Army document: US strategy to ‘dethrone’ Putin for oil pipelines might provoke WW3

Senior DIA, Air Force and Army officials admit that NATO expansionism and US covert interference in Russian internal politics may trigger “next global conflict”

French soldiers unload tanks from a train in northern Poland for a NATO military exercise (Source: LA Times)

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A US Army document concedes the real interests driving US military strategy toward Russia: dominating oil pipeline routes, accessing the vast natural resources of Central Asia, and enforcing the expansion of American capitalism worldwide.

Dr. Mahir J. Ibrahimova, Program Manager at the US Army Combined Arms Center’s Culture, Regional Expertise and Language Management Office (CRELMO), leads a session on how to be a culturally aware leader at the 2015 US Army Leadership and Professional Development Symposium

Protecting pipelinistan

And what is driving NATO expansionism? While the US Army study highlights concerns about Russian authoritarianism, it remains surprisingly candid in flagging up US energy interests as the primary issue:

“Vast reserves of oil and natural gas in and around the Caspian Sea were the primary source of the US’s initial interest in the region. That interest could provide the foundation for stronger ties between the US and regional states, with the US providing protection to ensure regional stability and the political independence of the littoral countries.” (p. 8)

Humanitarian intervention and military peacekeeping operations in the region, then, have always had a broader geostrategic agenda related to the “protection” of US access to Caspian oil and gas.

Map of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline

“… strengthen the political and economic independence of the countries of the region from possible resurgent Russian ambitions. But even before its completion, it had also marked the beginning of the new ‘Great Game’ with global and regional powers such as the US, China, and Russia vying for influence in the area. Once again the region became very attractive for global geopolitics, enhanced by the discoveries of natural resources in Afghanistan such as natural gas, oil, marble, gold, copper, chromite, etc.”

The study also admits that US interests in Afghanistan were preoccupied with the country functioning as a gateway to Central Asian oil and gas reserves:

“At the same time, Afghanistan’s significance stems from its geopolitical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes the possible construction of oil and natural gas export pipelines through Afghanistan, which was under serious consideration in the mid-1990s. The idea has since been undermined by Afghanistan’s instability.”

Nevertheless, the Trans-Afghan oil pipeline project, known as TAPI for its route through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, has been negotiated and pursued by every single US administration since Clinton.

The Trans-Afghan pipeline (otherwise known as the TAPI pipeline for connecting Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India)

“During my diplomatic service in Washington DC and Ambassador Maresca’s tenure at the Department of State, we had numerous discussions on the issues of pipeline politics and US policy in the region.”

What the document does not acknowledge is that the US government’s commitment to the TAPI pipeline was, at that time, premised on a Taliban victory – a policy that backfired rather catastrophically – as I had documented half a year before 9/11.

‘Awash’ in natural resources

A particularly extraordinary contribution to the US Army study is a section authored by Ambassador Richard E. Hoagland, who retired last August from the post of US Co-Chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation’s Minsk Group. Previously, he was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, having served in various diplomatic capacities in the region since the early 1990s.

Ambassador (retired) Richard E. Hoagland

“… safeguard US economic interests and continue to promote economic reform so that the five nations can be better embedded in the global economy.”

Underscoring the centrality of US economic interests, Hoagland extolls a wealth of detail on the region’s abundant energy, mineral and raw material reserves:

“But also, the region is awash in natural resources. Turkmenistan has the fourth-largest natural-gas reserves in the world. Kazakhstan has the second-largest oil reserves of the former Soviet Union, second only to Russia, and US and European international oil companies early on made major investments there that continue to this day. Uzbekistan is a major producer of uranium, as is Kazakhstan, and has large natural-gas reserves, as does, quite likely, Tajikistan. Both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan hold significant gold deposits. In addition, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have world-class hydropower potential, as demonstrated by the current casa-1000 project to deliver their summer-excess hydroelectricity across Afghanistan to electricity-starved Pakistan.”

These countries, then, are ripe for political integration into the US-dominated market economy:

“To add a bit more nuance, the economies of Central Asia are more than the sum of their natural resources and energy-generating potential. Kazakhstan’s early commitment to macro-economic reform has, 20 years later, created a financial-services hub for the region. Uzbekistan’s educated population of about 30 million has a real potential to provide entrepreneurial and innovative economic growth.” (pp. 28–29)

Despite Hoagland’s obligatory lipservice to ‘good governance’ and ‘civil liberties’, neither feature in any meaningful sense in NATO’s priorities. The Central Asian republics are among the most repressive, anti-democratic regimes in the world, consistently lambasted by human rights organizations for their horrific torture and persecution of any political dissent. ‘Democracy’ promotion clearly does not mean actual ‘democracy’ — it simply means a geopolitical alignment with NATO, hostility toward Russia, and an opening up of the economy to US and Western foreign investors, human rights be damned.

The intransigence of independence

Against this backdrop, a principal motivator for US hostility toward Russia is the latter’s consistent effort to integrate interested countries into alternative regional political and economic structures.

“Russia is currently seeking to create security and economic organizations that could be used to rival the existing structures such as NATO and the World Bank. Russia, China, Iran, and other countries have undertaken these and other steps which are not in the national security interests of the United States.”

The core challenge from Russia, the US Army study implies, is its leadership role in building alternative coalitions to US-dominated political and economic systems. The coalition of new alliances that have emerged as a result — the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the coalition of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU) — “are mostly aimed at opposing US economic and strategic dominance”, the document remarks.

