Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations – the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – released a statement this weekend demanding that Russia pull back the 175,000 troops it has massed on Ukraine’s border.
“Any use of force to change borders is strictly prohibited under international law,” the statement said. “Russia should be in no doubt that further military aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and severe cost in response.”
The problem with the statement, and President Biden’s similar statements last week, is that Western European countries and the U.S. have largely given away their capacity to inflict “massive consequences” and “severe costs.” No one understands this better than Putin.
The dirty secret of global climate policy, and the growing crisis with Russia, is that Western European countries have essentially outsourced their fossil fuel emissions to Russia to placate far left climate activists in their own countries. In a well-intentioned but misguided rush to wean their countries off fossil fuels, Western countries, particularly Germany, have oversold the capacity of renewable energy to meet their citizens’ energy demands while downplaying the reality that the shortfall in capacity is being made up by Russian natural gas, which burns dirtier than U.S. natural gas, and is financing Putin’s authoritarian rule. Putin isn’t going to take our threats of action seriously as long as our current energy policy is literally fueling and funding his military buildup on Ukraine’s border.
G7 negotiators are being willfully naïve about the tools in our negotiating toolbox. We’ve taken the energy hammer out of our toolbox, handed it to Putin, and are now acting surprised he is using it to threaten Ukraine.
In his appearance this weekend on Meet the Press, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken once again signaled to Putin that the West has the leverage relationship backward. Blinken suggested that Germany could use the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is already built and capable of delivering Russian natural gas to Germany, as leverage against Russia.
Blinken said, “Well, that pipeline, Chuck, as you know, doesn’t have any gas flowing through it right now and, in fact, is a source of leverage on Russia, because to the extent President Putin wants to see gas flowing through that pipeline if and when it becomes operational, it’s very unlikely or hard to see that happening if Russia has renewed its aggression on Ukraine, if it takes renewed action. So I think President Putin has to factor that in too as he’s thinking about what he’s going to do next.”
What Putin understands, and Blinken refuses to admit, is that the existence of the pipeline is itself is leverage for Russia not for Germany or the West. If natural gas doesn’t flow through the pipeline German and European citizens will suffer this winter and will rightly ask why their political leaders left them in the cold.
Instead of merely creating the appearance of reducing emissions to placate climate activists, the better response is for the West to commit itself to a strategy that both reduces greenhouse gas emissions and protects our security interests. An “all of the above” energy strategy that prioritizes nuclear, renewables and fossil fuels is wiser than an “everything but” energy strategy that rejects nuclear (Germany has closed nuclear plants) and panders to the far left’s pseudo-religious bias against what it sees as an unholy trinity of coal, oil and natural gas. Europe’s gas shortage is, in fact, causing it to burn more coal. Rather than establishing energy diversity, Europe is backsliding to energy dependence.
If Europe can’t provide enough energy via renewables the better strategy is to buy natural gas from a strategic ally like the U.S. rather than an adversary like Russia. If the Biden Administration is serious about leverage and de-escalating the crisis on Ukraine’s border it should restart the Keystone Pipeline, boost U.S. natural gas production and stop harassing and demonizing companies engaged in production and refining.
Economics 101 shows that a little more fossil fuel consumption today is a lot better than armed conflict tomorrow. The environmental Kuznets curve shows that as countries become wealthier – often by burning fossil fuels – they also become cleaner. That’s why leading climate scientists like Kerry Emanuel at MIT acknowledge that, “If you want to minimize carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2070 you might want to accelerate the burning of coal in India today.” The same logic applies to our European allies.
AOC and Green New Deal advocates in the U.S. hold up the European strategy of climate appeasement and the greenhouse gas emission shell game as the model of success. In the long run, this strategy could undermine confidence in clean energy and slow, rather than accelerate, the transition away from fossil fuels.
This strategy is also making the world more dangerous. Russia has already seized the Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and recently blew up a satellite in a muscle-flexing missile test. Until we demonstrate that we are prepared to take actions that will punish Putin rather than ourselves the risks will continue to grow.