9:44 a.m. May 30, 2013

Prisoners of the Caspian, Part One

"FUCK AMERICA!" - Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, April 19, 2013

We’ve had two deadly jihadi attacks in this country since the start of the new century: 9/11 and the Boston Marathon. In both cases, Washington’s highly-politicized position on Chechen separatists played a key role in making it harder for FBI agents to prevent those attacks from happening.

The entrenched idea that Chechen separatists have not and do not engage in jihadi terrorism; that they pose no threat to the West; and that anyone who thinks or says otherwise should be distrusted — these false premises have framed a dangerously misguided policy in which Chechen radicals have been protected and nurtured — at the expense of American lives. The neocons, the same crowd that suckered Americans into invading Iraq, played a front-and-center role in whitewashing Chechen jihadi terrorism, and defining our disastrous policies in the Caucasus. The Boston Marathon bombings are, in no small part, blowback from the neocon love affair with Chechen terrorism.

This isn’t just my position — it’s also the position taken by FBI whistleblower and Time magazine’s 2002 Person of the Year, Coleen Rowley. In her recent article headlined "Chechen Terrorists and the Neocons" Rowley drew a direct link between neocon-fronted US geopolitical strategy in Chechnya, and the FBI’s failures to stop two deadly acts of terrorism, beginning with 9/11:

"The post 9/11 investigations launched as a result of my 2002 "whistleblower memo" did conclude that a major mistake, which could have prevented or reduced 9/11, was the lack of recognition of [Saudi-born Chechen separatist leader] al Khattab’s Chechen fighters as a "terrorist group" for purposes of FISA."

Neocons insisted that Chechen Islamic terrorists were good for America, and the consequence of that policy meant FBI agents were obstructed in their investigation into one of the 9/11 plotters just weeks before the attacks on the World Trade towers and the Pentagon.

As soon as the Boston Marathon bombers were revealed to be two Chechen brothers — Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — granted political asylum in 2002-3, Rowley came to the same conclusion: the FBI’s failures to take the Russian intelligence warnings about Tamerlan’s radicalization seriously and properly monitor him are rooted in the neocons’ lobbying efforts a decade earlier. The Chechens could do no wrong; they could never pose a threat to Americans, only to Russians, or so their neocon and Cold War lobbyists assured us.

The rank cynicism of US policy in Chechnya has been lost on the American public; as Rowley accurately writes, summing up US policy:

"...the Chechen "terrorists" proved useful to the U.S. in keeping pressure on the Russians, much as the Afghan mujahedeen were used in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan from 1980 to 1989."

This neocon-Chechen separatism alliance seems bizarre and counter-intuitive. Why would so many sleazy neocons — Islam-bashers, terror-mongers and Cold War Reaganites — support armed Chechen separatists? And why would the same hard-hearted hawks who have pushed for wars that have caused countless deaths and human rights violations melt on cue over human rights violations in Chechnya?

The moment that Bush took office, Bill Kristol, James Woolsey, Frank Gaffney, Richard Perle, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and over 100 others put together the K Street lobby powerhouse initially named "The American Committee for Chechnya." The lobby group changed its name to the crunchier "American Committee for Peace in Chechnya" (ACPC) and boasted in an early press release of its "distinguished membership of Americans including academics, journalists, politicians, and foreign policy experts calling for a stronger response to the crisis in Chechnya." Among the "distinguished" names were notorious Islamophobes Frank Gaffney and Michael Ledeen; Jon Podhoretz’s parents, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, along Jon’s brother-in-law Eliot Abrams, a convicted felon over his role in Iran-Contra; and Abrams’ fellow Iran-Contra convicts Caspar Weinberger and Robert McFarlane. Most of these people helped design and promote Reagan’s dirty wars in Central America, which left tens of thousands dead and tortured. Their track record made their alleged concern over human rights abuses in Chechnya not just risible, but downright alarming. Many of the same figures lobbying for Chechen separatism fronted for Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

You could draw a very busy-in-the-center Venn Diagram showing the overlap between the membership of ACPC and that of the "Committee for the Liberation of Iraq" (CLI), the main neocon group that lobbied for the invasion of Iraq. Bruce Jackson, who founded the CLI at President Bush’s personal request in 2002, was also a member of the Chechnya lobby group, the ACPC. Other neocons serving in both the Iraq War lobby group and the Chechen terrorist lobby group: Bill Kristol, James Woolsey, Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, and Jeanne Kirkpatrick. The neocon overlap between the mother of all neocon lobby groups — the Project for a New American Century — and the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya is even thicker with shared names.

