by Lutz C. Kleveman
for Brandeins magazine in October 2001
Henry Kissingers voice sounded distinctly unperturbed when,
a few hours after the tragic terror attacks on 11 September, he
was interviewed by telephone on CNN. In stark contrast to all
other interviewees on that day who expressed nothing but utter
dismay and sorrow, Kissinger calmly demanded in well-chosen words
that the United States should defend itself militarily against
It then took the American government only a few days to define
the enemy, the evil: Osama bin-Laden and the Taliban regime in
Afghanistan. Washington ordered its troops to move.
Kissinger, though officially retired from politics for a quarter
of a century now, is still a very busy and much-demanded man.
He earns much of his income from political lobbying for economic
heavyweights. One of his clients is the American oil giant Unocal.
Six years ago, on 21 October 1995, Kissinger therefore attended
a ceremony at which Unocal managers signed a contract with Saparmurad
Niyazov, the eccentric dictator of Turkmenistan. It was agreed
that Unocal should build two pipelines from the enormous, recently
discovered oil and gas fields in the Central Asian country all
the way to Pakistans coast - straight across Afghanistan.
A bloody civil war was raging in Afghanistan at the time but
the Taliban troops were on the advance and seemed poised to finally
unite and pacify the country. Or so the US government thought
whose allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia massively supported the
radical Islamists. When the Taliban took Kabul in September 1996
the Clinton administration rejoiced that this would usher in a
time of stability in the Hindu Kush.
The chances of the pipelines being laid across a Taliban-controlled
corridor from Herat to Kandahar rose. On invitation by Unocal
two Taliban delegations travelled to Washington and Houston in
February and November 1997. They had talks with US officials and
Unocal executives. At the companys expense, the mullahs
resided in a five-star hotel in Houston and visited supermarkets,
the zoo and NASA headquarters.
Only when feminists, supported by Hillary Clinton, protested
against the oppression of women in Afghanistan, did the US government
distance itself from the Taliban regime and the pipeline plans.
The temporary end of the oil and gas project came in August 1998
when American cruise missiles hit bin-Ladens Afghan training
camps, in retaliation for bomb attacks by al-Qaida on the American
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
In the past few months, the United States, leading a broad anti-terror
coalition, has waged a war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
The purpose of the campaign, according to Washington, has been
to catch bin-Laden and to eliminate his terror cells. Many people
in the region doubt, however, that bin-Laden is really all the
Americans are after. It has long been known that the main players
in the US government - most notoriously President George W. Bush,
Vice President Dick Cheney and even National Security Adviser
Condoleeza Rice - were once top executives in the oil industry
that massively financed their political careers.
The real booty in this campaign could therefore, sceptics believe,
have once again been oil. Only a few hundred miles to the northwest
of Afghanistan, on the bottom and on the shores of the Caspian
Sea, lie the worlds biggest untapped oil and gas reserves
which had previously lured Hitlers Wehrmacht into the Caucasus.
Those natural resources now appear as the great reward in the
battle for Kabul. As Vice President Cheney, at the time President
of the oil technology company Halliburton, said in a speech to
oil industry bosses in Washington in 1998: I cannot think
of a time when weve had a region emerge as suddenly to become
as strategically significant as the Caspian.
A post-11-September journey through just this region, the Caucasus
and Central Asia, shows why the Afghan campaign may have been
just a prelude to a bloody scramble for the black gold in the
Caspians muddy waters.
Sunset Café, Baku, Azerbaijan
The Sunset is where the oilmen meet. Not the tough guys from the
rigs. They drink their beer at OMailleys or the Chaplins
Pub where no-one minds them being a bit boorish, telling Scottish
jokes and making bets on which helicopter is next to crash into
the sea. The Sunset rather caters to the execs, the middle-range
expat managers whose glasses are too large and khaki trousers
too short, and who yearn for a piece of Texas after work.
