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From Energy Core to Currency War

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A multi-spectrum war is being waged against Moscow by Washington. If there are any doubts about this, they should be put to rest. Geopolitics, science and technology, speculation, financial markets, information streams, large business conglomerates, intelligentsia, mass communication, social media, the internet, popular culture, news networks, international institutions, sanctions, audiences, public opinion, nationalism, different governmental bodies and agencies, identity politics, proxy wars, diplomacy, countervailing international alliances, major business agreements, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights, prestige, military personnel, capital, and psychological tactics are all involved in this multi-spectrum war.

On a daily basis this struggle can be seen playing out on the airwaves, in the war theaters in Ukraine and the Middle East, through the statements and accusations of diplomats, and in the economic sphere.
Additionally, the debates and questions on whether a new cold war—a post-Cold War cold war—has emerged or if the Cold War never ended should be put to rest too. The mentality of the Cold War never died in the Washington Beltway.

From the perspective of Russian officials, it is clear that the US never put down its war mace and continued the offensive. The dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, defeating the Soviets and Eastern Bloc, and seeing the Soviet Union dismantled into fifteen republics was not enough for the Cold War warriors in the US. The newly emergent Russian Federation had to be placated in their views.
Petro-politics have been a major feature of this multi-spectrum war too. [1] Not only have energy prices been a factor in this struggle, but so are financial markets and national currencies. The manipulated decline in the price of energy, which has been driven by the flooding of the global market with oil, is now being augmented by a siege on the value of the Russian ruble.
This is part of what appears to be a deliberate two-pronged attack on the Russian Federation that seeks to cut Russia’s revenues through market manipulation via economic sanctions and price drops. It is what you would call a «double whammy». While sanctions have been imposed on the Russian economy by the US and its allies, including Australia, Canada, the European Union, and Japan, offensives on Russia’s main source of revenue — energy — and its national currency have taken place.

Currency Warfare and Inflation
The price of the Russian ruble begun to drop in December 2014 as a consequence of the economic siege on the Russian Federation, the drop in global energy prices, and speculation. «Judging by the situation in the country, we are in the midst of a deep currency crisis, one that even Central Bank employees say they could not have foreseen in their worst nightmares». Interfax’s Vyacheslav Terekhov commented on the currency crisis while talking to Russian Preisdent Vladimir Putin during a Kremlin press conference on December 18, 2014. [2] Putin himself admitted this too at the press conference. While answering Terekhov, Putin explained that «the situation has changed under the influence of certain foreign economic factors, primarily the price of energy resources, of oil and consequently of gas as well». [3]
Some may think that the drop in the Russian ruble’s value is a result of the market acting on its own while others who recognize that there is market manipulation involved may turn around and blame it on the Russian government and Vladimir Putin.

This process, however, has been guided by US machinations. It is simply not a result of the market acting on its own or the result of Kremlin policies. It is the result of US objectives and policy that deliberately targets Russia for destabilization and devastation. This is why Putin answered Terekhov’s question by saying that the drop in the value of the Russian ruble «was obviously provoked primarily by external factors». [4]
Both US Assistant-Secretary of State Victoria Nuland — the wife of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) co-founder and neo-conservative advocate for empire Robert Kagan—and US Assistant-Secretary of the Treasury Daniel Glaser told the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives in May 2014 that the objectives of the US economic sanctions strategy against the Russian Federation was not only to damage the trade ties and business between Russia and the EU, but to also bring about economic instability in Russia and to create currency instability and inflation. [5]
In other words, the US government was targeting the Russian ruble for devaluation and the Russian economy for inflation since at least May 2014.

It appears that the US is trying to manipulate the Kremlin into spending Russia’s resources and fiscal reserves to fight the inflation of the Russian ruble that Washington has engineered.
The Kremlin, however, will not take the bait and be goaded into depleting the approximately $419 billion (US) foreign currency reserves and gold holdings of the Russian Federation or any of Russia’s approximately 8.4 trillion ruble reserves in an effort to prop the declining value of the Russian ruble.

