In 1994, Cheney was a member of Kazakhstan's Oil Advisory Board. He helped broker a deal between Kazakhstan and Chevron, a company where Secretary Condoleeza Rice served on the Board. Today, US oil companies have large stakes in Kazakhstan's oil fields. But most of the oil being pumped goes through Transneft lines out of the Russian port in Novorossiisk. America has been battling with Russia to get Kazakhstan to pump its oil through an alternate pipeline, the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, that goes through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.
In order to secure that pipeline, powerful American oil/politics figures, led by Bush family consigliore James Baker, ingratiated themselves into oil-rich Azerbaijan. Despite that nation's atrocious record on democracy and human rights, in 1996 oil majors like Exxon, Chevron and Amoco, set up the powerful United States Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce (USACC). Its board members include or included Cheney, Baker, top figures in the oil majors, and top figures in Azerbaijan's government (even crazed war-monger Richard Perle had a place on the board of trustees!).
The task was to get Azerbaijan to agree to the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, whose stated goal was to ship Caspian oil out of Russia's reach and into the Mediterranean for Western consump tion. It worked the pipeline is now operational. And a big event in late 2003 was the key to securing it: Georgia's Rose Revolution.
This was the first of the "color revolutions," and it quickly became apparent that, although it was rooted in genuine dissatisfaction, it was accomplished with massive American aid (documented already in the eXile and elsewhere).
To recap: then-President Shevardnadze was showing signs of drifting away from the US and towards Russia in the summer of 2003. Suddenly, Bush became concerned with Georgia's "backsliding" on democracy, and he sent Baker of all people to tell Shevardnadze that he'd better hold "free and fair elections" or else. The elections were rigged; a carefully coordinated revolution (in fact a coup) was staged to overthrow Shevardnadze; and a pro-Western, US-educated president, Saakashvili, was installed. Shortly afterwards, control over a region of Georgia where the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline passes was taken out of a pro-Russian leader's hands, and given to a pro-American.
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The Russians were oddly slow in reacting to the Rose Revolution. They were taken by surprise: in the siloviks' paranoid way of thinking, the "people" are irrelevant, and everything is manipulated by a tiny elite and outside interests. To them, the entire Rose Revolution was nothing but an American-manufactured coup, which was only partly-true.
The same month that Bush and the US denounced the rigged elections in Georgia, they praised even worse-run elections in nextdoor Azerbaijan, and kept mum over the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protestors. Why? Because Azerbaijan is giving Cheney what he wants: oil. Both for his favored oil companies, his friends, and for the West.
In other words, in classic Cold War maneuvering, Aliyev is "our bastard."
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If Putin's first real counterstrike in Cold War II was against Khodorkovsky, then his second major counterstrike took place in mid-2004, when Georgia tried to start asserting its control over two Russian-backed breakaway ethnic regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Putin drew a line in South Ossetia, where war started to break out again in the summer of 2004 when Saakashvili tried to assert federal control over it.
It was strange how that war's coverage evolved: in the big Western press, article after article dismissed the notion that there is any legitimate Ossetian grievance, calling it an entirely manufactured Russian ploy to maintain control over Georgia and keep it weak (oddly similar to Russian belief that the Rose/Orange Revolutions were entirely manufactured by cynical American interests). But I happen to know some Ossetians. The eXile's former Sales Manager was an Ossetian. Believe me, they exist, and the tensions with the Georgians are very real, and very deep. And valid. The West bleeds for oppressed minorities in literally every corner of the world, even every corner of the Caucasus, except for the Ossetians and the Abkhaz. Why?
Could it be.because they're aligned with Russia?
When Saakashvili tried retaking South Ossetia, Russian-backed troops repelled them. Putin was not going to lose anything else to pro-American interests.
In the summer of 2004, the Georgians realized that the US wasn't going to support a hot war against Russia, so they stood down...and then in September, Chechen terrorists seized a school in North Ossetia, leading to the massacre of hundreds of children. Connected?
If you recall, at the time Putin essentially blamed the West, and specifically, the US, for helping make the Beslan attack happen. He said it was funded with the goal of "weakening Russia" in order to seize and control the region's resources.
It seemed crazy at the time, but looking at the big picture...is it?
Putin was widely criticized for post-Beslan moves to cancel gubernatorial elections. But put in this context, it seems like a genuine wartime move to consolidate power in the face of an attack. Not Chechen attacks. But American Cold War-ll attacks.
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The last great American victory in this Cold War-ll was certainly the Orange Revolution. But it was a hollow victory, shocking the Russians into action. Since then, Ukraine has turned into a political, ideological, and geopolitical swamp. The fight is still on; neither side has won yet.
The Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan was the first one to go bad. Since then, it's been nothing but setbacks for the US as it lost its huge military base and its influence in formerly-anti-Russian Uzbekistan, now Putin's bestest buddy in the region. Kyrgyzstan is also showing signs of moving closer to Moscow. Bush's people recently made incredible claims about democracy moving forward in Tajikistan, but it's unlikely that the whitewashing will do much good since the country is under pretty solid Russian control.
Meanwhile, Putin, now completely and forever disabused of any illusions that he would ever be anything to Bush and Cheney but an obstacle standing between Siberian oil wells and Houston oil oligarch bank accounts, has seen his country become wealthier and bolder. He's fighting back, not just in Russia and its near-abroad, but also for example by selling weapons to Venezuela and nuclear plants to Iran.
Cheney lost out in his bid to secure Russia's oil, but the Caspian oil is still being fought over, especially as Kazakhstan hasn't started pumping yet most of its upcoming oil streams.
That's what this Cold War hype is about and the bleating about democracy, and the seemingly clumsy display of hypocrisy. It's not a Cold War, it's an oil grab gone bad.
I don't think a jackal like Cheney is capable of recognizing hypocrisy. I think he meant everything he said, with a straight face, and that he saw it as both rationally and morally right to chastise Russia's record on democracy while praising Kazakhstan's and Azerbaijan's in the same trip.
Democracy isn't about giving people the right to vote, giving them a say in their lives and a sense of dignity. It's about serving America's interests. And serving America's interests, to the current regime, is defined as serving the interests of the oil oligarchs in Houston, where Cheney spent the previous ten years of his cartoon-villain life.
In fact, the definition of democracy is even more narrow than that. America's interests are Cheney's interests. Il est l'etat. In that sense, Putin is indeed a menace. And that's what makes this Cold War so different. Whereas the last one was a mortal struggle over two different systems, this is a struggle between two short, balding, bloodless men, and the oil - other people's oil - that made them as powerful as they are today.
Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond (Soft Skull)