Exclusive: Global Chess and the Russians are Winning - Why Are We Still Surprised?

by DR. ROBIN MCFEE August 29, 2008

"All war is based on deception"

Sun Tzu, The Art Of War

No wonder Russian chess masters rule the game! If the world is a chess board and the two key players are the U.S. and Russia, one of the teams doesn't realize this isn't a dress rehearsal. Want to go out on a limb to decide which country is being led by a chess master and which is not? Unfortunately we still don't get it! According to the Associated Press, the recent Russian decree on the independence of two breakaway regions of Georgia "stunned the West." Why? Earth calling - anyone home? Come on folks, let's convert oxygen to carbon dioxide and think this through. Russia, as they said in Poltergeist..."they're baaaack!"

As several of our pieces are off the board or in jeopardy of being taken in this geoglobal game, and the UN continues to be a spectator on all things important, we in the West remain "stunned." Russia has skillfully used emerging giants like China and India as pawns for various gambits; they are important in the game to be sure, but are clearly not the players. The latest move in which Russia invades Georgia underscores the chess game being played. It was perhaps a prelude to what most have considered the ultimate showdown since the days of Stalin; the stakes are high and the key players were and will always be "team democracy" (U.S.) playing against "team empire" (Russia). The move into Georgia wasn't even the opening play; that occurred a long time ago when the West wasn't watching very carefully. Some might argue we're still not too observant!

Russia's invasion of a sovereign, non-aggressor nation was instigated by a deception - the guise of protecting a vulnerable kindred region. Putin uses that ploy often to claim the role of rescuer instead of the rightful epithet of invader. Just another strategic move in a wave of mostly invisible or unrecognized maneuvers placing Russia closer to empire Russia, and with it placing the U.S. and our interests in a state of "check." Once again we are caught back on our heels playing catch up and wondering what happened? What begs to be asked - when will we amass the expertise and leadership to counter a series of losing moves that has placed the U.S. in such a precarious position globally, as we'll discuss momentarily? Secretary of State Rice, acknowledged as an expert on all things Russian, remains in the Middle East "hopeful" for a peace agreement. That's been a millennium of "hopeful" and counting - don't hold your breath! Perhaps we ought to focus in on one's "expertise" and work on live time predicaments - like Russia.

A Primer On Leadership

"It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle." - Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Guess which part of the oft quoted military strategy Putin followed?

We underestimated our adversary. Putin is the grand master - a professional spy, highly educated with expertise in law, government, finance and probably more than a few ways to kill with a cocktail napkin! Putin is an intelligent and ruthless leader. With a charisma born out of years living in and studying the West, by understanding us, it was easy for him to beguile Western leaders (ours included) into believing his goals were aligned with theirs - a desire for peace, an open democratic society, free press and beneficence to Eastern European nations - former Soviet satellites. The U.S. and the world had a Cold War fatigue and wanted to believe Russia could be brought into the civilized world of democracy and open society, where the average person could live well and free. To be fair, our then newly elected President Bush was also mired in the post 9/11 events including a war that required allies fast. The war on terror, instead of being viewed as a pawn of our adversaries as well as an entity unto itself, became our primary focus, diverting our attention from a world where alliances, like friendships, as Samuel Johnson long ago opined, "must be kept in constant repair." Exploiting that need for allies and understanding Cold War fatigue, as expected Putin won over the West. When President Bush looked into Putins eyes and "saw into his soul," most wanted to believe in and thus very few doubted the Russian leader; fortunately Senator McCain saw something different in Putin's eyes - "the letters K.G.B." We should have listened! We still can in November.

Putin and Russia are armed with enormous supplies of natural gas, oil and other valuable resources. With energy prices soaring, both are awash in tremendous cash wealth. This wealth - personal and through Gazprom and other Russian energy giants allows him to wield power. Energy is the new weapon and he uses it strategically. In 2007 Gazprom took in $91 billion; it's taxes represent about 20% of the Russian budget, employs over 400,000 people and has controlling interests in television stations, newspapers, farming, aviation and other energy technologies including pipelines. Cash is also allowing Putin to rebuild the Russian military. Let's take a look at what Putin has done and will continue to do to outmaneuver the West. We'll then examine ways to counter this assault before it is too late.

The Middle East

Energy is the world's life blood. With a voracious appetite China and India, as well as the United States, are increasingly devouring petroleum products - through construction, transportation even basic consumables. And accompanying this dependence upon oil and gas is a dangerous transfer of wealth from the United States.

