Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pirates shed some light on energy geopolitics

The ongoing stand-off between Somali pirates who hijacked a Ukrainian freighter loaded with weaponry and US warships likely isn't going to end in a $20 million ransom like the pirates want. However, what's more interesting is what's on the ship, where it's going, and who it came from. What's on the ship, we know: "tanks, artillery, grenade launchers and ammunition." Where it's going, though, gets a bit more interesting:

Kenyan officials continued to maintain that the weapons aboard were part of a legitimate arms deal for the Kenyan military, even though several Western diplomats, Somali officials and the pirates themselves said the arms were part of a secret deal to funnel the weapons to southern Sudan.

The Kenyan government's insistence that the weapons are for its own use doesn't hold water: the Kenyan military is trained by Western forces, and has not received the training necessary to use Russian tanks (which the equipment onboard was), according to Voice of America. The southern region of Sudan, however, holds two distinctions that make it likely that that's where the weapons were heading: it was the site of the most deadly war since World War II, and has vast oil resources. The Second Sudanese Civil War raged for over twenty years, and though it officially ended in 2005, the fighting persists and the conflict could reignite at any time. The uneasy treaty stipulated that the South is to be autonomous until 2011, when a referendum on independence will take place.

Which brings us to last question: where did the weapons come from? According to the VOA article, southern Sudan receives weapons from both the US and Russia, though given that the US isn't going along with the Kenyan story about the destination of the weapons, it seems likely that the Russian weapons aboard the Ukrainian ship came instead from Russia. Given that they were destined for an oil-filled region brimming with instability, it seems likely that this is part of the Kremlin's broader plan to destabilize oil- and gas-producing regions in order to raise the price of energy and feed the Russian petrostate's need for high oil prices.

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