The Eurasian Big Bang How China and Russia Are Running Rings Around Washington
By Pepe Escobar
"Information Clearing House - 23/7/2015
- Let's start with the geopolitical Big Bang you know nothing about, the one that occurred just two weeks ago. Here are its results: from now on, any possible future attack on
Iran threatened by the Pentagon (in conjunction with NATO) would essentially be an assault on the planning of an interlocking set of organizations -- the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), the EEU (Eurasian Economic Union), the AIIB (the new Chinese-founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), and the NDB (the BRICS' New Development Bank) -- whose acronyms you're unlikely to recognize either. Still, they represent an emerging new order in Eurasia.
Tehran, Beijing, Moscow, Islamabad, and New Delhi have been actively
establishing interlocking security guarantees. They have been simultaneously calling the Atlanticist bluff when it comes to the endless
drumbeat of attention given to the flimsy meme of Iran's "nuclear weapons
program." And a few days before the Vienna nuclear negotiations finally
culminated in an agreement, all of this came together at a twin BRICS/SCO
summit in Ufa, Russia -- a place you've undoubtedly never heard of
meeting that got next to no attention in the U.S. And yet sooner or later,
these developments will ensure that the War Party in Washington and
assorted neocons (as well as neoliberalcons) already breathing hard over
the Iran deal will sweat bullets as their narratives about how the world
The Eurasian Silk Road
With the Vienna deal, whose interminable build-up I had the dubious pleasure
<http://atimes.com/category/pepe-escobar/> of following closely, Iranian
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his diplomatic team have pulled the
near-impossible out of an extremely crumpled magician's hat: an agreement
that might actually end sanctions against their country from an asymmetric,
largely manufactured conflict.
Think of that meeting in Ufa, the capital of Russia's Bashkortostan, as a
preamble to the long-delayed agreement in Vienna. It caught the new
dynamics of the Eurasian continent and signaled the future geopolitical Big
Bangness of it all. At Ufa, from July 8th to 10th, the 7th BRICS summit and
the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit overlapped just as a
possible Vienna deal was devouring one deadline after another.
Consider it a diplomatic masterstroke of Vladmir Putin's Russia to
merged those two summits with an informal meeting of the Eurasian Economic
Union (EEU). Call it a soft power declaration of war against Washington's
imperial logic, one that would highlight the breadth and depth of an
evolving Sino-Russian strategic partnership. Putting all those heads of
state attending each of the meetings under one roof, Moscow offered a
The Silk Road Superhighway: Kazakh Transportation as Geopolitics
By Matthew Crosston journal-neo.org - 6/7/2015
It is entirely common for a federal government to make budgetary promises to improve infrastructure. Indeed, every country around the world is full with both promises and jokes lampooning said promises to ‘fix roads, fill potholes, and make it easier to get around and do business.’ Kazakhstan in 2015 is no different in that case from any other government. But there are some interesting regional, transregional, and truly global infrastructure projects Kazakhstan is including alongside the standard local fixes that could carry significant geopolitical weight moving into the future. Indeed, just how successful Kazakhstan is in ‘fixing the potholes’ across its country could become incredibly important to countries like Russia, China, Turkey, Germany, and the United States. Who knew road work could be so exciting!
First consideration goes to the Western Europe – Western China International Transit Corridor, which is a massive construction endeavor aiming to reinvigorate what is basically a modern ‘Silk Road,’ only with all the amenities of modern highway construction. The 7.5 billion USD infrastructure investment will basically connect Western Europe with an efficient superhighway to Western China (and subsequently through China’s highway system all the way, theoretically, to the Pacific Ocean) through Kazakhstan. The 2,840 km transit system has approximately 2/3 of the cost coming from the World Bank, ADB, EBRD, and IDB. Kazakhstan for its part highlights the importance of this corridor not just in its economic reports but in its foreign policy and national security briefings, with its ultimate goal to decrease the delivery of goods from China to Europe from the current road travel time of 45 days down all the way to just 10. This new Silk Road ostensibly rests on Kazakhstan for being the crucial ‘middle passage’ that makes the Europe to Asia connection possible. In its own policy briefings Kazakhstan emphasizes this need not just as a better conduit for improving business and trade but literally connecting the world via roadway in a peaceful and open endeavor. It is somewhat surprising much of the Western world has not capitalized on this massive human geopolitical transportation project more heavily.
