratic Party wheeler-dealer Robert Strauss, and attended by oil company CEOs, Clinton crony Vernon Jordan, Energy Secretary Federico Pena, and media personalities like Sam Donaldson--who led the toast to Nazarbayev--and William Safire.
A display behind the head table at the dinner spelled out American capitalism's interest in Kazahstan. It read: "USA PROJECTED CONSUMPTION: 20 Million Barrels Per Day. KAZAKHSTAN POTENTIAL PRODUCTION: 10 Million Barrels Per Day."
The principal issue in discussions between the Kazakh president and the Clinton administration was the choice of pipeline routes to bring his country's oil and gas to the world market. Both Nazarbayev and Washington want an alternative to the Russian-controlled Baku-Novorossisk pipeline. The US government is opposed to the shortest and most economical pipeline, south across Iran to the Arabian Sea, and pressed Nazarbayev to support an east-west pipeline from Baku, through Georgia and Turkey to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean, which would cost three times as much.
The US posture is based not merely on hatred of Iran, still under effective American embargo nearly 20 years after the revolution which overthrew the Shah, but on the growing conflict between American imperialism and its major rivals in Western Europe. France is investing heavily in Iran, with the oil company Total signing $2.9 billion in contracts to develop gas fields in the southern part of the country. Siemens of Germany has been contracted by Iran and by several French oil companies to conduct feasibility studies for a Kazakhstan to Iran pipeline. The British-Dutch Shell Oil is building an east-west pipeline across Iran to deliver natural gas from Turkmenistan to ports in Turkey.
China is also being drawn into the conflict: the Chinese National Oil Company has contracted to develop a Kazak oilfield and it has proposed construction of an east-west pipeline from the Caspian to Chinese-controlled Sinkiang, and eventually across China to the sea.
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