Control of the Persian Gulf as well as major ports in Europe and Asia would seem to be a strategic priority for the U.S. as it clearly is to Russia in this global chess game. Profound grasp of the obvious, right? So why are the Saudis making $100 million pipeline deals with Russia's Stroytransgaz, a part of the conglomerate Gazprom, as well as significant military contracts between Riyadh and Moscow? Given the precarious position of the House of Saud one wonders why the U.S. is allowing closeness between Putin and the Saudi Royal Family? Historically there has been no love lost between the Saudis and Moscow, especially over concerns about Chechnya, claiming Putin has been heavy handed with this predominantly Muslim region. Yet recently the Saudis have backed off from their criticism of how Moscow handles Chechnya, even withdrawing much of its support for the beleaguered state. Why? Could it be two energy giants discovering mutual benefit? Could the Saudis be using Russia's new courtship as leverage over the U.S.? Another successful gambit; Russia is out in front on the playmaking in this round.

Gazprom would like to create a natural gas cartel paralleling OPEC as an oil cartel. Such a move would strengthen Russia's influence. Iran supports this but Algeria, Qatar and others remain undecided.

One wonders why the U.S., with its abundance of smart people continues, to be caught off guard by events that should have seemed logical and expected. Consider the guerilla warfare tactics the insurgents are using against the Coalition in Iraq - why were we surprised by this strategy? We used it during the American Revolution and more recently employed the tactic while aiding the Afghan resistance against Russia. While we helped make Afghanistan the Russian equivalent of our Vietnam War during the 1980s, Russia, through its proxy Iran, is aiding the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan to bog us down in a similar quagmire. Russia is a leading arms dealer providing weapons and expertise to extremists groups and nations supporting activities hostile to the West, especially Syria and Iran. While it is well known Russian nuclear technology is being shared with Tehran, less publicized events run the risk of destabilizing our relationships in the Persian Gulf.


"What is good for Gazprom is good for Russia"

If one combines crude oil and natural gas together, Gazprom's production of energy exceeds that of Saudi Arabia. But unlike oil which can be shipped, gas must be piped. Rich in both commodities it is critical for Russia and her energy companies to control ports and pipelines. As such, the gas pipeline from Russia to Europe is critical for Western industry as well as heat and transportation. Georgia's proximity to ports and pipeline made her a target. Her location is vital to the Russian energy cartel, including Kremlin Inc.

Gazprom has effectively taken over the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline. It also has a controlling interest in the Russian-Armenian company ArmRosGazprom which runs a pipeline and large power plant. This is a strategic move - Iranian or Turkmen gas can be moved via Armenia to Georgia bypassing competitive efforts from the West. Move, countermove!

Looking at gas strategically, given Iran supplies Armenia with a significant amount of it, Russia can sell to Europe through its growing network of pipelines, but at much higher prices than it would to Armenia! Controlling pipelines controls distribution, even when it isn't Gazprom's gas. Such control gives enormous leverage over partner countries where pipeline projects exist.

While the U.S. and European Union have tried to outmaneuver Russia and Gazprom by creating a major pipeline project called Nabucco that will run from eastern Turkey through Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, ending at the storage and distribution hub Baumgarten in Austria then off to European allies. The project was enthusiastically viewed as a solution to European dependence on Russian gas. Unfortunately for the West, Russia made a series of impressive countermoves.

First: Russia is developing its own pipeline project called South Stream Pipeline which would start in Russia, go through Bulgaria, as will the Nabucco pipeline. In Bulgaria it will split, the first spur traveling beneath the Ionian Sea to Greece and Southern Italy and the second going North through Serbia and Hungary, ending at the Baumgarten storage facility as does the Nabucco pipeline. Of note, Vladimir Putin offered outgoing Italian prime minister Romano Prodi, former head of the European Union, the opportunity to head South Stream. Good strategy on the part of Putin.

Second: Gazprom has a Nord Stream pipeline, And to ensure political cover, appointed former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as its director!

Third: Realizing it needs to ensure supremacy over ports and distribution centers for its natural gas, and acknowledging the U.S. - European pipeline could undermine Russia's primacy, Gazprom signed a deal to acquire 50% of Baumgarten the natural gas hub that Nabucco will depend upon.

Fourth: Gazprom has tried to co-opt Hungary into creating a Russian friendly natural gas hub. So far, Hungary has resisted. But as we have seen, Russia can be persuasive, nyet? Gazprom is also attempting to acquire Hungarian MOL, the only privately held company in the Nabucco team. The members of the team are already feeling the hand of Gazprom as the Russian conglomerate buys its way into partnerships with them. If you can't stop the competition's pipeline, acquire an interest in the members building it! Given Bulgaria's close ties with Russia, does it not concern anyone that the Nabucco pipeline is going through it? Another round masterfully played - point goes to Russia. Where are the West's oil conglomerates protecting our interests?

Why use force when wealth will do?

South America

Venezuela has become one of Russia's largest customers of weapons, outpacing Iran and China by nearly a billion dollars according to government reports. Venezuela and Iran are becoming increasingly closer allies sharing similar sensibilities and appetites for regional influence. In addition to Chávez's support of South American revolutionaries in Columbia and elsewhere, the growing relationship with Ahmadinejad increases the likelihood that Hezbollah can freely develop in the region.

