"I've *never* gotten all this Russian stuff straight -- it's like reading Anna Karenina without the list of characters at the front for reference, and I've never had a clear sense of the players.and starroute 30 mins later:
However, I do find in my notes that Gazprom comes into the 1997 Abramoff/DeLay Russian junket story. That would be an interesting connection -- I keep waiting for the Abramoff scandal to converge with all these others, and it never quite does.
And I find in my emails that a few months ago I sent you something from Asia Times saying:On May 26 Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also announced that his country would definitely supply Iran with sophisticated Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missiles, reportedly as a prelude to supplying even more sophisticated weapons.
Then, in one of the more fascinating examples of geopolitical chutzpah, the Kremlin-controlled Gazprom gas monopoly entered quiet negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert through his billionaire friend, Benny Steinmetz, to secure Russian natural-gas supplies to Israel via an undersea pipeline from Turkey to Israel.
According to the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot, Olmert's office has said it will support the Gazprom proposal. In several years Israel faces a shortage of gas from Tethys Sea drilling and soon from Egypt. Tethys Sea gas is projected to run dry in a few years. British Gas is in talks to supply gas from Gaza but Israel disputes BG's right to drill.
But even with Egypt and Gaza, gas shortages are expected by 2010 unless Israel is able to find new sources. Enter Gazprom and Putin. The gas would be diverted from the under-used Russia-Turkey Bluestream Pipeline, which Russia built to increase its influence over Turkey two years ago. Putin clearly seeks to gain a lever inside Israel over the one-sided US influence on Israeli policy."
"Ah, Caspian oil, of course. Why does this smell more and more like it's going to get tangled up with all the Sibel stuff? And here I thought Weldon was only involved in flacking Able Danger and relaying Ghorbanifar's tall tales.and emptywheel responds:
Here's Wikipedia on Itera:Itera Group Ltd. is a Cyprus holding company with investments in Russian natural gas, and US timber, and real estate. It has the headquarter in Moscow, Russia, and offices in Limassol, Cyprus and Jacksonville, Florida. The company was originally started in the United States under the name Itera International Energy Corporation as a basic commodities trading company. In 1994, after a sale of sugar to the country of Turkmenistan, Itera obtained rights to sell Turkmenistan natural gas as payment for its sugar transaction. Itera began sales to the Ukraine of the Turkmenistan gas in 1995 and based on that success continued to expand its natural gas trading activities throughout the Former Soviet Union (FSU) becoming the second largest seller of natural gas in the FSU in the late 1990's. . . .Here's that LA Times story, which isn't as illuminating as it might be:
In March 2002, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency killed a $868,000 grant to Itera as questions were raised about its legitimacy. In May, Representative Curt Weldon led a congressional delegation to Russia and visited Itera. Upon his return he supported Itera; in the beginning of September Itera paid the expenses for a Weldon trip to NYC. The next week Itera told Karen Weldon, Curt's daughter, it would sign a contract with her newly-formed lobbying firm, Solutions North America, Inc.The congressman was advocating for the Karics and other Eastern European business interests long before his daughter opened her firm, Conallen said. . . .And here's more on Itera, from a 2001 BusinessWeek article (with horrendous popup ads):
Weldon, a Russian studies major in college, also is a noted advocate of closer relationships with the former Soviet Union. He has made more than 30 trips to Russia as a member of Congress. He is the founder and chairman of the Congressional U.S.-Former Soviet Union Energy Caucus and founder and co-chairman of the official interparliamentary exchange between the U.S. and Russia.Itera is hardly a household name in Russia, to say nothing of the rest of the world. But Western investors--especially energy giants--are likely to be hearing a lot more about this mysterious company. It's the fourth-largest holder of gas reserves on the planet. It has a virtual monopoly on gas trading in two key former Soviet republics, Georgia and Ukraine, that lie at the gateway for transporting the region's energy resources to the West. And it's already a player in the energy-rich Caspian Sea region, where it has close ties to political leaders. Indeed, Itera President Igor V. Makarov says he holds the key to the Caspian for any foreign energy company wanting a foothold in the region, considered one of the hottest oil and gas plays anywhere. . .Malcolm Wallop! Now there's a name that gets my spidey-sense tingling. Among other things, he was along on the DeLay/Buckham/Feulner Malaysia trip in 2001, the same year that this article describes him as representing Itera. (Feulner, it should be pointed out, is the former president of the Heritage Foundation, which seems to have considerable interests in East Asia these days.) And that particular rogues gallery, of course, points back to the Abramoff/DeLay/Russian nexus again.
But even as Itera seeks recognition and funding from the West, law enforcement officials in Europe and the U.S. are scrutinizing Itera's activities for possible money-laundering.
