Robet Coalson at Radio Free Europe has an interesting commentary on Russia's unique position as a petrostate. Unlike most petrostates (and this includes states whose money comes also from natural gas and energy transit), whose fortunes rise and fall with energy prices, Russia has perhaps the unique position among all of them to actively influence the price of energy. Along with a vast amount of territory rich in oil and natural gas, the Russian state also seeks to shore up reserves outside of Russia and retain a monopoly on energy transshipments to western markets. In addition to enticing and cowering Central Asia and its vast gas resources, Russia has also managed to shore up the Caucasian route out of Europe. Also, conveniently, its foreign policy towards Iran seems to encourage the Iranian leadership to remain isolated, cutting off that route for energy pipelines. It's clear that Russia still uses the espionage and foreign policy tools (like al-Qaeda, the FARC, and possibly the PKK) that the Cold War leaders supposedly left behind, but before reading this article, I'd never heard anyone suggest that the recent flare-up in tensions in the Niger Delta in Nigeria might have been orchestrated by Russia:
In Nigeria, once the fifth-largest supplier of oil to the United States, well-armed and organized rebels have cut production by 20 percent by targeting pipelines and other infrastructure. No one knows where their weapons – including powerful speedboats – come from, but they have "more serious weaponry than any other Nigerian militia to date," according to the Christian Science Monitor in 2006. On September 14, the rebels declared an "oil war" and have launched numerous attacks this week, including destroying a flow station on September 16 and disabling a pipeline the following day. Although there is no evidence linking Moscow to these activities, it is an example of how oil prices could be manipulated to the Kremlin's benefit.