Pipeline politics, again

This whole Nordstream II affair fills me with a sense of distaste. It is history repeating itself.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration carried out all out economic warfare against the Soviet Union, in order to break it. The got their Saudi chums to pump more oil to reduce the Soviets’ hard currency earnings and forbade their European allies from exporting technology that had American components.

It was also a way of laying down the law for the Europeans, who were threatening to go their own way. Especially Germany’s Helmut Schmidt, who thought Reagan was a fool, overly reliant on Team B’s vastly exaggerated estimates of Soviet plans to conquer the world.

According to French bureaucrat Jacques Attali’s diaries, Schmidt turned to Mitterand during Reagan’s rambling during the Versailles G7 summit in June 1982: “Ce type nul, il me fatigue”. (“This zero; he tires me out”. )

Reagan’s economic warfare was accompanies by a slew of psychological and covert warfare operations designed to send the jitters through the Kremlin, run by ageing and semi senile men whose big historical experience was the unprovoked surprise attack by Hitler in Operation Barbarossa in 1981. We probably haven’t heard half of it.

It took 30-40 years for the secrets from the Second World War to leak out – the Ultra progrramme, for example. And there are papers from the Second World War that are still classified today.

It is only 30 years since the end of the Cold War.
The Soviet Union was a tottering but nuclear armed empire being bled dry the war in Afghanistan which, lest we forget, was used by the CIA to give the Soviets their own Vietnam quagmire.

Reading Steven Coll’s Ghost Wars or Jonathan Steele’s Ghosts of Afghanistan gives you the sense that the good guys were actually the bad guys and vice versa. The Afghan war didn’t happen just like that: there had been low grade fighting between rural Islamists and the secularist socialists in Kabul for many years. It wasn’t just ideology: the usual personal and political conflicts between clans and regional groupings also played a part.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Carter administration’s grand chessbroard geopolitician, admitted that the CIA backed the rural groupings even before the Soviet intervention. The mullahs were incited to tell their people that the Afghan regime’s plan for land reform would upset traditional ways of life. There was Pol Pot-style butchery of Afghan teachers and civil servants and other educated people living in rural areas.

According to Coll and Steele, the Soviets were extremely reluctant to intervene. In other words, everything the Morning Star and L’Humanite told us – that the Soviets were “invited in” – remember those fake tourist campaign jokes “Visit the USSR before the USSR visits you?” – seems to have been true Of course, the furious spinners of Washington at the time had it that the Soviet invasion betokened the first step in their quest for worldwide mastery. Eventually the CIA’s support for the jihadists resulted in the blowback of the century, the rise of radical Islam.

Over in Europe, the Reagan administrations crushed the Norwegian, Swedish, and German plans to conduct Ostpolitik – in Scandinavia’s case, Nordpolitik – whose underlying logic was that by trading with the Soviets you would bring them into the world community and thereby wean them off dictatorship.

Schmidt was very fearful of the dangers of nuclear war and the Reagan administration’s chicken race against senile and dying old men. The politbureau was virtually camped out by Andropov’s hospital bed in the outskirts of Moscow in that most dangerous year, 1983.

Even Margaret Thatcher stood up when the Reagan administration started fining engineering company John Brown, which exported turbines to the USSR but had vulnerable US business interests that could be hit. (At the same time Reagan refused to force through a grain embargo on sales to the Soviets – the US farming lobby prevented that.)

Schmidt was toppled in September 1982 by a vote of no confidence in the West German parliament, having been deserted by his liberal coalition partners. I have just been told by a German journalist, a reliable chap, that he has five sources, including one in the White House, for the claim that the US embassy in Bonn operated a slush fund to bribe lawmakers to vote against Schmidt.

How does all this relate to Nordstream II and what is Nordstream II? It is the pipeline project designed to run across the Baltic (adjoining another one) and connect markets in Europe with sources in Russia. Joe Biden, the US vice president, has just said it is a bad idea. A board of competition in Poland, the US’s keenest ally in Eastern Europe, has just made it harder for the companies supporting the project – that include Shell – to conduct business in Poland if they go ahead with the pipeline project.

The usual legalism concealing nakedly political motives. The Swedish government has said it will approve the pipeline (which will pass through Swedish territorial waters), but it is under enormous pressure from NATO-friendly interests in the Swedish media not to.

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