One of the ACPC’s first press releases reads like a list of demands to Russia that sound eerily like the pre-war demands issued against Saddam Hussein and Slobodon Milosevic, including one that essentially calls for Russia to surrender sovereignty over Chechnya: "allow international monitors total and unimpeded access into and around Chechnya in order to investigate alleged atrocities and war crimes and to hold violators of human rights accountable." Another demand called on Russia to negotiate with "the leadership of the Chechen government" — i.e. the ACPC’s clients.

The Chechnya lobby group set up its Washington DC office inside the main headquarters of a notorious neocon outfit, Freedom House, with whom the ACPC shared staff. During the Bush years, Freedom House was linked to a string of pro-US "color revolutions" in eastern Europe and elsewhere —the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia, the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine, the failed "Tulip Revolution" in Kyrgyzstan, and the failed 2002 coup in Venezuela to overthrow Hugo Chavez. Freedom House was chaired by former CIA chief James Woolsey during the early Bush years. Woolsey began pushing for invading Iraq the day after the 9/11 attacks. In December 2001, after the Taliban were routed, the Washington Post quoted Woolsey saying,

"only fear will reestablish [Arab] respect for the U.S. ... We need to read a little bit of Machiavelli."

The ACPC’s other main partner was the Jamestown Foundation, a right-wing Cold War propaganda outfit founded by Reagan’s CIA director William Casey in the early 1980s. Jamestown started out as a propaganda base for Soviet defectors. After the Cold War ended, Jamestown evolved into a more sophisticated outfit that at times has produced quality in-depth research on the further reaches of the American Empire; and at other times it has served as a crude propaganda vehicle. Jamestown has never been shy about its Russophobia; its politics are right-wing, pro-military, and pro-Big Oil. Prominent Jamestown board members have included Dick Cheney, Zbigniew Brzezinski, James Woolsey, and another ex-CIA director, Michael Hayden.

Jamestown’s military-intelligence crowd is not quite the same as the neocon crowd — in fact the two often loathe each other — so it’s even more significant that these two wings of the US empire’s "thought-leaders" came together to form the Chechnya lobby front. The president of the Jamestown Foundation, Glen Howard, served as the executive director of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya. Before joining Jamestown, Howard had worked as an analyst at SAIC, one of the largest private contractors serving the CIA and Pentagon. Howard also bills himself as a consultant to oil majors operating in the Caspian Sea region.

These were the people and groups arrayed together to fight for human rights for Chechen separatists, whose ranks were filled with Al Qaeda-linked terrorists, starting in late 2000.

Around the same time that the ACPC set up shop to promote recognition of the Chechen separatists, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan established official diplomatic relations with the Chechen separatist government, in early 2000. The Taliban regime was the only state in the world to officially recognize the "Chechen Republic of Ichkeria" — though support for the Chechen separatist leaders was strong in both Saudi Arabia and the US and Britain. Saudi influence over the Chechen separatists ideology was strong: in February 1999, Chechnya’s "moderate" separatist president Aslan Maskhadov imposed a radical version of Sharia rule: he disbanded his parliament and abolished the vice presidency, along with Chechnya’s secular constitution.

That year, a top Bin Laden lieutenant told the AP in an interview that Al Qaeda was training and sending jihadis into Chechnya, in groups of 400. The lead Saudi fighter inside of Chechnya, Ibn al-Khattab, was known to Western intelligence agencies for his links to Bin Laden and to Gulf state financiers who had poured millions into Chechnya to empower the Wahhabi fighters and the Chechens allied with Khattab.

So the question becomes: Why would the neocons make an exception for Chechens? Were they just being evil for evil’s sake? Had their Cold War hatred of Russians poisoned their minds like an infectious fungus?

