Thursday, August 30, 2007

SitRep: Russia

Click on all images to enlarge

Violence on the Rise in Russian Province of Ingushetia

This report might have flown by without much discussion, but I think that its important for three reasons:

1) It continues to show the problem's that Russia has had with Republics breaking away or attempting to break away from Mother Russia and its economic/resource concerns in the Caucus area.

2) The continued difficulty of the press to get away from forwarding the "wag the dog" theory of war (ie, it's to appear politically strong a bolster an existing or potential candidates chances for election).

3) Islamist rebels who are not really "Islamists" as we understand them, but who may be co-opted by the Islamists as Chechnya was since 1994. In fact, many use the example of Islamists training ground in Chechnya as a comparison to the problems that arise out of the continued war in Iraq. That is the possibility of recruitment and development of advanced terror techniques. However, one of the overlooked aspects of Chechnya was that, while the rebels might have been Muslim (due to the regional and cultural aspects of the area), they did not start out, nor even end, as an Islamist movement. In fact, some Chechen rebels were reluctant to work with the Al Qaeda network for the very reasons that the Al Anbar Sheihks started to reject them. They didn't want the Al Qaeda Islamists to take over their movement. It was their's not a foreigners and they were fighting for their independence.

They eventually determined that the Islamists were not really interested in their independence, but in their joining some Islamic conglomerate. The locals were afraid of losing power. They decided they had more of under an agreement with Russia for increased autonomy than a future under the Islamists who sought to install their version of Islamic governance on the region. Something that, historically, the Islamists should have figured out would not be accepted. While the Caucuses have been "Muslim" since the middle ages, they had simply incorporated this over their pre-existing tribal and cultural norms. Their social order was sometimes more and sometimes less stringent than Muslim concepts of the Arab tribes. However, due to the geographical realities of of the region, the tribes enjoyed some considerable independence from both the Arab centric religious institutions of Islam and from the Soviet Government in Moscow.

Thus, this report's emphasis on the "Muslim" nature of the "rebels" is some what suspect. These flare ups are much more a result of citizens looking to gain their political and economic independence from Russia. Particularly as many see their conditions as the "poor cousin" egregious considering the amount of oil and natural gas that is known to be in the area or that is transported through the area via road, railroad, river and pipes.

The problem, of course, is the concern that Islamists taking advantage of the situation could add considerable money, materials and men to the situation. The Russians have to be concerned with any attempts to secede because of these vital links to their economic boondoggle from oil and natural gas. Including the possibility that "independence" will spread to other republics such as Dagestan to the east that has considerable control of oil and natural gas from the Caspian Sea as well as major road, railroad, river and pipelines used to transport these resources from the Caucus Caspian Region.

Its not simply the loss of revenue from the loss of resources, but the cost of developing new routes for the delivery to the Black Sea . Over half of all oil and natural gas is shipped via river and railroad.

Although Russia produces almost 7 million bbl/d of liquids for export, only about 4 million bbl/d can be transported in major trunk pipelines; the rest must be shipped by rail and river routes. Most of the 4 million bbl/d transported via alternative routes are petroleum by-products (see Fig. 2b).

Reviewing issue one, Ingushetia is much more important than these reports let on. Like Chechnya, the loss of the republic would be more than a loss of land or control of people. It is even more than a political loss of face. Ingushetia sets astride the major railroad and pipeline routes. Further, the Russians fear an erosion of control over the area. With 70% of Russian revenue coming from oil and natural gas exports, it doesn't take much to understand their fear.

This report states "Why Russia is Flexing it's Muscles". It goes on to talk about a "strategic counter-weight" to the United States. It has a lot of emphasis on the military and the political, but doesn't go very far in discussing the economic issues that prompt Russia to "flex its muscles" militarily. There is the issue that the US has been making nice with the "'Stans", a huge energy resource, but also security and staging in the area for operations in Afghanistan.

For its part, Russia isn't worried about the possibility of US military aggression against Mother Russia. What they are worried about is economic and military influence over the region. While it might be to show the US that it is still a capable opposition, these kinds of shows are mostly for regional and domestic consumption. Russia wants to remind their nominal allies in the 'Stans, and the republics that continue to talk about secession, that they are strong enough to protect their interests in the region and their contiguous borders.

Other maps:

US Marine Corps: Maps of the Region

Energy Information Administration

Other discussions:

Russia-Iran Matrix: Economic Security

Warsaw Pact 2

1 comment:

Tom the Redhunter said...

I tend to agree as far as your post goes.

In the short run Russia will be a pain as Putin seeks to flex his muscles, as you say. In the longer run though Russia won't even being around.

Russia has the worlds highest abortion rate, a declining life expectancy, and falling birthrate. They're at about 1.2 live births per woman, and the replacement rate is 2.1 The numbers are such that if current trends continue, sometime around midcentury a process will start whereby the population of Russia will halve ever 35 years or so.

In other words, Russians are going to disappear. Wave bye bye.

And who will take their place? One possiblility is that the country just gets sparsly inhabited. But they could also go the way of western Europe; Muslim.

I am of course referring to the Mark Steyn "America Alone" thesis.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.