Meanwhile, Russia emerged as the world's second-largest oil producer, but not much of that was getting to the US. At an Russia-American oil summit held in Houston in late 2002, an agreement was signed to build a pipeline from the rich oil fields in western Siberia to Murmansk, where it could be easily shipped to the US. The pipeline was to be Russia's first private consortium, and Yukos was essentially going to lead it. This was it, the first big play to free up Russian oil from Kremlin control, and get it to the US.
But there was a hitch. Putin and the siloviki saw this pipeline as an American oil grab. Putin was no longer inclined to like or trust the US after the ABM disaster and the Green Berets in Georgia scandal. No more illusions.
Now you can see where the chips were lining up. Both Cheney and Khodorkovsky had a serious interest in seeing control of the pipelines taken away from the Kremlin and handed to the "free market," where the US would have an advantage; and both of them wanted to see Yukos get bought by a US major, and both wanted to secure that US stake in Russia's oil wealth by every means possible, including political means. Khodorkovsky was transforming both Yukos and himself into a model Westernerizer, and he was becoming increasingly critical of the Kremlin's role in holding Russia back. If Khodorkovsky really was able to transform Russia into a pro-American state, it would obviously be better for Cheney and the oil companies than if the FSB controlled the state, and the oil.
This is what led to Khodorkovsky to allegedly try to buy off and retool the Russian political system. Without political control, he might not keep and grow his assets. While the Kremlin kept the oil companies from becoming even bigger and richer simply so that the Kremlin wouldn't lose control of them.
The siloviki saw it as a struggle for Russia's survival and independence (and their own too). If Khodorkovsky, working with the most powerful people in the US (the Cheneys and the Houston oil oligarchs), took control of Russia's resources and its power, it would become little more than an appendage of American capitalism, they believed.
In March, America invaded Iraq, turning Russian public opinion decidedly against America as a nation of Huns. That same month, Khodorkovsky was allegedly working with Duma parties he'd paid off in order to change the Constitution and weaken the powers of the President in favor of parliament. It was a kind of constitutional coup in the works, a coup which would serve his and the Bush people's mutual interests.
It all ended in July 2003 when Putin jailed Platon Lebedev, and Yukos was finished. With its destruction went Cheney's hope of getting control of Russian oil.
It's odd now to look back and consider how quietly the Bush goons reacted to the seizing of Yukos. My sense is that they didn't expect it - they were too distracted by Iraq. In my column "Russia's Thaw," in July, 2003, I predicted that everything had completely changed after Lebedev's arrest. True, I'm gloating now because, well, that's what you do when you're fucking right. But I think Cheney and his goons were too busy mired in the unfolding debacle in Iraq that summer, when the dead-enders were first getting their insurgency on, to react to Russia.
Today most of Yukos is in the Kremlin's hands; Putin's power is uncontested; and Khodorkovsky is in jail. The Murmansk pipeline was canceled. Now the Siberian pipelines, secure in Kremlin hands, are taking oil to Asia.
You could see why a guy like Dick Cheney wouldn't like Putin.
* * *
That is the real story behind this mini Cold War. The other part of it is, of course Cheney's longstanding desire to get ahold of Caspian Sea oil. With Russia seemingly lost, this meant that the fight for Central Asia took on more importance. Indeed in 2001, Cheney advised President Bush to "deepen [our] commercial dialogue with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and other Caspian states." Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan: the two countries he visited right after his Cold War speech last week.
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