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Yossef Bodansky

Yossef Bodansky

Yossef Bodansky, the Director of Research at the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) and Senior Editor of Defense & Foreign Affairs publications (including the Global…

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Europe's Latest Tinder Box and Global Mega Trends - Russia's pre-eminence in the EU Energy Market (Part 3)

Russia’s preeminence in the EU energy market also became clear during 2009. The EU was smarting from the Russian-Ukrainian “gas war” of the previous winter when Ukraine held Europe’s heating hostage to a payment dispute with Russia; namely, Ukraine’s attempt to either have Russia forgive Ukraine’s huge debt for gas used in Ukraine or coerce the freezing EU to pay Ukraine’s debt and bills. The EU came out of the crisis most alarmed by the bottleneck where (until Nord Stream is constructed) some 80 percent of Russia’s gas transfers the EU was transiting through Ukraine.
Brussels’ ultimate decision to side with Moscow despite huge pressure from Washington to support Kiev sent the message to the gas suppliers of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Most significant was the October 14, 2009, agreement between Russia and Azerbaijan for the annual sale of an initial quantity of 500-million cubic meters of natural gas, with an option for doubling the quantity. The essence of this agreement is that Azerbaijan was now relatively free of its dependence on the safety of the pipelines via volatile Georgia while Russia now controlled the further export and transportation of the Azerbaijani gas to Europe. An important byproduct of this agreement is that Baku lost confidence in the viability of Nabucco as an export outlet for its gas.

By late 2009, official Brussels was cognizant of Europe’s growing dependence on hydrocarbons from the east, and the realization that the main threat to supplies was not the producers – Russia and its allies – but the US-allied transit states, Georgia and Ukraine. Gunther Oettinger, the incoming EU Commissioner of Energy, is not a knee-jerk anti-Russian (like his predecessor) and is therefore more open to facing reality. In early 2010, the EU launched quick and profound changes such as a declared willingness to support South Stream which is now expected to enter the EU most likely in Romania. This policy change amounts to the EU virtually abandoning Nabucco, at least until a viable southern route, via Armenia rather than Georgia, is secured and the Azerbaijan-Turkey price dispute is resolved.

In contrast with Nabucco, South Stream is a concrete project and in 2015, by the time it goes on line, its capacity will be four times the anticipated initial capacity of Nabucco and twice the potential capacity if Nabucco is fully upgraded. A late 2009 performance comparison study conducted for France’s EDF concluded that “South Stream outclassed Nabucco “by four to one”. Jacques Deyirmendjian, the former President of Gaz de France International, stressed that “in the collection of howlers in the gas industry, the idea of building a gas pipeline without having found the gas which it will transport is the primordial error”.

In early March 2010, Oettinger articulated the EU’s new energy security policy. The EU’s priority is to free itself from the Ukrainian bottleneck rather than disengage from Russia as a dominant supplier. Hence, the EU would support the construction of a multi-venue southern corridor which could include South Stream, as well as Nabucco, if they meet the EU’s energy security criteria. “The European Union’s priority is clear. We want to develop the southern corridor. The European Union wants a direct connection to the Caspian and the Middle East region,” Oettinger explained. Therefore, the EU “will not ... stand in the way of South Stream”.

He went further, stressing that “South Stream could be backed by the European Commission on condition that it meets the technical requirements for security”. Oettinger also highlighted the insufficient capacity of the existing transit network to meet the EU’s medium and long term demands. Ensuring the availability of more transit venues is a problem more urgent than “diversification”, he stressed. “South Stream will increase the capacity for gas imports [to the EU] and set up a new infrastructure supply network,” Oettinger explained. In the longer term, “Nabucco will not only boost supply capacity but it will also bring new suppliers to Europe, increase diversification and independence.”

The GBSB is presently under the shadow of unprecedented economic collapse. All the economic measures are negative with no indication of a major improvement in sight. Even the economy of energy-rich Azerbaijan is in bad shape. The collapse of the Greek economy – the most developed among the GBSB states – threatens to bring down the entire Eurozone monetary system.

The majority of the region’s economies are dependent to a great extent on the flow of foreign salaries, investment and aid, and these are increasingly in short supply because of the lingering crisis. Moreover, these problems will continue and exacerbate long after the richer states of Western Europe and Russia begin to pull out of the crisis. This is because a major facet of their economic recovery will be profound modernization of the labor market, resulting in long-term large-scale unemployment, which, in turn, will result in widespread rejection of foreign workers in Western Europe. This trend will have a double impact on the economies of the GBSB, both depriving them of the flow of euros from expatriates and will send these rejected workers back to their home countries where they will add to the unemployment.

