Nearly 200 years ago, Great Britain tangled with Russia in a series of geopolitical moves in Central Asia in a bid to outmaneuver each other for control of land and natural resources. The British intelligence officer and avid chess player, Arthur Conolly, is credited with giving the era its moniker, “The Great Game.”
Not much has changed. A recent New York Times report shed new light on how Vladimir Putin may be strategizing, even as the U.S. ramps up more pressure with sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Under international law, while Russia claims territorial rights at 12 nautical miles, it now can claim maritime rights to an exclusive economic zone extending 200 nautical miles out from land, which would give Russia an area three times the size of Crimea out into the Black Sea. Even more important than size, the area is thought to have potentially trillions of dollars of oil reserves.
Russia still has the formidable task of extracting those resources, and observers note that it will be difficult without partnerships with western oil companies, who are understandably reluctant to cooperate with Russia in the current geopolitical environment. However, Putin may be angling to keep those reserves out of Ukrainian hands while he bides his time for the geopolitical winds to die down.
On the other border of Russia, this week Russia and China announced a 30-year, $400 billion deal for the Russian oil agency Gazprom to supply China with natural gas. For Russia, this was a chance to show the West that there are other buyers of its energy products. China undoubtedly saw a chance to negotiate a lower price f or the resources given Russia’s obvious need for a new export customer.
How this all plays out will be fascinating to watch, but more importantly, it contributes to the ever-changing shifts in global influence, which will affect everything from commodity prices to geopolitical alliances.
My View: Whatever you say about Vladimir Putin, he is certainly shrewd and calculating in his moves. He is still fighting from behind, but should never be underestimated. Most of all, Russia is a country with a history that requires a long-term view. The “Game” will continue for a long time and seems to be directed west.
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