Gazprom's attention not only has been focused on the Middle East and North Africa but South America.

North America

Beyond the buyout of U.S. Getty stations by Lukoil, Gazprom has turned its attention to Canada; where there is the possibility the energy giant will supply liquefied natural gas to a Quebec corporation.

The Arctic

Using a deep sea submarine, Russia placed its flag on the ocean floor and claiming the potential energy rich Arctic. Though this will be contested, Russia has already committed money, military and materials to establish ownership.

How Far will Putin Go to Win?

Alexander Litvinenko, if he were alive would readily answer this question - "as far as it takes." He can't talk because he is dead. Litvinenko was a former Russian Security agent investigating political corruption. After discovering significant corruption under the Putin regime, and being arrested several times, he sought and received political asylum in London where he wrote two books. In one book he asserts Putin staged terrorist events to make them look like Muslim Chechnyans were responsible only to come out looking like the hero when he crushed them. Sending a stern message to dissenters, Litvinenko was murdered at the end of 2006. British authorities think it was an assassination sanctioned by the Kremlin, i.e. Putin. The weapon was polonium 210, a highly controlled radioactive material that, when ingested causes a slow, painful death. Several journalists in Russia were murdered or died of suspicious causes - they were critical of the Putin regime. Political adversaries often find themselves arrested or killed.

As the lines blur between state ownership of corporate entities the musical chairs with Gazprom executives and the leadership at the Kremlin becomes obvious. Putin as a senior executive of Gazprom while President of Russia, quickly named as his successor the now former CEO of Gazprom - Medvedev who at the time was a deputy prime minister. Putin meanwhile assumes the role of prime minister, while, surprise, the now former prime minister of Russia Viktor Zubkov becomes head of Gazprom. Using geopolitical clout and access to the world's leaders, along with a willing and supportive United Nations, Putin was able to negotiate with or intimidate heads of state to develop additional transit routes for Russian gas.

And intimidate it did. On New Years Day 2006, Gazprom shut down energy to the Ukraine during one of the most severe cold spells on record over a price dispute. Subsequently it warned Europe there could be a risk to their oil supply if any attempt was made to disrupt gas monopolies. Lukoil backed this threat up by cutting off oil to Germany earlier this year.

Whether creating a ‘set up' scenario to use force - in Chechnya or Georgia, shutting off the heat during the cold of winter to freeze citizens of sovereign nations until their governments capitulate, or assassinating adversaries, it is clear that Putin as the de facto leader of Russia considers no boundary off limits in his pursuit of global check mate.

The Russian invasion of Georgia with tanks and infantry clearly demonstrated Putin's resolve to exert influence over the tiny country's vital port cities. The invasion was accompanied by the Russian navy conducting ‘peace enforcement exercises' in proximity to the Ukraine. Medvedev made it clear to President Yushchenko of the Ukraine that Russia "will not take instruction how to act but will act in line with international agreements and directives by me as commander in chief." Again a clear indicator of the lengths "Team Putin" will go including military intimidation to ensure Russian gas and with it Moscow's interests are protected.

Is America (and our allies) in the game?

Given we are being outplayed on virtually all fronts, one would wonder.

What's Russia's Next Move?

The greatest mistake the West can make is thinking linearly, one dimensionally in terms of the threat Russia poses. While most were focused on the tanks, ships and skirmishes in Georgia, few noted the breakdown of this tiny nation's communications.

There are still ports, corporations, nations and distribution channels on Putin's radar screen. They must be on ours as well. Energy, nuclear technology and weapons aren't the only arenas but the most lucrative at this moment in time. Ever seeking new opportunities for commerce and power, communications and computer technologies loom on the horizon.

Over the last several years Russia has spent significant resources to develop expertise in advanced computer sciences. Cyber crime has been conducted either directly or indirectly using Russian Mafia (former KGB); cyber-terrorism can't be far away. Thought of as a slim plot line from a Le Carre knockoff, the reality is Russia seeks the ability to disrupt or control the Internet and communications both domestically and internationally. Given governments and industry are dependent upon computer and satellite communications, disruptive technologies can jeopardize and undermine a nation's security, economy and domestic infrastructure. It also makes a great distraction masking other activities.

What can we do?

As individuals:

First - get out and vote! Politicians consider their jobs safe as long as the voters remain apathetic. We need senators, representatives and an administration that is foreign policy savvy, know how to street fight when needed and when to negotiate. Think carefully before you vote. It's about patriotism, not party. Last I checked it wasn't the United States of the Democrat Party or the United States of the Republican Party....we're US of America. Allowing party politics to cloud our judgment is wrong. A perfect example of this is Massachusetts - a one-party state. It is shameful that in Massachusetts there are several uncontested seats for political office - state and federal. "One party" states, like countries, means a monopoly. Without competition - translation a strong opposition watching - corruption is allowed to run rampant. It does and it will. So vote!

