IPS Blog

West Falls for Iran’s Show of “Sanitizing” Parchin

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Western governments claim that satellite images show Iran is trying to scrub a site at its Parchin military complex clean of evidence of nuclear weapons experiments. In response, Gareth Porter wrote at IPS on June 8:

The nature of the [alleged evidence of activities] depicted in the images and the circumstances surrounding them suggest, however, that Iran made them to gain leverage in its negotiations with the IAEA rather than to hide past nuclear experiments. … the activities shown in those satellite images … appear to be aimed at prompting the IAEA, the United States and Israel to give greater urgency and importance to a request for an IAEA inspection visit to Parchin.

For example water shown in a satellite image and ostensibly used for cleaning “appears to collect in a ditch a short distance away from the building. … soil that was moved from two areas [but appears] to have been carried only a few hundred feet further north of the former area where it is shown to have been dumped, offering another inviting target for environmental sampling.”

In other words, the so-called sanitizing is a show Iran has been putting on for the benefit of the West. Porter further reports that the Arms Control Association’s Greg Thielmann told him “that he didn’t know whether the changes shown in satellite images were part of a conscious Iranian negotiating strategy.” But, the changes, in effect, “‘increase the interest of the IAEA in an inspection at Parchin as soon as possible and to give Iran more leverage in the negotiations.'”

“Access to Parchin,” Porter explains “has been recognised implicitly by both sides as Iran’s primary leverage in those negotiations.”

Gareth Porter is one of the few — perhaps the lone — analyst striking the note that, besides for nuclear power, Iran enriches uranium as a bargaining chip with the West. Arguably it’s a less hostile strategy than the coercive diplomacy to which the United States reflexively defaults.

With its attempts to lure the West in via its scrub-down show Iran seems to be playing negotiating chess while the West is playing checkers. But, as has been pointed out to me, in the end, it may be immaterial since the West can bring its first down on the whole game, crush the board and scatter the pieces.

Besides, Iran may be cutting it too close. For one thing, the worth of its chips is inflated: Both the West and its regional neighbors think Iran is developing a program that all the evidence suggests it isn’t and over-react accordingly. Worse, Iran’s strategy resembles Saddam Hussein’s before the 2003 invasion. While neither Iran nor Iraq had nuclear weapons, both thought it was to their advantage to leave a seed of doubt in our minds, though for different reasons: Saddam for regional security, Iran as a negotiating ploy to get sanctions suspended and advance its nuclear energy program.

When it comes to nuclear weapons, nature couldn’t abhor a void more. Imagination runs rampant and those with an agenda against the state holding its nuke cards close to the best feel justified in pursuing it to the max.

What Drives U.S. Policy in Central America?

Sanho Tree Al JazeeraThe US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has launched an investigation into a raid on a remote Honduran village that killed four people including two pregnant women. Four others were also injured in the operation in May.

In the waking hours of May 11, a group of indigenous villagers travelling by canoe in the Mosquita region came under helicopter fire. Four of them including two pregnant women and a child died. US officials said the killings followed a sighting of men unloading cocaine onto a truck nearby. The US State Department-owned helicopters were sent to investigate.

Read more, and watch the entire video, on Al Jazeera.

Disarmament’s Cause and Effect Relationship With Nonproliferation — or Lack Thereof

One can’t help but experience something akin to gratification by a June 4 New York Times editorial on nuclear disarmament.

Did House Republicans somehow miss the end of the cold war? At a time when, for the sake of both security and fiscal responsibility, the country should be reducing its nuclear arsenal, the House has approved a defense authorization bill for 2013 that threatens to freeze the number of weapons at current levels and, over time, waste billions of dollars on unnecessary purchases and programs.

Thankfully, the bill isn’t likely to become law. But it is worth taking a closer look, both for what it says about Republicans’ misplaced strategic priorities — and about how far President Obama has already gone to appease them.

The A word — yikes! The editorial writer also injects some sly sarcasm (emphasis added).

The bill would bar reduction, consolidation or withdrawal of tactical weapons in Europe — we can’t imagine a more unnecessary weapon — unless several onerous conditions are met..