Kazakhstan also intends to improve its national rail system, hoping to increase its operating efficiency and reach by being the main connector of the Caspian Sea to the Pacific Ocean and the chief conduit for China to reach Central Asia and beyond to Western Europe. Many fine scholars and analysts in the past have made note of Kazakhstan’s irrefutable central location as the connection point between Europe and Asia. While history has often made reference to Istanbul (nee Constantinople) as the ‘Gateway to the East,’ that is largely a contextual reference based on a history that is now past. The true ‘gateway’ with proper infrastructural development, both economically and politically, could be Kazakhstan. It finally seems fully aware of this potential, given the new emphasis within its budget, foreign policy, and national security policies. More interesting still will be to see, if this comes to fruition, how much there will be a cascade or copy-cat effect on the rest of the Central Asian ‘Stans. Kazakhstan perhaps more than any other Central Asian country has focused on open trade, transnational communication, participation within the global economy, and the rejection of radicalization and extremism. Perhaps most importantly, it has done this with a much less heavy-handed approach when compared to its immediate neighbors in the region.
Even more fascinating has been the launch of a completely new project called the ‘Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran’ (KTI) railway. In the past decade this project could have run afoul of the United States, what with its adamant stance on keeping Iran limited and constrained in terms of economic development as long as it was still under suspicion with its nuclear energy/weapons program. Recent improvements in Iranian-American relations, or at least the prospect of those relations warming up and becoming more tenable, could prove to be of tremendous benefit to Kazakhstan and especially the KTI railway. Most in the West have viewed the softening of relations between Iran and the West strictly from the much larger perspective of global geopolitics and conflict. Much less time and attention has been paid to the numerous payoff effects such a thaw may have on the immediate region. Kazakhstan clearly has not missed this relevance and is deftly trying to position itself to capitalize on potentialities.
Kazakhstan is not without its problems. Any country that has been ruled by the same leader, and his commensurate favorites, uninterrupted since 1991 cannot be absent the typical corruption, nepotism, waste, and bureaucratic inefficiency notorious with any government so dominant and assured of its place and future. But time and accomplishment has clearly shown Kazakhstan to be a fairly ‘dull’ country. And in this case, ‘dull’ is quite positive: it means it is relatively stable, reliable, and absent the turbulence that has been seen more than once in several of its neighbors: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Iran just to name several. Kazakhstan may not be the most open or the most perfectly democratic of systems. But it clearly values calm stability and economic progress, not in the sycophantic and somewhat irrational way that Turkmenistan does, but in a way that sees its future as an active member of the global economic system and wanting to be considered a valued partner in the larger global community of politics. Until recently, only Azerbaijan in the Caspian region could consistently lay claim to that goal. Kazakhstan seems intent on making that club now a twosome. As the saying goes – once could be an accident, but twice would be a trend. If Kazakhstan continues to play out this new role as Central Asia’s stable giant, as the Caspian’s reliable ‘Stan, then it may just end up finding itself in a much more important geopolitical role: the conduit from West to East, the solidifier of a new Silk Road, and the foundation upon which a new era of communication, trade, and transportation develops between the two dominant civilizations in human history. Not bad for a strategy that basically started with a desire to just fix a few potholes.
Dr. Matthew Crosston is Professor of Political Science and Director of the International Security and Intelligence Studies program at Bellevue University, exclusively for the online magazine
“New Eastern Outlook”
The South Caucasus And The Limits Of Western Power
By Andrew Moffatt
brookings.edu / horizonweekly.ca - 22/7/2015
Brooking - If Russia is a "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" as Churchill famously claimed, then the South Caucasus region is a conundrum cloaked in obscurity and tangled in Gordian knots. The three countries of the region--Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia--have distinct ethnic, cultural, religious, linguistic, and geopolitical identities that have been shaped and hardened over a millennia-long history in the craggy Caucasus mountains. But despite the tremendous differences among the constituent countries, they are typically grouped together in Western policy considerations. This grouping has led to shortsighted policy approaches at times, but it is naive to expect the average policymaker in Washington or Brussels to appreciate the granular complexity of a South Dakota-sized region in Eurasia.
