Tag Archives: middle east

Re: The whole Syria thing

I’m hearing opposing accounts from Syrian expats living here. Granted, most Syrian expats, being dissident refugees from the Assad regime, tend to support the official international position that Assad is evil, he’s killing his own people, and he should be removed from power by God’s blessing and the strong hand of the resolute president Trump who’s now acting like a true Dear Leader.

However, one Syrian analyst argued the chemical attack was a false-flag, staged by the extremist “rebels” (there are indications that Assad had given up all his WMDs years ago, and that the WMDs used in this attack had a different signature from the ones Assad used to have). The idea was to get the US involved in the war and tip the scales away from Assad, who’s been winning since the Russians got involved. That makes a lot of sense, frankly. After all, Assad has no interest to antagonize the whole world by using WMDs now, when he has almost won. In the past, maybe. Things were looking rather grim for him a few years ago, and he could’ve had a rationale for using WMDs back then. But now?

Besides, where’s the proof that he had WMDs in that particular air base? Are we again jumping into a conflict based on an insinuation, like in Iraq? The media are cumming all over president Trump now, praising him for being presidential and even describing the bombing of that air base as “beautiful” and “poetic”. Are we going to play this game again now? And how many times can the same mistake be repeated?

The scramble for the Mediterranean (revisited)

This piece is about the new gas (and possibly also oil) discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean, which could explain a lot about the ongoing geopolitical shifts in that region.

There can be no coincidence. Two important events took place just within hours apart from each other on March 17. First the Cyprus government decided to grant drilling licenses for gas and oil to several multinational energy giants: Exxon Mobil, Qatar Petroleum, Total and ENI. On that very day, Turkey announced they’d be starting a navy exercise with live rounds just a few days later in Cypriot territorial waters, just 30 nautical miles off the SW coast of the Island of Aphrodite. Turkey said their patience was running out. Much in line with a visit a month earlier by their foreign minister Cavusoglu to the Turkish part of the island, where he warned the Greek Cypriots against any unilateral actions on the oil/gas issue.

Whoever was hoping that the gas off the Cyprus shores could serve as a platform for unification and cooperation between the two communities there, was being naive. Oil and gas are much more likely to stir up conflict, and the latest events are yet another evidence of that. The tension started to escalate instantaneously after the Cypriot move on the gas. The Greek/Turkish negotiations were halted, and the leaders of the two communities started hurling accusations at each other for this failure. Turkey used the opportunity to sharpen the tone and start issuing ultimatums and threats (they’ve been rather active in that regard lately).

The deepening conflict between Turkey and the EU, combined with increased interest by US and EU companies for drilling in the region are tightening the energy knot in the Eastern Mediterranean even more. The big discoveries in 2009 have turned the region into a key strategic hub that’s very important for the energy diversification of Europe. There’ve been arguments that this is the main reason behind all the shit-stirring in the Levant and across the Maghreb, aka Arab Spring. This includes Syria too, of course.

The thing is, the Eastern Mediterranean is the new place to be if you’re a big oil company, or a big geopolitical player. Ever since the discovery of the Egyptian oil field in Zohr, things have changed for the region – for the better or worse, depends on your perspective. But the fact that big energy giants from around the world are scrambling to invest in Cyprus, is presenting both promising prospects for development for the island, and giving sleepless nights to many leaders. If the gas treasure also turns out to be accompanied by the vast oil deposits that experts are predicting, the geopolitical situation would totally change.

Turkey is a big factor in that respect. Some major drilling activity inside the Cypriot exclusive zone is expected to commence later this year, and continue through 2018. In June, Total is planning to drill in Block 11, which could become a second Zohr field because it’s located under the same sea ridge. The first French drilling operation is anticipated with great interest, not least importantly because it had been cancelled four times in a row already. Lastly, it was scheduled for April, but now it’s been postponed for July, just days after the latest conference on the Cypriot issue ended in failure in Geneva in January. This meant pushing the deadline for a possible agreement and unification of the divided island to a unspecified future time.

Italian company ENI is also planning to make two drills by the end of the year, and US company Nobel Energy also has one drill scheduled. Exxon Mobil is also in the game, planning drills in 2018. But despite this tight schedule, any technical preparation before a possible agreement on the Cypriot issue would more likely stumble upon problems and obstacles. Without a political settlement, any drilling would make Turkey react with hostility. And this is not just a prediction, it’s what has actually happened before. Turkey has sent navy forces to the region on four occasions up till now, in a clear demonstration of force. The latest occasion was in 2014 when a seismologist research vessel entered the Cypriot exclusive zone, which made the Cyprus president Anastasiades to suspend the negotiations with the leader of the Cypriot Turks, Eroglu.