“It is obvious that Russia-China rapprochement presents a profound challenge to the United States. The realpolitik question for US policy makers would be how to prevent this historically unlikely alliance between the two major global and regional players.”

A major priority, then, for US geopolitical strategy is how to break apart these alliances and coalitions between US rivals, which challenge “US economic and strategic dominance”.

NATO provocation heightening threat of global nuclear war

There has been much coverage recently of how Putin poses a grave nuclear threat to the US and the world.

Colonel Lee Gentile Jr.

“Recently declassified Soviet papers, articles, and meeting minutes indicate that the Soviet leadership had no intention of invading Europe.”

That is contrary, it should be remembered, to the official state propaganda at the time, parrotted dutifully by the Western press.

“Therefore, the Soviets developed and tested a nuclear device in 1949 in order to counter the West’s advantage.”

The West then upgraded its nuclear weapons policy. In 1954, the Eisenhower Administration adopted the ‘New Look Policy’ to maintain “a smaller, more-capable, forward-deployed, conventional force that was reinforced by the massive retaliatory power of nuclear weapons.”

“Simply put, Russian leaders want to limit the expansion and influence of NATO, create a buffer between Russia and NATO, re-establish its influence in former Soviet states, and return to being a regional and global power.”

Russia is also “paranoid about a surprise attack from NATO or the US”, a fear which stems from “the German invasion of western Russia during Operation Barbarossa” as well as “US and NATO operations in the Caucuses and the Middle East.”

“Considering that NATO was created to counter the expansion of the Soviet Union, it is not surprising that the Kremlin views expansion as a threat. Every time a former Soviet state is incorporated into NATO, the buffer shrinks. Without that physical buffer, Western military forces move closer to Moscow, eliminating the Kremlin’s ability to trade space for time. Similarly, missile defense erodes the Kremlin’s most powerful strategic and political weapons, its nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. From the Kremlin’s perspective, the West is willing to attack any ‘disruptive’ country that lacks nuclear capability in order to ‘force its political will’ on international and regional affairs. Therefore, the Russian leadership views its nuclear weapons as its most important political tool because they would have limited to no ability to affect regional and international affairs without them.”

The document goes on to compare NATO policy to co-opt former Soviet states to an imagined Russian effort to incorporate Mexico or Canada into the Warsaw Pact, or deploy ballistic missile defences to the Americas — such actions have never been contemplated by Russia, and would of course never be acceptable to the United States. But, the document says, their equivalence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is already being carried out by NATO to weaken Russia. This is why the incorporation of Georgia into NATO “triggered the 2008 Russian invasion of South Ossetia and the Kremlin’s first use of nuclear coercion.” (p. 87)

“Without dialogue, the risk of another Cold War and possible nuclear confrontation is high.”

Russian regime change?

There is another context to Putin’s paranoid nuclear pronouncements — the justified fear of Western efforts to shape Russian politics.

“… an economically open and growing FSU would likely have significant trade and investment benefits for the United States.”

Ibrahimov further observes that through these policies, the US actively attempted to nurture specific Russian political leaders considered amenable to US interests:

“… reliance on personalities, rather than basic principles, in US dealings with Russia tied the future of American interests to the political viability of certain Russian politicians.” (13–14)

A section by study co-editor Gustav A. Otto, Distinguished Chair for Defense Intelligence at the US Army Combined Arms Center and Chief of Training at the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), elaborates on how this US strategy of political interference plays out today, with several references to an active covert regime change strategy against Putin.

Gustav A. Otto at the Arthur D. Simons Center

“… may soon feel the pressure of the domestic downturn. They will become increasingly vulnerable as the ruble weakens and the purchasing power at home erodes. Are the West and the US poised to take advantage of this, or will we miss another opportunity?” (p. 103)

What does “taking advantage” actually mean? The document appears to suggest interference in Russia’s forthcoming elections:

“As the US and the West wrestle with what they want Russia to look like, they would be well served to pursue a tiered strategy of appeasement, persuasion, and deterrence without seeking to escalate already bloody friction points.”

He doesn’t quite seem to understand that the assumption that the US should be able to shape Russian politics and economics through a “tiered” carrot and stick “strategy” might be a principal cause of escalating those “friction points.”

“Another possible strategy option for the US would be to seek to dethrone Putin, in hopes of a more cooperative successor. Rather than Iraq-like military ousting, the US and the West could drive a cohesive information, economic and diplomatic campaign helping Putin’s supporters choose a new leader… This strategy seems to have fits of starts and stops by the US and several others in the West. Putin is a master at navigating these kinds of threats, and almost seems to invite them, knowing this is a game he excels at. An anti-Putin campaign probably isn’t what the US and the West really want. Rather, it is to minimize new aggression and mitigate behaviors to date.”

With that in mind, the document also sets out more conciliatory gestures to appease Russia, for instance, in “negotiations on any of the frozen conflicts the US, the West and Russia are involved in… One notion might be a bigger role with Iran, Syria or even Turkey.”

“Putin is rational and he isn’t weak… yet. However, the recent economic turmoil, the frailty of the petrol industry, and a struggling domestic agriculture may eventually force him to address some of these issues. Bread lines in Russia are growing and shelves are becoming barer. We should be ready to strike when that time comes, and it is coming.” (p. 107)

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