The Sunset offers just that: blond buxom waitresses in tight
jeans and bright red t-shirts serve T-bone steaks with French
fries and ketchup. The girls smile relentlessly and, when presenting
the menu, attempt to speak English with an American accent. You
can pay in dollars instead of manat, the Azeri currency, music
blares from a jukebox in the corner, and on a poster on the wall,
Louis Armstrong balloons his cheeks. Here the oilmen forget for
a few hours that Baku - the boom, bonanza and glittery high-rise
buildings in the centre notwithstanding - is still a shithole.
After all, what is the joy of a picturesque old town complete
with splendid minarets if, night and day, the nauseating reek
of petrol creeps through the streets? To make matters worse, the
citys new mayor has turned out to be a Koran-beating guardian
of morals: almost all street cafés, hitherto loci of distinctly
un-Islamic flirting, were closed and lately the police have even
taken to arresting foreigners who get caught with prostitutes
at night. The mood among the oilmen is depressed.
Baku, the Oil Dorado, has been compared to California
during the gold rush but it is still suffering from a mighty Soviet
hangover. It is chock full of villains of all sorts, so the rumour
goes, spies, Mafiosi, foreign agents and the inevitable biznizmeny.
As depicted in the latest James Bond film, The World is not enough,
which is set in Baku.
Agents? Without a doubt. For every oilman in this city
you have an agent, and many oilmen work for secret services themselves,
whispers Vahid Mustafayev as he digs the fork into his Caesar
salad. In his perfectly tailored dark suit, combined with a broad
yellow tie, both made in Italy, the wiry man with the angular
face could himself make for a good Bond. Only Mustafayevs short-cropped
dark hair, the stubble beard and the nervously shifting eyes are
slightly un-English. Rather more Azeri, in fact.
At 35, Mustafayev is already somewhat of a legend in Azerbaijan.
Before he became President of the Azerbaijan News Service (ANS),
the only independent television and radio station in the country,
he became famous as a reckless TV reporter who covered the bloody
wars in the Caucasus: Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia
and Chechnya. His unique pictures were shown even on CNN and the
BBC. All these wars were essentially about oil, Mustafayev
says. The Russians are trying to mess with Americas
The background: Since the collapse of the Soviet Union ten years
ago international oil companies, superpowers and countries in
the region have been wrestling for the fantastic natural resources
of the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan alone, according
to estimates by US Department of Energy after exploratory drilling,
sit on reserves of more than 110bn barrels, three times the amount
of all proven reserves in the Unites States. Only Saudi Arabia
has more: 262bn barrels.
In western capitals, keen to reduce their dependence on OPEC
sheiks since the 1973 oil crisis, this presumably last great oil
rush in world history has caused euphoria. After all, the United
States alone imports crude oil worth $150 million every day, with
one third (ca. 2,6 million barrels) originating from the Middle
East. While governments are therefore lining up to woo and court
corrupt Caspian potentates, oil companies are signing lucrative
contracts and have so far invested more than $30bn into new production
There is only one catch: the oil lies thousands of miles
away from the nearest high sea ports from where tankers could
ship it to the markets of the industrialised world, explains
Mustafayev. That is why pipelines need to be built.
Their routes, however, are fiercely disputed and have triggered
conflicts and wars in the Caspian region for the past ten years
- with no end in sight.
It is the Great Game all over again. The 19th century geostrategic
struggle between Great Britain and Tsarist Russia for control
over Central Asia, as romanticised in Rudyard Kiplings novel
Kim, is raging once again. The differences being that
this time around it is the Americans who oppose the Russians,
and that the regional powers - Iran, Turkey, China and Pakistan
- are all trying to get their fingers into the pie as well.
Russia, still regarding itself as the imperial overlord of its
former Caucasian and Central Asian colonies conquered in the 19th
century, is trying to keep the Americans at arms length.
The worlds second biggest crude oil exporter after Saudi
Arabia, Russia insists that the pipelines for the Caspian oil
run, as in Soviet times, across its territory north of the Caucasus
mountains, to the Black Sea port of Novorossijsk. Says Mustafayev:
The Russians hate the idea that their former colonies down
here hit the big jackpot and they dont get a share of it.
The United States, for its part, wants to keep the precious natural
resources beyond Russias reach. At the same time, Washington
rules out a southern pipeline route through Iran, Americas
arch enemy for the past twenty years. It wants a pipeline that
bypasses both Russia and Iran.
