The end of Cold War II

Opinion by Ali Sarilgan
Jan. 26, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

Every year in January, the financial and political elite of the world, along with thousands of private jets, come together at the luxurious Davos ski resort in the World Economic Forum to discuss pressing global issues — like how the income gap between the rich and the mega-rich is getting alarmingly wider. This year’s theme was Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” alluding to the new age of technology innovation ushered in by computer science. So basically, what 20 percent of Stanford is majoring in and what the rest of us who have seen iRobot are secretly terrified of.

While heated discussions on the refugee crisis, plummeting world markets, low prices of oil and Britain’s potential exit from the E.U. took all the attention at the summit, a critical statement John Kerry made in Davos fell off the radar. The Secretary of State said he “believed that the sanctions against Russia could be removed within the next few months.” His statement is very timely, considering that just a month ago, the White House admitted to back-channelling with the Assad regime in Syria in an attempt to find “cracks in the regime it could exploit to encourage a military coup.” When this strategy failed, the U.S. administration began negotiating with the Syrian government, a move that in the long run gave Assad much-desired legitimacy. But what do the sanctions against Russia have to with this? Well, it seems that we have reached the end of the Second Cold War. And a clear victor is about to emerge.

In the dawn of 2009, Assad had two potential projects on his desk: the Qatar-Turkey pipeline and the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, also called the Islamic Pipeline. The first proposal aimed to extend a line from Qatar to Syria and meet with existing natural gas lines that traveled to Europe. The Arab League, Turkey, the U.S. and Europe were all on board. In fact, Turkey had promised to buy all its natural gas needed for the next 10 years from Qatar if the project reached completion. The goal was simple: exporting Qatari gas to Europe and effectively ending Russia’s monopoly over it. Given that 70 percent of Russia’s crude oil and 90 percent of its natural gas exports went to Europe, this pipeline would mean the economic collapse of the Federation.

So Putin stepped in and gave his close ally Assad a call, who in turn, kindly rejected the proposal “to protect the interests of [its] Russian ally” and called for the Islamic Pipeline that aimed to export Iranian gas to Europe by building one from Syria to Greece over Cyprus. If the plan had succeeded, Russia would further its grasp over Europe by utilizing its internationally isolated ally Iran’s natural resources. Upon this proposal, Turkey and Saudi Arabia turned against Assad and began supporting the Syrian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. In a matter of weeks, Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan, who had regarded Assad as a brother, started calling him a “murderous dictator.” Thus the first match was struck in the bloody conflict that would haunt the world and draw in many international actors.

Back in November, the I.H.S. Conflict Monitor published a map depicting all the Russian and American air strikes over Syria so far. Upon first glance, we immediately notice that the two countries are not targeting the same areas. American airstrikes are concentrated in the northern parts of Iraq and Syria, while Russian airstrikes are concentrated near the Mediterranean Sea. What is the reason? Are the two countries working together in a coalition to end all terrorism in Syria? The cold, hard fact is that they are both guarding their own interests.

Currently, there are two oil pipelines in Syria. The pipeline that starts from the Persian Gulf, travels through Northern Iraq, connects with the Kirkuk oil refineries and ends at Turkey was built by ExxonMobil, so in other words, the U.S. In fact, there is currently a de facto American consulate in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish territory in Northern Iraq that hosts hundreds of American troops, engineers, accountants, construction employees and truckers who are currently drilling in Erbil under contract. In contrast to its American counterpart, the Lukoil (Russian) pipeline travels from the Persian Gulf to Syria and ends at the Mediterranean Sea.

By this point, it should come as no surprise that U.S. airstrikes only target terrorists around the Exxon oil resources while Russian airstrikes target terrorists around the Lukoil ones. But there is a very peculiar nuance that we miss. The American-backed Kurdish forces are currently attacking territories that hold Russian pipelines near the Mediterranean, while Russian-backed Assad forces attack territories that hold American pipelines in the Northern regions of Syria. This brutal war that has killed thousands and driven millions out of their homes is a mere scramble for energy resources and the reincarnation of the Cold War.

Ever since 2010, when the conflict in Syria began, President Putin has been avoiding the Davos forum in a justified attempt to escape international criticism. But with the world slowly bringing Assad into the discussion on Syria’s future, Iran emerging as a regional player, and the U.S. demeanor against Russia, in line with Secretary Kerry’s remarks, softening, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mr. Putin in Davos next year. What we are witnessing today is the end of our Cold War. But one thing is different: The wall is collapsing towards the other side.


Contact Ali Sarilgan at sarilgan ‘at’

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