Wednesday, March 5, 2014

To what degree is the Ukraine conflict about access to oil and natural gas reserves under the Black Sea?

Pardon me for being more than a little sceptical about the theatre that is being played out over which direction Ukraine takes, toward Europe and the west, or more toward Russia. While the high-sounding idealistic phrases burping from the mouths of Putin and Kerry et al, about protection of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and the escape from a corrupt cleptocracy probably have some relevance to the fast-moving story, there is another spectre that has begun to raise its head from under the Black Sea.
And that is the spectre of billions of dollars of oil and gas that are allegedly resting, undisturbed deep under the water, like gold nuggets in the economy of whichever "developer(s)" get there first, with the deepest pockets for exploration and development.
The Russians already control a considerable portion of the European market for energy, by some estimates providing up to 40% of Germany's total energy needs. There is a natural gas pipeline running through the middle of Ukraine carrying Russian natural gas, and we all know that the world continues, and will continue for at least the foreseeable future, to need billions of gallons or cubic feet of oil and natural gas respectively. We already have too many "petro-dependent" economies, reducing their dependence on manufacturing while stoking their reserves and balancing their budgets on the profits from the sale of fossil fuels. And in some, including both Russia and Ukraine especially under Yanukovich, oligarchs have grown rich through their corrupt seizure of the levers of influence and thereby gaining access to those petro-profits.
It would seem to this outsider that the world needs to prevent a repeat of this kind of economic and fiscal "rape" of the natural resources by and for the few members of the inner circle, and find ways to distribute the profits in a more equitable, and yes idealistic, manner. so that all the people will have access to good education and health care for their children, jobs and decent incomes for the parents of those children, and freedom from a hostile and vengeful state through legitimate laws and an open and transparent legal system.
However, so long as we continue to demand the kind of lifestyle, dependent on the products that are produced by the machines that are themselves dependent on fossil fuels for their motive power, the discharges from which we all know are sucking the very oxygen we need to live out of the atmosphere and replacing it with carbon dioxide, it will  merely be a matter of who gets the mining rights to the black crude and the natural gas who also has the power and influence in too many states' economies and political system.
And, as in the past, there are those willing and able to go to war to secure access to those mining rights, and if they will go to war, they will also compromise many of the other minimal standards that can only develop and grow under a governance that is not so deep into political and economic and fiscal incest and greed and power-addiction, that it actually turns a blind eye to the needs of ordinary people, so blinded is it to its own narcissism.
Maybe, yes maybe (and this is going to raise hackles in many places) it is time for the world to examine and to accept, after considerable debate, that not all natural resources are up for sale, and open to corporate profit, greed and exploitation. Maybe it is time to examine the notion of a set of "common interests" like water, access to food, health care and education to which all people are entitled by birthright, and we would also argue, that there is reason to suggest that even fossil fuels could become part of that "common" inheritance, and not open to private rape pillage and the pursuit of either economic or political power generated by the sale of those common resources.
We are a very long way down the road to corrupt capitalism, and the world needs leaders like Teddy Roosevelt, who reigned in the trusts and the corporations when they became too greedy and too selfish and too narcissistic....and can anyone see such a leader on the horizon?

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