In this regard, while holding a press conference, President Putin has stated the following on December 18, 2014: «The Central Bank does not intend to ‘burn’ them all senselessly, which is right». [6] Putin emphasized this again when answering Vyacheslav Terekhov’s question by saying that the Russian government and Russian Central Bank «should not hand out our gold and foreign currency reserves or burn them on the market, but provide lending resources». [7]
The Kremlin understands what Washington is trying to do. The US is replaying old game plans against Russia. The energy price manipulation, the currency devaluation, and even US attempts to entrap Russia in a conflict with its sister-republic Ukraine are all replays of US tactics that have been used before during the Cold War and after 1991.
For example, dragging Russia into Ukraine would be a replay of how the US dragged the Soviet Union into Afghanistan whereas the manipulation of energy prices and currency markets would parallel the US strategy used to weaken and destabilize Baathist Iraq, Iran, and the Soviet Union during the Afghan-Soviet War and Iran-Iran War.
Instead of trying to stop the value of the ruble from dropping, the Kremlin appears to have decided to strategically invest in Russia’s human capital. Russia’s national reserve funds will be used to diversify the national economy and strengthen the social and public sectors.
Despite the economic warfare against Russia, this is exactly why the wages of teachers in schools, professors in post-secondary institutions of learning and training, employees of cultural institutions, doctors in hospitals and clinics, paramedics, and nurses—the most important sectors for developing Russia’s human capital and capacity—have all been raised.

The Russian Bear Courts the Turkish Grey Wolf
The Kremlin, however, has an entire list of options at its disposal for countering the US offensive against Russia. One of them involves the courting of Turkey. The Russian courtship of Turkey has involved the Russian move away from the construction of the South Stream natural gas pipeline from Russia across the Black Sea to Bulgaria.
Putin announced that Russia has cancelled the South Stream project on December 1, 2014. Instead the South Stream pipeline project has been replaced by a natural gas pipeline that goes across the Black Sea to Turkey from the Russian Federation’s South Federal District.
This alterative pipeline has been popularly billed the «Turk Stream» and partners Russian energy giant Gazprom with Turkey’s Botas. Moreover, Gazprom will start giving Turkey discounts in the purchase of Russian natural gas that will increase with the intensification of Russo-Turkish cooperation.

The natural gas deal between Ankara and Moscow creates a win-win situation for both the Turkish and Russian sides. Not only will Ankara get a discount on energy supplies, but Turk Stream gives the Turkish government what it has wanted and desired for years.
The Turk Stream pipeline will make Turkey an important energy corridor and transit point, complete with transit revenues. In this case Turkey becomes the corridor between energy supplier Russia and European Union and non-EU energy customers in southeastern Europe.
Ankara will gain some leverage over the European Union and have an extra negotiating card with the EU too, because the EU will have to deal with it as an energy broker.
For its part, Russia has reduced the risks that it faced in building the South Stream by cancelling the project. Moscow could have wasted resources and time building the South Stream to see the project sanctioned or obstructed in the Balkans by Washington and Brussels.
If the European Union really wants Russian natural gas then the Turk Stream pipeline can be expanded from Turkey to Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic (FYR) of Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Austria, and other European countries that want to be integrated into the energy project.

The cancelation of South Stream also means that there will be one less alternative energy corridor from Russia to the European Union for some time. This has positive implications for a settlement in Ukraine, which is an important transit route for Russian natural gas to the European Union.
As a means of securing the flow of natural gas across Ukrainian territory from Russia, the European Union will be more prone to push the authorities in Kiev to end the conflict in East Ukraine.

In more ways than one the Turk Stream pipeline can be viewed as a reconfigured of the failed Nabucco natural gas pipeline. Not only will Turk Stream court Turkey and give Moscow leverage against the European Union, instead of reducing Russian influence as Nabucco was originally intended to do, the new pipeline to Turkey also coaxes Ankara to align its economic and strategic interests with those of Russian interests.
This is why, when addressing Nabucco and the rivalries for establishing alternate energy corridors, this author pointed out in 2007 that «the creation of these energy corridors and networks is like a two-edged sword. These geo-strategic fulcrums or energy pivots can also switch their directions of leverage. The integration of infrastructure also leads towards economic integration». [8]
The creation of Turk Stream and the strengthening of Russo-Turkish ties may even help placate the gory conflict in Syria. If Iranian natural gas is integrated into the mainframe of Turk Stream through another energy corridor entering Anatolia from Iranian territory, then Turkish interests would be even more tightly aligned with both Moscow and Tehran.

