Was Russia’s decision to cut off natural gas exports a mistake?

“Despite Western powers’ broad condemnation of and efforts to isolate Russia, the country has managed to maintain ties and partnerships elsewhere around the world. In April, the UN General Assembly voted on a resolution to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council over its invasion of Ukraine. The resolution succeeded after it received a two-thirds majority of votes from member states with 93 nations voting in favor of Russia’s suspension from the body. But 24 of the body’s members voted against the action while 58 members abstained from the vote altogether.

Results of the UN vote signify the complexities of real-world diplomacy even in the face of war. Countries in Africa, South America, and Asia have increasingly sought to resist taking sides as the Russia-Ukraine war threatens to shape the world into political factions. But the West’s waning influence in other parts of the globe, combined with economic and political interests at stake, has resulted in many nations opting to maintain their independence when it comes to relations with Russia.

In Asia, where growing vigilance over China’s increasing influence is shared across borders, nations in the southeast and the south of the continent have expressed their intentions to remain on good terms with Russia in spite of the situation with Ukraine. Among Russia’s most loyal partners is India, with whom it has maintained a strong relationship since the Soviet Union’s backing of India during the 1971 war with Pakistan, even as India remained officially non-aligned during the Cold War.

Another factor behind their continued friendship is India’s reliance on Russia as a military arms supplier — from the 1950s to now the country has received an estimated 65 percent of firearms exports from the Soviet Union or Russia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. India’s border disputes in the Himalayas with China, which triggered a bloody clash in 2020, is another motivating factor for India as Russia has functioned as an important mediator in the conflict with China.

China, another key Russian partner, has refrained from condemning Russia outright, instead asking for the warring countries to reach a peaceful resolution. In a March virtual meeting with France and Germany, President Xi Jinping called for “maximum restraint” on the issue and expressed concerns over the broader impact of sanctions on Russia. But some, like Herrera, doubt how far China will continue to toe the line if the situation worsens.

“China has not said they would not abide by the sanctions and they are so far going along with the sanctions against Russia,” Herrera said. A potential turning point, she said, could be Europe’s next sanctions, particularly any secondary sanctions it puts out, which will be “a big crossroads for China to decide whether to participate with those.”

But its ties with Russia could still end up serving China economically. President Vladimir Putin has stated Russia will “redirect” its energy exports to “rapidly growing markets” elsewhere to help buttress against sanctions, perhaps an effort to maintain support from its key ally.”

Europe’s other threat to democracy

“Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán won reelection for the fourth time — emerging with control of over two-thirds of the country’s parliamentary seats in defiance of close pre-election polls. This fourth consecutive victory means he will remain the third-longest-serving current leader in Europe at nearly 16 years in power, behind only Belarus’s Aleksandr Lukashenko (28 years as president) and Russia’s Vladimir Putin (23 years as president or prime minister).

That Orbán’s peers in longevity are outright dictators is appropriate, as Sunday’s election was anything but free and fair. For the past 12 years, Orbán has systematically worked to turn Hungarian democracy into a sham: one where elections seem fair, but take place on uneven playing ground. Through tactics ranging from extreme gerrymandering to media control to unfair campaign finance rules, he has made it unthinkably difficult for the opposition to defeat his Fidesz party at the ballot box.”

Viktor Orbán’s Reelection Shows Mere Democracy Is Not Enough

“the Hungarian people voted in a landslide to give Prime Minister Viktor Orbán his fourth term since 2010. Current tabulations give parties allied with the incumbent leader a vote share above 53 percent, an outright majority.

Orbán is a self-proclaimed proponent of “illiberal democracy,” which distinguishes, in Amnesty International’s summation, “a fully democratic ‘Western’ system based on liberal values and accountability from what he calls an ‘Eastern’ approach based on a strong state, a weak opposition, and emaciated checks and balances.” Orbán has spent more than a decade engaging in aggressive gerrymandering, court packing, use of state power to drive out or co-opt dissenting media, and more. Corruption is rampant. The Constitution has been rewritten and ever more power concentrated at the top.”

“The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which took the rare step of sending a full election-monitoring mission to Hungary, has raised questions about the vote. So arguably the country should not be thought of as particularly democratic or particularly liberal right now.”

