The Enemy of Cheney’s Enemy

Posted by Cutler on December 15, 2006
Iran, Russia

Enemy of My EnemyVice President Cheney talks tough on Iran.  Vice President Cheney talks tough on Russia.

How would Cheney talk if he were forced to choose between confrontation with Iran and confrontation between Russia?

The most obvious answer is that Cheney will do everything in his power to avoid having to make that choice.  Two recent news stories not show that Cheney is very effective at keeping both regimes in the crosshairs without capitulating to either.  But one might also hint at Cheney’s response if forced to choose: Cheney’s paramount target is Russia.

The first news story concerns US efforts to pass a UN resolution on Iranian sanctions.  Here is how the Right Zionist New York Sun reported the story:

Despite the departure of its ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, America is drawing fire at the U.N. Security Council. Several council members accused Washington’s U.N. representatives yesterday of provoking anger in an undiplomatic manner, possibly harming negotiations on a resolution that would impose sanctions on Iran.

The Security Council had just wrapped up a debate on Lebanon and the Ivory Coast last night and some members were planning a separate discussion on Iran when an American representative, William Brencick, raised the issue of recent human rights violations in Belarus, a Russian neighbor and ally.

His remarks prompted the Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, to storm out of the meeting, saying he would not join the talks on Iran and that he needed “some time for reflection” and had “decided to relax a bit.” Asked why the consultations on Iran should not take place as scheduled, he said, “Because I said so.”

Brencick’s invocation of Belarus was part of a far larger Cheney-led initiative to pry former Soviet republics away from Russian influence.

The Financial Times helps put the Belarus story in the context of Great Power Rivalry, in which the US is trying to exploit tensions between Russia and Belarus.

Russia is set to deal a double blow to the economy of one of its closest allies – potentially making life much more difficult for the man the US has called “Europe’s last dictator”.

[Bu] pressing for Belarus to pay much more for its natural gas, Moscow… could sharply reduce or wipe out the $4bn-plus effective annual subsidy Russia provides to Belarus, which has helped Alexander Lukashenko, its authoritarian president, deliver higher wages and living standards to his 10m people.

That, say analysts, could make it harder to sustain the support that saw Mr Lukashenko re-elected last March to a third presidential term with 82 per cent of the vote – albeit in a poll international observers condemned as below international standards. It could also drive a wedge between countries with close cultural and historic links….

This is a sharp turnaround from nine months ago, when Russian president Vladimir Putin was criticised for being one of the few world leaders to congratulate Mr Lukashenko on his controversial election victory. It is the more surprising since Russia and Belarus signed agreements in the mid-1990s on creating a political and economic union, including a common currency and union constitution.

Analysts from both countries suggest Moscow is penalising Mr Lukashenko for not delivering on pledges of closer integration with Russia, including the currency union and selling half of Beltransgaz, the Belarusian gas distributor, to Gazprom, the Russian natural gas giant. Beltransgaz controls the gas export pipeline to western Europe…

The Belarus president now has a difficult choice. He is loath to cede a half-share to Russia in Beltransgaz, which one western diplomat calls Belarus’s “sacred cow”.
But even a limited gas price increase could render much of the country’s largely state-owned industry uncompetitive – and handing over the Beltransgaz stake would probably only delay Russia’s demands for a higher gas price.

In terms of the UN resolution on Iran, the “Belarus” affair implies that the effort to court Russian participation in the US-led UN effort to isolate Iran will not be allowed to interfere with ongoing battles US efforts to undermine Russian control of the former Soviet republics.

The second news story concerns a similar battle over the fate of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

As the Financial Times reports, Russia is threatening to cut off natural gas supplies to Georgia.  Georgia has two possible alternative sources of natural gas that would help break the Russian hold on Georgia.

The first alternative source of natural gas, as the Financial Times reports, is a new 690km gas pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan that will provide Georgia with gas that does not travel through Russian territory.

For Cheney, this is the key alternative.  However, it may not be sufficient to meet Georgian gas needs.

The other major Georgian alternative source of natural gas is Iran.

If the Baku gas proves insufficient, Cheney would have to choose between his quest to keep Georgia from Russia and his quest to keep Georgia from Iran.

Reports from Cheney’s recent meetings with the Georgian Prime Minister seem to indicate that if push comes to shove, Cheney may blink on Iran.

At present Georgia is in talks with Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran on gas supplies to the republic. The United States is against long-term strategic partnership between Tbilisi and Teheran in the natural gas sphere, however, does not rule out possible supplies of Iranian gas to Georgia in the event of force majeure as it happened in late January due to an explosion on a gas pipeline in North Ossetia.

A Regnum News Agency report makes it clear, however, that the US would obviously rather not have to make this choice:

“We have been working on the question of receiving natural gas from alternative sources. First of all, we shall accomplish talks with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Only after that, if it is necessary, we shall continue our talks with Iran,” Zurab Nogaideli declared. “But the only thing is clear: Georgia will not be left without gas in winter,” the prime minister said.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza expressed his hope talking to reporters in Washington that Georgia would receive enough natural gas from the Azerbaijani Shah Deniz gas field, and it will not have to import gas from Iran. “We comprehend that Georgia can find itself in a difficult situation, and we are interested that the country will not be left without natural gas. We know, Georgia has been conducting talks with the neighboring countries, Azerbaijan and Turkey on the question of receiving additional amount of gas. I think, this amount of gas will be enough not to import gas from Iran,” Matthew Bryza said.

Keep an eye on this story.  It may say quite a bit about Cheney’s priorities.

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