European Energy Politics, Nationalism, and Russia

BRANDON J. WEICHERT | THE WEICHERT REPORT

The Western allies have made a big show of standing up to Russia. They huffed, and puffed, and ultimately gave up. During the previous Obama Administration, we were told that the Russian Federation was the greatest threat to peace and democracy out there–topping, potentially, even the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS). Yes, you read that right.

To be sure, Russia is a pain in the neck and is not a natural ally to the United States. However, they are not the threat that Western intelligence agencies and their Liberal friends in political circles have argued since 2016. They are a declining, nuisance state to be respectfully managed, not treated like the Soviet Union at the height of its power.

Since the unlawful Russian annexation of Crimea and their ongoing support of separatists in the Donbas, followed on by their rapid intervention in the ongoing Syrian Civil War in support of the much-maligned Bashar al-Assad, the West has sought to impose onerous costs on the Russians.

Naturally, the Russians, one of the world’s largest natural gas and oil producers–as well as its largest nuclear state–were both perturbed and undeterred from continuing their actions independent of Washington, D.C.’s policy preferences. What we are witnessing is the return of nationalism in Europe; the fusion of that return with the necessarily pragmatic realities of energy politics, as well as the ongoing fear of the Russian bogeyman.

The Obama Administration imposed sanctions on the Russians that deleteriously impacted some of America’s closest friends in Europe. Countries like Poland, whose agricultural sector relied on direct trade with Russia, took a hit. The Germans and French were also negatively impacted in terms of their vulnerable energy sectors (which rely on Russian natural gas). In fact, most of the European Union depends on cheap, readily available Russian natural gas to survive.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as I’ve documented extensively, fancies herself as the queen globalist in the world today, however, she is the first one to act according to Germany’s interests. Thus, while she was standing in solidarity with former President Barack Obama with the sanctions regime–and now chastising President Donald Trump for his reputed lack of antipathy toward Russia (as if that’s an entirely bad thing)–Frau Merkel was continuing to expand Germany’s trade with Russia over natural gas and other critical areas.

Throughout most of the last four years, Merkel’s government has given in to the pressure of both the German people and German industry to keep the vital German NordStream gas pipeline with Russia active.

Russia’s control over European energy–particularly Germany’s–has long been a strategic lever that Vladimir Putin has never hesitated to use. Because of this dependence, the Germans and French were bullied into leading the West into a conciliatory tone following Russia’s unlawful invasion of Georgia in 2008. Similarly, Germany and France were cowed by Russia into recognizing Ukraine as a full NATO member following the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.

Germany has greatly benefited from its tight relationship with Russia, particularly in the energy sector. Many in the United States’ foreign policy community fantasize about supplying U.S.-produced natural gas to Europe. Not only do these American elites favor such action to make some cash (and boost America’s indigenous energy production capabilities), but they also want to ensure that the Europeans continue upholding the sanctions directed against Russia, particularly in the energy sector. Unfortunately, these are merely pipe dreams (if you’ll pardon the pun)–no matter what energy executives in the United States claim.

Fact is, the United States would have to transport its natural gas via the sea which causes costs to exponentially increase, meaning that European consumers would have to pay more for American natural gas than Russian natural gas. Whereas American natural gas is transported across the ocean, Russian natural gas comes from next door through cheaper pipelines.

Of course, the United States should seek to compete with Russia for natural gas sales in Europe, but we should understand our limitations, as “Dirty” Harry Callahan advised one of his nemeses in the second Dirty Harry film.

Naturally, the Germans talk a big game about crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of economic war regarding Russia, but then they turn around and feed the bear.

Can you blame them?

Only a supranational boondoggle like the dying European Union would smother its citizens by forcing them to buy more expensive American natural gas, just to lend credence to Washington’s war fever against Russia. Meanwhile, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, a general in NATO no less, has opted to reopen the Bulgarian section of the “South Stream” natural gas pipeline that Bulgaria closed off two years ago, at the behest of Washington.

Putin Builds His Base

This is certainly a boon for Vladimir Putin, who is alliance-crazy right now, as he seeks to both escape the Western sanctions and to gain a true advantage over the West. He views economics as his coup de grace. Putin’s views actually explain why he was so incensed when Viktor Yanukovych’s regime was ousted by “pro-Western” elements in Ukraine.

