The summer of 2014 has been dominated by two frightening news stories: the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, and the bombardment of Gaza by Israel.
The timing of the two events has led the more conspiracy-minded to wonder if there’s a link between the two. Could the downing of MH17 (apart from providing a convenient excuse for ratcheting up NATO support for the Kiev coup regime and their campaign of genocide in eastern Ukraine) simply be a distraction from the genocide that’s taking place in Gaza? Frankly, I don’t think so.
There is the possibility, however, that the two situations are linked thematically, perhaps quite intimately. The theme is gas, and the “villain”, as always these days, is Vladimir Putin.
Putin has been the villain of many a news cycle in the past year, following Russia’s key role in blocking the EU and US in their plans for a “democracy-spreading” mission / invasion of Syria to “do something to save the children.” Having successfully played the role of peacekeeper, Vladimir Putin must have known that he had in effect painted a giant target on his back. Since that time, the Western media have attacked Putin in a Russophobic rage not seen since the height of the Cold War – Putin rounds up gays, Putin kills dogs in Sochi, Putin Hitleresquely invaded and annexed Crimea, and finally, Putin ordered the shoot-down of the MH17. In other words, Putin is to blame for nearly everything that happens.
Examining the Evidence in the MH17 Tragedy – the case against Russia and the case against Kiev:
Putin’s position regarding the Israel-Gaza conflict is much less clear.
Analysts of the one-dimensional school of geopolitical thinking “accuse” Putin of being a supporter of Israel, with a wide variety of commentary ranging from the casual to the downright nasty and unrepeatable!
But, they say, just look at what Putin said:
“I follow closely what’s going on in Israel,” said Putin during the long meeting, which was held in Moscow.
“I support the struggle of Israel as it attempts to protect its citizens. I also heard about the shocking murder of the three youths. It is an act that cannot be allowed, and I ask you to transmit my condolences to the families,” added the Russian president, in referring to the abduction and murder of three teens in June by Hamas terrorists.
Putin: ‘I support the struggle of Israel’:
Speaking of one-dimensional thinking, here’s Rush Limbaugh’s take on the matter. (Hint: Putin is playing both sides, providing an implicit excuse for his actions regarding Crimea… and, as is customary in the Limbaugh world, it all makes Obama look really bad! Of course Putin couldn’t really be supportive of Israel – we’re still in the Limbaugh world, bear with me – because, well, Russia has always hated Israel, right?)
Putin Belittles Obama by Praising Israel:
The recent bombardment of Gaza, however, has convinced Putin to temper his support for Israel and call for a ceasefire, even offering Russian support in mediating.
Putin calls for ceasefire in Gaza Strip in phone talk with Netanyahu:
Emphasizing that a ceasefire and political methods are the only alternatives for solving the conflict, Putin said on Wednesday that Russia was ready to undertake mediation and peace efforts, according to a statement from the Kremlin press center.
Putin Urges Gaza Ceasefire In Call To Netanyahu:
“The Russian president stressed that continued military action in the Gaza Strip is leading to a dramatic deterioration of the humanitarian situation, to deaths and suffering of civilians,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Russia Offers Help to Negotiate Gaza Truce:
Russian Plans to Develop Gaza Gas Field
Here’s a story that got ignored during the Euro-Maidan coup of 2014.
From Jan. 2014: In a significant political and economic development, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Jan. 23 with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting came as a prerequisite to officially sign an investment agreement aiming to develop the Gaza offshore gas field in the Mediterranean Sea. It is only logical to assume that this step will raise the ire of Israel. The latter does not appreciate the role Russia plays in the region, especially since Israel has never come to an agreement with Russia.
Russia preparing to develop Gaza gas field:
Some might argue (and do – see article below) that Russian interests in Gaza are minimal given the rather small amount of gas available for recovery, and therefore the geopolitical implications are irrelevant. This, in my opinion, ignores larger potential strategic goals for Russia in the regions of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Consider Russia’s role in the Syria crisis. Syria, apart from being a strategic partner of Russia, is also a major stumbling block for Qatar and their plans to build a gas pipeline into Europe, thereby cutting into Russia’s share of the European gas market.
After Putin’s meeting with Abbas, it became known that the gas giant, Gazprom, intended to develop oil and gas fields in the shelf area of the Gaza Strip. Indeed, in October 2013, the Israeli government agreed to the Palestinian Autonomy authorities’ negotiations on the possibility of the development and operation of these fields. The Russian media even gave the exact timing and amounts of Gazprom’s investments in the project: up to $1 billion.