The Americans say they want to break Russias monopoly
on oil transports in the region in order to strengthen the former
Soviet republics independence from Moscow, Mustafayev
reiterates Washingtons official policy.
Since 1998 when all export plans through Afghanistan had to be
buried Washington has pushed for a gigantic 1050-mile pipeline
project from the Azeri capital Baku across neighbouring Georgia
all the way to Turkeys Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. The
first to have this idea was the Turkish government which feared
that a Black Sea oil tanker could one day sink in the narrow Straights,
with catastrophic consequences for Istanbul.
To build that pipeline would be the job of the Azerbaijan International
Operating Company (AIOC), an international consortium of a dozen
oil companies, led by BPAmoco. At first, AIOC was strictly opposed
to the pipeline as it seemed too long and, with construction costs
exceeding $2,8bn, too expensive. Worse, it would run through extremely
This is still the main problem, Mustafayev believes: Russia
is doing everything it can to destabilise the southern Caucasus,
that is to fan crises and wars in order to deter potential investors.
This was the case first in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan
over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in the early 1990s in which
tens of thousands of civilians were killed and close to a million
Azeris were displaced. The Russians stirred up the Armenians
hatred against us and supported their war effort, Mustafayev
thinks. Since then it has been clear that no pipeline would
run through Armenia and Karabakh.
The young mans face darkens as he remembers the day in
the summer of 1991 when his brother, himself a cameraman, was
killed filming a battle in Karabakh. Blown to pieces by a grenade.
Mustafayev fetches a wrinkled photograph from his wallet. It shows
nothing but blurred blades of grass and a lot of sky. This
was his cameras last shot after my brother had been hit
and fallen to the ground.
For a while Mustafayev is silent. Then a malicious grin creeps
over his face and he says: The Russians problem is
just that their old pipeline from Baku to Novorossijsk also runs
across territory that is less than peaceful: Chechnya.
Altievo refugee camp, Nazran, Ingushetia
Beslan Albukarov lives in a pig stable, together with his wife
and their two young daughters. As well as two thousand other Chechen
refugees who have found shelter in the buildings of the former
kolkhoz MTF Altievo just outside of Nazran, the capital
of the tiny republic of Ingushetia in the northern Caucasus. We
are heading towards our third winter here. Luckily, we have a
roof over our heads, says Albukarov who before his escape
from Chechnya at the start of the second war in 1999 owned a small
grocery shop in the capital Grozny. His ten-year-old daughter
Milona, who already spent the first war from 1994-96 with her
mother in Ingushetia, barely remembers her old home. All
my friends are now from the camp, she says.
Spontaneous settlements That is how the UNHCR, the
United Nations refugee organisation, officially calls these
desolate self-organised camps. Hundreds of such camps and half
a dozen giant tent cities are scattered all over Ingushetia, Chechnyas
western neighbour, where about 200,000 Chechen civilians have
fled the brutal fighting between separatist rebels and the Russian
army. The hostilities began ten years ago when Chechen leaders,
following the example of Soviet republics, declared the republics
independence. Moscow was in no mood to accept this and has since
led two ruthless military campaigns in which up to 100,000 people,
most of them civilians, are believed to have been killed.
A year ago the Kremlin officially declared the secessionist republic
to be pacified and has since called upon refugees to return to
their homes - to no avail. The people are scared. Anarchy
and violence in Chechnya are now worse than ever, says the
head of a German aid organisation, one of very few to still deliver
food and medicine to the inhabitants of bombed-out Grozny, a two-hour
car drive from Nazran.
The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells of Russian mercenaries
who systematically comb Chechen villages, kidnapping and brutally
torturing male teenagers. The boys are released only when relatives
manage to pay a ransom of $1000. On every trip to Grozny
I am seized by the horror. But in the West no-one wants to know
about the atrocities anymore that are committed here. Even
less so since Russias President Vladimir Putin has convinced
Washington that Chechen rebels are nothing but Islamic terrorists
who need to be fought.