You see, Ukraine was to be the centerpiece of what was (at the time) Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union, which would link together the former Soviet states of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in order to better compete with the European Union, and to have greater leverage over China’s Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI). 

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Similarly, Putin has long obsessed over using Russian energy sources as the key to his country’s base of power and influence in the world. He has made strategic partnerships with just about every major fossil fuel producing state and is now looking to make both energy users in Europe dependent on Moscow, while also linking any state that energy passes through under his growing political fiefdom.

As such, the South Stream pipeline in Bulgaria is part of a larger pipeline scheme flowing  through Turkey and into wider Europe. Bulgaria will stand to benefit mightily economically, but it will also invariably become more politically dependent on Moscow–just as much of the rest of Europe has, no matter how hard Washington, D.C. wishes it weren’t so.

National Interests Trump Global Concerns

After years of Germany defying their “friends” in Washington–both during the more amenable Obama Administration (in Berlin’s eyes) and the more hostile Trump Administration–on the issue of energy trade with Russia, Bulgaria (which has been suffering economically because of the collapse of their trade with neighboring Russia) is taking a proverbial page out of Germany’s playbook.

Bulgaria is tending to their own national interests, at the expense of the European Union (as well as the United States. It’d be nice if the U.S. caught up and started also doing that which Germany, France, and now Bulgaria is doing: trade not war, friends, should be our mantra here).

When meeting with Russia’s leadership, President Rumen of Bulgaria argued that Russia was a “strategic partner” for Bulgaria’s energy sector (supplying 89 percent of Bulgaria’s oil, 100 percent of its natural gas, and 100 percent of its nuclear fuel). Rumen appears to be taking the tack that so many in the West have long taken with the far more dangerous China: choosing to cooperate and economically integrate with Russia rather than re-live the darkest days of the Cold War.

For all of her tough talk, Angela Merkel of Germany–as well as Emmanuel Macron of France (the junior partner in the budding Russo-German-French alliance)–is taking Rumen’s path as well.

The key difference is that Russia is truly on its knees presently. Moscow will need much time before it can rise to the level of threat that China currently poses to the West. And, culturally, Russia has far more in common with the West than China ever will–meaning that China’s rise will not necessarily be mimicked by Russia’s (if Russia ever became a wealthy juggernaut as China currently is, which I suspect it will not, given the demographic crisis Russia is enduring).

Presently, nationalism is on the rise throughout all of Europe. Countries like Poland and Hungary are suffering the unfair wrath of globalist Europe for their stringently nationalist policies. Meanwhile, countries like Germany continue exercising their own national interests without so much as a peep from Brussels (or, until recently, Washington, for that matter). Bulgaria is doing the right thing for itself, just as the rest of the countries in the world should do for themselves.

The European Union’s Ridiculous Response

For its part, the European Union announced that it would impose steep “infringements” (a.k.a. internal sanctions) upon Bulgaria, should they finalize the Bulgarian “South Stream” pipeline with Russia. On 27 May 2018, EU Commissioner José Manuel Barroso warned the Bulgarian prime minister that Bulgaria would suffer the wrath of Brussels, should it go forward with the deal as currently planned.

Brussels claims that the present deal as structured between Russia and Bulgaria unfairly grants state-owned companies from the two countries unfair advantages in the construction of the pipelines, thereby violating the EU’s strict competition rules.

The Bulgarians have assured the EU Commission that the proposed pipeline will be built according to EU standards. How utterly absurd. Bulgaria is a member of both the EU and NATO, but it is also a sovereign country that is exercising its right to ensure a safe, cheap, and reliable flow of energy to its people. What’s more, Bulgaria (or anyone else in the West, for that matter) is not at war with Russia!

Again, I ask, where are the so-called “free traders” championing the glories of open trade with all states as a means of bringing greater peace to the world?

Toward a New-Old Paradigm: Respecting State Sovereignty and National Interests

Nationalism, energy politics, and Russia are all fusing together. The politics of Europe (and the West) have changed forever since 2016. No matter how hard the global elite may wish it to be, things will never return to the way they previously were.

It’s time for a new paradigm.

There’s nothing wrong with trading with Russia, so long as it is in one’s national interests. Thankfully, the world is not at war with nuclear-armed Russia. And, we won’t be, so long as we place the value of trade and diplomacy above militarism in this case.

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