However, it seems to me that the information noise around this issue is artificial. The corporation’s investment program does not include such high amounts, and it has its own problems even without this. In addition, as Tatiana Mitrova, a prominent Russian specialist in oil and gas issues, said, “Without Israel’s approval it is impossible to do anything in the Gaza Strip, and Gazprom’s negotiations on the Levant Basin failed; because of the problems with Turkey it was decided that the Russian participant in the projects in Israel and Cyprus will be Novatec.” It should also be taken into account that, according to data from the British Gas Co., the Gaza Strip’s shelf contains about 30 billion cubic meters of hydrocarbons, which means that the available recovery can be no more than 1.4 billion cubic meters of gas a year. It is inefficient to build a gas export pipeline or, moreover, a liquified petroleum gas plant, for such tiny volumes, which means, according to one Russian expert, that the only end market could be local gas supply at low, regulated prices.
Russia considers role in peace talks, Gaza energy:
While this one project may amount to little more than chump change for Russia, it wouldn’t be so for Gaza. The implications of a gas deal with Russia for Gaza can only be imagined.
Russia’s gas giant Gazprom will possibly develop gas deposits on the Mediterranean shelf of the Gaza Strip.
“Gazprom is eyeing expediency of developing gas fields on the Mediterranean shelf of the Gaza Strip,” according to materials for the meeting between Russian and Palestinian presidents Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Abbas due on Thursday.
“The approximate gas volumes total 30 billion cubic meters, the project is estimated at around $1 billion,” the materials said.
Russia and Palestine intend to intensify cooperation in power industry. The two countries, aside from the possible development of gas deposits on the Mediterranean shelf of the Gaza Strip, plan to set up a high-level task group in order to establish economic cooperation more actively, mainly in power industry, agriculture, tourism and investments.
Gazprom may develop gas deposits in Gaza Strip:
While the Gaza natural gas field was discovered over a decade ago by a British Gas (now BG Group), it was never developed, according to Times of Israel.
Gazprom May Develop Gas Field Offshore Gaza Strip:
Russian energy giant Gazprom is involved in the discussions on mining the Gaza gas fields, which could yield some 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas, AFP reported. Technopromexport, a Russian engineering firm, is also in discussions on an oil field project near Ramallah, in the West Bank.
It was unclear how much control Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have over Gaza, which is governed by Hamas.
Russia has been keen to enter the Mediterranean gas market. Earlier in January, Moscow signed a 25-year deal with the embattled Assad regime to giving Russia’s state-controlled Soyuzneftgas company exclusive rights over an area over 2,000 square kilometers wide.
The discoveries are just a portion of the huge reserves in the Levant Basin, which the United States Geological Survey estimated in 2010 holds some 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas.
Abbas, Medvedev negotiating $1b. Gaza gas deal. As PA president visits Moscow, Russian energy Gazprom eyes additional foothold in Mediterranean:
Generating a political climate conducive to a gas deal:
Since the discovery of oil and gas in the Occupied Territories, resource competition has increasingly been at the heart of the conflict, motivated largely by Israel’s increasing domestic energy woes.
Mark Turner, founder of the Research Journalism Initiative, reported that the siege of Gaza and ensuing military pressure was designed to “eliminate” Hamas as “a viable political entity in Gaza” to generate a “political climate” conducive to a gas deal. This involved rehabilitating the defeated Fatah as the dominant political player in the West Bank, and “leveraging political tensions between the two parties, arming forces loyal to Abbas and the selective resumption of financial aid.”
IDF’s Gaza assault is to control Palestinian gas, avert Israeli energy crisis:
Why has the little nation of Qatar spent 3 billion dollars to support the rebels in Syria? Could it be because Qatar is the largest exporter of liquid natural gas in the world and Assad won’t let them build a natural gas pipeline through Syria?
Why is Saudi Arabia spending huge amounts of money to help the rebels and why has Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan been “jetting from covert command centers near the Syrian front lines to the Élysée Palace in Paris and the Kremlin in Moscow, seeking to undermine the Assad regime”? Well, it turns out that Saudi Arabia intends to install their own puppet government in Syria which will allow the Saudis to control the flow of energy through the region.
On the other side, Russia very much prefers the Assad regime for a whole bunch of reasons. One of those reasons is that Assad is helping to block the flow of natural gas out of the Persian Gulf into Europe, thus ensuring higher profits for Gazprom.
Syrian-Americans demonstrate in L.A. for and against U.S. involvement- but is the conflict actually about something other than chemical weapons of mass destruction?:
From: Crude Oil and the Syrian Conflict by Steve Austin
Arguably, Syria isn’t a major producer of oil and gas. Depletion of oil reserves is a vital problem facing the energy sector of the country. The oil production has decreased over the years. Syria had 2,500,000,000 barrels (400,000,000 m3) of petroleum reserves as of January 2010. So, the whole hullaballoo about Syria is definitely not about oil in the Syrian territory. What then?