The question of what this war is about elicits few answers of
the grandiose sort in the Ingushetian refugee camps on these cold
autumn days, such as freedom or independence.
Money is what it is all about, most people here say. Profits from
arms sales, from kidnappings, and from the oil business. The old
pipeline from Baku runs straight through Grozny. They would
all like to put their hands on that pipeline, says one Chechen
who has lived in Nazran for years. And he adds, with bitter irony:
That is well worth fighting over, isnt it?
Meanwhile, a new pipeline has been built in the far north of
Chechnya, protected by the Russian army. It links the giant Tengiz
oil field in Kazakhstan with a brand new terminal in Novorossijsk
on the Black Sea. The 950-mile pipeline that has a capacity of
up to 560,000 barrels per day cost $2,8bn. Its operator is an
international consortium, led by the recently merged US oil giants
Chevron and Texaco.
In mid-October 2001, a few days after the multi-billion dollar
merger in Houston, Texas, the first gallons of crude flowed from
the Novorossijsk terminal into an Italian tanker. The fact that
the US company did not wait for the Washington-backed Ceyhan pipeline
but favoured a transport route through Russia, means billions
of dollars of tariffs for Moscow and is a first triumph of its
heavy-handed foreign policy.
Headquarters BPAmoco, Baku, Azerbaijan
Villa Petrolea, the BPAmoco headquarters in Baku, lie on the citys
southern fringe, only a few minutes by car from the Bibiheybet
suburb which ranks among the most horrific industrial wastelands
on this planet. Right on what was once a beach hundreds of old
derricks and decrepit steel towers rust away amid giant pools
of glistening, slimy oil and pink water. Still the derricks move
up and down, groaning and rattling, like nodding donkeys made
of steel, and suck crude from the barren soil. So polluted is
the area the size of several square miles that no green plants
grow here, not even a single blade of grass.
This is where at the end of the 19th century Bakus first
oil boom kicked off - the glorious days of yore when the Rothschilds
and the Nobel brothers came into town, made fabulous profits and
had splendid mansions built for themselves. A hundred years ago,
more than half of all crude oil on the world markets came from
Baku. Yet, the Russian labour movement, too, had its origins in
Baku, with oil workers being harangued by a certain Georgian agitator
named Jossif Dschugaschwili, later called Stalin. After the October
revolution, the proletarian vanguard chased the oil barons and
refined their methods to thoroughly devastate nature.
Ten years ago, Villa Petrolea from where BPAmoco today directs
its Caspian operations was still a government building run by
communists. Well, that is the irony of History, says
Steve Lawrence, the jovial company spokesman, looking with a sneer
at the many small hammers and sickles that shine from the delicately
worked stucco ceiling, each lovingly repainted in a bright red
colour. We were put on this earth to do more than just help
people drive to the video store, a BP advertising poster
on the wall exclaims.
Lawrence anticipates the first question: To say it straight
away: yes, the pipeline now seems to make sense economically.
If at all possible, well build it.
After all, BPAmoco, the biggest shareholder in the AIOC consortium
for the Ceyhan pipelines construction, has already spent
$150 million for the planning alone. It is now at the final stage,
says Lawrence. The exact route is not clear yet but the
final decision will be made in the summer of 2002.
On a visit to Baku in June 2001 Lord John Brown, President of
BPAmoco, pledged to invest $15bn into new oil development facilities
over the coming years. So we are obviously serious about
this, interprets Lawrence. He concedes that the political
pressure is enormous. For years the American government
has urged us to go ahead with this pipeline. But now we believe
that we can make our shareholders happy, not just US foreign policy-makers.
The Ceyhan projects economic risks are immense, the profit
margins narrow. To earn back the construction costs of nearly
$3bn, AIOC would have to pump through one million barrels of crude
every day, at a world market price of at least $18 per barrel.
A southern route through Iran or Afghanistan would be shorter,
cheaper and safer. Moreover, the crude oil could be sold much
more easily in the booming markets of South East Asia than in
The Iranian route is, of course, the more attractive option
but as long as US sanctions against Tehran remain in place there
is nothing we can do, says Lawrence with a perceptible sigh.
