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Putin and the Central Asia Black Hole

Politics / Russia Mar 01, 2014 - 07:04 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


From Black Hole to Nuclear Singularity

The former United States National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski in his 1997 book “The Grand Chessboard”, called the wide sweep of post-Soviet Eastern Europe and Central Asia the "Black Hole" and "Eurasian Balkans." The area is what geopoliticians as far back as the USA's Alfred Thayer Mahan, in 1900, called a Debated and Debatable region – meaning a disputed ethnic cauldron prone to instability and constant conflict, with only restricted, or even totally absent national identities, riven with religious, historical, political, ethnic and cultural influences, often organized into tribal or clan systems of power, nearly always poor - and always unpredictable. Despite or because of this, also due to resource and market search, and for self-defence, outside powers have continuously sought control or at least prime influence in this region. Past and present powers engaged in what the British called The Great Game, and the Soviets called The Struggle of the Shadows feature Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan, India, the US and the EU.

In theory, we can hope only in theory, any protracted civil conflict in the Ukraine does not lead to the “logical result” of this unstable and divided former Soviet republic falling into a Black Hole of civil war as different militarized factions fight turf wars for local control, either before or after the Ukraine is partitioned - with the probably imminent first step of Crimea seceding. When or if Ukraine's economic collapse and political divisions were sufficiently intense, the country's remaining nuclear reactors, fuel rod stores, nuclear wastes and other nuclear materiel, possibly including leftover nuclear weapons dating from before 1991 (although their existence is denied by previous Ukrainian governments and by Russian authorities) could become the “logical target” for attack by warring factions.

Scoring a direct hit on a Chernobyl-type NPP (nuclear power plant) with a very large range of possible ordnance, including infantry or drone-launched 100 – 135 mm antibuilding / antitank missiles of standard NATO or Russian type, would very surely “destabilize” the enemy! Large-area defoliant chemical warfare as used by the US in Vietnam was euphemistically called “resource denial”. Directly hit NPPs will guarantee huge-area resource denial. Ukraine, after all, is home to Chernobyl and its approximately 2827 square kilometer total exclusion zone.

This would be a massive Nuclear Singularity after which no future civil conflict in any country with nuclear power could be calmly accepted as “inevitable and therefore acceptable”. Brzezinski, who is apparently fond of cosmic nucleosynthesis images or allusions, can include Nuclear Singularity to his repertoire. Only a little work would be needed, by him, to cobble all-new geopolitical theories starting with Before and After the Singularity - of the first civil war on Earth which “goes nuclear”.

Previous geopolitical singularities, in the huge swath of territory roughly coinciding with the Mongol Empire at its great extent, about 1275 when it stretched from Seoul to Vienna and Siberia to the Red Sea, included the UK's First and Second Anglo-Afghan Wars in an attempt to establish control over the region and block Russia's move southwards “to warm waters”. Losing badly both times, not directly fighting the Russians but the “local Afghan players”, the British later signed the 1907 Anglo-Russian Convention which divided Afghanistan between the two powers and set a framework for all future UK-Russia diplomatic relations until the October Revolution in Russia, and in fact long after.

Economic Black Holes
These also exist. Their numbers are growing rapidly since 2008, in a chicken-and-egg process that can generate domestic political, and then geopolitical black holes. Current examples include Venezuela, Thailand and a string of countries in Sahel and Central Africa. All or most post-Arab Spring countries of the MENA, for example Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Tunisia are in this category. Ukraine may be the first clear and unequivocal Economic Black Hole in Europe, although the PIIGS countries can be called “larval type economic black holes”.

Geopoliticians, certainly of the grandstanding Brzezinski type, give little or no attention to the economic breakdown trigger for creating geopolitical singularities. The usually little-disguised seekers of war and glorifiers of war like Brzezinski typically see post-Soviet Russia continuing, and wanting, to dominate political decision-making throughout the Caucasus, western Central Asia, and the former Soviet Muslim Republics of south-eastern Central Asia. When or if these countries join or associate with the EU, and even worse, join or associate with NATO, this will trigger Russia's military action to win and hold enclaves such as parts of southern Moldova and northern Georgia. The only economic rationale on offer for fighting Russia, to prevent this, is “oil, gas, pipelines and minerals”.

The Ukrainian crisis, in a large but in my opinion neglected way, was accelerated and intensified by the very longstanding Russia-Ukraine “gas crisis”, featuring the unpaid gas debt of Ukraine, racked up by successive Kiev politicians from the moment Ukraine quit the collapsing USSR, in 1991. The “original financial crisis” of Ukraine was gas-linked and due to the way generations of Ukrainian political deciders and business players took almost-free Russian gas as a birthright – and abused this privilege. One entirely neglected reason as to “why Putin wants the Ukraine” is to extract unpaid gas bills which in recent years, from 2010, according to some Russian sources including the Finance ministry in a late-December statement, have been running at as much as $2.25 billion-a-year. There is also the value of unpaid-for oil supplies to Ukraine, and the value of gas and oil infrastructures, either funded or both funded-and-built in the Ukraine by Russia over decades.

Russia's decision to build both the North Stream and South Stream gas routes to reach west European gas markets very surely included the complete absence of even a single inch of these lines crossing Ukraine. This is a dramatically different geopolitical analysis! Ukraine is an economic black hole. To be sure western media, in its typically hypocritical way, is providing the least-possible information about this fact – because this may limit or weaken the “gung-ho natural desire” to have a war with Russia to control Ukraine's broken economy and its divided society. However, as we know to date, Ukraine “needs $35 billion immediately”. Who will risk that?

Paying its financial and gas debts will hobble economic growth of the country probably for decades – making it ridiculous to image Ukraine is an economic prize. With the possible (but not certain) exception of Kazakhstan, the other “Debated and Debatable” states created by the ex-USSR across southern and eastern Central Asia are also not economic prizes – but liabilities. Much of ex-Warsaw Pact Europe, including former East Germany, remains “economically depressed”. In the East German case it remains difficult and slow to economically and socially integrate with former West Germany – after more than 20 year of massive spending by Federal Germany!

Playacting with the notion of “economic prize” makes as little sense, for Ukraine today, as British elite attempts to sell public opinion the Afghan Wars of the 19th century as able to bring “Lasting Riches”. The Ukraine's serious, probably long-term domestic political conflict is an excellent candidate for No Interference - if only to prevent the poisoned prize becoming a Nuclear Wasteland.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2014 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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