Second - Get involved. Go out and lobby! Then go vote! Albeit a foreign concept to most of our elected officials, there really is an expectation that they will perform in the best interests of their constituents and not merely position themselves for a soft landing in industry in the afterlife of politics. Politicians are too beholden on industries because they receive $$$, visits and future employment opportunities from their lobbyists. That said, Americans need to exert influence on their elected representatives - individually and with groups of friends and colleagues. There is power in numbers. Be polite, but be there - often! Use the lobbyists' range of strategies to put our elected officials on notice it isn't their job for life! The first message that needs to be shouted.... "America must become independent in the long term and less dependent in the short term or foreign energy." No politician should escape the message of energy independence.

Third- Americans can select which companies they will allow to continue benefiting from the energy crisis and which don't. For example, Getty is really Lukoil - a Russian energy conglomerate. Citgo is Venezuelan oil. These companies are state run entities from nations clearly attempting to undermine the interests of the United States. Why patronize them when friendly competitors are readily available? Vote with your dollars.

Fourth - Americans can reward or punish companies that harm or help US interests. If a company is actively doing business with Iran (could that still be GE?) for example, avoid doing business with them. Do we really need to buy something made in China? The question - how easy is it to avoid such products?

As a nation:

The United States consumes 25% of the world's oil; we are dependent upon Saudi Arabia and other oil producing nations. No discussion of energy independence make sense without supporting domestic drilling and exploring - now. Demonstrating a will to compete by increased access to domestic resources - something Russia has done unrepentantly, is one way the U.S. can alter the balance. While drilling won't have an immediate impact on supply, it will have an effect on global markets. It will also create good paying jobs - something badly needed as middle class manufacturing and industrial jobs go offshore. While experts vary on the time line when drilling will translate to usable supply, the message will be heard loud and clear: the U.S. is back in the game. Domestic drilling sends a clear signal to oil nations - from Russia to Saudi Arabia to South America; prices should drop and renewed or new alliances will be formed with the US. Energy, like politics makes for strange bedfellows. Just look at Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Drilling, increased fuel efficiency, cutting back on usage will only go so far. If we are to restore the United States, stem the hemorrhage of wealth pouring from our borders to other countries and establish a new standard of living for the future, it is critical to increase incentives - grants and other funding to develop new energy sources that make sense and are sustainable by future generations. Incentivizing and invigorating the science of energy research can create the next great industrial revolution, spawning a new economy, and allowing the US to once again be a pioneer as well as global leader.

Next, let's not take our eye off the ball. We need all the friends we can get. Tying them to the barn requires a stick and a hug. The stick - our resources: money, military and protecting energy sources is still within our purview. The hug - our commitment of time, talent and treasure.

Which nations should enjoy "best friend" status but are being courted by our adversaries? As unpalatable as it appears, Saudi Arabia is still a valuable ally.

Turkey is critical to the United States. It is one of the last secular Muslim nations but its hold onto that distinction is precarious. Turkey's relationship to the United States cannot be taken for granted. The US presence in the Middle East especially in terms of the Kurds, investment, military bases and the reaction of extremists requires a deft hand. Russia is investing heavily and reaching out to Turkey aggressively. It is a great nation with a history aligned with many of our own religious and historic sensibilities.

The former satellites of the Soviet Union cannot be ignored economically or militarily.


"Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it."

George Santayana

The war on terror is in the seventh post-9/11 year and five years into the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is one of the consuming political issues of the 21st century. And therein rests the problem for the United States. Fighting a war on terror in the midst of a stagnating economy, rising oil and energy prices and global competition is a daunting challenge. An election year puts into specific relief the glaring differences between the two chess players. Whether desirable to have or not, our leaders' term limits preclude a continuation of policy. Putin has an advantage; he and his minions run the country. His successor follows Putin; who remains the power broker. His goals are the vision and his power allows him to attain the objective. When leadership is streamlined, it is easier to prioritize and strategize. Our democracy built upon the will of the many is a far slower enterprise to direct. Without a clear vision of national economic and development priorities from our leaders, that inspire the public to participate, and a Congress willing to take action for the common good, the US will continue to be outplayed in the global chess game.

FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Dr. Robin McFee is a physician and medical toxicologist. An expert in WMD preparedness, she is a consultant to government agencies, corporations and the media. Dr. McFee is a member of the Global Terrorism, Political Instability and International Crime Council of ASIS International. She has authored numerous articles on terrorism, health care and preparedness, and coauthored two books: Toxico-Terrorism by McGraw Hill and The Handbook of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Agents, published by Informa/CRC Press.

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