Here’s my nominee in a busy week for most overlooked quote. From Ivan A. Safranchuk, director of the Center for Defense Information in Moscow, it appeared in a Wednesday New York Times piece, “Russia to Deploy Air Squadron in Kyrgyzstan” (a former Central Asian SSR where, since September 11th, the US has developed a sizable air base): “In the longer term, the concern that Russia has is what if America leaves Central Asia. It will be a vacuum.” Well, Ivan, don’t fret. I think we’ll be around a while. What jumped out at me, however, was that use of the word “vacuum” — a classic American Cold War term. In imperial politics when only the people of a region are left in a region, it automatically becomes a (power) “vacuum.”
My nominee for related quote of this era comes from our most recent work of imperial journalism, a best-selling fairy tale by Bob Woodward of the Washington Post called Bush at War. (For a superb dissection of the book, check out Frank Rich’s “Pearl Harbor, 2002” in today’s Times. (To read the article from the Times, click here.) Woodward, to the extent he can be relied on, reports a phone call between Russian leader Putin and Bush this way: (As ever in his book it’s almost impossible to tell who is being quoted even when quote marks surround a comment): “What [Putin] is saying is, ‘Go get them, we want you to be successful.’ However, in his tone it was clear that he needed reassurance that this was not a play to establish a long-term military presence in what was his former territory — an assurance Bush said he readily gave.”
Well, isn’t it an American right to change your mind? But if you care to see what’s at stake, in a region that’s now dotted with American troops, American bases, and American oil company execs, check out the Guardian piece below on Kyrgyzstan’s neighbor in the “wild, wild East,” Kazakhistan. We’re lighting up the oil frontiers everywhere and garrisoning them as well. Someday, the Kazakhs may only wish they lived in a “vacuum.” (I’ve included as well an interesting piece from the on-line Asia Times on the Russian decision to move planes and troops into Kyrgyzstan, for those of you into the details of geopolitics.) Tom
Oil money threatens to make killing fields of Kazakhstan
‘Wild east’ could end the west’s dependence on Opec but at a heavy cost
By Paul Brown, December 4, 2002, The Guardian
The largest oil find for more than 20 years – almost the size of the world’s biggest, the Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia – is being developed in the Caspian Sea amid growing anger from the local people.
The first oil from the Kashagan field is expected to be brought ashore by 2005 but, although it should provide a strategic alternative to the Middle East, its importance has hardly been recognised.
The scramble for the gas and oil riches of the Caspian Sea has dubbed it the “wild east” but the potential and problems have remained hidden.
Kashagan will be second largest in the world. The field is so big that new pipelines will be required to deliver the oil to western markets. A neighbouring onshore field is producing 271,000 barrels a day, making it the fifth largest in the world.
US, Russia marching on Central Asia
By Sergei Blagov, December 6, 2002, Asia Times
MOSCOW – During a brief stopover in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin endorsed Russian deployment of fighter jets, bombers and other aircraft in that country. The move is obviously designed to reassert Russia’s military influence in a region where the United States has its own semi-permanent military presence with bases in also in Kyrgyzstan as well as Uzbekistan.
On Wednesday, Putin told journalists in Bishkek that Russian air force deployment was very important and brought “a new quality” to security arrangements in the region. Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev urged Russia to become a “main strategic cornerstone of Central Asia”.
Russian and Kyrgyz officials also signed the Bishkek Declaration, pledging closer security and economic ties. This agreement is not directed against third countries, Putin was quoted as saying. A deal to write off some $40 million of Kyrgyz debt to Moscow was also agreed to.