As always, the answer is more simple, and sleazier. They were going where the money told them to go. Empire and oil are the two constants in the "human rights" campaign for Chechnya.

Glen Howard, the Jamestown Foundation chief and the man tapped by the neocons to lead Chechen human rights lobby group, embodies this amalgam. According to Howard’s bio:

"[he] has served as a consultant to private sector and governmental agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Intelligence Council and major oil companies operating in Central Asia and the Middle East."

Big Oil is what made the neocons’ hearts bleed. Money turned fanatical GOP Sinophobes into China apologists. Similarly, money interests can turn Islamophobes into bleeding-heart apologists for Chechen terrorism. Chechen persecution and tragedy, which is historically real, was exploited by the neocon lobbyists for geopolitical advantage. And in the Caspian Sea region, Big Oil and geopolitical policy and strategy were one and the same.

Two decades ago, the Caspian Sea and Caucasus region was, by every account, home to the last great untapped oil bonanza on planet earth. We’ve since forgotten, but back in the 1990s, right up through 9/11, America’s fight to take over Caspian Sea oil reserves from Russia was big news, and big policy in Washington. The newspaper archives are full of stories about the pipeline wars and the battle for the Caspian and Caucasus region.

It began with the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the excitement in the oil and gas industry over the vast unexploited oil and gas reserves in weak, newly-independent Muslim states, all bordering the Caspian Sea: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and to a lesser extent, Turkmenistan.

Over a century ago, Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea, was the center of the global oil industry, its oil fields the richest yet discovered, and Royal Dutch Shell was one of the Caspian oil fields’ biggest profiteers. The Bolsheviks nationalized the oil fields after they took power in 1917, closing off the Caspian energy resources from Western control until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

So as the Soviet Union was collapsing, Western oil reps were crawling around the ruins of Gorbachev’s empire, slavering over the Caspian region as the world’s largest cache of hidden treasure. It was an opportunity unlike anything they’d seen in decades.

In 1994, Azerbaijan signed the "Contract of the Century" — a $7.4 billion deal with a consortium of Western oil majors including BP, Unocal and Pennzoil -- to develop and market their Caspian Sea oil fields. On the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan signed a series of oil deals with Chevron totaling $20 billion.

Clinton had declared the Caspian region an area of US strategic interest. Meanwhile, oil majors, their high-profile board members and their lobbyists — names like Zbigniew Brzezinski, Condi Rice, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Dick Cheney — trolled the hallways of the local corrupt dictatorships, cutting deals to get a piece of their energy resources, and to push Russian influence out.

Bob Dole, in a 1995 foreign policy speech for his run for the presidency, spelled out his interest in Russia’s soft underbelly:

"The security of the world's oil and gas supplies remain a vital interest of the United States and its major allies. But its borders now move north, to include the Caucasus, Siberia and Kazakhstan. Our forward military presence and diplomacy need adjusting."

The Caucasus includes Azerbaijan, Georgia, Dagestan and war-torn Chechnya, which had once been the second largest oil producer in the Soviet Union, and which was still home to major oil refineries and oil pipeline routes from the Caspian Sea.

Henry Kissinger, who attended Dole’s big foreign policy speech, told reporters afterwards that Dole’s line about about expanding US military and strategic power into the Caspian and the Caucasus "made me sit up in my chair."

In March 1997, Clinton’s National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, described the Caspian Sea area as,

"extraordinarily important to our future . . . I think we have a very strong geostrategic, as well as economic, interest in developing our relationships in that area of the world." - "Black Gold, Blue Sea," Carroll Bogert, Newsweek, May 12, 1997

In 1998, the Koch brothers’ Cato Institute hosted a conference of VIP oil executives and their lobbyists, including Dick Cheney of Halliburton, and Sir John Browne of BP. Cheney declared in his speech,

"I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian....It's almost as if the opportunities have arisen overnight."

In that same conference, British Petroleum CEO Browne — whose company headed a proposed oil pipeline consortium that would re-route the Caspian Sea oil out of Russia’s pipeline network and into the hands of Western oil majors, via the territory of pro-Western regimes — agreed with Cheney:

"The Caspian Sea is the greatest unexplored and undeveloped oil province in the world. We're just at the beginning of something there."