Turkey will save itself from the defeats of its neo-Ottoman policies and be able to withdraw from the Syrian crisis. This will allow Ankara to politically realign itself with two its most important trading partners, Iran and Russia.
It is because of the importance of Irano-Turkish and Russo-Turkish trade and energy ties that Ankara has had an understanding with both Russia and Iran not to let politics and their differences over the Syrian crisis get in the way of their economic ties and business relationships while Washington has tried to disrupt Irano-Turkish and Russo-Turkish trade and energy ties like it has disrupted trade ties between Russia and the EU. [9]

Ankara, however, realizes that if it lets politics disrupt its economic ties with Iran and Russia that Turkey itself will become weakened and lose whatever independence it enjoys
Masterfully announcing the Russian move while in Ankara, Putin also took the opportunity to ensure that there would be heated conversation inside the EU. Some would call this rubbing salt on the wounds. Knowing that profit and opportunity costs would create internal debate within Bulgaria and the EU, Putin rhetorically asked if Bulgaria was going to be economically compensated by the European Commission for the loss.

The Russian Bear and the Chinese Dragon
It is clear that Russian business and trade ties have been redirected to the People’s Republic of China and East Asia. On the occasion of the Sino-Russian mega natural gas deal, this author pointed out that this was not as much a Russian countermove to US economic pressure as it was really a long-term Russian strategy that seeks an increase in trade and ties with East Asia. [10]
Vladimir Putin himself also corroborated this standpoint during the December 18 press conference mentioned earlier when he dismissed—like this author—the notion that the so-called «Russian turn to the East» was mainly the result of the crisis in Ukraine.
In President Putin’s own words, the process of increasing business ties with the Chinese and East Asia «stems from the global economic processes, because the East – that is, the Asia-Pacific Region – shows faster growth than the rest of the world». [11]
If this is not convincing enough that the turn towards East Asia was already in the works for Russia, then Putin makes it categorically clear as he proceeds talking at the December 18 press conference.

In reference to the Sino-Russian gas deal and other Russian projects in East Asia, Putin explained the following: «The projects we are working on were planned long ago, even before the most recent problems occurred in the global or Russian economy. We are simply implementing our long-time plans». [12]
From the perspective of Russian Presidential Advisor Sergey Glazyev, the US is waging its multi-spectrum war against Russia to ultimately challenge Moscow’s Chinese partners.

In an insightful interview, Glazyev explained the following points to the Ukrainian journalist Alyona Berezovskaya—working for a Rossiya Segodnya subsidiary focusing on information involving Ukraine—about the basis for US hostility towards Russia: the bankruptcy of the US, its decline in competitiveness on global markets, and Washington’s inability to ultimately save its financial system by serving its foreign debt or get enough investments to establish some sort of innovative economic breakthrough are the reasons why Washington has been going after the Russian Federation. [13]
In Glazyev’s own words, the US wants «a new world war». [14] The US needs conflict and confrontation, in other words. This is what the crisis in Ukraine is nurturing in Europe.

Sergey Glazyev reiterates the same points months down the road on September 23, 2014 in an article he authors for the magazine Russia in Global Affairs, which is sponsored by the Russian International Affairs Council—an think-tank founded by the Russian Foreign Ministry and Russian Ministry of Education 2010—and the US journal Foreign Affairs—which is the magazine published by the Council on Foreign Relation in the US.
In his article, Glazyev adds that the war Washington is inciting against Russia in Europe may ultimately benefit the Chinese, because the struggle being waged will weaken the US, Russia, and the European Union to the advantage of China. [15]

The point of explaining all this is to explain that Russia wants a balanced strategic partnership with China. Glazyev himself even told Berezovskaya in their interview that Russia wants a mutually beneficial relationship with China that does reduce to becoming a subordinate to Beijing. [16]
Without question, the US wants to disrupt the strategic partnership between Beijing and Moscow. Moscow’s strategic long-term planning and Sino-Russian cooperation has provided the Russia Federation with an important degree of economic and strategic insulation from the economic warfare being waged against the Russian national economy.

Washington, however, may also be trying to entice the Chinese to overplay their hand as Russia is economically attacked. In this context, the price drops in the energy market may also be geared at creating friction between Beijing and Moscow.
In part, the manipulation of the energy market and the price drops could seek to weaken and erode Sino-Russian relations by coaxing the Chinese into taking steps that would tarnish their excellent ties with their Russian partners.
The currency war against the Russian ruble may also be geared towards this too. In other words, Washington may be hoping that China becomes greedy and shortsighted enough to make an attempt to take advantage of the price drop in energy prices in the devaluation of the Russian ruble.

Whatever Washington’s intentions are, every step that the US takes to target Russia economically will eventually hurt the US economy too. It is also highly unlikely that the policy mandarins in Beijing are unaware of what the US may try to be doing. The Chinese are aware that ultimately it is China and not Russia that is the target of the United States.

