Ukraine Crisis Shows Urgency of Green Energy: Russian Nat’l Gas Blackmail

(By Juan Cole)

Hawks are complaining that Europe has been insufficiently belligerent in its response to Russian moves in the Crimea, blaming the declining military budgets in most European countries. But this focus on military hardware is misleading, since there was never any prospect of a conventional military confrontation with the Russian Federation, given that France and Britain are nuclear powers and so is Russia. MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) rules here, and diplomacy and economic sanctions were always going to be the only realistic tools for resolution of the crisis.

The threat of economic sanctions would be more realistic if Europe did not depend so heavily on Russia for its natural gas. 40% of Germany’s natural gas and one third of Europe’s natural gas in general is imported from that country.

House Republican majority leader John Boehner (R-OH) unrealistically urged that the US export more natural gas to Europe to offset the Russian advantage. This suggestion implies a press to increase hydraulic fracturing, which is environmentally debilitating, a water hog, a water polluter, and is implicated in deadly methane and CO2 emissions that will sink Miami and New York. Submerging our own cities is not a very logical response to Russian adventurism. Others have urged that Ukraine itself go in for fracking. Fracking is extremely expensive, especially if you count its environmental impact. Wind and solar are now at grid parity in much of the world with hydrocarbons, and since they are environmentally much less costly, governments should be putting in tax and other benefits to encourage rapid adoption.

Germany’s response to climate change and the geopolitics of its dependence on hydrocarbons (it has few of its own) has been an Energy Switch (Energiewende), wherein the government has pushed the expansion of wind and solar power. The costs of doing so are substantially less than would be re-arming with conventional weapons, as the hawks seem to imply that Europe should. Plus if you spent billions on weapons systems, you’d have wasted your money, whereas every dollar spent on green energy benefits the economy and the environment enormously. Despite cautions about Germany’s use of coal in its transition away from nuclear power, coal is 5% less of its energy mix now than in 2003. Renewables have increased as a proportion of the German energy mix from 7% to nearly a quarter. This change was accomplished at a time when solar panels were tremendously more expensive than they are now, and both price and efficiency will favor a vast expansion of solar over the next decade.

electricity-generation-in-germany-by-energy-source-share-of-total-2003-2013_chartbuilder

There are other European success stories. Denmark now gets 25% of its electricity from wind, and intends to get half by 2020. Scotland is at 40% renewable energy this year and hopes to be completely dependent on renewables by 2020. Spain and Portugal have also shown that high proportions of electricity being generated by renewables is not a matter for the future; it can be done right now.

The fact is that Germany won’t be dependent on Russian natural gas very much longer. Whether the rest of Europe is depends on its energy policies. The only way to get energy independence and save the environment simultaneously is to go in for wind, solar and wave energy.

Energy independence would not only free Europe to be more aggressive in financially sanctioning Russia if that were needed, it would allow Ukraine itself to be less beholden to Moscow.

Moving quickly to plug-in hybrids and electric cars would also allow Europe and the rest of the industrialized world to cease its dependence on petroleum from the Middle East, which would give Saudi Arabia and Iran less leverage in regional and world affairs.

Energy independence will make for a more honest world politics and remove the advantages that authoritarian states often have over democracies. At the same time, swiftly adopting renewables will mitigate the worst effects of climate change; present policies are taking us toward a 10 degrees F. increase in global world average temperatures, which could destabilize our climate, producing megastorms and raging seas, not to mention desertifying now fertile breadbaskets.

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38 Responses

  1. I’m supporting green energy too, but it has nothing to do with the EU relationships with Russia.
    A few remarks :
    1) Gaz is a cleaner energy than coal although not renewable (and Germany had a lot of coal mines ! Although many were closed down because they became to expensive to exploit)
    2) diminishing the EU dependence toward Russian gaz wouldn’t be enough to encourage more aggressive EU actions toward Russia : Russia is Germany’s second biggest trade partner for its exportations.
    3) why should the EU support the US call for a resurgence of the Cold War ? We have a real interest in good and pacifist relationships with Russia. Why should we support the US fight for world supremacy when it is our interest to have peaceful relationships with everybody ?

    • Gas is only marginally cleaner than coal, especially since extracting it releases a lot of methane.

      Some trade is more amenable to sanctions than others; energy and heat cannot be sacrificed.

      • I have just read an interesting article concerning sanctions against Russia : while Germany has a dependence of about 25-30% toward Gazprom, the East European states which are more adamant against Russia have a dependency of 80-100% toward Gazprom for their energy resources.
        It is quite paradoxical that the EU countries bordering the Russian frontier are at the same time more dependent from Russia, both for their energy and their economy, that they are nearer from Russia and would have more to loose if it came to military hostilities, yet they are more aggressive toward Russia at the same time, following the US hardliners.

