January 11, 2000

Why is Russia again at war with Chechnya? This is the second time in this decade Russia has been involved in a war with this breakaway republic.

The official answer is easy. Terrorist bombings in Moscow have been blamed on Chechen rebels. Vladimir Putin and others have used this as a justification for clamping down on foreign residents and fighting a war in Chechnya.

But the better explanation for the war is oil. The Kremlin's long-term goal has been to dominate the Caspian basin with its vast oil and gas reserves. Consider that before the 1994-95 war, Grozny's network of oil refineries made it the second biggest oil city in the region after Baku, which is the capital of Azerbaijan. Geologists estimate that up to 200 billion barrels of oil lay beneath the Caspian basin, and Russia would like to lay claim to ownership of all of it. The Russian pipeline which pumped 100,000 barrels of crude a day to the Black Sea has been closed since the summer.

So behind all the rhetoric of an "anti-terrorist operation" is the clearer picture that the Kremlin launched this war to keep a toehold in what may be the world's richest oil region outside the Middle East. Unfortunately, the military action has boosted a U.S.-backed scheme to build pipelines through the Caucasus to Turkey, creating a scenario that is eerily similar to the latest James Bond picture.

The stakes in Russia have risen now that Vladimir Putin has replaced Boris Yeltsin and must stand for election on March 26. If the Chechnya conflict continues until March, his election may be in doubt, especially if Russian support for the war wanes.

So the next time you hear about Chechnya, don't think about Chechen rebels, think about oil. That's the real reason for the conflict.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.