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GAZPROM vs. OPEC, WHO’S BLUFFING WHO?

MOSCOW, Russia, July 8…In a 1956 reception at the Polish Embassy, a tipsy Nikita Kruschev, then First Secretary of the Soviet Communist party, threatened the capitalist West: “History is on our side,” he said, referring to Marxist ideology. “We will bury you.”

Forty-three years later, in 1989, it was the Soviet Empire that was buried in the rubble of the Berlin Wall.

But the Empire has risen again–at least in its own mind. Only now, the weapon it intends to use to subdue the West is energy.

In remarks last week, Alexei Miller, chief executive of the Russian state-controlled gas group, said that Russia will soon overtake OPEC as the world’s dominant energy supplier.

“We think oil will reach $250 a barrel in the foreseeable future,” he said and indicated that Russia will extract maximum profit and political influence from this rise.

Russia, which is not a member of OPEC has repeatedly defied the cartel’s requests to bring its production in line with OPEC standards.

“OPEC doesn’t have any real influence on the global market nowadays,” Miller told the Financial Times. “Not a single decision has been passed of late that would really influence the global oil market.”

This, according to Africa Oil Week, “set the scene for a Cold War between Moscow and OPEC.”

Russia has surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading exporter of oil, pumping 8.6 million barrels a day to 7.96 million for Saudi Arabia. With global demand rising Russia will probably increase production to 9.2 million barrels, energy experts say.

Analysts estimate that the oil reserves of OPEC nations will be exhausted by 2050, while Russia with only 6% of the proven reserves in the world will only be beginning to use its resources.

Russia has the energy starved countries of Western Europe in a stranglehold, Miller hinted. With its new South Stream pipeline, which would take gas under the Black Sea to Bulgaria and then onto Western Europe, Russia will be able to turn the faucet on and off to extract financial and political gain.

“The sharp rise in Russian exports…raises the question: Is OPEC doomed,” said Leo Drollas of the Center for Global Energy Studies in London.

And is Russia poised to reclaim its Cold War superpower status?
“No to both of those questions,” says Igor Yopsvoyomatsky of The Gryazneezhid Think Tank in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn.

Interviewed at Golubchiks Tavern, Yopsvoymatsky was emphatic. Raising a glass of vodka he declared: “Russia is the diseased old whore covered with face paint to hide her syphilitic scars.”

The customers cheered and the bartender slid another glass across the bar.

“For its entire history Russia has bluffed the world,” Yopsvoyomatsky, a recent immigrant from Pinsk said. “In 1787, Russian minister Potemkin had facades put up along the Dneiper River in Crimea to convince Empress Catherine that he had built villages to resettle Russians. There was nothing behind those facades but torches made to look like lamps and cooking fires.”

He dropped a lighted match on his corduroys trying to light a foot long Russian cigarette, but continued without noticing.

“In World War I Russian sent soldiers to battle with wooden rifles made to look like real thing,” he said. “They were immediately overrun by Germans…”

“Igor, your pants are burning,” the bartender said.

Yopsvoyomatsky waved irritably. “In Cold War, Russia impoverished its people trying to keep up with West. Its Army was poorly equipped with no spare parts. It could not afford to sustain nuclear program and did not have enough nuclear weapons to defend itself against attack. But frightened people in West thought it was a military juggernaut and then when it was beaten in Afghanistan they could see it was Potemkin military…”

A waitress swatted at his trousers with a wet towel, raising a cloud of smoke.

“Now in Russia you have thousands wealthy, siloviki, ex-KGB thugs, and everybody else poor or worse,” he said.

He raised a finger.

“One…Russia has lowest birth rate, 1.3 children per family, in its history, which means there will be no workers for its so-called big economic miracle…”

He managed to raise another finger…”Two…Russians alcoholism rate has tripled, according to consumer protection agency,” he said. “Russians drink three times as much as they did sixteen years ago. And now they are seeing alcoholics as young as thirteen in treatment centers…”

He tried to raise a third finger and fell over against the bar. “Three…Russian Ministry of Health says suicide rate is among highest in the world with over 60,000 suicides in 2007.”