        • What is so paradoxical about countries previously visited by Russian tanks and troops being concerned about Russian adventurism? Frau Merkel understands that in the unified Germany she’s safe in a way those other states are nos sure that they are.

    • Well, I don’t think any reasonable person wants a rekindling of the Cold War. But Putin and the Russians violated international law and if this phony plebiscite over Crimea passes the rump legislature put together over there in the last week, it will mark another triumph of might makes right and the hell with international law. Yes, the Russians ARE the heavies in this drama. I think Obama’s calibrated responses are proper and fitting. Nobody is talking about a military confrontation but the US and the rest of the international community is well within its rights to hit Moscow with economic sanctions.

      • All this reigniting the cold war talk is laughable. During the Cold War, we had the Warsaw Pact countries, a united USSR and lines no nation in Europe dared cross.

        Now NATO and the EU are at Russia’s front door, yet the US can’t let up on provoking Russia in its own backyard. Russia has a major naval base in Crimea. Dont tell me we didn’t back Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Brahain to protect US military interests there.

        Obama has once again fallen into a hawk/neocon trap.

        • Well said ! The US is aggressively trying to extend the NATO under the nose of the Russians. I can’t understand that. And once again, the US is trying to draw the EU in moves that aren’t in the interest of the EU.

      • I love how self righteous we get here in the US. The United States violates international law on a yearly basis. Yet we are supposed to be upset that Russia has increased it’s troop levels in Crimea. Also pretty amazing that we seem to just ignore that the majority of people in the Crimea want the Russians there.
        How about this, let’s support the Crimean referendum and ensure that it is free and fare, and then enforce its results. Heck let’ give all the people of Ukraine that option. Then those areas that feel their allegiance to Russia can go their way, and those that feel their future with Europe can go theirs. The shape and size of Ukraine is not sancrosanct. The Czech Republic and Slovakia broke a part, Yugoslavia broke a part, heck Ukraine broke a part from the Soviet Union. The USE sould not stand in the way if the dissolution of the Ukraine, if that is what the people want.
        Though this will never happen , we have no problem seeing new nations emerge via secession (Kosovo, East Timor, Slovakia for examples) when the United States likes the result or gains a new ally, yet break away from a potential ally or cross America, the it is against International law ( Abkazia, South Ossetia , and now Crimea).
        It is time for The US to stop thinking we are the arbiturres of World affairs. We do not have to interfere , nor do we get to dictate.

        • If I remember correctly, Germany was the first and the US was the second nation to recognize Croatia. I thought it was a mistake at the time and still do.

  2. One dimension of the Ukrainian crisis that has not been explored sufficiently concerns the energy war between Russia and the US in view of the boom in American natural gas supplies. Despite the fact that hydraulic fracturing is environmentally debilitating and will result in massive pollution and environmental degradation in the United States, many oil and gas tycoons are not bothered by that. In fact, a report in today’s New York Times hails “a new era of American energy diplomacy” and the use of vast new supply of natural gas as “a weapon to undercut the influence of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, over Ukraine and Europe.”
    link to nytimes.com
    Is it just a coincidence that the former US Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual new heads the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources set up in 2011 by Secretary Hillary Clinton? NYT quotes him as saying that his team’s efforts had already weakened Putin’s hand.
    Some other energy experts had spoken about the geopolitical significance of oil and gas pipelines and the growing sale of LNG from the United States and elsewhere to replace the pipelines
    link to realclearworld.com
    So while your point about the urgency of green energy is absolutely correct, the politicians and oil and gas corporations have different priorities and different agendas.

  3. It seems a good point for renewable energy that it reduces international economic dependence, but that is generally undesirable, as such dependence has built international dialogue and moderated right wing confrontationalism on all sides. Our right wing would be howling for an obviously-disastrous confrontation with China if they were not profiting from that commerce; the illusory foreign monster is essential to their demand for domestic power.

    Also note that most of the EU benefits greatly in the near term from the Russian natural gas business: economically, in reduced oil dependence, and in reduced pollution versus coal. It is not practical to supply that much LNG by ship, due to costs and hazards and scale.

    In the ideal case, the Gazprom dependence would keep the right wing in their cages long enough to sort out a diplomatic solution. In this case, it may have caged the EU right but not the US right.

    • Sorry, John. But each of these points is debatable.

      1. competition over hydrocarbon resources has been a major cause of war for over a century and was implicated deeply in WW II and more recent episodes like the Iraq War.

      2. EU does not benefit from natural gas, which is causing destabilizing climate change

      3. Natural gas does not substitute for petroleum (oil is used for transportation, gas for electricity generation)

      • I agree. Fuel competition has long been a cause of conflict. The commercial dependence on gas might stabilize things here, but not if US interests want the market. One looks forward to full renewable sources, although the temporary pollution advantage was worth the change from coal to gas.