The writer also brings to light a point to which I personally hadn’t been exposed (or it hadn’t registered). As regular Focal Points readers know, a recurring theme here is the decoupling of nonproliferation from disarmament in recent years. In other words, Western nuclear powers seem to use the imperative to prevent non-nuclear weapon states, as well as terrorists, from obtaining nukes as a smokescreen. They seek to obscure — or rationalize — the leadership on disarmament that they’re failing to demonstrate by signing anemic treaties such as New START and funding modernization programs intended to endow nuclear weapons into perpetuity.

Meanwhile, hawks and realists both maintain that disarmament leadership means nothing to states that aspire to nuclear weapons anyway. In the past, this author has suspected that, messengers aside, they may be right. But the Times editorial states:

If the United States fails to keep pushing for even deeper cuts — or raises any doubts about its current commitments — it will have an even harder time rallying global pressure to contain the nuclear ambitions of Iran, North Korea and others. Remember George W. Bush’s contempt for treaties?

In other words, failure to disarm may be immaterial to states whose nuclear programs are at the dream stage, but it does have an adverse effect on states we petition to join us in preventing proliferation. Thus disarmament in itself may or may not have a direct effect on proliferation, but it can be a force multiplier in the quest for nonproliferation.

To ISAF, Committing Atrocities Means Only Having to Say You’re Sorry

Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan, “flew to Logar province, just south of Kabul, to meet with villagers and offer his condolences for the bombing Wednesday that Afghan officials said killed 18 civilians,” reported the Washington Post on June 8.”The airstrike was called in by U.S. troops after they came under fire while pursuing a Taliban fighter in a village in the Baraki Barak district.

Allen said to the Afghans:

“I know that no apology can bring back the lives of the children or the people who perished in this tragedy and this accident, but I want you to know that you have my apology and we will do the right thing by the families,” … NATO troops often make condolence payments to the families of victims in civilian casualty incidents.

Apologizing implies you’ll try not to do the same thing in the future. Otherwise, the apology is empty. The definition of insanity is continuing air and drone strikes and expecting the results to be different each time.

NATO and the United States should just own its atrocities and its intentions to continue committing them. Because they’re certainly not going to end until we leave Afghanistan.

How the Nazis Stole Storytelling

Adolf Hitler and Leni Riefenstahl.

Adolf Hitler and Leni Riefenstahl.

Austrian film director Michael Haneke is known for rubbing violence in the face of the viewer. Though it’s less about the act than it is the physical and psychic pain that the victims experience. His best-known movie is Funny Games, which he actually directed twice, first in German, then in English. Because of the empathy for the victims he evokes, a spoiler is justified to spare you the pain when, at the end of the English-language version, last-woman standing Naomi Watts isn’t spared.

In 2007 John Wray profiled Haneke for the New York Times magazine in an article titled Minister of Fear. Their conversation took a curious turn. Wray wrote:

Haneke has his own theory for the divergent routes taken by Hollywood and Europe, one in which, perhaps not surprisingly, the darker side of German and Austrian history plays a central role. “At the beginning of the 20th century,” he told me, “when film began in Europe, storytelling of the kind still popular in Hollywood was every bit as popular here. Then the Nazis came, and the intellectuals — a great number of whom were Jewish — were either murdered or managed to escape to America and elsewhere. There were no intellectuals anymore — most of them were dead. Those who escaped to America were able to continue the storytelling approach to film — really a 19th-century tradition — with a clear conscience, since it hadn’t been tainted by fascism. But in the German-speaking world, and in most of the rest of Europe, that type of straightforward storytelling, which the Nazis had made such good use of, came to be viewed with distrust. The danger hidden in storytelling became clear — how easy it was to manipulate the crowd. As a result, film, and especially literature, began to examine itself. Storytelling, with all the tricks and ruses it requires, became gradually suspect. This was not the case in Hollywood.”

In other words, included among their many crimes, the Nazis stole narrative and turned it into propaganda. But in the process, they gave avant-garde film and literature an unexpected boost.