The compounding impact of these trends all but ensures that there is no end in sight for the economic crisis in the GBSB.

These severe economic problems engender and have long-term socio-political ramifications for the entire GBSB. The aggregate impact of this myriad of socio-economic problems is the aggravation of the political stability along ethno-centric lines. As the economic crisis intensifies, and misery and despair spread, greater segments of the population try to find solace in the fold of sub-national and ethno-religious identities. It is very tempting for people on distress to cling to beliefs that their plight is rooted in a communal discrimination by a hostile majority. As crises linger on, these sentiments transform into fertile grounds for further grassroots exacerbation and radicalization.

This minority awakening tends to have ripple effect that aggravates instability and hostility beyond the directly-affected areas. The ascent of the Kosovo Albanians led to the suppression of the Serb minority in Kosovo in the form of desecration and bombing of historic churches and monasteries, as well as widespread violence against individuals. In turn, reports of these atrocities led to a growing apprehension and self-awareness of the Serb minority in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The ascent of the Albanians in Kosovo led to the political awakening of the Albanian minorities in Macedonia (FYROM) to the point of destabilizing the country. This turmoil, in turn, created a political ripple effect among the “Turks” in Bulgaria. The socio-political awakening of the “Turks” of Bulgaria has clear political ramifications to the point of the “Turks” forming their own political party aimed to protect and preserve “rights” that have never been threatened in the post-communist Bulgaria.

Then, early 2010 saw the rebirth of the violent nationalistic and anti-Turkish Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, the VMRO. Originally, VMRO was the Slavonic revolutionary national liberation movement during the Ottoman occupation of the Balkan Peninsula in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Similar cyclical dynamics can be detected among the Crimean Tatars in Ukraine who serve as a catalyst for the counter-surge among the Russian minority in Crimea. These are but a few such eruptions brewing in the GBSB. The aggregate impact of all of this is that the popular delegitimization of states and societies is further expanding and will be impossible to completely reverse.

Underneath these popular movements there is a layer of growing jihadist terrorism that is potentially more dangerous than beforehand. At the crux of the new threat are the new jamaats – jihadist societies – which got their boost in the aftermath of the Russian victory in Chechnya and the North Caucasus as a whole. The jamaats are comprised of very small cells — less than a dozen members each — who consider themselves to be the sole guardians of true Islamic orthodoxy and thus practice the ultimate alienation from modern society and the state.

The unique characteristic of the jamaat is disengagement from society to the point of considering even the Muslim population hostile who cannot be trusted. Hence, much like the “Foco” doctrine of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, one of the objectives of the jamaats is to use indiscriminate terrorism in order to provoke the security forces to retaliate against the civilian population, thus instigating a cycle of violence which will fall on the fertile grounds of grassroots ethno-religious alienation and hostility. Ultimately, this cycle of violence will serve as the harbinger for a greater Islamic Revolution.

In practical terms, because the jihadist jamaats are no longer populist movements but rather very small isolated clandestine cells, it is far more difficult for intelligence and security services to discover and penetrate them. The Russian security services are discovering this in the North Caucasus. Throughout the GBSB, there are bubbling of clandestine jihadist cells in the form of jamaats. Most threatening are the new jamaats throughout the former Yugoslavia because of their close relations with jihadist movements and cells all over the world. For example, during the last Christmas-New Year holiday season, several West European intelligence services were alarmed by the flow of jihadists from both Western Europe and the Arab World to the village of Gornja Maoca in northern Bosnia. Hence, in early February 2010, the EU compelled Bosnian Police to raid the place. A few people, including the local neo-salafi cleric Nusret Imamovic, were arrested but released soon afterwards. Similar jamaats are springing out among the Crimean Tatars in Ukraine, and increasingly in all major GBSB cities where there are Muslim workers.

Meanwhile, Georgia is actively seeking to exploit the spread of jamaats in the North Caucasus in order to go after the Russian pipelines in hope of ensnaring the US into actively supporting a new confrontation with Russia. In early December 2009, Tbilisi organized a high-level meeting of jihadists groups from the Middle East and Western Europe in order “to coordinate activities on Russia’s southern flank.” The Georgian Embassy in Kuwait, for example, arranged for travel documents for jihadists from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. (There is a large and very active Chechen/Circassian community in Jordan since the 19th Century that is heavily represented in the intelligence services and the military.) In Tbilisi, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Lordkipanadze was the host and coordinator. The meeting was attended by several Georgian senior officials who stressed that Saakashvili himself knew and approved of the undertaking. The meeting addressed the launch of both “military operations” in southern Russia and ideological warfare. One of the first results of the meeting was the launch, soon afterwards of the Russian-language TV station First Caucasian.

