Behind the coup in Ukraine: Oil and gas as a weapon

What do oil and gas have to do with the U.S.-sponsored crisis in the Ukraine? Lots. But that is barely mentioned in the mass media here. And it’s not the first time.

When the U.S. military invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, the story was that it had to do with “combating terrorism” and “eliminating weapons of mass destruction.”

But neither the Taliban regime nor the Iraqi government were in on the 9/11 attacks. And the claims that Iraq had nuclear, biological or chemical weapons were also boldface lies.

In fact, these were wars for oil profits — for a key pipeline in Afghanistan, and for the lion’s share of the world’s second-biggest oil supply in Iraq.

Now, U.S. imperialism is gearing up a conflict with the people of Ukraine and the Russian Federation. This time, oil and gas are not the primary goals — not at first. Instead, they are weapons to subject the Ukrainian and Russian people to the rule of U.S. banks and big corporations and to strengthen Wall Street’s hegemony over its European “partners.”

Washington has been working to strengthen its hand in Ukraine for some time. In 2004, the Bush administration gave $65 million to supply “democracy training” to opposition leaders. This program was stepped up under the Obama administration. In a speech last December to the National Press Club, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland confirmed that the U.S. had invested “over $5 billion” to “ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine.” This is the same Nuland whose phone conversation picking the new prime minister of the Ukraine got leaked.

A U.S. State Department-sponsored report published in 2004 noted that “Ukraine’s strategic location between the main energy producers (Russia and the Caspian Sea area) and consumers in the Eurasian region, its large transit network, and its available underground gas storage capacities” made the country “a potentially crucial player in European energy transit.”

But, the report continued, Ukraine’s dependence upon Russian energy imports had “negative implications for U.S. strategy in the region,” in particular the strategy of “supporting multiple pipeline routes on the East-West axis as a way of helping promote a more pluralistic system in the region as an alternative to continued Russian hegemony.” (“Ukraine’s Energy Policy and U.S. Strategic Interests in Eurasia,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, cited in The Guardian, March 3, 2014)

Currently, Russia supplies half of Ukraine’s natural gas and 30 percent of Europe’s. Last November, Ukraine signed a $10 billion shale gas deal with the U.S. oil giant Chevron that would introduce the environmentally disastrous method called “fracking” to tap Ukraine’s own gas supply. That would supposedly end Ukraine’s reliance on Russia’s natural gas by 2020. This was a key part of an overall deal that Ukraine was negotiating with the European Union.

But then the Russian government offered Ukraine a far better deal: a 30 percent reduction in the price of its natural gas, as well as a $15 billion aid package. The Ukraine government reversed course and agreed to this. That was when the U.S.-sponsored opposition launched its struggle for control of the Ukraine government.

U.S. corporations have massively increased both natural gas production, through fracking, and oil production from new fields in the Bakken region of North Dakota. The U.S. also imports shale oil from Canada. Given this abundance of oil and gas, the imperialists have been ceaselessly plotting to find new markets.

Currently, the U.S. exports none of its natural gas. But plans are underway to complete gas liquefaction plants by 2015, which will allow the energy giants to begin shipping large quantities of liquefied natural gas to Europe. The “liberal” New York Times editorial board has concluded that “natural gas exports could serve American foreign-policy interests in Europe.” (“Natural Gas as a Diplomatic Tool,” New York Times, March 6) The entire U.S. establishment agrees on letting the fracking continue. Because Europe had a mild winter this year, its current natural gas supplies are high, giving the U.S. more time to develop an export infrastructure.

On the same day that the newly appointed “prime minister” of Ukraine was visiting the White House, the U.S. government announced that despite the glut of oil supplies from its new-found sources, it was selling 5 million barrels of oil from its emergency stockpile, the first such sale since 1990. “Oil traders noted that Russia’s effort to take over the Crimean region from Ukraine has prompted calls for use of booming energy resources to relieve dependence on Russian natural gas by Europe and Ukraine.” (Reuters, March 12)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has for years been in favor of “channeling the domestic energy boom into a geopolitical tool to advance American interests around the world.” In 2011, she set up an 85-person Bureau of Energy Resources in the State Department to do just that. (New York Times, March 5)

All the concerns about global climate change, fracking, pipeline leaks and oil train explosions go right out the window as the U.S. government helps position its energy billionaire pals to grab ever more wealth and power — in Ukraine as well as here at home.