Que faz Portugal no grande jogo geopolítico da energia?
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev (L) and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the 2011 G-20 Summit
A energia (acesso, fornecimento e distribuição) é hoje um jogo geopolítico maior. Jogo que está sofrer severas e profundas alterações. Não só na Europa como em todos os cantos do mundo. A Portugal interessa, decisivamente, as alterações que neste campo se estão a processar no Atlântico (de que é aspecto maior o ‘novo’ canal do Panamá, assunto que tem sido totalmente ignorado…), na Europa (aqui cada vez mais dominada pelo eixo Berlim-Moscovo…) e na África (onde surgem novos e pesados partners na costa do Indico). E interessa, decisivamente, pensar que papel e funções pode este cais atlântico encostado à Europa desempenhar… Abaixo, apresenta-se a análise de dois casos: o de Myanmar (subitamente tornado um estratégico e onde os chineses jogam fortíssimo e os americanos começam a desembarcar…) e o dos planos russos para a Turquia.
Mar 20, 2012 | 2253 GMT
Myanmar could become an energy and natural resource hub, uniting the Indian subcontinent, China and Southeast Asia. Myanmar’s ongoing liberalization and its normalization of relations with the outside world have the possibility of profoundly affecting geopolitics in Asia – and all for the better.
Geographically, Myanmar dominates the Bay of Bengal. It is where the spheres of influence of China and India overlap. Myanmar is also abundant in oil, natural gas, coal, zinc, copper, precious stones, timber and hydropower, with some uranium deposits as well. The prize of the Indo-Pacific region, Myanmar has been locked up by dictatorship for decades, even as the Chinese have been slowly stripping it of natural resources. Think of Myanmar as another Afghanistan in terms of its potential to change a region: a key, geo-strategic puzzle piece ravaged by war and ineffective government that, if only normalized, would unroll trade routes in all directions.
Ever since China’s Yuan (ethnic Mongol) dynasty invaded Myanmar in the 13th century, Myanmar has been under the shadow of a Greater China, with no insurmountable geographic barriers or architectural obstacles like the Great Wall to separate the two lands — though the Hengduan Shan range borders the two countries. At the same time, Myanmar has historically been the home of an Indian business community — a middleman minority in sociological terms — that facilitated the British hold on Myanmar as part of a Greater British India.
But if Myanmar continues on its path of reform by opening links to the United States and neighboring countries, rather than remaining a natural resource tract to be exploited by China, Myanmar will develop into an energy and natural resource hub in its own right, uniting the Indian subcontinent, China and Southeast Asia all into one fluid, organic continuum. And although Chinese influence in Myanmar would diminish in relative terms, China would still benefit immensely. Indeed, Kunming, in China’s southern Yunnan province, would become the economic capital of Southeast Asia, where river and rail routes from Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam would converge.
Much of this infrastructure activity is already under way. At Ramree Island off Myanmar’s northwestern Arakan coast, the Chinese are constructing pipelines to take oil and natural gas from Africa, the Persian Gulf and the Bay of Bengal across the heart of Myanmar to Kunming. The purpose will be to alleviate China’s dependence on the Strait of Malacca, through which four-fifths of its crude oil imports pass at present. There will also be a high-speed rail line roughly along this route by 2015.
India, too, is constructing an energy terminal at Sittwe, north of Ramree, on Myanmar’s coast, that will potentially carry offshore natural gas northwest through Bangladesh to the vast demographic inkblot that is the Indian state of West Bengal. The Indian pipeline would actually split into two directions, with another proposed route going to the north around Bangladesh. Commercial goods will follow along new highways to be built to India. Kolkata, Chittagong and Yangon, rather than being cities in three separate countries, will finally be part of one Indian Ocean world.
The salient fact here is that by liberating Myanmar, India’s hitherto landlocked northeast, lying on the far side of Bangladesh, will also be opened up to the outside. Northeast India has suffered from bad geography and underdevelopment, and as a consequence it has experienced about a dozen insurgencies in recent decades. Hilly and jungle-covered, northeast India is cut off from India proper by backbreakingly poor Bangladesh to the west and by Myanmar, hitherto a hermetic and undeveloped state, to the east. But Myanmar’s political opening and economic development changes this geopolitical fact, because both India’s northeast and Bangladesh will benefit from Myanmar’s political and economic renewal.
With poverty reduced somewhat in all these areas, the pressure on Kolkata and West Bengal to absorb economic refugees will be alleviated. This immeasurably strengthens India, whose land borders with semi-failed states within the subcontinent (Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh) has undermined its ability to project political and military power outward into Asia and the Middle East. More broadly, a liberalized Myanmar draws India deeper into Asia, so that India can more effectively balance against China.
But while the future beckons with opportunities, the present is still not assured. The political transition in Myanmar has only begun, and much can still go wrong. The problem, as it was in Yugoslavia and Iraq, is regional and ethnic divides.
Myanmar is a vast kingdom organized around the central Irrawaddy River Valley. The ethnic Burman word for this valley is Myanmar, hence the official name of the country. But a third of the population is not ethnic Burman, even as regionally based minorities in friable borderlands account for seven of Myanmar’s 14 states. The hill areas around the Irrawaddy Valley are populated by Chin, Kachin, Shan, Karen and Karenni peoples, who also have their own armies and irregular forces, which have been battling the Burman-controlled national army since the early Cold War period.