Economic Terrorism: An Argentina versus the Vulture Funds Scenario?
The United States is waging a fully fledged economic war against the Russian Federations and its national economy. Ultimately, all Russians are collectively the target. The economic sanctions are nothing more than economic warfare. If the crisis in Ukraine did not happen, another pretext would have been fund for assaulting Russia.

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Both US Assistant-Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Assistant-Secretary of the Treasury Daniel Glaser even told the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives in May 2014 that the ultimate objectives of the US economic sanctions against Russia were to make the Russian population so miserable and desperate that they would eventually demand that the Kremlin surrender to the US and bring about «political change».
«Political change» can mean many things, but what it most probably implies here is regime change in Moscow. In fact, the aims of the US do not even appear to be geared at coercing the Russian government to change its foreign policy, but to incite regime change in Moscow and to cripple the Russian Federation entirely through the instigation of internal divisions.

This is why maps of a divided Russia are being circulated by Radio Free Europe. [17]

According to Presidential Advisor Sergey Glazyev, Washington is «trying to destroy and weaken Russia, causing it to fragment, as they need this territory and want to establish control over this entire space». [18]

«We have offered cooperation from Lisbon to Vladivostok, whereas they need control to maintain their geopolitical leadership in a competition with China,» he has explained, pointing out that the US wants lordship and is not interested in cooperation. [19]
Alluding to former US top diplomat Madeline Albright’s sentiments that Russia was unfairly endowed with vast territory and resources, Putin also spoke along similar lines at his December 18 press conference, explaining how the US wanted to divide Russia and control the abundant natural resources in Russian territory.

It is of little wonder that in 2014 a record number of Russian citizens have negative attitudes about relations between their country and the United States. A survey conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center has shown that of 39% of Russian respondents viewed relations with the US as «mostly bad» and 27% as «very bad». [20]
This means 66% of Russian respondents have negative views about relations with Washington. This is an inference of the entire Russian population’s views.
Moreover, this is the highest rise in negative perceptions about the US since 2008 when the US supported Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi’s war against Russia and the breakaway republic of South Ossetia; 40% viewed them as «mostly bad» and 25% of Russians viewed relations as «very bad» and at the time. [21]

Russia can address the economic warfare being directed against its national economy and society as a form of «economic terrorism». If Russia’s banks and financial institutions are weakened with the aim of creating financial collapse in the Russian Federation, Moscow can introduce fiscal measures to help its banks and financial sector that could create economic shockwaves in the European Union and North America.
Speaking in hypothetical terms, Russia has lots of options for a financial defensive or counter-offensive that can be compared to its scorched earth policies against Western European invaders during the Napoleonic Wars, the First World War, and the Second World War.
If Russian banks and institutions default and do not pay or delay payment of their derivative debts and justify it on the basis of the economic warfare and economic terrorism, there would be a financial shock and tsunami that would vertebrate from the European Union to North America. This scenario has some parallels to the steps that Argentina is taken to sidestep the vulture funds.
The currency war eventually will rebound on the Washington and Wall Street. The energy war will also reverse directions. Already, the Kremlin has made it clear that it and a coalition of other countries will de-claw the US in the currency market through a response that will neutralize US financial manipulation and the petro-dollar.

In the words of Sergey Glazyev, Moscow is thinking of a «systemic and comprehensive» response «aimed at exposing and ending US political domination, and, most importantly, at undermining US military-political power based on the printing of dollars as a global currency». [22]
His solution includes the creation of «a coalition of sound forces advocating stability—in essence, a global anti-war coalition with a positive plan for rearranging the international financial and economic architecture on the principles of mutual benefit, fairness, and respect for national sovereignty». [23]

The coming century will not be the «American Century» as the neo-conservatives in Washington think. It will be a «Eurasian Century». Washington has taken on more than it can handle, this may be why the US government has announced an end to its sanctions regime against Cuba and why the US is trying to rekindle trade ties with Iran.
Despite this, the architecture of the post-Second World War or post-1945 global order is now in its death bed and finished. This is what the Kremlin and Putin’s presidential spokesman and press secretary Dmitry Peskov mean when they impart—as Peskov stated to Rossiya-24 in a December 17, 2014 interview — that the year 2014 has finally led to «a paradigm shift in the international system».
 

Repost from the MD’s partner the 4th Media.
 