The Lineup: Week of June 11-17, 2012

In this week’s OtherWords editorial package, Robin Broad and John Cavanagh explain why a Canadian company’s lawsuit against the government of El Salvador threatens democracy everywhere. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. Mining Gold, Undermining Democracy / Robin Broad and John Cavanagh
    Neither foreign investors nor unelected tribunals deserve the power to trump democratically elected leaders.
  2. Wisconsin Wakeup Call / John Stauber
    It’s too simple to say that money bought this election.
  3. Clearing the Air / Andrew Korfhage
    Many health care organizations have joined environmental advocates like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council in supporting a new EPA rule that would curb the deadly pollution spewed from the next generation of coal-fired power plants.
  4. Blowing a Chance to Save American Jobs / Dave Hamilton
    Congress must renew a successful tax credit supporting the budding wind power industry.
  5. Recalling the Gilded Age / Donald Kaul
    Americans just won’t take greed from their next-door neighbors.
  6. These Steaks May Stick to Your Ribs / Jim Hightower
    While meat glue is widely used, corporations peddling molded meat aren’t eager to let us consumers in on their little secret.
  7. Our Press Freedom is under Fire / William A. Collins
    In its latest assessment, Reporters Without Borders ranked the United States No. 47 for media freedom.
  8. Solidarity in Reverse / Khalil Bendib
Solidarity in Reverse, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Solidarity in Reverse, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Conflicting Sudans Have Corruption, Militias, and China in Common

Cross-posted from the Arabist.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir this week addressed a letter to dozens of “former and current senior government officials” pleading with them to return an estimated US$4b in “missing” government funds. The Globe and Mail reports that the US$4b reportedly stolen would add up to approximately 2 years’ worth of oil revenues for the country, which upon seceding from Sudan took about 75% of Khartoum’s oil reserves with it (amounting to some $5b worth of annual income, according to the Petroleum Economist trade publication). Some US$60m has reportedly been recovered, but continued mismanagement, graft and badly bid contracts (most notably, for food imports) means that additional funds still remain unaccounted for and may be unrecoverable.1

Despite the emotional plea from Kiir, in an un-encouraging sign for transparency in South Sudan this past April, the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) Party that Kiir leads “voted against a bill seeking to make contracts and information about the young country’s oil industry more transparent by making it available to the public.”

From the Sudan Tribune:

The lawmakers’ decision has created some public criticism. As well voting against the Petroleum Bill, which would have required the government to provide justifications for oil contracts with individual companies, MPs also voted against publishing sales and production data.

During deliberations, George Bureng, an SPLM member of the National Assembly representing Central Equatoria State said he would prefer to see that oil related information be limited to only relevant institutions not the general public because information about oil could be used against the country by her enemies, referring to Khartoum.

“It is good to allow [the] public [to] access any information but sometimes there is sensitive information which cannot be made available to the general public”, Bureng told the house.

Tensions are high in both Khartoum and Juba as a result of a recent conflict over the disputed oil fields in Helig (which was occupied by South Sudan) and the border region of Abeyi (which was occupied by Sudan). Though the fighting has died down, talks on establishing a demilitarized zone have stalled, the AFP reports from Addis Ababa, where the African Union-brokered talks are taking place:

Peace talks to end weeks of fighting between Sudan and South Sudan were deadlocked Tuesday after failing to agree on where to set up a demilitarized zone along their contested border.

“The position of the parties is still rather far apart on these issues,” South Sudan’s foreign minister Nhial Deng Nhial told reporters during a break in the week-long talks, which still continue despite the lack of progress.

“We have not yet been able to agree on the line from which the safe demilitarized border zone is going to be drawn,” Nhial said, but adding he remained optimistic a deal could yet be reached.

Further complicating these talks is the arrival of delegates from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement — Army North (SPLM/A-N). This organization is the branch of the SPLA, whose leaders dominate South Sudanese government, still operating in Sudan (the SPLA was founded in 1983). Small Arms Survey notes that because “the political and military high command in the SPLM/A-N significantly overlaps,” “the political and military goals of the organization can be viewed as one since it is now an armed opposition movement in Sudan.”

As a result, though SPLM/A-N delegates were invited to the talks by the African Union, Khartoum has “excluded” them from the talks. Fighting in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains between the SPLM/A-N continues, and the continued iciness between Juba and Khartoum over the SPLM/A-N’s insurgency seems irresolvable. Khartoum’s armed forces are reportedly too worn down by years of attritional counterinsurgency operations in Darfur and the “Three Areas” provinces (including the Nuba Mountains) to launch a full-scale operation against South Sudan, but refuse to give up any more territory to the SPLM/A-N. Meanwhile, Juba simply does not wish to lose a force operating in the border provinces of the regime whose embrace it just escaped from. Plus, there is the question proposed by Philip Thon Aleu to a South Sudanese governor last summer that offers insight as to why Juba would be hard-pressed to accept any “compromise” initiated by Khartoum over the “Three Areas” region:

The SPLM was joined by people from South Kordofan, Blue Nile and people from other parts of the country who are not from South Sudan. How do you think about those people who are not part of south Sudan’s freedom today? And what is the way out?

