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The Power of Siberia Pipeline: Multiple Layers of Complex Geopolitics

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The Power of Siberia pipeline is particularly well-suited to exploring the convergence of energy resource scarcity and climate change and that convergence’s impact on international relations and potential conflict.

Gas production for the pipeline begins in Russia’s Irkutsk region, and will stretch from there through Kharabarovsk to Vladivostok, ultimately for exports to the Asian-Pacific region (Gazprom, 2014). In 2014, officials from Russia and China signed a 30 year contract “to supply pipeline gas from Russia to China via the eastern route,” stipulating that Russia will annually supply 38 billion cubic meters of gas to China (Gazprom, 2014). This pipeline, and the deal between Russia and China, adds additional complexity to the geopolitics of the Arctic and will contribute to the possibility of conflict in the Arctic region, which will be influenced by climate change.

This article examines the potential conflict over the Power of Siberia pipeline. It is first necessary to put the pipeline into theoretical, environmental, and geopolitical contexts. Lee’s theory of Hot and Cold Wars provides an excellent theoretical framework through which to understand this issue. It is also vital to understand the role that the environment plays in contributing to future conflict. The two primary environmental factors are shrinking reserves of energy resources and the melting of Arctic ice. These two developments are, in this case, linked and it is necessary to understand their combined influence. Finally, the geopolitical dynamics of the nations involved will be analyzed in order to characterize the threat.

Lee’s Theory of Cold Wars

James R. Lee (2009) has developed a useful model for thinking about how climate change influences conflict, which he terms Hot and Cold Wars. This theory posits two types of zones in which climate change will contribute to conflict, the Equatorial Tension Zone which is comprised of countries along the equator, and the Polar Tension Zones, made up of the Arctic and Antarctica as well as nearby countries (Lee, 2009). The Equatorial Tension Zone will experience Hot Wars, while the Polar Tension Zones will experience Cold Wars. Cold Wars are conflicts of expansion in which rising temperatures cause previously inaccessible resources to become available, as a result of which relevant states engage in competition over those resources.

Potential conflict involving the Power of Siberia pipeline will be characterized by the elements of a Cold War. It is designed to transport natural gas from Russia and “will be filled with gas from Yamal, the gas-rich peninsula in the Russian far north” (Staalesen, 2014). Yamal has a maximum annual gas production “comparable to the volume of Gazprom’s current gas supplies to the domestic market and exceeds twofold the volume of [exported] gas.” Furthermore, as Arctic ice melts, offshore development will be possible and is projected to begin after 2025 (Miller, 2015). When compared to the criteria for a Cold War, the Power of Siberia pipeline displays each necessary element. Having established the Power of Siberia pipeline within a theoretical framework, it is worth exploring its environmental impacts.

Environmental Impacts

The first and perhaps most pertinent environmental influence on potential conflict involving the Power of Siberia pipeline is the melting Arctic ice. In 2015, Arctic sea ice was at its lowest recorded winter maximum (Smith-Spark, 2015). Counterintuitively, researchers at NASA have found that the thickest Arctic ice sheets are melting faster than the thinner sheets, and these areas are most heavily concentrated north of Russia (Gran & Vinas, 2012). According to Lee’s Cold War theory, as these resources become available, the nations who begin to exploit these resources increase their likelihood of coming into conflict.

The most recent “Energy Outlook” published by BP assesses that while global energy demand will decrease by 2035, China will still be a principle driver of demand growth (BP, 2014). The International Energy Agency estimates that by 2030 China will have a larger gas market than the European Union, while its total energy demand by 2040 is nearly double the demand of the US (International Energy Agency, 2015). This demand places Russia and the Power of Siberia pipeline in a privileged position vis-a-vis China’s rising energy demand.

The strategic value of energy resources is illustrated in the increasing tendency of states to take national control of oil companies, forming what are known as national oil companies (NOCs). Rising awareness of and concern for depletion of energy resources has led to states taking a mercantilist approach to energy resources (Klare, 2009). Energy resource competition has already led great powers to intervene militarily in weaker states, but the likelihood of great power conflict is also increasing in indirect ways (Klare, 2009). Aside from general trends toward conflict, the particular geopolitical tensions concerned with the Power of Siberia pipeline have a particular contribution to the likelihood of conflict.

