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Showdown in Crimea: Russia's need for ports and energy

26 March 2014 [12:08] - TODAY.AZ
By Claude Salhani - Trend:

The West is angered by Russian President Vladimir Putin's maneuvering over Crimea and one may add, rightfully so. But what if one looked at the current crisis from a Russian perspective? How different would the analysis be from what we are currently seeing reported in the mainstream, mostly Western media?

Yes, without a doubt Russia is guilty of meddling in Ukraine, and the intent of this analysis is not meant to absolve Russia's action by any means, but then again The United States and the European Union are not without sin in that respect. If one wants to play devil's advocate, one could argue that Russia invaded, or "intervened" in a province that was once part of its territory and where a large ethnic Russian community lives, while the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq and Afghanistan.

As it should, the pro-West mainstream media has given much attention to Russia's "intervention" in Ukraine, but was largely silent on the meddling by the Americans and Europeans in internal Ukrainian affairs.

Consecutive U.S. administrations have continued to deal with Russia as though the Cold War that divided East and West was still being fought. Indeed, the Cold War may be over but the rivalry remains. The disagreements are no longer over diverging political philosophies, but over resources: oil, gas and pipelines.

The former Soviet Union has turned just as capitalist as the West, if not more so.
President Putin feels, as many Russians do since the collapse of the USSR, that the West has taken advantage of the situation and moved to incorporate former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO and in the process they have moved NATO borders all that much closer to Russia.

So when the opportunity presented itself, Russia acted and Putin moved his troops to take control of Crimea. There are two reasons why Ukraine is of primary importance to Russia.

Many analysts believe Russia's need to access warm water ports for its Black Sea fleet is a major issue of concern for Moscow, which it is.

Another reason for Putin's "intervention" in Ukraine has to do with Russia elbowing for dominance of the very lucrative and strategically important "energy corridors."
While access to the ports is of vital importance, it is not the primary reason why Putin is willing to risk going to war with the West over Crimea. What pushes Russia to flirt with the possibility of thermonuclear war? It is access and control of the "energy corridors."
Those are the pipeline routes that traverse the Caucasus bringing oil and natural gas from Central Asia and the Caspian area.

The political games being fought out between the Russians and the Americans over Ukraine today is for control of the energy corridors.

A recent report published by the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, notes that "Ukraine's strategic location between the main energy producers (Russia and the Caspian Sea area) and consumers in the Eurasian region, its large transit network, and its available underground gas storage capacities," make the country," a potentially crucial player in European energy transit" - a position that will "grow as Western European demands for Russian and Caspian gas and oil continue to increase."

The report goes on to say, "Ukraine's dependence on Russian energy imports has had "negative implications for U.S. strategy in the region."

As long as Russia controls the flow of oil and gas it has the upper hand. Russia's Gazprom currently controls almost a fifth of the world's gas reserves.

More than half of Ukraine's and nearly 30 percent of Europe's gas comes from Russia. Moscow wants to try and keep things going its way; Washington and Brussels find it in their interests to try and alter that by creating multiple channels for central Asian and Caspian oil to flow westwards.

Ukraine today finds itself in the center of the dispute.
Claude Salhani is senior editor at Trend Agency in Baku and a political analyst specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and terrorism. You can follow him in Twitter @claudesalhani.

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