“I sit on a man's back, choking him, and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by any means possible, except getting off his back.”
Leo Tolstoii, “Writings on Civil Disobedience & Nonviolence” (1886)
“We intend to retain state control over the gas pipeline network in the former Soviet republics...”
President Vladimir Putin
______________________________________________In a recent essay, George Friedman wrote with admirable clarity about an intelligence truism that is at one and the same time elemental and frequently overlooked:
“The entire principle of strategic intelligence is to ruthlessly discard the subcritical noise that is being collected in order to identify the center of gravity of events. A tiny hint may sometimes draw attention to a major process, particularly in military affairs. Finding that tiny hint, however, requires huge amounts of time and effort, and little time is left to understand the meaning. Moreover, in many cases, the process is in plain sight. The trick is to see it, and the even harder trick is to believe it.”With that charge, the objective of this essay is to look at Russia’s network of natural gas pipelines and ethnic enclaves in its near abroad in the interest of exploring whether and how the two intersect. The initial hypothesis is that ethnic separatism is instrumental to the former in two fundamental ways. First, these enclaves are located geographically along major energy pipeline routes, often at key junctures in pipeline networks. Second, they sit atop substantial shale gas reserves, the determined exploitation of which would decisively undercut Russia's natural gas oligopoly. They constitute specific, identifiable “spheres of privileged interests” in Russian foreign policy. The idea for this essay began with a conversation with a Moldovan diplomat about Transnistria, a separatist region of his country that has amassed a staggering debt—in excess of $5 billion—for the purchase of Russian natural gas. Russia's use of this debt to exert political pressure on Moldova is a story broadly understood. The conversation led me to reflect more broadly about Russian geopolitical goals and actions in the region, especially the association between two factors: Russia's natural gas oligopoly and its use of ethnic enclaves and Gazprom's network of natural gas pipelines that checkerboard the region. That relationship, it will be argued, is the basis for Russia’s attempt to redraw the map of Eurasia. Political boundaries divide geographic space into political units. Yet some networks—such as natural gas pipelines or ethnic groups—are dispersed across national borders. At times, these cross-border networks are so potent as to supersede political geography. When such networks are powerful, they reduce the influence of political boundaries and restructure territory based on their own geospatial dimensions.