The West gets a rude wake up call on energy dependency

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By John J. Metzler

We knew it was coming. We planned for it. But then we calmly dozed off again.

The rude jolt of the alarm followed the news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Our second thought followed; What about our energy supplies?

‘American gas prices have been steadily rising a year before the Ukraine invasion. Last March 2021, the price stood at $2.88. Then it moved a month ago to $3.52….’

Western Europe, including our NATO allies, have become dangerously dependent on Russian gas and oil for a generation. The USA far less so.

So, when President Joe Biden at long last cut American imports of Russian petroleum, the markets quaked, but soon rebalanced. Yet gasoline prices at the pump for consumers and commerces spiked again. We all feel it.

The recent jump in gasoline, what the Administration blatantly calls the Putin price hike is true; but only partially.

American gas prices have been steadily rising a year before the Ukraine invasion. Last March 2021, the price stood at $2.88. Then it moved a month ago to $3.52, and now spiked to $4.30.  It’s a 75 cent rise since Russia’s invasion.

American drivers now routinely face European gas prices.

It’s all part of the forty-year highs in consumer price inflation which now stands at 7.9 percent!

While I support closing the Kremlin’s oil spigot, why were we buying Russian fuel in the first place?

Simply because we have by political choice shut down U.S. pipelines and domestic production.

The Biden Administration seems to prefer “cheap foreign oil” to reliable domestic production.  About 8 percent of U.S. oil imports and refined products, came from Russia last year.

Thus, while the Russian shutoff won’t cause serious problems in the U.S. it would be catastrophic for the Europeans who have become dependent on Russian energy. Russia’s major Druzhba pipeline pumps nearly a million barrels to oil a day to the European Union; Germany and Poland being major recipients.  Thirty percent of Europe crude oil comes from Russia.

Thus, while the U.S. and United Kingdom banned future Russian oil imports, countries like Germany and France could not make such a commitment; They would face economic ruin.

Besides petroleum there are the more talked about natural gas which connects European countries like Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary and the Netherlands to the spiderweb of Russian pipelines, many dating from the Soviet era, which encourage the energy dependency.

Firms like Russia’s Gazprom whose unmistakable advertising at any European soccer tournament subliminally reminds us of this connection.

While we may say, hasn’t the controversial Nordstream II pipeline to Germany been cancelled?  Now yes, but Biden gave it the green light only last year!  And Nordstream I still remains operational.

Britain’s outspoken Prime Minister Boris Johnson said ending the West’s dependence on Russian oil and gas was vital to end Kremlin “bullying.” The UK plans to phase out Russian oil imports by the end of 2022.” That’s a good first step.

“We must become independent from Russian oil, coal and gas,” stated European Commission President Ursela von der Leyen who added, “We simply cannot rely on a supplier who explicitly threatens us.”

Thus, Putin’s bloody war against Ukraine has a number of dimensions beyond the military aggression, namely highlighting Europe’s and the USA’s energy dependence.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned the German Parliament (Bundestag) that a new type of Berlin Wall is being built, dividing Europe between freedom and oppression.  He clearly critiqued German energy policies for contributing to that wall of division.

Russia entered the G-7 club of the developed countries when in the boundless enthusiasm of the post-Soviet era, President Bill Clinton pressed for Russia’s entry into the G-8.  The economic grouping reverted back to G-7 when Russia invaded Ukraine the first time in 2014, following its illegal seizure of the strategic Crimea Peninsula.

Boris Johnson stated that the West made a “terrible mistake” in letting Vladimir Putin “get away” with annexing Crimea in 2014.

But back to Biden.  The Administration is now looking for new crude oil suppliers; Venezuela and Iran among them. Have we heard that Venezuela is run by a thuggish pro-Moscow regime?  Or that the Islamic Republic of Iran remains an implacable enemy of the U.S. and Israel?

Back in the 1980’s President Ronald Reagan pushed back to the former West German government’s “business as usual” pipeline politics and deals with the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan was mocked and derided by the business establishment given his opposition to the Yamal pipeline.

Now more than a generation later Europe and the United States are feeling the ill effects.  And it was kind of Ukraine’s embattled President Zelensky to remind us.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]