So, any attempt to proceed with drilling, despite the Cypriot Greek claim that they’ve got sovereign rights to do that, is bound to bring further tensions. Exploiting the carbon riches under the sea floor would only be possible after a wholesome political agreement that would satisfy the interests of both sides. And this is not just the opinion of some experts and the leaders of the two sides most directly involved – the special advisor to the UN Secretary General on the Cypriot question, Espen Eide has also said that first an end has to be brought to all this uncertainty on the reunification issue. The deadline he has given? This summer.

The question here is whether despite his aggressiveness and unpredictability, Erdogan would really risk sending military flotillas against the oil and gas corporations and have a direct standoff with the countries behind them (UK, US, France, Italy). Hey, Cypriot president Anastasiades has even gone as far as to declare the presence of Exxon Mobil a guarantee for the Cypriot interests. And let’s not forget that the former Exxon CEO, Rex Tillerson under whom the company applied for drilling license in Cyprus, is now Trump’s secretary of state.

All in all, the situation is not easy at all. On one side, there’s rising tension with Turkey. On the other hand, the companies who are pushing for drilling rights represent the major world players. Any conflict in that regard would be extremely risky for any of the sides.

But that’s not all. There’s also the question about the potential routes that would deliver all that fuel, once it’s extracted. There are huge interests there too. We’ve already talked about Iran’s geopolitical plan to establish a friendly corridor from Pakistan across Iraq and Syria giving them access to the Mediterranean. They want this corridor to bypass the Gulf states, mainly their biggest rival Saudi Arabia. If this happens, the Straits of Hormuz would stop being so important, and the Saudis would take a big geopolitical tumble.

As for Cyprus, there are several scenarios for them to export the gas to the European markets. Of course, the final decision mostly depends on the quantities that are discovered there. Right now they’re not sufficient, but in the future the Cypriot fields could be combined with their Egyptian and Israeli counterparts, which would grant access to much bigger markets. Granted, Cyprus still lacks the needed infrastructure for this, like tanker terminals, ports, etc. But that would be built in the future.

The main gas route to possibly connect the countries in the region currently is the EastMed Pipeline, terminating at the Greek shore. The pipeline could connect Israel and Cyprus to Greece and hence Europe, supplying Israeli and Cypriot gas. The project is technically doable and economically viable, but they need to add more gas fields first to bolster its total capacity.

Naturally, the Turks are not happy because this totally bypasses them. The Russians are not happy either, because if Europe diversifies its energy sources, it would remove Putin’s only tool for geopolitical pressure. The Russians are already planning a geopolitical expansion across the southern periphery of the Eastern Mediterranean, as has been recently mentioned here before: they’ve fortified Assad in Syria, they’ve made friends with El Sisi in Egypt, and they’re now pursuing a military presence in East Libya. This is all for a reason: they want to be part of the game too.

Another option is building a liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal in Cyprus itself, which again requires boosting the gas output, i.e. adding more gas fields to the mix. Part of this plan is to use the vacant facilities at the two LNG terminals currently existing in Egypt: Cypriot gas would be transported via pipeline running on the sea floor (total distance: 180 km), and then exported. If Total’s drills are successful this year, another good opportunity for export to Europe and Asia would be to use floating LNG (FLNG).

Turkey and the Cypriot Turks insist that the shortest, safest and most beneficial route to Europe would be a pipeline connection from Cyprus to Turkey (but of course!) Except, until the Cypriot question still lingers, such a project is absolutely impossible. Right now, when the Turkey-EU relations are getting worse, not better, it would be a huge political risk to give all the taps and keys to Erdogan. That would be a geopolitical suicide for Europe, and the gas/oil corporations know this.

So it’s not just about financial and economic expedience. In fact, it all mostly depends on geopolitics. Because of all the political conflicts, the prospect of building pipelines from the Egyptian and Israeli gas fields to Turkey remains questionable. Turkey and Israel used to like this idea until about a year ago, when their relations were still kind of warm(ish). Finding a mutually acceptable solution to the Cypriot issue would be of big help in that respect of course. But right now, that seems very unlikely. So the gas scramble for the Eastern Mediterranean will continue to be hostage to politics for a long time. And maybe even more so, once the fields are operational and the cards are laid on the table.

Integrate this!

From the diary of an immigrant

Today I was smuggled across the border, and I finally made my way into Saudi Arabia. On the way here, I threw my ID card away (issued at the 1st Precinct of Varna, Bulgaria), so I had to tell the Saudi border control that I was a refugee from Donbass, Ukraine, looking for refuge from Putin’s terror. They immediately believed me, and they put me on the train to Riyadh for free.

Once in Riyadh, I was accommodated at a 4-star hotel (although there were vacancies at the 5-star hotel next door), and I was promised I’d be given an apartment of my own the next day. However, in the morning they started apologizing that the relocation would take one more day. The news made me furious. I tossed away the food that some teary human-rights activists had brought me, I splashed the bottle of mineral water into their faces, and I wreaked havoc across the damned hotel room. The sofa and the armchairs I threw away through the balcony. Some people on the street started yelling back at me, but the hotel manager informed them I had come from a war-torn region, I was bearing the wounds of war on my soul, and I was deeply traumatized, therefore they ought to show some understanding. They did.