Worse, these minority-populated hill regions are ethnically divided from within. For example, the Shan area is also home to Was, Lahus, Paos, Kayans and other tribal peoples. All these groups are products of historical migrations from Tibet, China, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Cambodia, so that the Chin in western Myanmar have almost nothing in common with the Karen in eastern Myanmar. Nor is there a community of language and culture between the Shans and the ethnic Burmans, except for their Buddhist religion. As for the Arakanese, heirs to a cosmopolitan seaboard civilization influenced by Hindu Bengal, they feel particularly disconnected from the rest of Myanmar and compare their plight to disenfranchised minorities in the Middle East and Africa.
In other words, simply holding elections is not enough if all elections do is bring ethnic Burmans to power who do not compromise with the minorities. The military came to power in Myanmar in 1962 to control the minority-populated borderlands around the Irrawaddy Valley. The military has governed now for half a century. Myanmar has few functioning institutions that are not military-dominated. A system with generous power awarded to the minorities must now be constructed from scratch; peaceful integration of restive minorities requires vibrant federal institutions.
Myanmar, it is true, is becoming less repressive and more open to the outside world. But that in and of itself does not make for a viable institutionalized state. In sum, for Myanmar to succeed, even with civilians in control, the military will have to play a significant role for years to come, because it is mainly officers who know how to run things.
But given its immense natural resources and sizable population of 48 million, if Myanmar can build pan-ethnic institutions in coming decades it could come close to being a midlevel power in its own right — something that would not necessarily harm Indian and Chinese interests, and, by the way, would unleash trade throughout Asia and the Indian Ocean world.
Russia’s offer to build natural gas storage facilities in Turkey is part of Moscow’s plan to gain leverage… Russia is interested in building natural gas storage facilities in Turkey, officials from Russia’s Gazprom said March 20. Over the winter, Gazprom redirected natural gas from its storage facilities in Europe after a spike in demand in Turkey. Now, Gazprom wants to build underground natural gas storage facilities in Turkey to help when supplies dwindle in the future. Gazprom’s proposal is part of Russia’s larger strategy — in both Turkey and Europe — to increase Moscow’s energy leverage with its customers. Although Ankara will be wary of giving Moscow more influence in Turkey, there is little it can do at the moment to withstand the Kremlin’s strategy.
Energy is one of the cornerstones of the Russo-Turkish relationship. Russia provides approximately 58 percent of Turkey’s natural gas supplies, making it Turkey’s largest natural gas supplier. Ankara has long sought ways to reduce its dependence on Russian natural gas, since Moscow traditionally uses its energy supplies as political leverage with many of its customers. For its part, Russia wants to keep Turkey tied to it through energy and to prevent other suppliers from helping Ankara diversify its natural gas sources. Thus, Russia wants to increase its leverage in its energy relationship with Turkey.
Russia is working on a complex strategy to strengthen its position relative to its Western energy customers, particularly in Europe. The first element of the strategy is to move Russia away from its primary role of natural gas supplier and increase its ownership of other natural gas-related assets. The second element is to lock many of Moscow’s customers into 10-to-15-year contracts, which Russia has made more appealing by offering natural gas at a discount.
Russia is in negotiations to purchase electricity networks in Germany, natural gas distribution networks in Greece, and electricity and distribution networks in Italy. Moscow has also shown interest in the natural gas distribution networks in the Czech Republic. Russia has struck tentative deals with Germany, Italy and others on 10-year contracts with natural gas price discounts of between 10 and 30 percent. Amid Europe’s financial difficulties, the discounts are welcomed. Russia knows that many long-term energy diversity programs are under way in Europe and so is trying to prepare for when those become operational by striking long-term deals.
This European strategy appears to be expanding into Turkey with Gazprom’s announcement of interest in building natural gas storage facilities there. Turkey is already on Gazprom’s list of countries that could take part in renegotiations on natural gas price contracts, according to Stratfor sources. Russia and Turkey’s contract on supplies sent via the Blue Stream pipeline is set to expire in 2013, though the contract on Russian supplies that transit Bulgaria has many years left. Turkey could enter into larger negotiations, like the Europeans, and receive a discount of 10 percent or more. The problem is that Russia will insist on a long-term contract, likely spanning at least 10 years, and Turkey will resist such a deal as it anticipates an increase of natural gas supplies from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II project in approximately 5 years.
In the short term, however, the possibility of cheaper natural gas and Russia’s constructing natural gas storage in Turkey are attractive ideas. Russia’s offer comes as Turkey is in a pricing dispute with its second-largest natural gas provider — Iran. Turkey currently pays Iran $505 per thousand cubic meters (tcm) of natural gas — a steep price compared to the $400 per tcm it pays Russia. Turkey also regularly experiences reliability problems with supplies from Iran, especially in the winter. While Ankara has been careful to maintain a working relationship with Tehran to help Iran circumvent sanctions, Turkey also would likely be interested in more security if more problems arise with Iranian supplies, particularly amid increasing sanctions on Iran from the United States and Europe.
Moscow would be more inclined to provide a greater discount on natural gas supplies to Ankara if the negotiations included Russia gaining assets in Turkey, as it would if it built natural gas storage facilities there. Such facilities could relieve the stress on Turkey’s supplies should issues with Iran grow more problematic. Cheaper natural gas and more secure supplies from Russia make Moscow’s offer attractive to Ankara. However, either agreement would give Russia greater leverage in Turkey, as Russia would own assets in the country and Turkey would be locked into a long-term contract.
Ankara could want to diversify its natural gas supplies away from Russia and
prevent Moscow from gaining more energy — and ultimately political — leverage in Turkey. But Ankara has little recourse against Russia’s strategy right now. New natural gas supply options — increased supplies from Iran, the Azerbaijani expansion of Shah Deniz II or liquefied natural gas alternatives — are years away, and problems with Iran are jeopardizing Turkey’s current supplies. Russia might be the only option Turkey has in the short term.