NOTES
[1] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, «Oil Prices and Energy Wars: The Empire of Frack versus Russia,» Strategic Culture Foundation, December 5, 2014.
[2] Official Kremlin version of the transcribed press conference — titled «News conference of Vladimir Putin» (December 18, 2014)—has been used in quoting Vladimir Putin.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, «Psychological War In The Financial Markets And The Sino-Russian Gas Deal,» Mint Press News, May 29, 2014.
[6] Supra. n.2.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, «The ‘Great Game’ Enters the Mediterranean: Gas, Oil, War, and Geo-Politics,» Global Research, October 14, 2007.
[9] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, «Oil Prices and Energy Wars,» op. cit.; Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, «Turkey & Iran: More than meets the eye»RT, January 20, 2014.
[10] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, «Psychological War In The Financial Markets,» op. cit.
[11] Supra. n.2.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Sergey Glazyev, «Alyona Berezovskaya interviews Sergei Glazyev,» Interview with Alyona Berezovskaya, Ukraine.ru, July 17, 2014: .
[14] Ibid.
[15] Sergey Glazyev, «The Threat of War and the Russian Response,» Russia in Global Affairs, September 24, 2014.
[16] Sergey Glazyev, «Alyona Berezovskaya interviews,» op. cit.
[17] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, «WWIII aimed to redraw map of Russia?» Strategic Culture Foundation, September 10, 2014.
[18] Sergey Glazyev, «Alyona Berezovskaya interviews,» op. cit.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Всероссийский центр изучения общественного мнения [Russian Public Opinion Research Center], «Россия-США отношенияв точке замерзания» [«Russia-US Relations at Freezing Point»], Press release 2729, December 4, 2014: .
[21] Ibid.
[22] Sergey Glazyev, «The Threat of War,» op. cit.
[23] Ibid.

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The U.S. Oil Ambitions Threaten Economy and Sovereignty of Syria

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From the very beginning an open U.S. intervention in the Syrian conflict caused heated discussions in the world community concerning legality of activities of the White House in Syria. Many political experts and officials repeatedly spread the opinion that the U.S. military presence in Syria has no legal basis, despite the participation of the U.S.-led International coalition in the fight against ISIS.

The particular interest in legality of the U.S. presence in Syria is caused by its undisguised concern for extraction of Syrian oil, which fields had come under control of pro-American Kurdish groups after military operations. Moreover, economic reasons for U.S. forces participation in the Syrian conflict have been personally announced by Donald Trump during one of his press conferences. And all this was after a long time since the official announcement of a clear victory over ISIS in Syria.

According to official statistics reflecting the Syrian economy, it is possible to see how harmful a long-term war with the terrorist organizations and intervention of foreign countries was for Damascus. For example, the oil industry had been playing a very important role in budgeting Syria and average oil production had been 385 thousand barrels per day. At this moment, as a result of the conflict and the economic crisis in conjunction with assignment of the largest oil fields by the U.S. forces in the Eastern Syria the oil production index fell 24 times, and the total damage to the Syrian economy amounted to 400 billion U.S. dollars. According to the Syrian government advisory council, the oil industry of the country will be able to reach the level of 2011 not earlier than in 5 years at best.

It should be especially noted the recent agreement of the American oil company “Delta Crescent Energy” with Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria to develop and modernize existing oil fields. At the same time it is really hard to know something about this company; it has no markets, own oil refineries and even a website. And the fact that it was founded by the former American official only strengthens an ordinary opinion about close ties between “Delta Crescent Energy” and the U.S. Ministry of Defense.

Not only does this agreement indirectly confirms the White House’s concern for preserving the military contingent in Syria, it also poses a serious threat to the sovereignty of the Arab state and its integrity. Having relied on the Kurdish administration, Washington will create preconditions for an independence of Kurds from the rest of Syria that will increase existing tensions between the largest ethnic groups of Syria. Thus, the U.S. by supporting Kurds got an allied regional formation that protects the oilfields.

The U.S. policy in the Middle East is successful if we estimate it from the side of oil companies’ administrations close to the White House. However, from the point of view of those countries, where Washington interfered in the pursuit of crude oil, suffer huge economic losses along with damage to their state integrity. The Syrian economy is seriously harmed by the ongoing conflict and Western sanctions. And such aggressive policy of the United States is only worsening a humanitarian disaster in Syria.