Geopolitical Dynamics

The agreement that Russia would supply China with natural gas from the Power of Siberia pipeline was signed in the wake of widespread, largely Western international condemnation and application of sanctions against Russia as a result of its military interventions in Ukraine. This highlights the international tensions that characterize the Power of Siberia Pipeline. The combination of economic conflict between Russia and the West, and cooperation between Russia and China, reflects and amplifies the geopolitical tensions that existed before the creation of the pipeline.

A concept common to both is the notion of a multipolar world order (Turner, 2009). Russia has pursued this goal in several ways, most recently with the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union at the beginning of this year (Michel, 2015). China likewise has established a number of economic challenges to Western supremacy. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), designed to function like the International Monetary Fund, includes “a quarter of the world’s nations, 16 of the world’s largest economies, and includes countries in Europe and in Latin America.” (Tiezzi, 2015) In the context of Russia’s and China’s revisionist ambitions, and Russia’s international isolation, the Power of Siberia pipeline offers a chance for the two powers to strengthen each other’s strategic positions. This will embolden both nations in their challenge to the West. On the other hand, as energy resources become increasingly scarce, Russia’s access to and control of Arctic resources will increase the likelihood of conflict over these resources.

Conclusion

It is clear that the confluence of climate change and geopolitical tensions are increasing the likelihood of conflict between Russia and China on one side and the US and its Western allies on the other. The theory of Cold Wars predicts that as warming temperatures in the Polar Tension Zone rise, Arctic resources will become more available, resulting in competition and conflict. In the case of the Siberian Power pipeline, the resource involved is natural gas, a critical energy resource. Diminishing energy resource reserves is already raising tensions between major powers. Finally, preexisting rivalries between the West and Russia and China will be exacerbated by climate change and resource scarcity. In the middle of all of this will likely be the Power of Siberia pipeline, something that very few global analysts seem to be focusing on right now.

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Steering Russia-US Relations Away from Diplomatic Expulsion Rocks

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As the recent expulsions of Russian diplomats from the US, Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic demonstrate, this measure is becoming a standard international practice of the West. For the Biden administration, a new manifestation of the “Russia’s threat” is an additional tool to discipline its European allies and to cement the transatlantic partnership. For many European NATO members, expulsions of diplomats are a symbolic gesture demonstrating their firm support of the US and its anti-Russian policies.

Clear enough, such a practice will not be limited to Russia only. Today hundreds, if not thousands of diplomatic officers all around the world find themselves hostage to problems they have nothing to do with. Western decision-makers seem to consider hosting foreign diplomats not as something natural and uncontroversial but rather as a sort of privilege temporarily granted to a particular country — one that can be denied at any given moment.

It would be logical to assume that in times of crisis, when the cost of any error grows exponentially, it is particularly crucial to preserve and even to expand the existing diplomatic channels. Each diplomat, irrespective of his or her rank and post, is, inter alia, a communications channel, a source of information, and a party to a dialogue that can help understand your opponent’s logic, fears, intentions, and expectations. Niccolo Machiavelli’s adage, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” remains just as pertinent five centuries later. Unfortunately, these wise words are out of circulation in most Western capitals today.

A proponent of expulsions would argue that those expelled are not actually diplomats at all. They are alleged intelligence officers and their mission is to undermine the host country’s national security. Therefore, expulsions are justified and appropriate. However, this logic appears to be extremely dubious. Indeed, if you have hard evidence, or at the very least a reasonable suspicion that a diplomatic mission serves as a front office for intelligence officers, and if operations of these officers are causing serious harm to your country’s security, why should you wait for the latest political crisis to expel them? You should not tolerate their presence in principle and expel them once you expose them.