During the 1990s, Cheney lobbied Congress to end US sanctions against Azerbaijan imposed in 1992 over its blockade of landlocked Armenia. Cheney argued that lifting sanctions and backing the sale of Halliburton pipeline equipment to Azerbaijan would undermine Russia and advance US geostrategic interests. Armenians pointed to their war with Azerbaijan, and the Azeri pogroms against ethnic Armenians, pogroms that recalled the Turkish genocide of Armenians during World War One — as reasons to impose sanctions until Azerbaijan’s blockade was lifted.

Cheney’s only interest was oil. In a speech to the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce in 1997, Cheney said,

"I believe that our current policy prohibiting US assistance to Azerbaijan is seriously misguided....The Caspian sea may be the first world-class oil province in the front lines of this global competition as nations and commercial interests now jockey for influence over the Caspian’s vast oil and gas reserves. We in the petroleum industry have an obvious interest in seeing that the word goes out that Azerbaijan and the Caspian region are indeed of vital interest to the United States." - "Halliburton’s Army" by Pratap Chatterjee, Nation Books, pp. 42-43

For his lobbying efforts, Cheney was named an honorary advisor to the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce, and given a "Freedom Support Award." Cheney had sat on Kazakhstan’s Oil Advisory Board while he was at Halliburton.

Newsweek wrote that the US lobbying effort was "more intensive in Azerbaijan than almost anywhere in the world."

It was the cynicism and duplicity of this Caspian-Caucasus "great game" being played out for Big Oil interests that disgusted CIA officer Robert Baer and drove him to quit the Agency. In his Guardian piece "One Angry Spy" published in 2002, Baer wrote,

"I would see how committee hearings and press leaks can be almost as effective as suicide bombers in promoting narrow, parochial causes. I would find that the tentacles of big oil stretch from the Caspian Sea to the White House. I'd also see how money, not lives or national security, skews so much of what takes place in the very places most charged with protecting us all."

Ultimately, what led Baer to resign from the CIA was the way oil interests overrode national security interests in the region, to the point of coddling and protecting jihadi terrorists who killed Americans:

"The deeper I got, the more Caspian oil money I found sloshing all around Washington. If it had been just a matter of money or even political corruption, I might have been able to walk away from all I had learned about big oil, the White House and the NSC. Elective politics always breed a certain amount of nastiness. What I couldn't get around, though, was this: every time I turned over a new rock, there was something even nastier underneath."

The Clinton White House was drenched in Big Oil corruption and money; and yet somehow, the Bush people managed to make Clinton's appalling Caspian oil corruption look almost quaint by comparison. Condoleezza Rice served on the board of Chevron since 1991, during the period when Chevron landed its lucrative multi-billion dollar deals with Kazakhstan. As the Los Angeles Times reported during the 2000 campaign,

"I really love learning about oil," [Rice] said. Her time at Chevron, Rice said, has taught her that energy security is a top foreign policy priority — "geopolitics with a capital G..."

Chevron, which also had stakes in Azerbaijan’s oil fields and the BP oil pipeline, honored Rice by naming a 150,000-ton oil supertanker "The Condoleezza Rice."

Cheney and Rice weren’t alone among Bush officials, and pro-Chechnya separatism lobbyists, who had direct business interests in the Caspian Sea oil and gas industry.

Here again, the Venn Diagram overlap between top Washington foreign policy leaders, Big Oil, and the pro-Chechnya lobby:

· Zbigniew Brzezinski served on the US Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce advisory board. The chamber body is considered the chief lobbying conduit for doing business in Azerbaijan; it was backed and funded by several top oil firms, including Chevron, Exxon, Conoco and Amoco. In the 1990s, Brzezinski served as Clinton’s envoy-lobbyist to Azerbaijan’s dictator to convince him to agree to a US-backed oil pipeline. Brzezinski was also hired as Amoco’s lobbyist to Azerbiajan, where it held major stakes. Brzezinski co-chaired the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya;

· Richard Perle, another member of the Chechnya lobby, also served on the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce’s board of trustees;

· Other members of the US-Azeri Chamber board: Richard Armitage, Bush’s deputy secretary of state; Brent Scowcroft, Condi Rice’s mentor; and longtime Bush family adviser James Baker, who co-founded the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce in 1996.