“Orbán’s sweeping victory suggests that many millions of Hungarians, well aware of his record, are on board with his vision for their country. This raises the specter of a true illiberal democracy—it shouldn’t be hard to imagine a country with genuinely fair and open elections but also majority support for authoritarian leaders and policies that deny equal rights to all.

The point of contemplating such a scenario is to recognize that “assaults on democracy” are not the only threat we face. A society in which 51 percent of a population votes to oppress the other 49 percent can claim the mantle of democracy. The problem is that it is illiberal, not undemocratic.

Democratic institutions, important as they are, only get us so far. We must insist on liberalism as well: free speech, private property protections, religious liberty, freedom of movement, constitutional constraints and separations of power and rule of law and all the rest. We can’t know which side of the 50 percent mark we’ll fall on; the less of our lives we allow to be put to a vote in the first place, the better off we’ll be.”

EU closes in on Russian oil ban — but how tough will it be?

“An immediate, full-blown ban imposed by the EU on oil is still a no-go for economic powerhouse Germany. Berlin has indicated to other EU capitals it’s ready to consider cutting Russian oil — even if it is not yet able to abandon imports of gas — but only under specific conditions, which are now being discussed with the European Commission.”

To Beat Putin, Europe Needs America’s Clean Energy

“The European Union is dependent on Russia for almost half of its natural gas and a quarter of its oil. Germany alone imports 55 percent of the gas it consumes from Putin’s petro-state. As part of its invasion strategy, Russia thought it could use its natural gas and oil to blackmail Europe into passivity. Europe is belatedly beginning to shut off the Russian spigot, but it will pay a heavy economic price for the delay.

And for Europe’s energy switch to succeed, the United States must step up.

Just as we were the Arsenal of Democracy when fascism threatened Europe 80 years ago, today we must become the Arsenal of Clean Energy. That means we should finance and export clean energy to Europe in large quantities as quickly as possible. This approach would help protect our own security and economic interests, as well as the sovereignty, democracies, and economies of Europe, all while working to combat climate change.

Our goals should be: 1) make European energy secure; 2) help shift European countries to cleaner energy; and 3) create a massive clean energy market that strengthens supply chains and job creation in the U.S.”

“starts with an energy version of the “Candy Bombers” who supplied Berlin during the Soviet Union’s blockade in 1948. In this case, we could provide a temporary natural gas lifeline to Europe as they wean themselves off Russian energy. America has some additional capacity, and more coming online very soon, to send liquefied natural gas to Europe. We should combine a near-term increase in U.S. gas production and exports to Europe with assistance for European countries to, over the medium-term, reduce their reliance on natural gas by switching to other, lower-carbon fuels and increased energy efficiency.

Second, to ensure this lifeline leads Europe to a safe and sustainable future, the United States needs to create an American clean energy sovereignty fund. We should commit to $10 billion per year for the next decade to finance the export of U.S. hydrogen, nuclear, and carbon capture technology that can be deployed across Europe. The new technologies should be supported by both U.S. and European supply chains and workers to ensure economic growth across both continents. This government-backed entity would provide a significant cost-share for countries importing U.S. clean energy, particularly technologies that will be primarily made in and exported from the U.S.

As we are seeing now with Germany’s reconsideration of its decision to close its nuclear plants, even renewable-heavy countries need firm clean energy provided by technologies like nuclear power. This is even more important in industrial areas of Eastern Europe that need both the steady electricity and high heat that nuclear, or hydrogen, can provide.

Finally, as all of Washington knows by now, personnel is policy. To underscore the urgency of this mission, the Biden administration should create a new, senior position at the National Security Council to manage clean, firm energy and coordinate the alphabet soup of agencies involved. This position would oversee a new “Team Energy” of public and private sector experts who can cut through the bureaucracy.”

Putin Has a Big Piece of Leverage Over Europe. Here’s How to Take It Away.

“Europe does not need to be this reliant on Russian gas. A look back at the last 20 years reveals a series of decisions — notably by Germany, but also by decision-makers across the continent — that created the present-day vulnerability. While some of these choices can’t be undone, Europe can still learn from history to reduce its vulnerability to energy-market manipulations driven by geopolitics. Just as the United States during the 1970s invested in emergency oil reserves to insulate itself from the effects of Middle Eastern oil embargoes, Europe should do the same with natural gas. The lesson of that era is that it’s not just the amount of energy supply that matters; countries also need to invest in resilient systems to fall back on when a crisis occurs.

