Marshall Goldman's new book Petrostate: How Russia strives to dominate oil.
For anyone with knowledge of economic warfare, the opening scene in Marshall I. Goldman's new book evokes a shudder. Russian hosts take him into a darkened room that is the "brain center" of Gazprom, the world's largest producer of natural gas, in an office building high above Moscow.
"In front of me," Mr. Goldman writes, "covering the whole 100-foot wall of the room, was a map with a spiderweblike maze of natural gas pipelines reaching from East Siberia west to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Arctic Ocean south to the Caspian and Black seas. Manipulating this display were Gazprom dispatchers, three men controlling the flow of Gazprom's gas to East and West European consumers of this Russian natural gas monopoly . . . . "
With a flick of switch, these dispatchers sitting in this Moscow room could freeze - and have frozen - entire countries. At the very least, they could send their citizens off in a panic in search of sweaters, scarves and gloves. What an empowering feeling. Should they choose to, these Gazprom functionaries could not only cut off natural gas from the furnaces and stoves of Germany's houses but also the natural gas that many German factories need for manufacturing a range of products from ammonia fertilizer to plastics.
Now, to be sure, as Gazprom officers told Mr. Goldman for his book, "Petrostate: Putin, Power, and the New Russia," "politics never, ever affect their calculations." Sure, and your check is in the mail. The first week in July, Russia sharply curtailed oil exports to the Czech Republic in apparent retaliation for that country's agreement to host a radar facility associated with a U.S. anti-missile system.
Mr. Goldman, professor emeritus at Wellesley College, and long associated with the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard, speaks with authority. He has advised U.S. presidents and the CIA on Soviet and Russian affairs. "Petrostate" documents how President Vladimir Putin used petroleum riches to bring Russia back from near-bankruptcy in 1998 to its current strength in world economic affairs.
As he summarizes, the book "is a tale of discovery, intrigue, corruption, wealth, misguidance, greed, patronage, nepotism, and power . . . a little something for everyone." As I read of how Mr. Putin's cronies muscled aside competitors to take control of formerly state-owned oil companies, the thought flickered through my mind, "John D. Rockefeller meet Tony Soprano." ...
One ominous sign is that many of the jokes formerly told about Soviet leaders now target Mr. Putin. In one, Stalin comes to Mr. Putin in a dream and says, "Vladimir, I have two bits of advice for you: kill your opponents, and paint the Kremlin blue."
Mr. Putin ponders a moment, then asks, "Why blue?"