The Wall Street Journal reporter Steve LeVine, on tour promoting his recent book The Oil and the Glory, gave a lecture last Thursday night at I-House, sponsored by The Center for International Studies as part of its World Beyond the Headlines series. The book is the product of research LeVine conducted during his 11 years covering Central Asia and the Caucasus for publications such as Newsweek, The New York Times, and the Journal.
The Oil and the Glory focuses on the history of oil-pipeline politics on the Caspian Sea. LeVine began his lecture with a historical overview of the Baku Pipeline and the region’s oil production, supplemented by slides with photographs and maps. In his book, LeVine argues that the politics surrounding pipelines and energy infrastructure are still key to understanding Russian president Vladimir Putin, Russia, and the current geopolitical situation.
LeVine peppered his presentation with personal and historical anecdotes. Describing meetings between Western diplomats and regional leaders, LeVine summarized the cultural disconnect: “What do you do when your host presents you with a sheep’s eye or ear?” (The secret: swallow, don’t chew). While the East–West conflict apparently ended with the end of the Cold War, LeVine contends that rivalry between the U.S. and Russia is still very much alive with respect to competition for oil and influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus, and that it is imperative for the U.S. to maintain the upper hand in the region.
Nearly 50 people attended the lecture, with some members of the audience expressing concern that LeVine was “demonizing” Russia and that replacing Russian power with American power in the region would not achieve the goal of diversifying Europe’s sources of oil. LeVine responded that he was “challenged to think of one instance of Russia acting as a positive force in the region,” and that American support could help nations along the Caspian Sea to assert their own independence.
Audio and video of the lecture will be available on Chicago Public Radio’s website.