On Thursday, the local authorities expelled two Arab pensioners from their publicly owned home in order to make room for me. The ungrateful old stinkers protested for a while, so the police had to come and detain them. Now they’ll be prosecuted on charges of minor hooliganism. As for myself, I was greeted by a bunch of kids with flowers at the entrance to my new neighborhood. The Saudi king suddenly appeared from somewhere, accompanied by a huge entourage, and he stopped by for a minute to shoot a selfie or two with me. I was given 2000 dollars to cover my most immediate needs, and I was promised another two grand would come the next week.

On Friday I was visited by a social worker who had been assigned to take care of me. He brought me a booklet with the first 10 articles of the Saudi Constitution, translated into my supposedly maternal Ukrainian language, and he asked me if I was in need of anything else. I put the booklet in the dustbin and told him to instruct the guy who keeps yelling from the top of that minaret just opposite my balcony to tone it down a notch, ’cause it tends to disrupt my sleep. He duly wrote that down into his notebook.

On Sunday afternoon I went downtown to investigate where their shopping malls are and get some eye-candy. Turns out all their chicks were wrapped in black like cocoons. That made me rather angry, so the next day I filed a complaint at the Municipality. That very same day, the principal of the local college issued a special address to all schoolgirls, urging them to refrain from wearing burqas, because that headgear was offensive to the honorable refugee in town. He recommended that henceforth, they should only put tight shirts and short skirts on, as my particular culture of an advanced Westerner (to them I’m a Westerner anyway) requires me to see bare hips and bosoms daily. The booklet was disseminated to all parents in the neighborhood, for the purpose of proper information and implementation.

I complained to the social worker about their food as well. The mutton was too greasy for my delicate stomach, and the beef was a bit too stringy for my tender teeth. I explained I preferred lean meat – pork steaks perhaps, or fillet in the worst-case scenario. He promised to take measures. Now all kebab chefs in the neighborhood have been instructed not to openly shove their mutton into my face, lest they cause me internal discomfort.

I’m telling you, it ain’t easy being a refugee! Today I had to walk for a thousand feet in order to get my social aid – which is no more than 2000 bucks, damn it! This pissed me off big time, so I vented off at a schoolgirl whom I came across in the park. “Yo bitch, why are you trotting around in this burqa? Weren’t you told to put a miniskirt on?”, I yelled at her. She happened to play it tough with me at first, so I gave her a couple of slaps on her face. I was considering dragging her into the thicket and giving it to her, but then I figured what a pain it’d be to unwrap all those fabrics off her, so I decided to pass. Later I found out her brothers weren’t okay with the beating, so they had filed a complaint against me at the police, and they had even organized some sort of petition against me. The Minister of the Interior himself had to get involved eventually, and show up on the local television to defend me. “We owe Christians some understanding today”, he argued, “and hope that tomorrow when they become a majority here, they’d reciprocate”. That made sense.

Today in the morning I told the social worker I was bored to death, so I ordered him to move a bit faster on the task of finding me some entertainment: a strip club or pride parade maybe, or something of the sort. He blinked at me at first, but I had the patience to explain that we’re already in the 21st century, and everyone should be taught of the new progressive values of the liberal and democratic Western world, because that is the future. I’m not sure he fully understood me, but still, he did write that down in his notebook.

Later in the afternoon, some pollsters came to do some research on me. They asked me some silly questions. I had the patience to be sincere with them, so I admitted I deeply despised and resented the state that had adopted me, but I didn’t mind being fed by it. I also said I wouldn’t mind if those 2000 bucks became 3000 the next week. No problem, I could get over it.

Unfortunately, the scandal with that schoolgirl still seems to be lingering around (heh, did I say lingerie?), so the central national television arranged some debate and invited some members of several NGOs called America For Saudi Arabia, Open-Ass Society, Amnesty for Westerners, and the Arab Helsinki Committee. All of them agreed I had been accused unfairly, and my detractors were all xenophobic bigots, racist fascists, antihumanists, cannibals and Christianophobes. All in all, despicable human beings. Half of them had been abused by their fathers in their childhood, the other half had slept with their mothers. I finished watching the TV show with a smile, now reassured that those who were hatin’ on me were just the scum of the local society, and the truly progressive part were really behind me.

Today the social worker asked me if I wanted to start a job. I told him I still wasn’t feeling quite integrated, so he better stop wasting my time with such nonsense. I’d rather stick to the social aid, thanks. Sure, 3000 bucks ain’t that much, but like they say, it is what it is. I’ll manage somehow. To cut the long story short, I hate it here!