Resistance to demobilization of secessionist militias and some SPLM units is already proving to be a challenge for South Sudan. And neither side is likely to make the first move towards a ceasefire with or recall of the SPLM/A-N — which has its own particular goals, of course — for fear of being perceived as “weak” in the eyes of the other.

No “great power” better understands (and plays off of) these clashes than the People’s Republic of China. Beijing is Khartoum’s primary arms dealer, but at the same time presents itself as a mediator to both countries and takes the bulk of the two countries’ oil exports. Even though most of Sudan’s oil now lies in South Sudan, the extensive damage to facilities (and investor flight over the past several years) and continuing transit dispute between the two countries means that the Chinese have a long way to go in implementing a comprehensive plan for the country.

Though Beijing just reached an agreement to build up South Sudanese “infrastructure,” a pipeline agreement was conspicuously absent. South Sudan is landlocked, and has since 2005 depended on Sudanese facilities or trucks to deliver its crude to ports, paying Sudan transit fees. China does not wish to alienate Sudan, with which it has a much closer relationship, yet South Sudan has the most potential for growth — and as bad as Sudan’s economy is, South Sudan’s is much worse, and much more dependent on foreign aid with strings attached.

It’s about a lot more than the oil for Juba and Khartoum, but oil is the prism through which the two government’s “great power” backers will most likely see their conflict.

1An unknown percentage of the lost money is thought to have been pocketed by officials to buy property overseas. Interestingly, last year, the Oakland Institute reported that American speculators were buying up South Sudanese properties.

Will Stuxnet Start Another Arms Race?

David Sanger of the New York Times is often rebuked for operating under the assumption that Iran is determined to developed nuclear weapons when the evidence suggests otherwise. But when he sticks to straight reporting, as with the excerpt from his new book in the Times on June 1 about the cyberattacks against Iran, we owe him a debt of thanks. He’s opened our eyes to the extent to which the United States and President Obama were involved with Stuxnet. Stanger also brings to light a critical reason that the United States worked with Israel.

The unusually tight collaboration with Israel was driven by two imperatives. Israel’s Unit 8200, a part of its military, had technical expertise that rivaled the N.S.A.’s, and the Israelis had deep intelligence about operations at Natanz that would be vital to making the cyberattack a success. But American officials had another interest…

Wait for it …

… to dissuade the Israelis from carrying out their own pre-emptive strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities. To do that, the Israelis would have to be convinced that the new line of attack was working. The only way to convince them, several officials said in interviews, was to have them deeply involved in every aspect of the program.

Inviting Israel to participate as a diversionary tactic to prevent it from attacking Iran may be clever. But one can’t help suspect it’s yet another attempt to placate Israel. Or — to turn the tables on those who accuse President Obama of this on various fronts — to appease them.

Meanwhile, at the New Yorker, Steve Coll strikes a precautionary note.

“Olympic Games” [Stuxnet] seems to be, so far as is known, the first formal offensive act of pure cyber sabotage by the United States against another country. … “Olympic Games” will invite imitation and retaliation in kind, and it has established new and disturbing norms for state aggression on the Internet and in its side-channels. American and Israeli official action now stands available as a justification for others. … [Richard] Clarke and Sanger both compare the chaotic, poorly considered state of cyber warfare today to the wild early days of nuclear arms. … During the nineteen-fifties, a shocking number of American generals believed that a nuclear war could be won. “Olympic Games” suggests a comparably self-aggrandizing strain among our new class of digital fighters.

In other words, like the subdivision of the arms race — proliferation — it’s meant to help derail, cyberwarfare could start a new arms race.

Mining Firm Doubles Up On Law Firms in Quest for Pot of Gold

A Canadian mining company has cleared a major legal hurdle in their quest to exploit gold in El Salvador. In a celebratory press release, the firm, Pacific Rim, quoted lawyers from two Washington, DC law firms that are representing it in the case.

