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Russia: The Marriage Of Energy And Security

Putin has said Russia has a competitive advantage over its neighbors (epa) The recent squabbles between Russia and Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia over gas have shed light on an interesting symbiotic relationship between Russia's National Security Concept, signed in March 2000, and Russia's Energy Strategy adopted in August 2003.

The most significant "modification" of Russia's National Security Concept appears to be an expanded role given to the use of energy as the primary lever of Russian foreign policy.

The "Energy Strategy of Russia Up To 2020," while not formally a part of the National Security Concept, has become a road map for Russian foreign policy. According to the Energy Ministry's website: "Russia possesses large resources of energy and has a powerful fuel and energy complex that serves as the foundation for its economic development and is an instrument for implementing domestic and foreign policy. The role of the country in world energy markets determines its geopolitical influence."

Putin was clearly guided by the text of the energy strategy when he spoke on 22 December 2005, at the height of the Ukrainian-Russian "gas war." "Our country enjoys a natural competitive advantage, and has natural and technological capabilities for taking more prominent positions on the energy market," Putin said. "We must use these positions in the interests of the whole international community, but not to the detriment of our national interests."

Price Increase

Among the factors that likely led to the adoption of the energy strategy three years ago are:

* A dramatic increase in the price of oil and gas, which most experts believe will not drop significantly in the foreseeable future

* The West's preoccupation with the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq

* Iran's increasing international isolation diminished its hopes that it could become an alternative supplier of natural gas in Eurasia

In a nutshell, it became clear that energy as a policy tool was cheaper than tanks and missiles; Russian energy policy is able to reach those distant lands where the underpaid and demoralized Russian military would never dare venture.

Threats Persists

Within weeks of his election as Russian president in March 2000,

Vladimir Putin signed the National Security Concept of the Russian Federation, which subsequently became known as the Putin Doctrine. This doctrine identified the main international threats to Russia to be:

* The possible appearance of foreign military bases and large military contingents in direct proximity to Russia's borders

* The danger of weakening the political, economic, and military influence of Russia in the world

* The strengthening of military-political blocs and unions, above all the eastward enlargement of NATO

* The weakening of the integration processes in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

At the time the concept was drafted, Russia was still shaken by the financial crisis of August 1998 and the disruption of economic relations with the West. "Stratfor Global Intelligence" then commented that "the Russians felt they had little to lose" and adopted a concept that allowed for a nuclear first strike "in response to large-scale aggression using conventional weapons in situations critical to the national security of the Russian Federation."

In some respects, Russia has succeeded since 2000 in reinforcing its position vis-a-vis the CIS -- and, thus, mollifying the threats. In 2000, Russia moved rapidly to create the Eurasian Economic Community -- a sort of Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Zone once promulgated by pre-World War II Japan -- which consists of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and most recently, Uzbekistan. This Eurasian Economic Community, coupled with Russia's active use of energy politics in the region, has helped enhance Russia's leading role in Central Asia while achieving a certain reintegration of the CIS countries.

In other respects, however, recent Russian behavior suggests that its perceptions of external threats not only have remained unchanged, but also have taken on greater urgency.

The rise of international terrorism and the U.S. War On Terror radically altered geopolitics and brought U.S.-led forces into Central Asia in order to defeat Al-Qaeda forces operating in Afghanistan. Russia initially went along with these Western intrusions into what had traditionally been its sphere of influence, but by 2005 felt compelled to seek the removal of U.S. bases from its periphery and reestablish its own security umbrella in the region.

Now, the feared and unwanted Western bases "in direct proximity" to Russia in Central Asia that were established in the wake of 9/11 are in the process of being partially dismantled. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has ordered the United States to close down its bases in his country, while in Kyrgyzstan the leases are being renegotiated.

In other areas, however, the threat has grown. The victory of the Rose Revolution in Georgia in November 2003 and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine 13 months later gave new impetus to those two countries' aspirations to NATO membership and the possibility that they might allow NATO bases on their territory.

This has evoked harsh comments from Russia's military top brass. According to a report by "The Moscow Times" on 2 December 2005, Yury Baluyevsky, the chief of the General Staff, said: "Attempts are being observed to weaken the commonwealth through recruitment of CIS states into NATO." Baluyevsky added: "Russia will defend its interests vis-a-vis this process."

It was not a coincidence that Baluyevsky made his remarks at the height of the Ukrainian-Russian gas standoff, a conflict which many interpreted as Russian pressure on Ukraine to abandon its pro-Western ways and return to the Russian fold.