The jihadists of the North Caucasus — including the Arab commanders in their midst — came out of the early December 2009 meeting convinced that Tbilisi is most interested in the spread of terrorism. The meeting was attended by, among others, Mohmad Muhammad Shabaan, an Egyptian senior commander who is also known as Seif al-Islam and who has been involved in Caucasus affairs since 1992. He took copious notes. According to Shabaan’s notes, the Georgian government wants the jihadists to conduct “acts of sabotage to blow up railway tracks, electricity lines and energy pipelines” in southern Russia in order to divert construction back to Georgian territory.

Georgian intelligence promised to facilitate the arrival in the Caucasus of numerous senior jihadists by providing Georgian passports, and to provide logistical support including the reopening of bases in northern Georgia. Russian intelligence was not oblivious of the meeting. Seif al-Islam and two senior aides were assassinated on February 4, 2010. The Russians retrieved a lot of documents in the process. Moscow signaled its displeasure shortly afterwards when the presidents of Russia and Abkhazia signed a 50-year agreement on a Russian military base in order to “protect Abkhazia’s sovereignty and security, including against international terrorist groups”.
A major issue still to be resolved is the extent of the US culpability.

The US is the prime loser of the August 2008 war and the ensuing shift in the EU’s energy security policy. The US relied heavily on pipelines and railways across Georgia as an instrument for reducing Russian supplies to Europe. After the war, the EU’s willing dependence on Russia — rather than being beholden to Saakashvili’s antics — has, of course, grand strategic ramifications for the consolidation of a new “Eurasia Home” in which the US is an unwelcome guest or even intruder.

The undermining of Russia’s ability to be a reliable supplier — through the use of jihadist terrorism against energy and transportation targets — could possibly send the EU back to using the Georgian venue and thus recognize US influence. As discussed above, in the past Washington entertained the use of jihadist terrorism in support of its pipeline policy. Hence, the major question is whether the US initiated this meeting or merely knew in advance and did not prevent. There is no reason why Tbilisi would not initiate such a move in hope of ensnaring Washington into supporting Georgia. However, given the extent of the US presence in Georgia and close cooperation with Jordanian intelligence it is inconceivable that the US was taken by surprise. For sure, Washington did not condemn the meeting and did not warn Tbilisi not to implement its resolutions. As well, the warship USS John Hall was dispatched to conduct joint drills with the Georgian Navy and closely monitor the maneuvers of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the area.

The hottest “frozen conflict” which could set the region aflame is the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. The lingering unresolved conflict is more than the prolonged human tragedy of the displaced Armenians and Azerbaijanis, as well as the economic suffering of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. The economically and strategically most viable route for transporting the hydrocarbons of Azerbaijan and Central Asia to Turkey — both Mediterranean ports and onward to Europe — is via the southern route along the Arak River valley. But this means having Armenia withdraw from Azerbaijani territory and resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. Both the EU and Russia have long concluded that the only viable solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict is by ensuring internationally guaranteed and monitored “wide autonomy” to the Armenians of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave while preserving the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The presently used northern route via volatile Georgia was adopted solely because the southern route is blocked by the unresolved conflict.

However, the US — in its capacity as a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group — is preventing the reaching of a negotiated solution by insisting on the conduct of a referendum in which independence for the Armenian enclave is a viable option as a precondition for any agreement. And the Armenian leadership in Stepanakert has long been mobilizing the population to support only the independence option. The extent of the support of the Obama Administration was made clear with the nomination of the key senior diplomats who facilitated Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence to the key positions responsible for handling the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict.

Little wonder that Baku — the would-be primary supplier for the pipelines via Turkey — is most frustrated by the deadlock, and particularly the US intransigence. Hence, the spate of threats of war coming out of Baku amount to warnings of a war which will spread all over the region to the detriment of Europe’s energy supplies. Meanwhile, all key European capitals, and a reluctant Washington, accept that there can be no military resolution of a frozen conflict in the Caucasus without the consent and support of Moscow. Regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, the key question is no longer whether the Azerbaijani armed forces can liberate their land, but whether Moscow would support such a move.