      • It is also hard to send gas by ship profitably. You need to build special ships and facilities, and chill the gas into a liquid. It’s dirt-cheap to burn it where your pipelines already reach, and use that to manufacture goods for export, or electricity for electric cars.

  4. [House Republican majority leader John Boehner (R-OH) unrealistically urged that the US export more natural gas to Europe to offset the Russian advantage. This suggestion implies a press to increase hydraulic fracturing, which is environmentally debilitating, a water hog, a water polluter, and is implicated in deadly methane and CO2 emissions that will sink Miami and New York. ]

    As far as I know, shale gas, unlike natural gas, is not good for export. To be cost-efficient, it needs to be produced locally.

    From the other side, Ukraine heavily depends on nuclear energy, almost 50% of its electricity is produced by Russia-supported nuclear power plants.

    So, in principle, Russians can simply put a break on their support of Ukrainian nuclear power plants and this will put Ukrainian economy down even regardless of gas supplies. It is very unlikely that the West can resolve this issue in the matter of months or even years.

    Why they have not used this tool before? Most likely, this is because of oligarchical interests. Simply put, Russian oligarchs who control the nuclear industry don’t want to lose their profits.

    But if situation will get really serious, this can change

  5. Before I left the house this morning I had the opportunity to read an article on German Yahoo that I consider to be very very important. According to the article a taped phone conversation between the EU foriegn minister and an Estonian official (might have been Latvian) was released in which the EU F.M. Catherine Ashton was heard saying that the massarce in Kiev that led to the fall of the Ukrainian government was actually the fault of the opposition. I really do not think that the EU foreign minister would make such a charge in private phone conversation unless she had evidence that it was true.
    This is clearly a game changer. It means that the democratically elected government in the Ukraine was over thrown under false pretenses. Maybe that government was led by corrupt people but removing corrupt people from power is what elections are for. The only exceptions are when the electoral process is disfunctional.
    The reason that I consider this very important is that it makes Russian behavior in the aftermath of this governmental over throw seem much more reasonable than it is portrayed in the western media. I must say that I owe Putin an appology for calling him a turkey for grossly over reacting to events in Ukraine.
    What readers should also know is that when I wanted to re read this report a 3 pm this after noon local time the report had disappeared. I googled it and I could not find any mention of it. Was this report removed because it contained false propoganda or was it removed for damage control. I suspect the later. If that is true it too was an over reaction because only a select few people who would read such a thing would understand its significance.

    • Louis Proyect replied that the report that I mentioned above was removed because it was propoganda and he provided me with a link to the Guardian with the full story.

    • “What readers should also know is that when I wanted to re read this report a 3 pm this after noon local time the report had disappeared. I googled it and I could not find any mention of it.”

      “Ukraine crisis: bugged call reveals conspiracy theory about Kiev snipers: Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet tells EU’s Cathy Ashton about claim that provocateurs were behind Maidan killings” by Ewen MacAskill – link to theguardian.com

    • Here is the link to the conversation between EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and the Estonian foreign minister who has since confirmed the authenticity of the conversation. It is the Estonian foreign minister who tell Ashton that the snipers who shot at both the protestors and the police in Kiev were allegedly hired by Maidan leaders. link to rt.com

      • talk about burying the lede … Final graf:

        Russia Today said the clip was uploaded by officers of Security Service of Ukraine, who remain loyal to Yanukovich. They claimed the officers hacked Paet’s and Ashton’s phones to obtain the audio.

        What was that about propaganda?

  6. I’lll say one thing, the GOP didn’t waste any time in exploiting this crisis for propaganda purposes to score some points in the upcoming mid-term elections against the Democrats. But I doubt average voters really care that much one way or the other about this issue. They’ve simply had it with war. Period.
    And this military drawdown, which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is proposing, always happens after a big war winds down just as it did starting in the early 1970s when we were bringing back all the troops from Vietnam . It’s just a standard operating procedure to save some money at the DoD.
    What I find absurdly funny is that the GOP is accusing Obama of losing the Ukraine as it did against Harry Truman who was also criticized by the Republicans for losing China to the communists.
    The more things change, the more things remain the same.

  7. Ukraine is highly dependent on Russian gas. They’ve been disputing over payments and such for years. Most of Ukraine’s gas payments have been offset by allowing Russian gas transit through pipes that cross Ukraine into Europe.
    Russia has been slowly building pipes that don’t go through Ukraine. If it happens that Ukraine soon has to pay retail for gas…

  8. While I support renewable energy, the real policy change in the United States should be one of “no meddling”.

  9. Trade and energy issues aside, Europe suffered the devastation of two wars in the last century and will do anything to avoid another. Yes , the US also suffered and lost millions of soldiers, but all the actual fighting and devastation took place over rhere. One thing not in short supply in Washington is chickenhawks, only too anxious for someone ele to do the fighting and dying while they cash in.

