Ukraine, Chevron, Condi Rice and shale gas ... join the dots

Pro-Europe protest in the Maidan, 27th November 2013. Photo: Evgeny Feldman / Wikimedia Commons.
Pro-Europe protest in the Maidan, 27th November 2013. Photo: Evgeny Feldman / Wikimedia Commons.
High principles dominate the rhetoric on freedom-loving Ukraine, writes JP Sottile. But more mundane realities - like the interests of US oil corporations and Ukraine's vast shale gas capacity - might just be part of the volatile equation.
In Ukraine, Chevron's deal continues a long tradition of intermarriage between 'national' and corporate interests under the guise of national security.

Everybody's got an opinion about the 'showdown' with Russia.

Some say it's about freedom and the right to self-determination. Some say it's about standing up to aggression and halting a dictator's march.

Some say it's about the future of everything-from Syria to North Korea to Iran's nuclear program - and, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham, it all stems from Obama's failure to kill the people who killed Americans at Benghazi.

But the most-revealing voice in the chorus is Condi Rice. She penned a tension-filled op-ed on Ukraine for the Washington Post - the newspaper of broken records.

Her nostalgic, "Baby, It's a Cold War Outside" ditty on the "Ukrainian Problem" came just two days after a Teflon-coated Henry Kissinger opined about the "art of establishing priorities" in his own Ukraine-themed op-ed for the Post.

Why should we care about Condi?

As the world learned through painful experience, Condi Rice, much like Henry Kissinger, was all about establishing priorities. But now that she's out of power, why should anyone waste any time considering Ms. Rice's opinion about anything, much less about the 'crisis' in Ukraine?

Why? Because it's telling. Like most American Exceptionalists, her bluster and posturing can be reverse-engineered to find the banal truth about US foreign policy.

For example, her steadfast belief that Ukraine "should not be a pawn in a great-power conflict but rather an independent nation" might have something to do with Chevron's 50-year lease to develop Ukraine's shale gas reserves.

It's the gas, stupid

When that lease was signed on November 5, 2013, it stoked Russian fears about losing its influence on, and a major gas market in, a former satellite.

It also came on the eve of the much-disputed trade deal with the European Union that, once abandoned due to Russian pressure, led to the toppling of Ukraine's government.

Reuters characterized Ukraine's "$10 billion shale gas production-sharing agreement with US Chevron" as "another step in a drive for more energy independence from Russia."

In Ukraine, Chevron's deal continues a long tradition of intermarriage between 'national' and corporate interests under the guise of national security.

Of course, Ms. Rice knows something about driving for more energy. She sat on Chevron's board of directors for ten years before resigning to become President Bush's National Security Adviser in January of 2001.

She was such a titanic figure at Chevron and so beloved by their corporate captains that they even named a 129,000-ton oil tanker 'Condoleezza Rice'. Do people name tankers after people? People do!

But four months after leaving Chevron, they "quietly renamed" the tanker, apparently sensitive to the implication that she might prioritize their interests in places like Kazakhstan (a de facto dictatorship never targeted by American Exceptionalists) or the Caspian Sea (where Chevron is heavily invested) or Afghanistan (where they've long sought a pipeline from the Caspian region to the Indian Ocean).

Corporate Interests Abroad

In the case of Ukraine, Chevron's deal continues a long tradition of intermarriage between 'national' and corporate interests under the guise of national security.

As the International Business Times stated immediately after the deal, "Chevron's agreement with Ukraine was supported by the US as part of its national security strategy to help reduce Russia's hold on Europe and Kiev."

As quoted in the article, US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt said, "I'm very determined to cooperate with the Ukrainian government in strengthening Ukraine's energy independence."

That "cooperation" is couched in the language of "independence" - but it's actually about shifting to financial interdependence with powerful, American corporate interests. It's not about freedom or self-determination or human rights.

It's about the 'Open Door'.

Since the US proposed the Open Door Policy in China at the end of the 19th Century, American 'soft imperialism' has exploited resource opportunities for American corporate interests in dozens of 'friendly'regimes - their commitment to freedom notwithstanding.

We have been there before

Whether it was oil in Iran, bananas in Guatemala or sugar-cane in Cuba, any move to close the door on US business interests has traditionally been met with dire warnings about the dangers of isolationism and specious claims about America's national interests - which, oddly enough, always seem to be located in another country.

Throughout the Cold War, those 'endangered' national interests inspired CIA hijinks around the world. US foreign policymakers supported regime change in places like Chile (calling Dr. Kissinger) and around Central America.

And they doled out generous foreign aid packages to a motley crew of anti-communist 'strongmen'. If push came to shove, the US military might even get involved.

Since the end of the Cold War, US policy has been kicking open doors around the world and particularly around the edges of the former Soviet Union. Expansion of NATO and US involvement in the former 'Soviet Stans' around Afghanistan extended a semi-circle of US military might around Russia.

A declaration of economic war

And the Ukrainian energy independence trumpeted by Ambassador Pyatt amounted to a declaration of economic warfare on Russia's oil and gas-based economy. Like Condi Rice before him, Ambassador Pyatt's well-established priority is to ensure that well-connected businesses get in on the ground floor.

Once on the ground floor, they need insurance - either from local clients or from a neighborhood patrol by US forces. Perhaps that's why Ms. Rice used her Ukraine op-ed as an opportunity to advocate leaving a permanent military force in Afghanistan.

She doesn't want to hear "talk of withdrawal from Afghanistan whether the security situation warrants it or not." For her, nothing less than 10,000 troops will do. Otherwise, the US is "not serious about helping to stabilize that country."

Freedom, liberty, justice ... and hydrocarbons

Yet, one wonders if she - like all the professional hand-wringers, truculent think tankers, and once and future policymakers who've grandstanded on the showdown with Russia - isn't quietly more concerned about something more basic than freedom, liberty and justice for all.

Perhaps the former Secretary of State, former Chevron big-wig and former oil tanker is more concerned with the ability of Chevron to realize its Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline dream.

Her old cohorts practicing soft imperialism at the US State Department have certainly been doing their part to help Chevron score that lucrative contract.

The banal truth is that America's long-standing policy is to help people anywhere and everywhere when those people just so happen to be living on or near valuable resources.

Unless, of course, it's Bahrain, Nigeria, Kazakhstan or anywhere else repressive and corrupt governments are already interdependent upon US corporate interests.



J P Sottile is a freelance journalist, radio co-host, documentary filmmaker and former broadcast news producer in Washington, D.C. His weekly show, Inside the Headlines w/ The Newsvandal, co-hosted by James Moore, airs every Friday on KRUU-FM in Fairfield, Iowa.

Follow him on Twitter: @newsvandal

This article was first published on Buzzflash at Truth-Out.


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