Because of its strategic location vis-à-vis energy transit routes. As it turns out, many key energy transit routes to Europe run through Syria.
The story begins with Qatar. Well, Qatar has spent billions of dollars supporting the rebel factions in Syria. Not without reasons, though. True, instability props up the oil price, but more importantly Qatar has the world’s largest gas field (The South Pars/ North Dome field, shared with Iran) and is the largest exporter of Liquid Natural gas in the world. As a result of these facts, Qatar wanted to build an underground natural gas pipeline from the country’s North Field to Turkey, traversing Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria to Mediterranean and then to Europe. Turkey too was in favor of this ‘Islamic Pipeline’, as it would have made the country a key player in the transit, not to mention profits. However, the Assad regime wasn’t interested as the proposed pipeline would have negated Russia off the equation. Instead, in the year 2010, along with Iran and Iraq, Syria proposed to build a 3,450 mile pipeline costing $10 billion to transport oil to Europe directly from the South Pars gas field traversing Syria. This Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, set to open in 2016 has an estimated capacity to pump 3.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, which would benefit Iran, as you may have guessed. So, Iran’s gain left Qatar and Turkey licking their fingers. Bear in mind that we are talking in terms of billions of dollars in revenue. And, do not forget that Turkey and Qatar are allies of the US. Yes, more than a square, it’s a circle with all points leading back to the US.
Also, there’s the Nabucco natural gas pipeline expected to connect Austria to Eastern Turkey with gas received from feeder pipelines of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq and Egypt. Yet, the project has been dragging for more than a decade now. So, if the Assad government falls, Turkey could re-route the Nabucco pipeline to traverse through Syria. Well, why wouldn’t Qatar and Turkey want Assad out the door?
What about Saudi Arabia? After all, it too has been a vocal supporter of the rebels? Hegemony of Saudi Arabia over oil again. Into this scene comes in Russia, alongside. Saudi Arabia has been pressing Russia to discard the Syrian President in favor of a lucrative arms deal worth more than $15 billion and further investments in the country to boot. Also, Saudi Arabia is said to have assured Russia that it would not sign any agreement that would jeopardize Russian gas exports.
Not a bad deal, eh? But, to add in some perspective, Russia and Syria enjoy a rosy friendship. In 2005, Russia played a crucial role in springing up the Syrian economy writing-off about seventy percent of Syria’s debt. Russia also has substantial investment in different sectors of the Syrian economy. There’s also Tartus, a Syrian port in the Mediterranean which helps Russia as an official base for its ships and also as a point of delivery for weapons to the Syrian Government. In spite of claims and counter claims that Russia had evacuated all of its military personnel (sixteen- ship Naval task force) from the naval base, the reality remains that Russia Naval base is still functioning as ever. Of course, the official version of ‘civil personnel only’ as maintained by the Russian is debatable. Yet, the US entry in Syria would mean Russia losing its only military installation in the Middle-East, (not to mention the only Russian naval base outside the former soviet Union- history has changed, indeed)
In addition, Russia is the biggest extractor of natural gas in the world. As a result, it is also a major gas exporter. The Assad regime assists Russia by blocking Natural gas from flowing into Europe through the Persian Gulf, helping Russian company Gazprom enjoy salacious profits. Unsurprisingly, almost a quarter of the natural gas consumed in Europe comes from Russia. Which is why, enjoying a vast market in Europe, Russia has the comfort to use this to blackmail Europe as in 2009 when it shut off supplies for days. From then on, Europe has been trying to find other markets for natural gas. (Still, it’s estimated that Russia would continue to be EU’s biggest natural gas supplier even after a decade). One hope has been the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, which would have helped Iran. Of course, US wouldn’t want Iran to benefit in anyway, would it? Also US involvement in Syria would also mean direct loss for Russia. And would any government want events contrary to this?
Crude Oil and the Syrian Conflict by Steve Austin for OIL-PRICE.NET, 2013/11/12:
From currently available resources, the situation of Gaza and Russian cooperation is unclear, but suggestive. It was, however, clear to anyone who was closely following the Euro-Maidan coup that Western support was largely based on gas.
Ukrainian Coup – some things you may have missed:
Whether or not there is motivation for the 2014 Israeli bombing of Gaza to be found in a potential gas deal with Russia, and the regional and wider geopolitical implications thereof, remains to be seen.
The question may not necessarily come down to what Russia has to gain or lose, but what Palestine could potentially gain by cutting a deal with Russia. What would that mean for Palestinian independence and how far would that go towards legitimizing and solidifying Palestine’s status as a viable, future nation-state?