Oh God, no, not another international song contest!

What do you get when a number of national culture ministers have a brainstorming session looking for ways to increase cultural contacts between their countries?

Answer: An international Continue reading

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Russia or Iran? Europe’s Gas Pipeline Dilemma

There are all sorts of sensible reasons as to why Obama decided not to put missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic. Chief amongst these would be their unnecessary expense, allied with the fact that these anti-missile missiles don’t actually work. Ostensibly, the system was to protect Europe from Iranian threats, even though neither these two countries nor the rest of Europe had expressed fear of Iranian attack.

One reason I hadn’t considered for Obama’s decision was that the U.S. and Europe might be wanting to diplomatically (and as gently as possible) manoeuvre Iran back into the community of nations for their own strategic energy purposes. The energy I’m talking about here is not oil, but natural gas. According to The Nation, the U.S. is worried about the growing dependency that Europe has on Russian gas. What they need to do is find alternative supply routes so that Europe cannot be held to ransom by Russia (in the way that Georgia has been in the past couple of years).

The EU and the US are pinning their hopes on a prospective 3,300-kilometer-long, $10.7 billion pipeline dubbed Nabucco. Planning for it began way back in 2004 and construction is finally expected to start, if all goes well (and it may not), in 2010. So if you’re a NATO optimist, you hope that natural gas from the Caspian Sea, maybe even from Iran (barring the usual American blockade), will begin flowing through it by 2015.

Russia has already begun to counter this Nabucco pipeline by building what is called the South Stream pipeline, also planned to start delivering gas by 2015:

Put this all together and Russia, with its pipelines running in all directions and firmly embedded in Europe, spells trouble for Nabucco’s future and frustration for Washington’s New Great Game plans to contain the Russian energy juggernaut.

For those who think that the battles to control access to strategic energy resources relates only to oil, take a look at this natural gas pipeline map. As you can see, the beating heart of Europe is supplied by gas arteries coming from some pretty dodgy countries inside Africa, The Middle East and the Central Asian republics.

Europe-Proposed-Natural-Gas-Pipelines-Map_mediumthumb

Russia already supplies 35% of Germany’s gas and this is expected to go higher. This is why Europe and the US can’t afford to get too offside with Iran as in the future its gas might be needed to deal with overreliance on the Russian monster.

Now, its all very well to build a pipeline, but you still have to find something to feed into it. Richard Galpin at the BBC reports that “Nabucco… is still struggling to find sufficient sources of gas to make it viable and ironically may end up transporting Russian gas.” This is why Pepe Ecobar has observed that

the Nabucco consortium itself would kill to have Iran as a gas supplier for the pipeline. They are also familiar with realpolitik: this could happen only with a Washington-blessed solution to the Iranian nuclear dossier.

Western countries and their media often portray Iran as a country of “Mad Mullahs” who behave in all sorts of insane ways. But when you look more closely at many of their international dealings, the Iranians are often better versed in statecraft then their Western counterparts. Look at this “threatening” deal that the Iranians have done with the Russians if Nabucco is not able to buy their gas:

Is Russia just watching all this gas go by? Of course not. In October 2007, Putin signed a key agreement with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: if Iran cannot sell its gas to Nabucco–a likelihood, given the turbulence of American domestic politics and its foreign policy–Russia will buy it.

Now that’s what I call putting the real into realpolitik. But it is also why journalist John Pilger posits that the latest rhetoric from Western governments over Iran’s nuclear program is, in fact, readying us for the next war. Pilger argues that: “Iran’s crime is its independence. Having thrown out America’s favourite tyrant, Shah Reza Pahlavi, Iran remains the only resource-rich Muslim state beyond US control.”

We’ll see, but I think that Pilger underestimates the aforementioned statecraft of the Iranians and how good they have become at avoiding war.

Winnie the Pooh banned in Russia

A major WTF moment just out from The Moscow Times. Winnie the Pooh has made it on to a list of banned extremist material in Russia. As far as I can tell, here’s how it happened.

Regional courts from all over Russia submit lists of symbols, objects and materials that have been associated with arrested extremists. These lists are compiled into a master list that is distributed to all Russian police who can then consult the list when investigating other crimes. If any of these items on the list are found when a crime is being investigated, then additional charges of extremism can be levied:

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