Makarov denies the allegations, but Itera's rise from barter trader to global gas giant in nine years is raising questions inside Russia, too, where the company has been under fire for months. Some minority shareholders of Russia's Gazprom, the world's biggest gas company, suspect that Gazprom managers helped create Itera as a vehicle to park choice assets siphoned from Gazprom for their own personal enrichment. Gazprom and Itera have denied the charges, but a minority shareholder move for an independent audit conducted by Deloitte & Touche of Gazprom's deals with Itera has been voted down by the Gazprom board, which is dominated by the government and management. The board hired its own autitor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to probe the relationship. But some investors question the objectivity of a firm that has to review its own previous audits. Meanwhile, the Russian Audit Chamber, the parliament's budgetary watchdog agency, is investigating links between Gazprom and Itera.
PR OFFENSIVE. Makarov is fighting back with a public-relations offensive. He has hired Western Strategy Group, a New York and Washington firm headed by former Republican Senator Malcolm Wallop from Wyoming. Makarov met recently in the U.S. with energy players Enron, Ruhrgas, and Unocal. And he is promoting a project to build a pipeline that would ship gas from the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan's vast reserves of more than 8 trillion cubic meters through Georgia into Turkey, the gateway to the lucrative energy markets of the West. He hopes to drum up Western investment for the $200 million project.
There's something strange and stinky about all this -- I mean beyond Weldon just getting wined and dined and having his daughter put on the payroll -- but I'm damned if I can put my finger on just what it is or how it fits into the rest of this vast, sprawling mess."
"starrouteLarisa, of course, has been all over the Weldon/Ghorba story, and her latest installment has Hoekstra and Ghorba et al running together. (i've been meaning to unpick larisa's latest article, there's lots of juice there - see here for some unpicking at DU)
It seems that the Crazy Curt story effects an important convergence. It was always clear--from his loony insistence on WMD--that Crazy Curt was fiscally tied to the hard Neocons (and Ledeen was dealing him info at one point, as well as Ghorba). I'd be interested in sniffing out any involvement of Man on Dog (ed: santorum) and Hoaxstra in this, as they've been playing the same stupid stooge role as Weldon (even if they've got more self-respect, barely). But Crazy Curt (busted, if we can believe Laura's instincts, by Abramoff) ties the CA defense contractors to Abramoff to the Neocons in a way that hasn't happened yet."
it's difficult to add too much to starroute and emptywheel (thanks, as always), but here's a snippet from my interview with Larisa:
"Lukery: How does it happen? One of my readers noted that the bribes to Hastert go back at least to the 96 election cycle - before Hastert had any real power - and he wondered why Hastert would be targeted by these criminals when he was essentially a nobody...if you are still sane, you haven't been paying attention.
LA: Well - this game is so complicated. For example, take a nobody like Curt Weldon - who by all accounts is a very nice man who I had respect for, once. He's a little bit eccentric and loopy but is generally a nice man - and then out of nowhere this nice, generally loopy, kinda goofy guy is somehow introduced to Ghorbanifar - an Iranian arms dealer who literally cannot come into this country, is exiled from his own country, who the CIA has burn notices against, and who was involved in Iran Contra. Now - how do these two people come together? Who woke up one morning and thought - ya know - those two people should meet? What jarred this? I mean, what was the reasoning behind this? ( I don’t think in Weldon's case he's being bribed or anything -I don't have anything on him doing anything illegal as far as I can tell he's an upstanding kinda guy but I do think he's being manipulated. )
Or take another example, a decorated Vietnam veteran like Duke Cunningham - who seems like a normal person, nice guy - one day he's approached, soon he's being bought off by Wilkes and his operatives in the various agencies - and all of a sudden he has all this money.
Lukery: OK - but if we go back to Hastert in 1996 - when he's basically a nobody...
LA: Look - if you're already at the top, chances are you're already either owned by something or somebody – as the Hastert allegations show - or you're not buyable - as in Feingold's case. You're just not for sale - so they just leave you alone.
So of course they're going to go after the available, pliable ones. In fact, if you look at how CIA officers are trained, they're trained to provide a pitch of sorts to identify the weakest, and have them turn against their own country. So one would think that foreign assets are quite capable of doing the same thing.
Lukery: OK - so they got Hastert in their pocket early - and presumably they had a few others as backup. It puts Hastert's ascension into the Speakership in an interesting light - as well as the motivations of the kingmakers.
LA: Well, I'm not sure about the actual mechanisms. But consider now that Duke has gone down and Wilkes is still operational - because apparently he's too important to go down - well, who's going to replace Duke? Do they start grooming others as soon as the allegations start surfacing? Are they grooming just one? More than one? Did they already have several people as backup? I just don't know.