With his head in a puddle on the bar, Yopsvoyomatsky continued. “Human Rights Watch says Russia has not ability treat rampant rise in drug addiction…Russian inflation is up to 15 per cent, Russian oil exploration and development has stalled because of corruption, inefficiency and xenophobia…”

A spark ignited Yopsvoyomatsky’s woolen socks and flames flared around his ankles. The bartender poured a pitcher of water over him and the waitress rushed in to pull off his burning pants.

“Russia rule the world?” Yopsvoyomatsky shouted. “Pfui, I say. Pfui!”

METH, JEWS AND PUSH-UP BRAS, IT’S THE NEW SAUDI ARABIA

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, June 29…They’re speeding, kvetching and sporting lacy teddies under their abayas. Welcome to the new Saudi Arabia.

The desert theocracy, long under the iron control of Wahabist fundamentalists, is experiencing a massive social upheaval that will change it forever, analysts say.

In recent days the kingdom was rocked by news of a methamphetamine seizure in the cities of Jiddah and Riyadh. “No one even knew we had a problem,” says Mahmoud el Fatit, of the Jammal Fund, a Saudi think tank, grinding his teeth and twirling his worry beads.

But the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says that Saudi Arabia, with its small, tightly-controlled population, accounted for 28 per cent of all global amphetamine seizures 2006. The Financial Times reports that 12.3 tons were impounded in 2006,equal to the sum of six years of seizures in the UK, which is considered the largest amphetamine market in Europe.

And two tons of amphetamine about to be shipped to Saudi Arabia were confiscated last week across the Gulf in the Sultanate of Oman.

“14.3 tons for a population of 27 million, many old and young,” says el Fatit, lighting one cigarette off another. “This is an epidemic we did not know existed.”

UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Costa says he is “very perplexed” by the upsurge. He says Saudi Arabia is not a transit point and the drug is intended for “local consumption.”
But el Fatit has an explanation. Daubing at his bloody nose with a tea leaf he says that “women are responsible.”

“They are obsessed with dieting,” he shrieks, his dilated pupils gleaming

“They are using the drug to control their weight. It is the foolish, vain women…”

Meanwhile, the Kingdom’s Religious Authority was outraged when it was announced that King Abdullah had extended an invitation to what he called the “other members of the Abrahamic faith” for an interfaith dialogue.

This meant that Christians, known as “infidels” and Jews, long described as “sons of pigs and dogs” in Saudi children’s books were to be officially received by the Saudi royal family.

Saudi officials said Abdullah was concerned about the negative view of Islam that was being promulgated in the wake of the oil shock and the terror attacks and wanted to emphasize the shared heritage of the major religions.

“Outrageous,” said Sheik Nasrany Jahoudi. “We share nothing with them. They are sexually permissive. They refuse to accept the Koran. Now they will desecrate our holy places.”

But the most shocking news of all came with the opening of an all-female shopping mall in Riyadh. The modernist gleaming glass building is host to all the major luxury retailers in the world. A walk down its hushed, cool corridors passes women, their veils off, exposing elaborate coifs and flamboyant make up, browsing in Tiffany, Prada, Gucci, Stella McCartney outlets

Up until now Saudi women have not been permitted to own businesses. The mall was started by women who were tired of having to shop at male-owned stores.

“If we wanted a bra or a piece of lingerie we had to go to a man,” says mall manager Fatima Kabiratone-Bubbis. “If he fondled us we could say nothing or face punishment by our own families.”

Women account for the bulk of the luxury shopping in the Kingdom. The mall is booming and male retailers are fuming.

“Those men who own female clothing stores will soon be out of business,” says el Fatit, pulling a scab off his face. “The trade will be controlled by anorexic amphetamine-addicted women consorting with Jewish homosexuals…” He shakes his head with a scandalized expression. “It will be just like New York.”

US TOPS SOMALI LIST OF “CRUMBLING EMPIRES”

MOGADISHU, Somalia, June 25…There was no joy in Mogadishu recently when the war-torn nation of Somalia edged out Zimbabwe and the Sudan to take first place on the Failed States Index.

