There’s another book review of Steve LeVine’s “The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea” on EurasiaNet. Registan also reviewed the book, and Steve has done some innovative marketing with some popular YouTube videos. Levine’s a great reporter, and demonstrates his skills at the detail-level description of the oil extraction business in the Caspian. EurasiaNet has only one complaint – that the Russian side of the story is under-emphasized. Some excerpts from the review after the jump.
If the book has a fault, it’s that the Russian side of the story gets shortchanged. There is little on the machinations of Russian companies, and Moscow’s oilmen – such as Vagit Alekperov, LukOil’s boss and reputedly one of the world’s 20 richest men – are rendered as one-dimensional figures, whereas their Western counterparts get full 3-D treatment. Of course, there are tangible reasons for this, mainly connected to access, or the lack thereof. Given the Kremlin’s control over Russian energy policy, any detail concerning Russian oilmen seems to be considered a state secret by those making the decisions inside the Ring Road. Also, it was only in recent years that Russia became a major player in the Caspian energy game. For much of the 1990s, when the Caspian Basin’s biggest deals were going down, Russia was struggling to regain its footing following the shock delivered by the Soviet Union’s implosion.With the benefit of an epilogue, LeVine manages to take the Caspian Great Game right up to the first half of 2007. Even so, many chapters in this energy-development saga remain to be written. In just the past couple of months, for instance, political changes in Turkmenistan have helped revive interest in the United States and elsewhere in the construction of a trans-Caspian natural gas pipeline. In addition, the Kashagan oil field has been in the news, with the Kazakhstani government feuding with the energy consortium led by the Italian conglomerate Eni SpA over production delays. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].There is also the unresolved fate of James Giffen, the merchant banker accused of funneling millions in bribes to top Kazakhstani leaders. Giffen’s trial date in a federal court in New York City has been repeatedly pushed back, and some observers now believe the case may never proceed to opening arguments. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].In the broader scheme of things, it also remains to be seen whether the United States or Russia — or even a third entrant in the competition, China – will come out on top in the Caspian Basin. Russia currently seems well positioned to dominate, but as events in recent years have shown, geopolitical fortunes are prone to sudden shifts.At a November of 1999 signing ceremony in Turkey, marking an agreement on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, US President Bill Clinton noted the historic importance of the moment. “I’ll bet if you polled the citizens of the United Stares and Turkey, over 90 percent of them would never have heard of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline or the trans-Caspian gas pipeline,” Clinton is quoted as saying in the book. “But if we do this right, twenty years from now, 90 percent of them will look back and say, ‘Thank you for making a good decision at a critical time.’”