Wishful thinking about Russia got the EU into this mess. Is it time to take off the rose-colored glasses?
“Energy policy is always power policy, is always interest policy, is therefore always security policy,” admitted Robert Hallbeck, Germany’s economics and climate minister, at a March 2022 conference in Berlin. “And if you look back, you almost can’t understand how we could be so blind to overlook that.”
“We knew, or we could have known, that it was not only stupid to place all our security policy cards on just one country, but that it also wasn’t a smart idea to put them on that particular country,” Hallbeck admitted. “We have to acknowledge that we acted wrongly in the past.”
With the Nord Stream 1 officially reduced to zero this week, the European Union is facing an increasingly grim outlook. Winter is coming; Russian imports of gas are not.
Russia’s largest oil and gas company, Gazprom, had been leading the EU and Germany on a merry chase over the past few months- routinely shutting down the vital pipeline, ostensibly for “maintenance”, then turning it back on again, only to reduce the flow of energy to a trickle.
With this latest move to shut down Russian gas supplies to Europe, completely and indefinitely, the gloves are apparently off. Moscow is dispensing with the political theater.
“The problems pumping gas came about because of the sanctions western countries introduced against our country and several companies,” Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said in a statement. “There are no other reasons that could have caused this pumping problem.”
Translation: “You sanction us, we sanction you: Lift the sanctions, or no gas.”
Only a short time ago, Peskov was calling Russia a, “responsible gas supplier.”
“Regardless of what anyone says in the European Commission, in European capitals, in the United States, Russia is, and will continue to be the country that largely guarantees Europe’s energy security,” Peskov assured the Russian News Agency TASS on July 25, 2022.
Notice the casual dropping of the ominous phrase, “Europe’s energy security.”
Fast forward to September 7, 2022: “German gas giant Uniper says the worst is still to come after Russia halts flows to Europe,” reported CNBC today and Gazprom is positively trolling Germany with this video:
“I have said this a number of times now over this year and I’m educating also policymakers,” Uniper CEO Klaus-Dieter Maubach told CNBC on Tuesday, while attending an energy conference in Milan: “Look, the worst is yet to come.”
“What we see on the wholesale market is 20 times the price that we have seen two years ago- 20 times,” Maubach emphasized. “That is why I think we need to have really an open discussion with everyone taking responsibility on how to fix that.”
“In hindsight, maybe it was even a mistake to think that gas would not be used,” lamented Maubach, who publicly called Gazprom a “reliable energy supplier” after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.
“Maybe it was just wishful thinking,” Maubach added.
Perhaps Maulbach makes a hard if difficult point.
The question may not be should the European Union, United States and western nations help Ukraine in the conflict against Russia but rather can they help.
Is the idea that Russia can still be pressured- somehow short of a direct military attack- to bend to the will of the west wishful thinking?
With China and India buying every bit as much Russian energy as the EU would have, sanctions and embargoes have done little, if any, good.
Worse, instead of turning the Russian people against Vladimir Putin, western sanctions have made Russia’s president more popular and made it much easier for him to blame the entire conflict on “western aggression.”
Now that Russia has the EU caught between the Nord Stream 1 and a winter without heat- at last exposing the inherent security risk outsourcing a nation’s energy needs inevitably entails- the limitations of sanctions and embargoes against Russia have truly been laid bare.
Given its current economic and geopolitical realities, Russia can hurt the EU more than the EU can hurt Russia.
World leaders need to confront another bit of wishful thinking as well. The Chinese Communist Party, in all greatest likelihood, plans to invade and annex Taiwan in the coming years, if not sooner.
To pretend otherwise is to ignore the writing on the wall, just as EU leaders ignored the security implications of giving Vladimir Putin the power of life or death over their energy needs.
Russia began a slow-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2014- and long before. The conflict, before February 2022, had already been raging for quite some time.
In retrospect, Putin’s actions to undermine Ukraine- from hacking attacks to propaganda campaigns designed to highlight Ukraine’s “corruption” and keep the country out of NATO- were always a precursor to invasion. Why else would Putin bother?
Putin knew an opportunity would eventually present itself. With the coming of a global pandemic, Russia’s president saw just such an opportunity. Some foreign policy experts had warned of a scenario in which the EU, dependent on Russian energy, might have to watch Putin invaded Ukraine outright.
The time to help Ukraine was probably about 14-years ago. Admitting the nation into NATO would have been a tremendous deterrent; preventing the Nord Stream 1 from cornering the market on European energy would have been another.
Nations around the world have become similarly complicit in the Chinese Communist Party’s actions towards Taiwan, where an identical campaign of information warfare has been softening the country up for a full-scale invasion for years.
With the world increasingly dependent on Chinese manufacturing, sanctions against China would be even more toothless than sanctions against Russia have proven. If China were to cut its trading partners off from vital supplies in turn, it would hurt western economies far more than Chinese citizens.
And even if sanctions and embargoes did hurt the Chinese people, the CCP has made China a strictly totalitarian one-party state, where the crime of political dissent for prisoners of conscience is punishable by worse than death.
No one in China could hope to oppose the leadership of Xi Jinping, who has eliminated term limits and become his own successor; not when China is the largest and most advanced surveillance state the world has ever known.
What good would sanctions do?
The purpose of sanctions against Russia were to make the Russian people unhappy enough with the actions of Vladimir Putin to demand better leadership. Opposing Putin in Russia is child’s play compared to what political dissidents in China- and around the world- face.
It might be time to take a hard, clear-eyed look at the geopolitical landscape of the world, post-Covid19. Some things have changed, drastically; other things have been revealed.
The world could have suffered and pandemic together, perhaps recovered together to become even stronger than before. During a global pandemic, a nation among friends could afford to weaken itself, economically and domestically.
But we weren’t among friends.
There are hostile geopolitical opponents at work against the interests of other nations, friend and foe. There is a new form of information warfare and the battlefield is now everywhere.
It’s time for world leaders to expect the best and plan for the worst. When it comes to geopolitical opponent nations like China and Russia, we are doing entirely too much trusting and not nearly enough verifying.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)