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The Rise of Targeted Sanctions Towards International Energy Companies & Collateral Effects

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International sanctions are becoming a major foreign policy tool against state-owned oil & gas companies in jurisdictions like Russia and Venezuela that were not used to this type of measure against its economic interest. Until a few years ago, companies like Rosneft Oil Company and Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), easily accessed the international financial markets with multibillion global bond emissions and international financings that were extremely attractive to major investment banks.

The first type of applicable sanctions laws are “primary” sanctions, which are traditional U.S. sanctions, and apply only to prohibited transactions with a U.S. nexus. The second type of applicable sanctions laws are “secondary” sanctions, which apply to transactions that are entirely outside of the jurisdiction of the U.S. but seek to sanction specific types of conduct that the U.S. deems particularly contrary to U.S. policy.

In other words, while the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) generally limits its jurisdiction to U.S. persons, in some instances the national security imperative is so great the OFAC will decide to use secondary sanctions even when there is no U.S. person involved at all, such as targeted sanctions against oil tankers delivering PDVSA’s crude oil.

The sophistication of the sanctions regime is reaching new levels, specifically within the Oil & Gas sector. Notably, OFAC is targeting all types of actions that are currently seeking to circumvent its sanctions regime, with broader consequences to the targeted companies and persons.

The Rosneft & PDVSA Case

Rosneft, PDVSA, and international companies delivering crude oil have been targeted by OFAC. More than 25 oil tankers and 17 shipping companies that were selling crude oil for PDVSA have been sanctioned. This new trend of OFAC sanctions began in April 2019, when 4 shipping companies and 10 ships related to oil trading with PDVSA were targeted.

In February 2020, Rosneft Trading, S.A., and its President Didier Casimiro were subject to OFAC sanctions for the trading of Venezuelan oil. The U.S. Department of the Treasury determined that 80% of the oil tankers used by PDVSA to export oil were from Rosneft. As a result of the sanctions, some crude oil deliveries by Rosneft to China were rejected by potential buyers.

Afterward, in March 2020, TNK Trading international S.A. (TTI), a subsidiary of Rosneft, was targeted by OFAC for replacing Rosneft Trading, S.A. trading operations with PDVSA in order to evade OFAC sanctions. In January 2020, 14 million barrels of crude oil were purchased by TTI from PDVSA. Rosneft stated that the trades were repayments arising out of a $6.5 billion loan to PDVSA with $800 still outstanding by the third quarter of 2019.

PDVSA’s Access to International Financial Markets

After billions of dollars borrowed from major investment banks and global bond emissions, PDVSA’s access to international financial markets was severely affected by its OFAC designation in January 2019.

Effectively, this meant that PDVSA assets under U.S jurisdiction were blocked, OFAC also prohibited all of PDVSA’s related transactions within U.S. jurisdiction, unless otherwise licensed, authorized, or under the scope of the SDN designation. U.S. companies like Chevron, Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, and Weatherford operating in Venezuela requested general licenses to OFAC in order to keep its operations on going with PDVSA.

Bypassing the Sanctions Regime

Iran, Mexico, individuals, and companies have been trying to bypass the OFAC sanctions regime. In May 2020, the U.S. Department of State, OFAC, and the U.S. Coast Guard issued an advisory to international shipping companies to be aware of tactics to evade sanctions like ship-to-ship transfers and by not using the mandatory tracking devices. Such techniques were implemented in crude oil, refined petroleum, and petrochemicals deliveries between Iran and Venezuela.

In Mexico based individuals and entities that were part of a PDVSA sanctions scheme to bypass sanctions were targeted in June 2020. OFAC SDN Alex Nain Moran (Saab) and associates, were evading U.S. Sanctions by doing “oil for food” schemes to sell Venezuelan crude oil. The Mexico based companies, brokered the re-sale of over 30 million barrels of PDVSA’s crude oil by largely replicating Rosneft Trading’s operations and Asian buyers, which did not result in food deliveries to Venezuela according to OFAC.

Saab, last year was charged with money laundering in connection with a bribery scheme by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ stated in the indictment that Saab violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying bribes to Venezuelan government officials in order to access the controlled exchange rate by the Venezuelan government, with import documents for goods and materials that were false and fraudulent and that were never imported into Venezuela.

Moreover, the DOJ alleges that $350 million of bribe payments were transferred through bank accounts located in the Southern District of Florida and then to overseas accounts owned or controlled by Saab. To date, Saab is undergoing an extradition process in Cape Verde to the U.S. in relation to this indictment.

