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Global energy and geopolitical realignments

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By Sonny Atumah

The Soviet Union was formed as a federal union of communist state of Russia and the neighbouring areas that the Soviet government had brought under its control in December 1922. It was the largest country in the world with 15 Republics extending from Eastern Europe to northern and central Asia.

The ‘marriage’ of the Soviet Union lasted for 69 years and got dissolved in the great ‘divorce’ in 1991. Immediately after World War II, the cold war between the capitalist west and the communist east perceivably ended, with the western ideological model of neoliberalism taking over.  These facts have been documented and preserved in most countries time capsules.


With the quest for strong economies, countries latched onto energy and their sources. All these meant relationships and interests. And many say permanent interests. The prospective British exit (Brexit) from the European Union in a referendum on June 23, 2016 fits into this. The apostle of interests in diplomacy, Henry John Temple Palmerston remarks in the British House of Commons on March 1, 1848 is important here:  “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies.

Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” For over a century and half, Lord Palmerston’s concept gained ground with renowned diplomats using it as diplomatic tools.  The former United States Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger never minced words that America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.

The uneven global distribution, strategic importance and non-renewable nature of oil and gas have made it to be scarce and expensive. The exhaustive nature of oil has contributed to its volatility with the largest oil consumers exerting influence with political and military tensions in oil rich regions like the Middle East. Akin to rat race the struggle for energy dominance has engendered paternalistic relationships by spooking weaker nations to trade on their energy resources.

Countries with natural resources have been courted not just for economic gains but also for diplomatic relations. Emerging economies are also abandoning cold war geopolitical rivalry for alliances and strategic economic cooperation in energy. New energy realignments have emerged with the triumvirate of the United States, Russia and China aggressively canvassing and crisscrossing geopolitical regions to win diplomatic souls of nations with beliefs that energy -alliances are stronger than most human marriages.

Experts believe that interest also changes with change in circumstances. China has changed its links with the outside world stemming from economic necessities of population. China has moved from a self-reliant nation in oil to become the industrial production capital of the world. Oil has therefore become a critical energy source for economic modernization and so an important foreign policy tool to court geopolitical and strategic alliances.

America as a net importer of oil would have different interest when it becomes a net exporter of oil. In some cases there have been compromises for eternal cooperation among them especially in the Middle East. These were demonstrated in Iran where United States and Chinese companies have been engaged in energy projects. They also cite the interconnected energy market in the Caspian and Central Asian states where national interests and geopolitical rivalry of eternal forces seeking energy security meet. America and China share common interests in the Middle East.

The Chinese however use diplomatic maneuvering and with Russia’s limited oil presence as the counterbalancing force to the US activities in the Middle East. Russia’s economy largely depends on oil for its foreign trade revenues. With low prices it has been volatility.

Recently the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania struck deals with the United States for LNG supplies. Last June, Lithuanian signed a deal with United States firm Cheniere Energy, to import Liquefied Natural Gas, LNG from the United States. It would have been doubted that Baltic States (that belonged to the former Warsaw Pact) that were part of the 15 republics of the defunct Soviet Union would embrace the United States as an ally. The Baltic States are now members of NATO and the European Union, EU.

In 2008 the United States imported about US$3 billion in petroleum from Equatorial Guinea. They have also got US$3 billion of oil from Chad and lots of Uranium from Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has also ordered for a lot of jetliners from American Boeing. These are countries with bad human rights records. But it is a matter of interest which circumstances can also change especially now that its shale is coming on stronger.

On the occasion of the Independence day of India on August 14, 2014,  President Donald Trump of the United States in a phone call to Prime Miniater Modi was said to have acknowledged the first shipment of crude oil to India and pledged that the United States would be a reliable and long term supplier of energy. India is the third largest consumer of energy globally after the United States and China.

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