Baker, who served as Dubya’s envoy in the Caspian and Caucasus region, (and led Bush’s efforts to stop the Florida recount in 2000), spelled out Team Bush’s thinking on the region:

"The Caspian is not an economic problem or a geological or an engineering problem. It is a geopolitical problem of the first magnitude."

A few months after Bush took office in 2001, Cheney issued a secretive national energy strategy paper naming the Caspian Sea area as a "high-priority."

Looked at coldly, US strategic priorities in that region under Bush were to end the ethnic separatist wars that Russia exploited; and to fan the ethnic war fires that hobbled Russian power.

To understand how this great game played out, and how Chechnya got sucked up into it, you have to know the recent history of the oil politics in the Caucasus and Caspian Sea regions.

Picture the Caspian Sea: the largest landlocked body of water in the world, shaped like an impression of Great Britain filled with salt water. The Caspian Sea used to be the border between the Soviet Union and Iran; after 1991, it became five countries. Iran runs along the Caspian’s southern shoreline; the eastern coast borders Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan; the western shore is Russia’s to where the Caucasus begin; and oil-rich Azerbaijan borders the Caspian’s southwestern coast, where oil literally bubbles over, Jed Clampett-like. Above Azerbaijan on the northwestern coast of the Caspian Sea is the Russian republic of Dagestan — where Tamerlan visited last year, where it’s thought he might have been further radicalized. Dagestan itself is sandwiched between the Caspian Sea on one side, and Chechnya on the other.

Into that mix are more ethnic groups and sub-ethnic groups than anyone can figure out. Among these groups, some who’ve lived there for millennia, there are more grievances, local feuds and memories of tragedies and persecutions than a thousand Spielbergs could ever hope to film. Russia, the big brutal imperial power in the region for the last two centuries, is the focus of many of those grievances.

The struggle for influence in this region has always been more about controlling the pipelines — the distribution channels — than about control over the raw energy resources themselves. In the early 1990s, Russia still had total control over all the pipeline networks that could bring to market the landlocked Caspian Sea oil and gas.

Before the construction of the BP pipeline, the only way for Azeri or Kazakh oil and gas to reach market was through the Russian state-owned pipeline network that traveled from Baku, through Dagestan and Chechnya, and ended in Russia’s Black Sea port of Novorossisk.

By the end of the 1990s, the US under Clinton reached its climax of nearly a decade of Great Game maneuvering — now it was ready to announce a new US-dominated oil pipeline, with Georgia’s and Azerbaijan’s approval. Both country’s leaders were wary; Russia backed victorious separatists in both Azerbaijan and Georgia, and assassination and coup attempts were largely blamed on Yeltsin’s men.

In November 1999, as Russia was busy launching its Second Chechnya War, Clinton flew to Turkey to make the Big Announcement: a US-backed, British Petroleum-led consortium of oil companies agreed with the leaders of Georgia and Azerbaijan to construct a new pipeline putting Caspian oil completely under Western control. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline would make a few pretzel twists in order to completely circumvent Russia and the pro-Russian state of Armenia; instead the BP pipeline would run through Georgia (which was only ensured after the 2003 Rose Revolution installed a Columbia University-trained Georgian as president), hang a sharp left into Turkey, and end in the Turkish port Ceyhan, on the Mediterranean Sea, to Western supertankers like Chevron’s 150,000 ton "Condoleezza Rice."

Construction on the BP-led pipeline was set to begin in the early 2000s, and completed in the middle of the decade.

Clinton coupled his announcement of the new Caspian oil pipeline with his sincerest concern for human rights abuses going on in Chechnya as Yeltsin’s war offensive gained momentum. (In 1996, when Clinton had other priorities and Yeltsin was slaughtering tens of thousands of Chechens, Clinton compared Yeltsin to Abraham Lincoln.)