We cannot afford to make Washington angry.
The proven reserves in BPAmocos Shah Deniz and Chirag oil
fields off the Baku coast, Lawrence admits, would not suffice
to fill the Ceyhan pipeline. Exploratory drilling in the past
year has yielded disappointing results: more often than not the
engineers found expected oil wells to be dry.
Their work is not made any easier by the problem that the five
Caspian littoral states still have not agreed on how to divide
the Sea and its treasures between themselves. That is why in July
2001 an Iranian gunboat forced a BP-owned ship south of Shah Deniz
to immediately stop all exploratory drilling and return to Baku.
Our men were more than a hundred sea miles away from the
Iranian coast, Lawrence remembers. But the Iranians
were armed, there was nothing we could do. The Iranian foreign
ministry justified the intervention by saying that Tehran would
not tolerate any concessions Baku gave to foreign oil companies
as long as the property disputes remained unresolved.
That is why for the moment we are trying to get third party
oil for the Ceyhan pipeline. Its most likely origin would
be Kashagan, a vast oil field off the Kazakh coast that was discovered
in the summer of 2000. Set under a coral atoll aged millions of
years, Kashagan is believed to be the second largest oil bubble
on earth, at an estimated 30bn barrels. The largest oil field,
Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, contains about 80bn barrels, all North
Sea resources still add up to some 17bn barrels.
Immediately after the sensational discovery the Kremlin demanded
from the Kazakh government that a possible new pipeline run across
Russian territory. A likely prospect because to pump the Kashagan
oil into the Ceyhan pipeline the consortium led by the American
oil giant ExxonMobil would first have to somehow ship it across
the Caspian Sea to Baku.
And the real problems only start there. Lawrence takes out a
map of the Caucasus region. A long, red line marks the pipelines
planned route. Obviously, well bypass Nagorno-Karabakh.
His index finger moves further west. But the riskiest part
is Georgia. That is a very dangerous place.
Rustaveli Square, Tbilisi, Georgia
After his heart attack last year the doctors told Alex Rondeli
to stop drinking any more red wine but Sonja, the pretty blonde
waitress in the café on Rustaveli square, resolutely takes
his flat hand off the glass and pours some more Georgian rouge
into it, from the third bottle this evening. One more glass
wont kill you, professor, the girl says laughing.
However, Rondeli, a tall and baroque-looking bonvivant with full
white hair, pushes the glass away from him. The historian and
most respected political observer in Georgia suddenly looks very
Sooner or later the Russians will attack us and the Americans
will look away. For two years Moscow has been accusing the
Georgian government under President Edward Schevardnadze of granting
refuge to Chechen rebels in the Georgian mountains. After the
11 September attacks high-ranking Russian politicians, inspired
by the American campaign in Afghanistan, called for military action
against the Chechen terrorists on Georgian soil. In
the recent past, Russian warplanes have twice already bombed Georgian
villages on the border with Chechnya.
Russia is our enemy. Since we have become independent Moscow
is doing everything it can to destabilise and disintegrate our
country, says Rondeli. He points at the high-rise hotel
Iberia, just across Rustaveli square, once the best
hotel in town. Today laundry flaps listlessly on the balconies
most of which have been walled in with wooden boards to create
more living space for the thousands of Georgian refugees from
the secessionist province of Abkhazia that have crammed the hotel
for years. Thousands of an estimated 300,000 people who fled the
inter-ethnic strife and atrocities in 1993.
Russia instigated the civil war to bring back its army to
Georgia, in the disguise of so-called peace-keeping troops,
Rondeli says. No-one in Tbilisi would disagree with him.
There is only one way out: We need the great pipeline so
well keep the Americans on our side against the Russians.
As Georgia had little else to offer to the rest of the world,
the country should sell its geographical position, on the crossroads,
as it were, of a new Great Silk Road between Europe and Asia.
This would attract foreign investors, and guarantee security.
We are beggars, but we prefer to be beggars than to once
again live under Moscows thumb.
