"Big Game" at the End of the 20th Century
When analysing the Caucasian developments in the past decade, many observers cite historical analogies with Kipling's "Big Game", which was waged in the region in the 19th century. At that time, Russia and Britain fought for influence in Central Asia, Aleksei Gromyko writes (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 20/08/98). Later the Caucasus and Central Asia were incorporated into the zone of vital interests of tsarist, and subsequently Soviet Union, Russia, while Britain focused its attention on the Middle East and India. This lasted for a long time, but not forever, as it turned out.
The Big Game was renewed in the late 20th century and grew to a global scale. New states appeared on the political map of the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Caspian basin became the source from which all powers that respect themselves plan to get energy in the near future.
The proven oil and gas reserves of the Caspian basin reach 30 billion barrels and 7 trillion cubic metres, respectively. Given the current oil consumption of 70 million barrels a day and gas consumption of 2.2 trillion cubic metres a year, the Caspian resources could fully, meet the world demand for oil and gas during 14 months, and three years respectively. In this sense, the Caspian basin is poorer than the Gulf but richer than the Northern Sea. The probable Caspian resources amount to 100 billion barrels of oil and 10 trillion cubic metres of gas.
The Transcaucasus and Central (formerly Soviet) Asia suddenly turned from a region that had been far away from the focus of world attention for a long time into a layered pie of local, regional and global interests. They are the vast "straight territories" with a dual civilisation orientation. They are the meeting place of Christianity and Islam, the West and the East, Europe and Asia, Eurasian and Atlantic interests.
These regions have quite a few active neighbours, and all of them are faced with the need to resolve tasks of vital significance for their development. In the North, Russia is trying to break out of the vicious circle of economic and political shocks. In the West, Turkey is balancing between the secular regime, propped up by military force, and moderate Islam. In the East, China is quickly gaining strength. And in the South, Iran overhangs the Gulf and is apparently developing into an attractive partner for Russia and Western Europe, as well as - secretly - for the USA.
A new geopolitical repartition of the world began after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. All leading world powers, first and foremost the USA, joined the struggle for the spheres of influence in the post-Soviet space. The number of participants in the Big Game grew. The developments over the past few years show that a dark horse - international terrorism acting under the green banner of Islam - gatecrashed the party.
It is in this international context that Premier Vladimir Putin said the following about the North Caucasian developments of the past few months in the Federation Council: The aggression in Daghestan, the terrorist acts in Buinaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk are a part of aggression "planned long in advance, prepared and lavishly financed by foreign centres". This is not a simple madness. "It is a madness with maniacal, although quite transparent, objectives," Putin said. "A megalo mania with practical geopolitical and economic goals... Religious fanaticism is playing the role of an ideological shell. It is the cover for aggressive foreign policy and economic interests". (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, 24/09/99).
Leonid Ivashov, Head of the Main Directorate of International Military Cooperation of the Defence Ministry, believes that the chain of dramatic events, which happened virtually simultaneously in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Daghestan, prompts the conclusion that they were linked. (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 15/09/99) There are facts to prove that the bandit sorties against the peaceful population in the North Caucasus and Central Asia proceeded according to one and the same plan. And they are most probably financed by the same sources, too. But which sources? Let's forget for a minute about the notorious Saudi terrorist, bin Laden, the Afghan Taliban and even Khattab. It is true that they threaten the world civilisation. But they are only participants in the Big Game that is being waged by not only Moslem extremists.
The developments in the North Caucasus are linked with the strategic interests of many states and political forces, Ivashov writes, above all the Caspian oil, the important geo-strategic situation of the Caucasus, as well as the desire of some states to dominate in this region. In particular, NATO and the USA, seeking to win over certain Caucasian states, are encouraging them to take anti-Russian actions. Ivashov points not only to external factors, but also to the mistakes of the Russian foreign and domestic policies, such as economic disorder, the weakness (or absence) of national programmes, the consequences of the Afghan and Chechen wars, to mention just a few. All these external and internal factors are compounded by the weakness of the Russian state and are being cleverly used by our rivals and enemies.
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