When Putin’s tanks rolled into Ukraine on 24 February there was a conceit that this might be the first war that the West could fight – and win – by sanctions alone.
The EU’s latest efforts to stop importing Russian oil show just what a folly this was.
Donations of military equipment to Ukraine are certainly helping to keep Russian forces at bay, but economic sanctions? That is another story. [bold, links added]
Sanctions may be helping to lower living standards among Russian citizens, but they are still a long, long way from cutting off the lifeblood of the Russian economy – its oil and gas exports.
Since February, EU countries have paid over £40 billion to Russia for its gas and oil – money that is helping fund the Russian military machine.
But even after Monday’s new EU agreement, which was supposed to phase out oil and gas imports for good, substantial trade will continue.
The agreement only really tries to bring an end to oil imports that arrive from Russia by ship. Imports via pipeline – which account for a quarter of the total – will be exempt.
This is to ensure the continuation of supplies to Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, which are highly dependent on the pipelines – Slovakia obtains virtually all its oil in this way.
The loudest whelp of joy from Monday night’s negotiations came from Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban, who boasted on Facebook that Hungary would be exempt from the embargo.
It isn’t just Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, either – Poland and Germany will be allowed to continue to draw oil from Russian pipelines, although they have said they will try to stop doing this by the end of the year.
Assuming they do meet this deadline, the best that can be hoped for is that by this time next year EU oil imports from Russia will be down by 90 percent on pre-invasion levels – a long way from a complete cessation.
Meanwhile, gas continues to flow to Europe from Russia, and there is little hope of arresting this trade in the near future – even if Germany is hurriedly building terminals so it can import liquified natural gas from Qatar and elsewhere.
The EU has not yet begun trying to negotiate a cessation of gas imports, but when it does this is unlikely to end any more satisfactorily. There will be more horse-trading, more concessions, more get-out clauses, and more drawn-out deadlines.
But even if the EU could agree to eliminate oil and gas imports, the idea that the West can fight a sanctions war against Russia by itself is fatally undermined by the reality that there are other large customers eager to soak up any Russian oil or gas that the West rejects.
In April, the value of China’s imports from Russia surged by 56 percent as oil and gas, which would previously have gone to Europe, was diverted there instead.
India, too, has shown little inclination to sanction Russia – and is rather keen to buy Russian energy at a discounted price.
Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas is the product of years of ill-conceived energy policy that put commitments to reduce territorial carbon emissions above geopolitical reality – Nord Stream 2, remember, was agreed upon even after Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014.
It can’t be undone in a hurry, but even if it could be, we still wouldn’t be able to bring down the Russian economy without the aid of China, India, and other large energy consumers.
Our only hope of forcing Putin to withdraw from Ukraine is to carry on supplying Ukraine with weapons and other tactical help.
Read more at Spectator AU
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