Just how hypocritical and self-serving Washington’s position is can be best deduced from the US contradictory position in the former Yugoslavia. The only exception is the insistence of the US and the EU on undermining and cancelling the Serbs’ Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the name of democracy and accession to the EU but in flagrant violation of the US mediated and imposed Dayton Accords of 1995 that ended the Bosnian fratricidal civil wars. Banja-Luka remains adamant on the conduct, later this year, of a referendum on autonomy for Republika Srpska or integration into Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnian Serb leaders reiterated that secession and independence would not be put to vote in the referendum. And there should be no legal problem for the EU to handle the accession of a country with an autonomous zone, as aptly demonstrated in the EU’s handling of the accession of Cyprus.

The real issue is the US insistence on a unitary state comprised of cantons with latent ethno-national character. In early 2010, Obama’s State Department identified the brewing crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina as one of the four “major foreign affairs challenges in store for 2010" (along with Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, but neither the Middle East nor the Arab-Israeli conflict). The inclusion of Bosnia-Herzegovina in this list is that the formulation of its future will be a critical facet of the US relations with the EU. The State Department is convinced that the key issue between official Washington and the new post-Lisbon bureaucracy in Brussels will be establishing permanent political order in Bosnia-Herzegovina. That is, the future character of the US-EU relations — and particularly the extent of US influence over the EU — will be determined via the handling of the forthcoming crises in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And the Obama Administration is committed to enshrining “the legacy of Dayton” as the unshakeable foundation of the joint US and EU policy.

Zagreb clearly got the drift coming from Washington. Starting late January 2010, then Croatian President Stjepan Mesic warned repeatedly that “the Croatian Army [will] invade Republika Srpska if secession from Bosnia occurs”. In early February 201, Mesic reiterated that the Croatian Army would “cut off the corridor connecting the Republic of Srpska [in Brecko] if it were to try and secede from Bosnia-Herzegovina”.

Significantly, the US did not react when Mesic threatened a military invasion of a neighboring state.

In contrast, the Kremlin is reluctant to break away from Moscow’s long-held commitment to the territorial integrity of the post-Soviet states, as well as adamant and principled opposition to unwarranted secessionism and the establishment of mini-states (including beyond the CIS area). Ultimately, the Kremlin is first and foremost adamant on consolidating Russia’s regional hegemony. Therefore, Moscow tolerated and embraced the break-up of Georgia by its protégés. In practical terms, Moscow wants stabilization and Finlandization — namely, a condominium of EU economic and social influence and Russian security dominance — for the former Soviet-states in the GBSB in order to ensure a GBSB conducive for energy transportation. Russia accepts the EU’s Eastern Partnership as à fait accompli which will alleviate some of the economic burden off Russia’s shoulders without really challenging Russia’s strategic pre-eminence, if not hegemony.

Among the GBSB states themselves, Romania has the most responsible and clairvoyant policy. Bucharest’s overall approach to “frozen conflicts” was articulated by President Traian Basescu in late-September 2009. “We want to reiterate that Romania’s position remains unchanged. Romania considers that the frozen conflicts should be solved only peacefully, basing on the norms and principles of the international law, respect for the states’ territorial integrity,” he said.

Bucharest demonstrated leadership in addressing these challenges. In mid-October 2009, Romania, Spain, and Cyprus announced their participation in a UN Court case, arguing that Kosovo’s 2008 unilateral declaration of independence was illegal. The three EU states joined Serbia and Russia in giving legal depositions at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Romania has also been helping both Azerbaijan and Moldova in defusing and solving their respective secessionist “frozen conflicts”. Meanwhile, Bucharest is making great efforts to ensure that the drastic measures undertaken in view of the horrendous economic crisis and severe recession do not engender regionalization and increase internal strife. The expediency of these efforts was recognized by the IMF in mid-February 2010 with the approval of a $3.32-billion emergency loan.

But all these measures do not address the crux of the overall problem: the fracturing and radicalization of societies in distress throughout the GBSB. The enduring unresolved “frozen conflicts” serve as a constant reminder and growing allure to other population groupings in distress. Indeed, the ethno-centric revivalism begins to spread to countries considered stable and free of problem. Regional states are also driven to frustration and militancy, threatening to strike out against minorities and sub-state entities they consider hostile and challenging.

Thus, the overall stability in the GBSB keeps deteriorating due to exacerbation of ethno-centric politics just as the GBSB’s significance for the economic well-being of the EU and the overall stability of Eurasia keeps growing. Simply put, the EU cannot afford to have its primary source of hydrocarbons held hostage to a myriad of irreconcilable ethno-centric disputes and brewing conflicts.

Hence, the GBSB must be quickly defused. At the very least, the process must start before violence erupts and engulfs the entire region. While economic recovery cannot be accelerated, ethno-centric separatism and secessionism can be addressed. The key to the defusing of these very hot and volatile “frozen conflicts” lies in the formulation of new international laws and modalities for realizing minorities’ quest for self-determination in the context of wide autonomy and the preservation of the territorial integrity of viable states. 

