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Monday, April 30, 2007

Annals of Cold War II: A Prison Term for Grandpa Vladimir?

PressTV reports that if Vladimir Putin goes forward with his plan to weaponize Russia's energy resources, he may end up in an American prison cell (from where he can write postcards of sympathy to Mr. Khodorkovsky in Chita):

The US Senate Judiciary Committee has voted in favor of a legislation to prosecute new energy cartel organizers.

The committee unanimously voted in favor Wednesday of the so-called "NOPEC" legislation, which would allow for criminal prosecution of countries that organize energy cartels and manipulate the prices of natural resources. The bill is the latest version of similar legislation that has failed to make its way through Congress in several attempts since 2000.

Although a US federal court ruled in 1979 that OPEC's pricing decisions are the result of "governmental" rather than commercial actions, meaning that they are protected by the sovereignty of foreign governments, the NOPEC bill, which was sponsored by Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), would allow US law enforcement agencies and the federal government "to begin legal proceedings against any foreign power, including the member nations of OPEC, for conspiring to fix prices and artificially decrease the volume of available oil."

The measures that could be taken against such nations or their agents would be left to the discretion of the judges, but would probably include freezing or confiscation of the US-held assets of foreign governments.

The legislation has nothing specific to say about gas, preferring instead to talk about "a confederacy of oil-exporting countries, as a result of which [oil] reserves were artificially and critically cut and prices inflated on fuel." Nevertheless, Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee chairman Konstantin Kosachyov and Russian gas behemoth Gazprom have expressed concern that the bill's language leaves plenty of latitude for the US to take action on other energy-resource fronts.

A source in a Russian ministry told Kommersant that even if the Senate is not specifically targeting Russia, "we should not remain silent." Russia's concern comes in the wake of the meeting in Doha, Qatar on April 9 at which gas-exporting countries including Iran, Venezuela, Algeria, and Russia discussed the possible formation of an organization of gas-exporting countries modeled on OPEC. The different branches of the US government are known to be of unusually like mind in their opposition to the possible gas cartel.

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