Even the experience of the Cold War itself demonstrates that expulsions of diplomats produce no short-term or long-term positive results whatsoever. In fact, there can be no possible positive results because diplomatic service is nothing more but just one of a number of technical instruments used in foreign politics. Diplomats may bring you bad messages from their capitals and they often do, but if you are smart enough, you never shoot the messenger.

Diplomatic traditions do not allow such unfriendly actions to go unnoticed. Moscow has to respond. Usually, states respond to expulsions of their diplomats by symmetrical actions – i.e. Russia has to expel the same number of US, Polish or Czech diplomats, as the number of Russian diplomats expelled from the US, Poland or the Czech Republic. Of course, each case is special. For instance, the Czech Embassy in Moscow is much smaller than the Russian Embassy in Prague, so the impact of the symmetrical actions on the Czech diplomatic mission in Russia will be quite strong.

The question now is whether the Kremlin would go beyond a symmetrical response and start a new cycle of escalation. For example, it could set new restrictions upon Western companies operating in the country, it could cancel accreditation of select Western media in Moscow, it could close branches of US and European foundations and NGOs in Russia. I hope that the final response will be measured and not excessive.

The door for US-Russian negotiations is still open. So far, both sides tried to avoid specific actions that would make these negotiations absolutely impossible. The recent US sanctions against Russia have been mostly symbolic, and the Russian leadership so far has demonstrated no appetite for a rapid further escalation. I think that a meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin remains an option and an opportunity. Such a meeting would not lead to any “reset” in the bilateral relations, but it would bring more clarity to the relationship. To stabilize US-Russian relations even at a very low level would already be a major accomplishment.

From our partner RIAC

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Russia becomes member of International Organization for Migration

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Photo credit: Anton Novoderezhlin/TASS

After several negotiations, Russia finally becomes as a full-fledged member of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). It means that Russia has adopted, as a mandatory condition for obtaining membership, the constitution of the organization. It simply implies that by joining this international organization, it has given the country an additional status.

After the collapse of the Soviet, Russia has been interacting with the IOM since 1992 only as an observer. In the past years, Russia has shown interest in expanding this cooperation. The decision to admit Russia to the organization was approved at a Council’s meeting by the majority of votes: 116 states voted for it, and two countries voted against – these are Ukraine and Georgia. That however, the United States and Honduras abstained, according to information obtained from Moscow office of International Migration Organization.

“In line with the resolution of the 111th session of the IOM Council of November 24, 2020 that approved Russia’s application for the IOM membership, Russia becomes a full-fledged member of the organization from the day when this notification is handed over to its director general,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a website statement in April.

Adoption of the IOM Constitution is a mandatory condition for obtaining its membership, which opens “extra possibilities for developing constructive cooperation with international community on migration-related matters,” the statement stressed in part.

It is significant to recall that Russian President Vladimir Putin issued an order to secure Russia’s membership in the organization in August 2020 and submitted its Constitution to the Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) in February 2021.

Headquartered in Geneva, the International Organization for Migration, a leading inter-government organization active in the area of migration, was set up on December 5, 1951. It opened its office in Moscow in 1992.

IOM supports migrants across the world, developing effective responses to the shifting dynamics of migration and, as such, is a key source of advice on migration policy and practice. The organization works in emergency situations, developing the resilience of all people on the move, and particularly those in situations of vulnerability, as well as building capacity within governments to manage all forms and impacts of mobility.

IOM’s stated mission is to promote humane and orderly migration by providing services and advice to governments and migrants. It works to help ensure proper management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, be they refugees, displaced persons or other uprooted people. It is part of the structured system of the United Nations, and includes over 170 countries.

Senator Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy chairman of Russia’s Federation Council (Senate) Committee on International Affairs, noted that the organization’s constitution has a provision saying that it is in a nation’s jurisdiction to decide how many migrants it can receive, therefore the IOM membership imposes no extra commitments on Russia and doesn’t restrict its right to conduct an independent migration policy.

On other hand, Russia’s full-fledged membership in IOM will help it increase its influence on international policy in the sphere of migration and use the country’s potential to promote its interests in this sphere, Senator Dzhabarov explained.