  10. While totally agree with your thesis in the article, I also the world is discovering the banking blackmail implemented by the Western powers. This is a tremendous leverage that allows the banking industry of the west undo power. In western Europe, despite defeat after defeat, the bankster policies continue to rule. The east, I believe, is waking up to this imbalance and will implement their own banks. Will we?

  11. Ukraine is deeply in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy. It owes Russia billions. Russia wants Crimea. Solution? Well, the USA doubled its size at the start of the nineteenth century by the Louisiana purchase from Napoleon. Then later in the century, it purchased Alaska from the Czar. Why shouldn’t Ukraine sell the Crimea to Russia and Russia cancel all those debts. Most Crimeans are ethnically Russian anyway.So everyone is happy.

    • The answer, Mike, is the supposition of democracy. You can’t sell “your” people to a foreign government, and you can’t order them to leave. Otherwise, we could deal with this stupidity the way Bismarck used to, getting all his fellow aristocrats to meet at a resort and divide up the disputed lands on their cocktail napkins. It worked until people became too passionate about who governed them.

  12. As reasons for pushing green energy the situation in the Ukraine and Crimea has to be way WAY down the list. Not making the whole damn planet nearly uninhabitable has got to be a lot more important than any transient political situation short of a nuclear war.

    I’m deeply suspicious of everything I read about the Ukraine at the moment. I still seethe with rage when I think of how I was taken in when the USSR went into Afghanistan (admittedly I wasn’t even ten years old so that can somewhat excuse my gullibility) and bought the whole line about it being a savage, unprovoked act of brutality by the intrinsically evil Russians. I suspect that if the EU and US neocon brain trust have their way here it will turn out every bit as well as that did.

    As an aside, just try to imagine what all that money that has been essentially vaporized in the recent past with two wars that were utter fiascos, the financial crisis and it’s subsequent bailout could have achieved if it had been used for renewable energy development, better electrical grids, better transport networks, research on batteries and fusion power.

      • But Zbigniew Brzezinski did tell an interviewer that he warned Carter that sending the CIA to help the early anti-Marxist rebels would provoke a Soviet invasion. The Soviets viewed it as their sphere of influence, and we violated it. Are spheres of influence legitimate, Prof. Cole, and who has the right to define them? I mean, if we caught the Russians arming Mexican drug cartels…

  13. Prof Steve Cohen is perhaps the only expert that has provided an unbiased view of this Ukrainian crisis. I find most of the other US experts bordering on selective dissemination of information. The simple question one has to ask is why is it NOT in Russia’s interest to protect its interests on its border, while we have since 1991 encroached on bringing NATO closer and closer to the borders of Russia.

    I want to remind our readers that we invaded tiny Granada ostensibly to protect 20 plus american students!

    A big deal is being made of the fact that Crimea is going to hold a referendum on whether it wants to stay as part of Ukraine or become part of Russia. Our president says it is illegal because a referendum has to be done by the whole of Ukraine for this to happen; so I suppose the upcoming referendum in Scotland is also illegal. I am just pointing to our hypocrisies… let us admit we are out to get Russia for geopolitical reasons, since we see a bipolar world in the future consisting of US and China.

  14. If we keep burning fossil fuels our Civilization will die.
    Archaeology and History are full of Civilizations that have self destructed when the greedy few over exploited their resources for their short term gain.
    Western Civilization can go forward or fall behind, and if we fall behind it is because we weren’t able to control the Greedy Bastards.

  15. What America needs is a debate over discrete positions as to how far we are willing to go in the world: what regions, what issues, what costs. Instead, the public lives in a fantasy that we intervene only in the causes the media tells them are just and relevant – and then later we regret that we didn’t attack completely different people instead. For instance, we played up the human rights issue in Kosovo, instead of laying out the much more hardnosed case that thugs like Milosevic were using promises of ethnic cleansing to get elected because they knew the US & other wealthy countries would always take in the victims – and we can’t Goddamn afford to do that forever, so it’s cheaper to make an example of Milosevic and put a stop to similar plans in other countries. Which we did. But meanwhile, Clinton decided that he couldn’t do anything about Rwanda, so it was simply ignored by the media until too late. See, I think Clinton was right to draw that line, but the public needs to understand why lines have to be drawn. Instead we get all weepy about the aftermath and then promise to intervene everywhere. Which is madness.

  16. Thanks ,Juan Cole ! Our Green Transition Scoreboard(r) tracks the almost $6trillion invested privately in green sectors worldwide since 2007

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