Moreover, a patch-work of instant-gratification localized arrangements would no longer suffice. Given the gravity of these conflicts, there is an urgent imperative to address the issue of unwarranted secessionism and failed mini-states in its entirety. Presently, there is an ambiguity in both international law and practice emanating from the inherent contradiction in the Helsinki Accords between the inviolability of state borders and minorities’ quest for self-determination. Subsequent UN resolutions and on-the-ground precedents — Kosovo being the latest and most destructive — only confused matters further and complicated the guidelines for prudent conflict resolution. The restricted interpretation of the pertinent UN Resolutions exacerbated all other separatist and secessionist conflicts.


The United Nations Charter explicitly recognizes the right of peoples to self-determination. The General Assembly adopted on December 14th, 1960, Resolution 1514 relating to the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples, which represents a major contribution to the promotion of this concept. Paragraph 2 of Resolution 1514 stipulates that all peoples have the right to “freely determine their political status and to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”. Nevertheless, the Resolution delineates the scope of this principle within the well-defined framework of the national unity and territorial integrity of States as stated in paragraph 6 of the same Resolution.

Resolutions 1541 and 2625, dated December 15, 1960, and December 24, 1970, respectively, corroborate the gradual development and codification of this principle. Resolution 1541 states in its principle VI that “a non-self-Governing territory can be said to have reached full a measure of self-government by emergence as sovereign independent State; free association with an independent State; or integration with an independent State”. Resolution 2625 further clarifies the meaning of the two previous resolutions, when it states that “the establishment of a sovereign and independent State, the free association or integration with an independent State or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people constitutes modes of implementing the right of self-determination by that people.” Hence, the drafters of these resolutions did not restrict the right to self-determination to the option of independence in order to take account of the complexities of cases that would emerge on the international scene and ensure that an automatic implementation of this principle would not lead to absurd situations.

In facing these situations, the international community is reluctant to address each and every conflict separately because of the fear of losing faith or inciting frustrated minorities into radicalism, terrorism and criminality. 

Future solutions and amended international legislation must ensure comprehensive individual and communal rights for discernable minorities and other groups with legitimate quest for self-determination. At the same time, such solutions must be practical and therefore priority should be given to the organizational and economic viability of a would-be autonomous zone or mini-state, as well as their impact on the overall national and regional stability. Emerging socio-political trends must be taken into consideration; namely, the growing complexity and multi-faceted character of modern economies and governance in concurrence with the decentralization of communal life. All of which indicate that preference should be given to addressing the quest for self-determination within the context of a larger political framework; that is, a form of wide autonomy while securing the territorial integrity of the existing and recognized state. That means the reading of the existing UN legal material in conformity with the spirit of the founders of this international legislation and their aim to avoid non sustainable nations and failed states.

The viable working solution should therefore be based on a comprehensive addressing of the entire phenomena of unwarranted secessionism and failed mini-states, as well as their global ramifications.

There is a need for formulating updated international laws, guidelines and criteria to define the concept of viable and sustainable states to balance the legitimate quest of small groups for self-determination with the legitimate and vital interests of states, regions and the entire world. It is therefore imperative to formulate a systemic legal approach to defining and defusing the lingering secessionist conflicts in pragmatic and practical manners. The viable solution should be based on internationally guaranteed and secured minority rights in the framework of extended autonomy for any further dismemberment of states will enshrine instability the world can ill afford. Subsequently, both governments and minorities will have to accept painful compromises in the name of revisited international standards. 

Hence, the crux of the defusing of the GBSB in the immediate future lies in the formulation and implementing of autonomy-based conflict resolution.

The international community should make clear to all that states cannot be further broken down if only because of regional stability and global economic considerations. At the same time, lingering legitimate concerns of distinct population groupings and minorities can, and should, be addressed in the context of internationally regulated, guaranteed and secured autonomy.

Creating hope on the horizon that at least some of the vexing problems will be solved and that the international community cares will do wonders to defuse the GBSB and thus expedite its stabilization and ensuing economic development. Presently, the EU and Russia are inclined to pursue this approach in principle. The gravity of the situation in the GBSB, and the great stakes for global economy and stability, make implementation an urgent imperative.

Read the other articles in this series:

Europe’s Latest Tinder Box and Global Mega Trends – The EU’s Failure (Part 1)

Europe’s Latest Tinder Box and Global Mega Trends - The US Support for Violence in Chechenya  (Part 2)

Analysis By Yossef Bodansky, Senior Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs.

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