But Rondeli is worried. For months his friends in the diplomatic
corps have told him that Washingtons patience with Georgias
chaos and its rulers unbridled corruption is running out.
To get Russia into the anti-terrorist coalition the Americans
will have made a deal with Putin, Rondeli believes. Who
knows if they have not already sacrificed the Ceyhan pipeline.
Foreign ministry, Sukhumi, Abkhazia
On the wall behind Sergej Shamba, the Abkhaz foreign minister,
is a naked woman. Life-size, with remarkable breasts, an embroidered
nude (embroidered indeed, not painted). She is not alone. From
three sides a total of seven framed naked women watch Mr Shamba
at his desk, all of them quite curvy and presented in thought-provoking
The artist is a friend of mine, from Sukhumi, and well,
I thought, you know, why not?, Mr Shamba mumbled, slightly
uneasy. He would cut an unconvincing figure as a dashing Latin
lover, this pensive, well-dressed man with grey temples who was
once a respected archaeologist in Georgia.
That minister Shambas office decorations could offend many
state visitors is unlikely for Abkhazia is recognised by no government
in the world. Since 1993 when Georgias idyllic Black Sea
province seceded from the rest of the country, only the occasional
United Nations representative drops by for a visit. About one
hundred UN soldiers have for seven years observed a shaky cease-fire,
along with 1700 self-appointed peacekeepers from Russia, Abkhazias
Only a days march separates those Russian troops from the
Ceyhan pipelines planned route - and from an old, smaller
pipeline that BPAmoco operates to ship oil from Baku to the Georgian
port of Poti, some 90 miles south of Sukhumi. To the south, Poti
borders on the Georgian province of Ajara where there are still
some Russian troops stationed. Which is presumably why Ajaras
pro-Russian President has for years refused to accept any orders
from Tbilisi. Georgia is falling apart.
Minister Shambas office offers a sweeping view over Sukhumis
charred and pockmarked ruins, all the way to the bombed-out remains
of the hotels along the once-famed beach promenade. Ramshackle
Ladas, which still have Soviet license plates, share the potholed
streets with a few, mostly old people and cows. A ghost town.
Less than 150,000 people are believed to still live in Abkhazia.
The barracks of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Sukhumi, set
up directly on the beach, have been opened to accommodate Russian
holidaymakers. Obese Russian women in all-too-bold bathing suits
who waddle to the beach, escorted by Kalashnikov-toting soldiers
in combat fatigues, make for one of the most surreal sights presently
on offer in the former Soviet Union. Despite an eight oclock
curfew Sukhumi is just like home: the Abkhaz currency is still
the Russian rouble, Baltika beer is widely available, the clocks
are set to Moscow time, and at the gate to the military premises
a mosaic shows a larger-than-life portrait of Comrade Vladimir
Lenin, wearing a tasteless blue tie.
Russia is using us to pursue their own interests, we know
that, sighs foreign minister Shamba who himself prefers
to speak Russian rather than Abkhaz. But equally the Americans
take advantage of the Georgians for their own objectives. That
oil pipeline and the so-called new silk road are just designed
to drive away the Russians from the Caucasus. Inevitably,
Mr Shamba adds, in the obligatory post-11-September language:
The Georgian government is giving shelter to international
terrorists, especially Chechens. Together theyll try and
On the flight back to Tbilisi the UN helicopter passes very low
above the devastated border region between Abkhazia and the rest
of Georgia. Not a village, not a single house is in sight that
had not been burned to the ground. Zolt Romvari, a friendly Hungarian
UN officer, says: There is so much hatred down there. The
fighting could start again any time.
A few days later, that same UN helicopter, on a flight to Sukhumi,
is shot down by Georgian militiamen. All crew and passengers die.
The following days, dozens of Abkhazians and Georgians are killed
in heavy fighting.
Embassy of the United States of America, Baku, Azerbaijan
To get to US ambassador Ros Wilson, Washingtons top man
in this part of the world, you need to pass through a metal detector
that keeps beeping until you have produced every single pen from
your pockets. Upon which the security agents, since 11 September
more conscientious in their work than ever, unscrew the pen and
look inside - just to make sure.
