Keep an eye on Dmitri Rogozin

Oil is up this morning as oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico shut down in anticipation of Tropical Storm Gustav regaining hurricane strength.  Meanwhile, far-sighted traders are also keeping an eye the buildup to Cold War II.  Or would it instead be a replay of World War I?

“The current atmosphere reminds me of the situation in Europe in 1914,” says Moscow’s envoy to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin.

An isolated instance of hyperbole?  The Russo-Georgian war might well lead to a new Cold War, but could it knock down the dominoes toward another full-blown world war?

“There are two dates that have changed the world in recent years: Sept. 11, 2001, and Aug. 8, 2008,” said Rogozin earlier this week.  “Sept. 11 motivated the United States to behave really differently in the world. That is to say, Americans realized that even in their homes, they could not feel safe. They had to protect their interests, outside the boundaries of the U.S. For Russia, it is the same thing. We were sitting in our homes, the national discussion was internal. Now this Georgian attack is perceived as aggression, and made us realize that we cannot stay home. We have to go outside our homes to protect ourselves on new frontiers.”

For a long time Rogozin operated on the fringes of Russian politics, a lot like the populist/nationalist blowhard Vladimir Zhrinovsky (who’s still around — we just don’t hear about him the way we did a dozen or so years ago).  “Only a few months ago, the blustery Rogozin, 44, was regarded even in the Kremlin as more performance artist than diplomat,” reports a New York Timesprofile. “Established officials sometimes rolled their eyes when he was mentioned, as if to acknowledge that Vladimir Putin had dispatched him to NATO to do a little trash talking to rattle the West.”

No more.  In fact, Rogozin’s rhetoric seems to be rubbing off on more established Russian diplomats, judging by a smackdown yesterday at the UN Security Council.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff told the meeting it was a violation of the U.N. charter for member states to use force against others, or threaten to use it, and suggested that Moscow’s claims to be protecting Russian citizens in Georgia’s South Ossetia region were a sham.

Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, suggested Wolff’s statement was hypocritical.  “I would like to ask the distinguished representative of the United States — weapons of mass destruction. Have you found them yet in Iraq or are you still looking for them?”

Wolff accused Churkin of making false comparisons. “I’m not a psychologist and I don’t know what brought on the free association we heard from Ambassador Churkin,” he said.

It would be one thing if this were just about pipelines — desperate Western maneuvering to make Central Asian oil and gas flow to Europe through countries other than Russia or Iran.  Russia’s attack on Georgia pretty well exposed that plan, dating back to the Clinton era and heartily embraced by Team Bush, as a sham and a delusion.  But that’s not the most severe blowback we could see from 15 years of U.S. policy aimed at encircling Russia.  Pat Buchanan warns, “The Russians will put anti-aircaft missiles in Iran and Syria.  You watch.”

$200 oil, anyone?  Keep an eye on Dmitri Rogozin.  His profile and his rhetoric will say a lot about where Western relations with Russia are going — and where the oil price might go with it.

Update: While Russia did not seize control of the Baku-Tbilsi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline or approach the area proposed for the Nabucco pipeline further south,” writes IPS Washington correspondent Jim Lobe, “its intervention made it abundantly clear that it could have done so if it had wished, a message that is certain to reverberate across gas-hungry Europe. Indeed, investors now may prove considerably less enthusiastic about financing the Nabucco project than before, dealing yet another blow to Washington’s regional ambitions.”