Russia has had an inflow of migrants mainly from the former Soviet republics. The migrants have played exceptional roles both in society and in the economy. The inflow of foreign workers to Russia has be resolved in accordance with real needs of the economy and based on the protection of Russian citizens’ interests in the labor market, according to various expert opinions.

The whole activity of labor migrants has to be conducted in strict compliance with legislation of the Russian Federation and generally recognized international norms.

State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and many state officials have repeatedly explained the necessity of holding of partnership dialogues on finding solutions to emerging problems within the framework of harmonization of legislation in various fields including regional security, migration policy and international cooperation. Besides that, Russia is ready for compliance with international treaties and agreements.

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Relegating the “Russia Problem” to Turkey

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erdogan aliyev
Image credit: Prezident.Az

Turkey’s foreign policy is at a crossroads. Its Eurasianist twist is gaining momentum and looking east is becoming a new norm. Expanding its reach into Central Asia, in the hope of forming an alliance of sorts with the Turkic-speaking countries — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan — is beginning to look more realistic. In the north, the north-east, in Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, there is an identifiable geopolitical arc where Turkey is increasingly able to puncture Russia’s underbelly.

Take Azerbaijan’s victory in Second Karabakh War. It is rarely noticed that the military triumph has also transformed the country into a springboard for Turkey’s energy, cultural and geopolitical interests in the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia. Just two months after the November ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey signed a new trade deal with Azerbaijan. Turkey also sees benefits from January’s Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan agreement which aims to jointly develop the Dostluk (Friendship) gas field under the Caspian Sea, and it recently hosted a trilateral meeting with the Azerbaijani and Turkmen foreign ministers. The progress around Dostlug removes a significant roadblock on the implementation of the much-touted Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) which would allow gas to flow through the South Caucasus to Europe. Neither Russia nor Iran welcome this — both oppose Turkey’s ambitions of becoming an energy hub and finding new sources of energy.

Official visits followed. On March 6-9, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu visited Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Defense cooperation, preferential trade deals, and a free trade agreement were discussed in Tashkent. Turkey also resurrected a regional trade agreement during a March 4 virtual meeting of the so-called Economic Cooperation Organization which was formed in 1985 to facilitate trade between Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan. Though it has been largely moribund, the timing of its re-emergence is important as it is designed to be a piece in the new Turkish jigsaw.

Turkey is slowly trying to build an economic and cultural basis for cooperation based on the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency founded in 1991 and the Turkic Council in 2009. Although Turkey’s economic presence in the region remains overshadowed by China and Russia, there is a potential to exploit. Regional dependence on Russia and China is not always welcome and Central Asian states looking for alternatives to re-balance see Turkey as a good candidate. Furthermore, states such as Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan are also cash-strapped, which increases the potential for Turkish involvement.

There is also another dimension to the eastward push. Turkey increasingly views Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan as parts of an emerging geopolitical area that can help it balance Russia’s growing military presence in the Black Sea and in the South Caucasus. With this in mind, Turkey is stepping up its military cooperation not only with Azerbaijan, but also with Georgia and Ukraine. The recent visit of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Turkey highlighted the defense and economic spheres. This builds upon ongoing work of joint drone production, increasing arms trade, and naval cooperation between the two Black Sea states.

The trilateral Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey partnership works in support of Georgia’s push to join NATO. Joint military drills are also taking place involving scenarios of repelling enemy attacks targeting the regional infrastructure.

Even though Turkey and Russia have shown that they are able to cooperate in different theaters, notably in Syria, they nonetheless remain geopolitical competitors with diverging visions. There is an emerging two-pronged strategy Turkey is now pursuing to address what President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees as a geopolitical imbalance. Cooperate with Vladimir Putin where possible, but cooperate with regional powers hostile to Russia where necessary.

There is one final theme for Turkey to exploit. The West knows its limits. The Caspian Sea is too far, while an over-close relationship with Ukraine and Georgia seems too risky. This creates a potential for cooperation between Turkey and the collective West. Delegating the “Russia problem” to Turkey could be beneficial, though it cannot change the balance of power overnight and there will be setbacks down the road.

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