Ambassador Wilson, a lanky man from Minnesota, probably has a
few more files on his desk than usual, too. He seems quite relieved
to for once be able to talk about oil again, and not Islamic fundamentalists.
His first sentences already betray the well-honed career diplomat.
We do not see ourselves in a Great Game with Russia, and
certainly not in some zero-sum game. We have our interests, the
Russians have theirs but they need not necessarily collide.
The feeling of some Russians that America was bent on pushing
them out of this region was unfounded.
After several innocuous phrases about democracy, peace and cooperation,
that are as carefully trimmed as his ginger full beard, Wilson
begins to talk plainly: We want to make sure that the Caspian
oil reaches international markets. This was the main argument
for a pipeline that bypasses Russia. Besides, the Azeris knew
full well that only the pipeline to Ceyhan would be a ticket to
Of course, the Azeris are trying to play America and Russia
off against each other. But they understand that the United States
alone is a guarantor for their independence. Then Wilson
announced, almost like a decision: The oil will never go
across Russia. To thwart the Ceyhan project, Wilson concedes,
Russia had in the past sought to destabilise the southern Caucasus,
especially Georgia. However, this no longer seems to be
Moscows goal, he adds cautiously.
A route through Iran was out of question, Wilson then makes clear,
despite the recent rapprochement with Tehran in the campaign against
the Afghan Taliban. Like Russia, Iran is one of Azerbaijans
competitors and would then control the Caspian Sea. Plus, Iran
supports terrorists and is developing weapons of mass destruction.
That is why we must curtail its ability to earn income.
Wilson recalls the Iranian gunboat incident in July after which
Washington delivered two patrol boats to the Azeri coast guard.
But a Great Game, a struggle for oil, agents and spies all around
the Caspian Sea? Wilson chuckles, in a hollow and nearly soundless
way: All that happens only in novels.
Khanabad Airbase, Karshi, Uzbekistan
In the dawn of 6 October 2001, as witnesses would later report,
a very large, black airplane lands at Khanabad, a run-down airbase
in the vast, desolate steppe of Uzbekistan, about 80 miles north
of the Afghan border. The inhabitants of the region understand
immediately that the engines rattling them from their sleep belonged
to none of the old Soviet Antonovs that normally fly above their
houses - but a C-131 transport plane of the US Air Force, the
first of hundreds that would fly in and out over the following
weeks. The rumours of the preceding days were true: the Americans
Aboard the planes, as the Pentagon reluctantly acknowledges,
are one thousand elite infantry men of the 10th Mountain Division,
New York State, as well as special units from Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Their official job: to fly humanitarian missions over Afghanistan
and to rescue downed US pilots. Further details do not seep through
for special Uzbek Interior Ministry forces, armed to their teeth,
form a five-mile cordon around the base to keep out potential
terrorists, and other curious people.
These are the first American troops on a combat mission to set
up camp on the territory of the former Soviet Union, ten years
after the end of the Cold War. Why Moscow which still regards
Central Asia as its strategic backyard would stomach this deployment
remains a mystery to many diplomats in the region. Some suspect
a geopolitical deal has been struck between Washington and Moscow
which, to put it plainly, left the Caucasus to the Russians and
Central Asia to the Americans.
In the communiqués of the post-11-September negotiations
between Washington, the Uzbek government and Moscow not a word
can be read about oil or pipelines. Instead, there are endless
words about the common struggle against international terrorism.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has confirmed that some US forces of the
infamous Green Berets began training the Uzbek army as early as
the summer of 1999.
Meanwhile, the American troops at Khanabad take their security
measures and discretion very seriously: no local is allowed into
the base, not even for employment. All work, even cooking and
cleaning, is done by military personnel. Translators are the only
Uzbeks to be hired but once they have started their job they are
not allowed to leave the base again. Only one young translator
from the capital Tashkent, who wishes to remain anonymous, asks
for permission to go home because his wife just had a baby. He
gets off the base only after signing a pledge not to chat about
military goings-on. The young Uzbek resists most questions from
his curious friends. All I can say is this: the Americans
are setting up the camp as if they were to stay for a very long