A mural in El Salvador shows Pacific Rim as a river-killing monster.

A mural in El Salvador shows Pacific Rim as a river-killing monster.

I guess having one legal powerhouse behind you just isn’t enough when a major pot of gold is at stake. And so far, the investment appears to be paying off.

Pacific Rim is suing the government of El Salvador, demanding more than $77 million in compensation over the government’s denial of a permit for a gold mining project. The government acted in response to strong public concerns that the project could contaminate a river that is the drinking water source for more than half the country.

The World Bank tribunal hearing the case, in a classic cowardly maneuver, put the word out late Friday that they planned to advance the case past the jurisdictional phase and start hearing arguments about the merits.

The Pacific Rim release quotes one “extremely pleased” lawyer from Weil, Gotshal & Manges and another from Crowell & Moring who called the ruling a “great development.” The continuation of the case makes for more billable hours. According to the Wall Street Journal, lawyers at Weil, Gotshal & Manges make as much as $1,045 per hour. GDP per capita in El Salvador: $3,426.

What’s remarkable is that Pacific Rim was able to hire these two law firms despite having no current income stream. They are essentially a corporate shell whose main asset is a lawsuit on which investors are willing to gamble. So they might lose a few million. But if the legal blackmail works and El Salvador allows the mining project to go ahead, the skyrocketing price of gold will produce a handsome return. Pacific Rim’s release notes that “the Company has received encouraging feedback from potential sources of non-equity financing” to pay for the final phase of the lawsuit.

The response to the tribunal ruling in El Salvador is not so happy. A diverse coalition of faith, environmental, and community groups fought against Pacific Rim’s mining plans because they don’t want their children drinking the poisoned water that often gets left behind when foreign corporations come hunting for gold. Polls show the majority of the country is opposed to the project and two successive Presidents from different parties have been on their side.

So how did this domestic policy issue wind up before an international tribunal? Pacific Rim based its legal claim on alleged violations of two laws — the U.S. trade agreement with Central America and a national Salvadoran investment law adopted in 1999. Both of these allow private foreign investors to bypass domestic courts and bring claims for compensation to international tribunals, such as the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, housed at the World Bank.

The tribunal decided that the company did not have the right to sue under the trade agreement because they are a Canadian company and Canada is not a part of that treaty. But they will hear arguments about whether El Salvador breached its obligations under its domestic laws. It’s not uncommon for cases like this to drag on for years, costing both sides millions of dollars in legal fees.

At a rally in front of Pacific Rim’s Vancouver headquarters on June 2, Salvadoran activist Vidalina Morales asked for international solidarity in demanding that Pacific Rim drop the suit. She said the broad-based coalition that has come together around the issue, the National Roundtable on Metallic Mining, is now even more determined to obtain their ultimate goal, which is a ban on all mining in the country in the environmentally fragile country.

Unfortunately, the international regime for handling investment disputes doesn’t pay much heed to the will of the people.

The Court Politics of Russia’s New Shale Oil Drive

Oil shale, from which shale oil is derived.

Oil shale, from which shale oil is derived.

In a 2010 overview of the laws of Russia’s extractive sector, the Europe-Asia Studies journal argued that “the players tend to favour solutions that, in principle, are defective but advantage insiders (themselves) over outsiders (foreigners). … While enabling increased influence of the state and state-controlled companies over subsoil use,” the report concluded, it “does not add to the transparency of the investment regime in Russia’s mineral resources sectors.” Past experience suggests that the Bazhenov shale extraction development will see this pattern holding, but despite this, the prospects are just too good for Exxon (or Statoil) to pass up.

That’s the risk of doing business under Putin.

The Russian government’s recent solicitation of ExxonMobil (US) and Statoil (Norway) to help state-owned firm Rosneft develop a huge field of oil shale in Siberia at a site called Bazhenov follows a plan — such as it is — laid down by Putin early on in his career. Putin wrote — or according to critics, plagiarized — his thesis on Russian energy policy with special emphasis on subsoil laws and returning concessions made by the Yeltsin government to foreign oil majors (BP) and private firms (Yukos) to the state. He regards Russia’s energy reserves as strategic instruments, just as his Soviet predecessors did, yet found his hand constrained by the fact that “around 92% of oil and 83% of gas” (according to the Europe-Asia Studies journal) were in private hands during the Yeltsin era.

