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Friday, September 01, 2006

Annals of Cold War II: Lugar Rips Russian Weaponizing of Energy

In an icy blast delivered at a prestigious U.S. conference on energy, Senator Richard Lugar has equated Russia with U.S. energy foes Iran and Venezuela as "hostile regimes" where U.S. energy security is concerned. Drunk on arrogance and oil, Russia has provoked the United States into a second cold war and the consequences for Russia are inevitable and unavoidable. Kommersant reports:

The new charges against Russia were heard on Tuesday in West Lafayette, Indiana, at the so-called energy summit held under the patronage of Perdue University and Sen. Lugar. Major figures on the energy market and eminent experts on energy were present. The main topic of discussion was energy resources and their use in foreign policy. Lugar set the tone for the conference in his speech about challenges and threats. He is a 74-year-old veteran politician who was first elected to the Senate in 1976.

In his list of threats to U.S. national energy security, Lugar listed “hostile regimes, from Venezuela to Iran and Russia” neat the top, saying that they consciously use energy levers to pressure their neighbors. By placing Moscow in the same category as Tehran and Caracas, Lugar practically placed the Russian authorities on the same level as the regimes in those two countries. “We are used to thinking in terms of conventional warfare,” Lugar said, “but now energy is becoming the preferred weapon in the hands of those who have it.” Lugar called on U.S. authorities to develop a new national policy for energy resources to escape to avoid the “geopolitical threat from oil-rich regimes.”

Another entry on Lugar's list of six basic threats was authoritarian regimes that control the production and delivery of oil within their own countries. The money those receive from the sales of energy resources feeds corruption, Lugar said. As a consequence, a retreat from democracy happens in the best case and, in the worst case, the petrodollars are spend on the support of international terrorism. The senator was particularly upset by the fact that the U.S., by continuing to import oil from those countries, is contributing to the problem. “Our economic health depends on forces that are located far beyond the limits of our control, including in hostile countries,” he summarized. Although the senator did not list those hostile countries again, the same states that were listed earlier fell within his description.

What Lugar left unsaid was filled in by another participant in the conference, Rice University researcher Emmy Meyers- Jaff. “Bolivia, Venezuela and the Middle East are unstable regions,” she said. “And then there is Russia, where oil fields are being taken away from companies that have legally acquired the rights to produce oil. That happens when someone close to President Putin wants to make money himself. So remember, when you buy a gas-guzzling Hummer, you are voluntarily putting yourself in their hands,” she said.

The massive criticism of Russia is one response to concept of energy security proposed by Russia at the G8 summit. The American energy elite has made it clear that it does not consider Russia a guarantor of energy security, but a threat to it.

The four other threats to American energy security did not elicit as great a level of response at the conference. They concerned global warming, natural disaster and price growth due to consumption by economic giants like India and China. Lugar considers the last point a threat because high energy prices strike at developing countries' development, which often remain afloat only thanks to American aid.

Lugar's speech shows not only that the U.S. has firm intentions of fighting for its energy security and interests, it also shows the American establishment's position toward the Kremlin, both in the White House and in the Senate.

Ariel Cohen, senior analysts at the Heritage Foundation, told Kommersant that Lugar's statements the widening front of supporters of a harsher policy toward Russia. Cohen included congressmen John McCain and Tom Lantos in that cohort. In Cohen's opinion, Lugar's joining the ranks is bad news for Moscow because of his closeness to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Another Kommersant source tied Lugar's speech to the introduction of a document on the Senate on sanctions against French and Russian companies that do business with Iran.

A Kommersant source in the White House said that Lugar's speech should not be taken as a new turn in U.S.-Russian relations, but as a continuation of old tendencies. “He didn't say anything that U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney didn't say in Vilnius,” the source noted. “Condoleezza Rice has been talking about the same things for a long time.” That source made it clear that the U.S. would no longer remain silent if Moscow's behavior upsets it, and the uses of energy is just one of those things that upset it.

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