The Index, put together by Foreign Policy Magazine and the Fund for Peace focuses on ” twelve indicators of risk,” and is based on “thousands of articles and reports” that are processed by special software.

After studying and grading its indicators the Index has decided that Somalia is the poorest, most unstable, most polluted, most unhealthy and most dangerous place on earth.

This angered the Ministry of Tourism, which is trying to promote Somalia as a vacation paradise.

“We feel this is a case of blatant racism,” said an official, who preferred to remain nameless for fear of retribution.

To prove it he unveiled what he called his “Somali Index of Crumbling Empires” at a press conference today.

“Using the same criteria as the Fund for Peace we found that the crumbling American empire is as polluted, unhealthy, dangerous and corrupt as we are,” he said.

He cited the Fund’s claim that Somalia would not be able to respond when an “unexpected food crisis or devastating hurricane strikes.”

“The American empire was unable to respond to Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “Almost four years later the great city of New Orleans has yet to be rebuilt.”

He pointed to a map of the US. “How has the US responded to the flooding of the Mississippi River, the destruction of homes, villages and farmland? We hear reports that the natives who had no insurance have been driven into destitution…Meanwhile, he said, the rising price of food has forced millions of poor Americans to deplete the food banks, of their scant supply raising the specter of starvation and urban unrest.”

The official poked bitterly ironic fun at the Fund’s “twelve indicators of risk.”

“They say we have massive movement of internally displaced persons causing humanitarian crisis,” he said. “So did they during Katrina and the floods. So do they when factories close and people are suddenly dislocated from their ancestral homes.. When undocumented immigrants move from place to place fleeing from Immigration Police while they seek exploitative menial employment. ” The official paused for a glass of cloudy water…”They say we have tribal conflict and group paranoia,” he said. “So do they when black and Mexican gangs engage in open warfare in inner cities and overcrowded prisons. When evangelical Christians threaten Muslims with damnation and say that God doesn’t heed the prayers of the Jews.”

He was sarcastically dismissive of the fund’s economic indicators. “They say we have uneven economic development,” he said. “But in America the gap between rich and poor is growing every day. They say we suffer from severe economic decline, but America is in crisis due to the sub-prime collapse caused by the greed of its ruling class.”

He shouted down the questions of the mainly Western press. “They talk about deterioration of public services in Somalia, but they have bridges collapsing, urban infrastructure falling apart and no money to fix things because of billions spent in Iraq…He paused for a breath and wiped his face. “They say that we violate Human Rights. What did they do in Abu Gharib, Guantanamo, secret prisons all over the world?”

A group of Somali brandishing AK 47′s rushed onto the podium. As they dragged the official away he shouted “you say we are controlled by other states or external political actors. Well, where would America be without Chinese and Middle Eastern trillions propping up its dollar…?”

There was a burst of automatic weapons fire offstage. In the silence that followed the assistant to the Minister of Tourism faced the clamoring crowd of reporters with an ingratiating smile. “We disavow the irresponsible comments of that deranged Ethiopian,” he said. He referred the reporters to an interview that Minister of Tourism recently gave to the Economist in which he promoted Somalia as a prime “time share” venue.

Abdi Jimate Osman spoke of Somalia’s unspoiled beauty. He said the national parks were among the most “secure and restful” in the Horn of Africa. There is no fear of predatory animals,’he said “because we have eaten them all.”

“We will arrange day trips to all the great historic sites,” Osman said. “The only problem is they are all destroyed, but the trip can be very exciting as we fight off robbers and rival warlords.”

He dwelled on the attractions of Mogadishu’s Sharmo Hotel. The restaurant is renowned for its lobsters, which are brought ashore by Somali pirates who raid the fishing boats on a daily basis. The Sharmo terrace offers inventive local cocktails and a breathtaking view of the tribal fire-fights in downtown Mogadishu.

Osman did caution visitors to book an armored car and at least ten heavily armed bodyguards for the trip from the airport. He promised tourists that they will leave Somalia alive and said “hopefully they won’t be kidnapped.” But if they are, he said the euro will facilitate their safe release.

“Euros please,” he said with an apologetic smile. “No dollars.”