Collateral Effects of the Sanctions Regime

Different collateral effects of the sanctions regime have affected the operations of global oil & gas companies. PDVSA lost three oil supertankers to PetroChina Co Ltd, OFAC sanctions left the ships without insurance, since the insurance companies did not want to be subject to sanctions, this led to the bankruptcy of the joint venture between PDVSA and PetroChina.

The joint venture was created in order to export PDVSA’s oil to China, and other markets. Protection & Indemnity (P&I) insurance for vessels is mandatory pursuant to Singapore law, without the P&I the oil tankers are not able to navigate.

On the other hand, Rosneft announced the sale of its Venezuelan assets to a company 100% owned by the Russian Government, it also terminated all its operations in Venezuela. The selling of the assets is a way to protect Rosneft from current and future sanctions targeted against PDVSA. 

The latest escalation to enforce OFAC sanctions is the U.S. seizure of four Iranian fuel tankers heading for Venezuela. A civil forfeiture complaint alleged that a businessman of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization, arranged the fuel sale.

U.S. officials threatened the ship owners, insurers, and the captain of the four Iranian fuel tankers with targeted sanctions to force them to hand over the cargo. As a result, a total of 1.116 million barrels of petroleum are now in U.S. custody, and the websites of the Iranian companies accused of shipping fuel to Venezuela were seized by the DOJ.

Conclusion

The Trump administration has been stepping up the pressure with targeted sanctions and other measures on Venezuela to comply with sanctions against international oil companies like PDVSA, Rosneft, ship owners, and any other entity or person dealing with PDVSA’s crude oil.

Across the Atlantic, E.U. sanctions have proven to be far less aggressive and targeted, with less notable enforcement proceedings against E.U sanctions violations, and with no direct sanctions against PDVSA or towards oil tankers delivering Venezuelan oil.

The collateral effect of targeted U.S. sanctions designation encompasses far-reaching implications since foreign companies must withdraw their business with the sanctioned target or they could also be barred from accessing the U.S. financial system and economy. Material assistance and any transaction with a company sanctioned by the U.S. could be seen by OFAC has assistance in order to bypass the sanctions regime which is the case of the targeted sanctions against Rosneft.

Lifting of OFAC sanctions is possible, targeted oil tankers subject to PDVSA’s sanctions have been delisted when the companies have agreed to expand its risk-based sanctions compliance programs based on the OFAC public guidance model. Moreover, the companies have also pledged to terminate participation in the oil sector of the Venezuelan economy so long as the Maduro government remains in power.

Thus, due to the complexity and ramifications of the U.S. sanctions regime against energy companies like PDVSA and Rosneft, global financial institutions, energy companies, and service providers should implement strong compliance programs to prevent targeted sanctions by OFAC.

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Azerbaijan Becomes Turkey’s Top Gas Supplier

Emil Avdaliani

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Azerbaijan has become Turkey’s major gas supplier and this could have major geopolitical ramifications for the region. But it also fits into Turkey’s efforts of the past several years to diminish its dependence on Russian gas. Hence Ankara’s particularly harsh position regarding the recent Armenia-Azerbaijan fighting in the Tovuz region where regional gas, oil and railway infrastructure runs.

From January-May of this year, Turkey imported 4 527,39 cubic meters of Azerbaijani gas (from Shah Deniz field). This is some 20,4 percent more in comparison to the same period of 2019. On the other hand, in May 2020 the import from Russia diminished by almost 62% compared to the same month in 2019. In May 2020, Azerbaijan officially became Turkey’s top gas supplier.

Overall this is a continuation of the trend from 2019 when Azerbaijan’s share in Turkey’s gas supplies reached 21.2 percent, which is some 6.23 percent more compared to the same period of 2018.

This became possible after the launch of TANAP in late 2019. The $6,5 bln. project is essentially a part of the $40 billion Southern Gas Corridor with a number of pipelines connecting Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to the vast European market. TANAP has the capacity to transport up to 16 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Caspian gas per year: 10 bcm go to Europe and 6 bcm to the Turkish market. Potentially, the TANAP could have a capacity of up to 31 bcm.

Previously it was reported that the capacity of TANAP would reach a cap of 6 bcm of natural gas by the end of June. To reach this milestone the volume went up gradually, first reaching 11,3 million cubic meters (m3) (July 2019). Moreover, this July the highest volume of 17 million m3 was recorded.