Plagiarized or not, Putin’s thesis served as an ideological blueprint for him as he and his associates made halting progress to bring those energy reserves more firmly in the Kremlin’s orbit (since many of those privately owned concessions belonged to oligarchs close to Yeltsin’s family or former Soviet enterprise directors, they were not by any stretch of the imagination truly privately-owned).

While the nationalization efforts made by Putin during his first two terms as President may have worsened ratings of Russia’s investment climate and driven plans for Western-financed independent pipelines, they consolidated control of major reserves under state-owned enterprises such as Gazprom, where Kremlin insiders, including once-and-future President and PM Dmitri Medvedev, helped Putin consolidate state control, or, rather, control by men he felt he could trust, such as Dmitri but also a number of other top officials like Alexi Miller, one of his St. Petersburgers and current head of Gazprom, and former Yeltsin insider Vikotr Chernomyrdin, who founded Gazprom. Foreign investment in the firm Chernomyrdin founded — as of 2006, now Russia’s sole legal natural gas exporter — was permitted only after the state-owned firm Rosneft purchased enough of a stake in Gazprom to give the Kremlin majority ownership.

The approach to Gazprom — and the consolidation of firms like Rosneft and TNK, which had partnered (but ultimately broke) with BP, along with the assault on Yukos — mirrors Putin’s overall approach to the Russian political system. Mazen Labban has written:

Under Putin, however, foreign financial capital returned to consolidate the Russian oil industry under the control of the state. What in effect took place is a process of amalgamation of the Russian state, domestic productive capital and foreign financial capital into hybrid corporations.

Foreign investors entered the Russian oil industry through the state to help it close space further against transnational oil companies and protect the industry from the predation of the domestic oligarchs.

In other words, he has his favored men — former Yeltsin insiders he still needs to varying degrees and the extremely loyal security professionals who came to Moscow with him from St. Petersburg — who he plays off of each other and against those oligarchs whom he regards as political rivals. Yukos is the most infamous example of this, as it ended in the arrest of its CEO and the secretive manner in which its assets were auctioned off. More recently, the partnership BP has made with the Russian TNK firm, which has faced a rocky road under Putin, has been “profitable” for the British oil major, The Scotsman notes, and “accounts for 29 per cent of BP’s [total global] production.” Now, perhaps feeling BP’s usefulness has expired, the Kremlin may be looking to purchase BP’s stake through Rosneft — the same Rosneft working with Exxon (and headed by another of Putin’s favorites, Igor Sechin) — to the chagrin of a consortium of Russian banking oligarchs.

With this approach comes a willingness to overlook his own people’s possible skimming off of the top so long as they recognize their place in his court and adhere to his driving vision to enhance Russia’s international influence, even though Russia’s politicking with its gas suppliers in Central Asia, notably in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and European transit countries (Ukraine and Belarus) has harmed its image, according to the Pipeline & Gas Journal.

Of course, there are limits to how far Russia’s extractive emphasis can go. Not because there is only so much oil and gold and nickel to draw out from Siberia, but because for decades Russia has lagged behind other industrialized countries in being able to exploit its natural resources. For oil and natural gas, this is the legacy of mismanaged Soviet energy planning that split up exploration, technical development and investment — both in the energy sector and in the economy with energy sector revenues — among different agencies (Russia’s limited access to newer Western technologies and credit due to embargoes did not help either, but it became apparent by the 1980s than planning failures in the Brezhnev Era were causing massive waste and shortfalls). Putin was galled by the ways in which production-sharing agreements had been signed under Yeltsin’s rule, but despite his nationalist ardor recognized that Russia required foreign cooperation to maintain its extractive competitiveness and export revenue reliance (60% of Russia’s export revenues derive from extractive exports).

The Wall Street Journal has noted the technical problems involved — more so than several other business news outlets reporting on the Bazhenov field — but unsurprisingly, it and other outlets have said little of the potential environmental costs, since hydraulic fracking would be involved.

With Russia’s lax environmental laws and permissible public debate on the environment being what it is, the only thing really standing in the way of this development, besides potentially prohibitive costs, are the Kremlin’s own court politics.