That said, the countries of the South Caucasus today share a similar and arguably unique challenge for Western policymakers.
Stability and integration in the region are clearly important to the West--the region is a strategic global crossroads and a traditional scrum of great power interests. But the region is also of relatively low priority, and the West has limited capacity for major initiatives that might solve the region's intractable problems. Within this reality, there is still much that the United States, Europe, and particularly Turkey can do "below the radar" to encourage the countries of the region onto a better trajectory. Together with my colleagues Fiona Hill and Kemal KiriÅ~_ci, we have published a new report, Retracing the Caucasian Circle--Considerations and Constraints for U.S., EU, and Turkish Engagement in the South Caucasus, that proposes a policy of "soft regionalism" that focuses on long-term efforts, mostly at the societal level, that might move toward overcoming the fragility and fragmentation of the region.
High hopes, dashed
Soft regionalism is not the traditional Western policy in the region.
Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the South Caucasus
countries drew considerable Western attention for three principal reasons: The newly independent nations held untapped potential for developing a new route for exporting Caspian hydrocarbons; the West aspired to further its associations with Euro-Atlantic institutions to enhance security and stability on the periphery of Europe; and the West had an interest in offsetting long-standing Russian and Iranian influences. The countries appeared keen to transform their states into modern democratic societies, integrate their countries into the global economy, and forge new political and security relations with the West.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, this orientation--combined with assistance from the United States and Europe--led to considerable economic and institutional developments and reforms in the South Caucasus, including the launch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline in May 2005 and a promise to Georgia in 2008 that it would one day join NATO.
Since 2008, however, the trajectory of the South Caucasus has radically changed. The brief Georgian-Russian war in August of that year starkly revealed Russia's interpretation of the region as part of its privileged sphere of interests. For the West, other foreign policy crises--from the Arab Spring to Syria and Iran--overwhelmed its agenda and led to an unintentional disengagement in the South Caucasus. The global economic downturn eroded its international aid financing, and the eurozone crisis diminished both the attractiveness of EU integration for aspirants and the EU's own appetite for enlargement.
Western-supported efforts to bring about greater stability and regional integration, including the EU's Eastern Partnership framework and the diplomatic push to normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia, have either foundered or backfired. Lastly, changes in the global energy market, including diminished European demand for gas, have revised strategic calculations about the value of Caspian resources for European energy security.
More recently, Russia's annexation of Crimea and its backing of separatists in Eastern Ukraine have heightened the sense of insecurity and instability in the South Caucasus and exposed the risks for post-Soviet states of pursuing a Western orientation. Russian assertiveness has also reignited long simmering tensions surrounding the unresolved conflicts in the South Caucasus, especially in Nagorno-Karabakh where violence has reached its highest level since the ceasefire was signed in 1994.
Ready for the long haul?
The West now finds itself looking toward the South Caucasus with fewer resources and less overall foreign policy capacity, while the three countries themselves no longer share an unambiguous orientation toward Euro-Atlantic integration. Across the region, government officials and
the foreign policy elites have become cynical about Western intentions and commitment after the failure of past policy initiatives. The United States and Europe have struggled to formulate a sustainable policy approach that adapts its vision for the region and the tools available to engage it with the changing geopolitical realities.
This reality means that the United States and EU need to resist the urge to "fix" the region through grand gestures that will ultimately lack sustainability. To make the most of limited capacity and sustain efforts over the long term, U.S. and EU engagement should complement and potentially build upon Turkey's regional involvement. More generally, for the countries to move forward in resolving conflicts and improving internal and external relations, an informal regional understanding needs to be created that could encourage trade, civil society contacts, and conflict management exercises. The absence of formal regional institutions, or even a shared sense of belonging, remains a fundamental impediment to untangling the knots of the South Caucasus and realizing its potential.
This is a long-term policy, requiring great strategic patience. It lacks the satisfaction of grand pronouncements and media-friendly summits. But it is a realistic expression of both Western interests and Western capacities, and it holds out hope of effectively promoting regional integration into a more stable order.