This happens at the time when Russian gas flows to Turkey are at a low point. Repair works were announced, which further contributes to the decrease of the Russian gas potential in Turkey. As a result, the $7.8 billion, 930 km TurkStream pipeline, built across the Black Sea and inaugurated in early 2020, is superseded by Azerbaijan, as a major gas supplier. The trend is self-revealing. In 2017, Gazprom exported 52 percent of Turkey’s total gas imports, in 2018 the figure stood at 47 percent and in 2019 at just 33 percent (15.9 bcm). 

For example, in March, Turkey received nearly 924 million m3 of Azeri gas, which maked up 23,45 percent of the total volume of gas supplies to Turkey. Azerbaijan also pushed Iran, which together with Russia, are now Turkey’s second and third largest gas providers. 

The decrease of Russian gas flows is also caused by the Turkish national company BOTAŞ increasing imports from Algeria and Nigeria. For Gazprom it also becomes increasingly difficult to compete with large LNG supplies that Turkey imports from the US. A look at the dynamics of LNG imports reveals an interesting trend – over the past 10 years the share of LNG steadily increases in Turkey. In 2013-2019 period, the share of LNG in Turkish gas imports rose from 6.1 bcm to 12.7 bcm.

Geopolitics of gas supplies

The decline of Russian gas supplies means Turkey would have space for geopolitical manoeuvres in an increasingly unstable period of time when Russian influence grows along Turkey’s borders. Moreover, Ankara might gain even greater leverage as various contracts guaranteeing gas flows from Russia expire in coming years and extensive talks will likely be held.

Indeed, geopolitics might be at play behind Turkey’s moves and aspirations to diminish dependence on Russia as BOTAS, the company which oversees the country’s gas import, is a state-run enterprise. This means that what happens in Syria or elsewhere easily influences the calculus of Turkey’s gas industry.

And there are reasons to worry for Turkey as Russia’s military influence in Syria and the Black Sea grows, and differences over the Libyan conflict abound. It is thus natural for Turkey to look at different ways to reduce its dependence on Russian gas. This creates a perfect opportunity for Azerbaijan to enhance its position as the region’s major gas supplier and thus further solidify its relations with Turkey. Turkey, on the other hand, is interested in an unhindered flow of Azerbaijani gas and, as other regional or global powers, is willing to defend its gas supply chain politically and, if necessary, even use a limited military force.

Perhaps this could explain Turkey’s statements regarding the recent uptick of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The violence took place along the Tovuz district of Azerbaijan. Surprisingly, the region is far distanced from Nagorno Karabakh, which is usually a centre for either large-scale fighting (as in 2016) or daily small-scale disturbances along the contact line. What relates the fighting in Tovuz to the geopolitics of gas supplies is the fact that the region is a vital land corridor for regional transport and energy export routes. This includes the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, the South Caucasus natural gas pipeline (SCP) and the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars (BTK) railway. This is the infrastructure which connects Azerbaijan to the West and represents a larger trans-Eurasian East-West corridor that has been championed by the West since the end of the Soviet Union. But more importantly, as argued above, the corridor allows Ankara to seek a partial alternative to the dependence on Russian gas. Therefore, any military moves near those strategic routes could invite Turkish action.

This could also explain why Ankara was especially vocal in its support for Baku during and after the Tovuz fighting. For example, Turkey’s defence industry chief stated the country was ready to help its eastern ally. Moreover, Turkey and Azerbaijan held military drills right after the end of the fighting. The exercises involved the land and air forces in multiple locations such as Baku, Nakhchivan, Ganja, Kurdamir and Yevlakh. The signal was clear: increased Turkish military cooperation with Azerbaijan might follow if threat to the infrastructure is not neutralized.

In the end, the clashes did not damage Azerbaijan’s energy and transport infrastructure, but both Baku and Ankara saw how vulnerable they could be. Both easily recall the Georgia-Russia war of 2008 when SCP, BTC and the Baku–Supsa oil pipeline were effectively shut down because of the ongoing military operations and general uncertainty in the South Caucasus.

As Turkey aims to transform itself into the region’s energy hub rather than serving only as a transit country, its relations with Azerbaijan will likely further solidify. Azerbaijani gas will continue to play a vital role in this emerging Turkish strategy. Moreover, both will seek deeper military cooperation to defend its critical infrastructure. Perhaps, this could serve as a necessary impulse for the Trilateral format of Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan to expand their cooperation. Much will also depend on Russian gas supplies, but as the gas supply trend of recent years and regional geopolitical developments indicate, Turkey will continue decreasing its dependence on Russian import.

Author’s note: first published in Caucasuswatch

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