What’s more, energy security doesn’t have to come at the price of climate goals. Contrary to what some commentators have suggested, this isn’t the time for Europe to revert back to its own fossil fuels. Instead, by continuing to invest in renewable energy while prioritizing a system that can withstand shocks, Europe can do both: keep phasing out fossil fuels and weaken Russia’s hold over its foreign policy.”

“Three critical decisions in recent years made Europe dependent on natural gas and, therefore, vulnerable to Russian machinations. The first was Germany’s momentous decision to phase out its nuclear reactors in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Eliminating nuclear energy, which does not emit greenhouse gases and has an impeccable safety record in Western Europe, put enormous pressure on the rest of Europe’s energy supplies. Had this choice not been made, Europe’s energy system — which includes the electrical grid but also other components, like the energy used to heat buildings and fuel transportation — would be less dependent on imported natural gas.

The second key set of decisions, by Germany and the EU, was to allow the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to be built. The natural gas pipeline, which connects Russia to Germany directly, is not yet operational, and the German foreign minister has explicitly threatened to block it if Russia invades Ukraine. Still, Scholz has yet to say the same, and Nord Stream 2 has some powerful backers, including former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who sits on the board of directors of multiple Russian oil and gas companies. Anticipating the pipeline’s completion, the rest of the German system has made investment and planning decisions that curtail the amount of other energy available.

Germany’s moves took place as the EU was trying to lower the cost of gas by increasing market competition. One tactic was to make it easier for global suppliers to compete by favoring “spot markets” with tradable contracts over long-term, fixed contracts. As intended, the policy lowered the average cost of energy in Europe. The unintended side effect, however, has been to make the natural gas system more fragile and vulnerable to manipulation.

The third key decision was a failure across Europe to invest sufficiently in natural gas storage and pipeline interconnections that could serve as a buffer in the event of an emergency. Storage tanks and pipelines can hold reserve energy to make up for a shortage, while pipeline interconnections can resolve shortages in some parts of the system by temporarily flowing natural gas from others. Both are expensive to build and maintain, though. True, some real progress has been made increase interconnections, as energy expert Andreas Goldthau points out. But the system remains vulnerable in case of emergency: In mid-December, Europe had roughly 690 terawatt-hours of gas stored, but one analysis suggested that under certain conditions such as an extreme winter, it could need more than twice that amount. (Fortunately, this winter has been relatively mild so far.)”

“It is true that the gradual transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar creates more demand for “bridge fuels” like natural gas or nuclear power. But energy security is not at odds with climate ambitions, so long as a country invests in sufficient emergency supply capacity to ride out potential market manipulations like Russia’s.

How do we know that gas vulnerability could be solved this way? Because the same thing happened with oil in the 1970s. Then, the West was vulnerable to oil embargoes, just as Europe’s gas supply is vulnerable now. Before 1973, oil-exporting petrostates regularly used embargoes or boycotts to try to coerce target countries to make geopolitical concessions, with varying degrees of success, as I discuss in my book Partial Hegemony. But after the massive disruptions of the 1973 oil crisis, the United States and Western oil consumers got serious about oil storage. The United States created the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which still exists — in fact, the Biden administration released oil from these reserves to ease an energy crunch in the fall. Japan, Germany and the other members of the International Energy Agency (IEA) also created oil reserves in the 1970s and agreed to coordinate with the United States on how to use them. The effects were dramatic: Petrostates immediately stopped trying to enact embargoes, and major oil consumers have not faced import shortages ever since.”

What the West doesn’t understand about Russia or Ukraine

““You have to understand, George. Ukraine is not even a country.”

Those were the jarring — and, it would turn out, prescient — words uttered by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin in 2008, during a meeting with then-President George W. Bush. It was an unambiguous assertion of ownership over a sovereign nation, an assertion that has particular resonance 14 years later, as Putin has just recognized the independence of two Ukrainian regions and sent troops to bolster Russian-backed separatists.”