The Murmansk Pipeline Project to Restore a Partnership

US President George W. Bush will land in Europe smiling next week, intent on rebuilding fences damaged by the Iraq War – all except one. He will try and smooth over the sourness between America and Germany – he and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have not talked since last November – and further encourage the promising new ties with East European leaders. At the same time he is unshakably determined to dig a deep trench of isolation around France. But, most of all, Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin will reaffirm their once affable strategic partnership that worked so well in the Afghanistan War and broke down over Russia’s resistance to the Iraq War. Their restored alliance, which also promises to shift the balance of the international oil market, will be grist for the mills of the re-election campaigns both presidents face in 2004.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly has learned from its political sources in Moscow and Washington that when they meet at St. Petersburg on June 1, the US president will present his Russian host with a valuable cornerstone for their renewed strategic alliance: an offer to back Russia’s most ambitious and expensive oil pipeline project, as yet only on paper, for bringing Russian crude through the ice-free Arctic port of Murmansk the year round to America’s East Coast market. This new gateway to the United States will take some three years to build and cost app. $4.5 billion, a sum far beyond Russian resources.

It will complement another cooperative oil pipeline scheme Putin agreed this week to launch with the new Chinese president, Hu Jantao as a joint Russo-Chinese venture, the $2.5 billion pipeline to carry Russian crude from the Siberian city of Angarsk across 2,400 kilometers of taiga to the northern Chinese city of Daqing. Due to be operational in 2005, it should transport 30 million tons of oil a year, supplying one fifth of the requirements of China’s burgeoning economy.

Last year, Russian exports reached the level of Saudi Arabia’s. The level was inhibited only by the lack of transport connections and resources. With oil the most effective tool of diplomacy in these times, Bush knows the new pipeline will cement the American-Russian rapprochement by expanding Russia’s oil exporting capacity and its prosperity.

By assuming a dominant role in Russia’s projected international pipeline network, the US president will also be reaching out to China and its thriving oil-guzzling economy to form with Putin and Hu a commanding world triumvirate.

Within a few years, these projects will reduce Middle East oil to second fiddle on the world market, a longstanding shared ambition.

In a joint declaration with his Chinese guest Wednesday, May 28, the Russian president administered two sideswipes to Washington: He called for a greater UN role in Iraq and stated that a multipolar world order was needed today more than ever. But he did not neglect extending an olive branch to Washington on the same day by informing Tehran that Moscow would cut off nuclear fuel to Iran’s Bushehr nuclear center unless it opens all its nuclear facilities to international inspection.

It was more than a gesture to Bush. Moscow had just discovered that Iran was meddling in the Chechen dispute. (See next article in this issue.)

Ivan Safranchuk of the Moscow Center for Defense Information commented wryly after the visit: “His comments about a multipolar world suggest Putin is willing to modify his rhetoric depending on the leader or audience he is addressing. I doubt Putin will bring this idea up when he meets Bush.”

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