The second Chechnya war was too dear to Boris Yeltsin’s dying heart; getting slapped in the face by a fraud like Clinton was more than the Russian leader could handle, and he all but threatened President Clinton with nuclear war in response,slurring to a room full of journalists:

"Yesterday, Clinton permitted himself to put pressure on Russia. It seems he has for a minute, for a second, for half a minute, forgotten what Russia is, that Russia has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons. He has forgotten about that. Therefore he decided to flex his muscles, as they say."

Yeltsin’s newly-designated prime minister, Vladimir Putin, stepped in between the two buffoons and played the role of peacemaker:

"I want to draw your attention to the fact that we have very good relations with the United States. We have very good relations with the leadership of the United States."

Even for a senile old boozer like Yeltsin, the double-whammy of watching helplessly as Slick Willie stole the oil that Russia had been stealing for decades — and then having to suffer one of Slick’s self-righteous lectures while his hand was deep in the Caspian basin kitty —was more than Yeltsin could handle, nearly launching the world’s first and last nuclear suicide bombing.

An article in the Chicago Tribune from 1999, headlined "Caspian Sea Oil: A Prize the US Wants to Control" by reporter Tom Hundley, sums up the pipeline’s significance as it was understood in 1999:

Last week, as President Clinton looked on, the leaders of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan signed an agreement to build a new 1,080-mile pipeline that could carry a million barrels of oil a day from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.

The Clinton administration, which in recent months exerted considerable pressure on all parties to get the deal done in time for the Istanbul summit, is hailing the pipeline as a major foreign policy triumph.

"This is not just another oil and gas deal, and this is not just another pipeline," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "It is a strategic framework that advances America's national security interests. It is a strategic vision for the future of the Caspian region."

Translation: Caspian oil will not have to flow through Russia or Iran to get to the oil-hungry markets of the West.

...The administration's aim is to secure U.S. access to the Caspian basin and to extend American commercial and political interests into the Caucasus and Central Asia.

It is a tricky game, fraught with peril.

In many ways, that Caspian-Caucasus game was fought out in the dark world of "great game" geopolitics and state subversion. Before getting into how the US played this game through Chechen and jihadi proxies, let’s recall that Russia had been doing the same thing in many of the same states.

During the 1990s, Russia was often accused, with plenty of justification, of playing the same sort of dirty, savage games in the region — arming and backing local ethnic separatists, destabilizing newly-independent states in the former Soviet Union. In Georgia, Russia backed armed ethnic separatist groups who went to war with Georgia to create two breakaway ethnic regions: Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, both de facto independent since the wars in the early 1990s. In Azerbaijan, Russia was accused of backing and arming Armenian separatists in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian separatists won that six-year war, at a cost of some 30,000 dead, and they still control some 14 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory.

The mainstream media usually ignores or dismisses any suggestion that the US or its Gulf allies have played in stirring up the Chechen pot in order to destabilize Russia for US geostrategic and oil purposes. But US officialdom never shies away from going Alex Jones on Russia at every opportunity. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, some have gone public with conspiracy theories hinting strongly that Vladimir Putin may have somehow "run" Tamerlan Tsarnaev like a Manchurian Candidate, with the goal of turning the US against the Chechen separatist cause. Promoters of that theory have included everyone from Frank Gaffney, to former Jamestown fellow David Satter and BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith.

Or take the example of Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, whose entire political career has been funded by Big Oil interests. In early 1998, Sen. Brownback blamed a real assassination attempt on the life of Georgia’s president Eduard Shevardnadze, along with an imaginary attempt on the life of Azerbaijan’s dictator Aliyev, on a Russian conspiracy:

"We should be mindful that these two cowardly acts may be part of a plan to destabilize the Caucasus with the intention of scaring off American and other investors who seek to bring the Caspian's great energy wealth west to international markets.

"Who benefits from promoting instability in the Southern Caucasus at this time? Russia is everyone's leading candidate as the outside power with the most to gain. Russia has long raged and conspired to thwart Caspian energy from flowing any direction but north through Russia."

And that brings me to the darker side of the Chechen struggle for independence backed so vigorously by the oil interests, neocons, Islamophobes and privatized spooks. The second part of this dispatch presents a version of the story of Chechen independence that is rarely, if ever, aired.

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Part Two: How Chechen politics were manipulated by US interest groups