As Dmitry Yarosh, leader of the Ukrainian ultranationalist group Right Sector, calls for the destruction of Russian pipelines in Ukraine, two rival Islamic groups position themselves to provide Europe with natural gas from the largest natural gas reserve in the world. Iran and Qatar both share portions of this enormous reserve, however, each country relies on pipeline routes to Europe through Syria, who is in the midst of a civil war.

The Shia pipeline, as proposed by Iran, would run from the Iranian South Pars gas fields through Iraq and Syria, under the Mediterranean, to Greece. In 2010, an agreement was signed by the participating countries to move forward with the venture. But the civil war in Syria, Al Qaeda-led violence in northern Iraq, and economic sanctions in Syria and Iran continue to make investment in and construction of the pipeline impossible.

The Sunni pipeline, as proposed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, would start at the Qatari North Dome gas fields and cross Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria to Turkey. Syria’s Assad refused to sign on to the project. With funding through Saudi security minister Bandar Bush, the Al Qaeda wing of the Syrian rebels seek to control land along the envisioned Sunni pipeline corridor in northern Syria. 

It should come as no surprise that Russia and the United States are supporting their respective allies as well as their own national interests in the conflict. Russia has established a naval base in the Syrian port city of Tartous. By partnering with Iran and Syria, Russia will still control the price of natural gas to Europe if the Shia pipeline is built. The Sunni pipeline offers the EU price competition and reduces Turkey’s dependence on Iranian gas. This makes the conflict in Ukraine all the more fortuitous. If Russian pipelines in Ukraine are disrupted by the Right Sector, interrupting the flow of natural gas to Europe, NATO support for an invasion and partition of Syria will be inevitable.

So who exactly is the Right Sector — whose decisions impact international energy security? News reports call them members of UNA-UNSO, a far-right nationalist Ukrainian group. Comprised of approximately 1,500 extremist European radicals, the Right Sector employed paramilitary tactics while inciting Ukrainian violence, leading to the overthrow of the pro-Russian Ukrainian government. Rumored to be linked with NATO Special Forces, they have turned up in various anti-Russian campaigns since the fall of the Soviet Union. They have also been linked to German neo-Nazi extremist groups.  Victoria Nuland (of “Fuck the EU” fame) from the US State Department and Arizona Senator John McCain met with various members of UNA-UNSO’s leadership in advance of President Barack Obama’s meeting with the Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, also a UNA-UNSO member.

It is clear that Russia’s dominance in the European natural gas markets has forced western powers to take provocative measures. It remains to be seen if the west really wants to provoke Russia into taking additional military action in Ukraine, in support of Middle Eastern financial interests and at the expense of the European economic recovery.

Lew Kingsbury is a retired defense sector contractor living in Maine.

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