The Putin Problem

What do you do with a problem like Putin?

I would be interested to know when exactly it was that Western Europe became the geographical equivalent of a eunuch. At what point did we weigh in the balance having to accept a significantly higher price for energy against standing up for freedom, the oppressed and what is right and find in favour of the lower energy price and its companion tyranny?

It would seem that Western Europe can barely talk the talk anymore; let alone walk a walk which seems to be completely beyond the wits of European leaders. The last time Europe behaved in such a craven manner was in the period between 1936 and 1939 and delay simply made the problem more difficult to deal with when eventually they were faced with no choice but to grasp the nettle. Not to mention the millions of lives lost as a consequence.

Russia may be militarily mighty; but it is a shadow of the former Soviet Union and with a population of 148 million souls it is less than a third of the size of the EU and its economy is nine times smaller. So it would seem that we have an asymmetry in playground behaviour; whereby the smaller boy is pushing the bigger one around. This would be admirable were it not for the fact that the smaller boy is still the second biggest child in the playground – and he’s busy bullying the smaller children. I would be interested to know whether anyone has modelled the impact on our oil, gas and electricity prices of the EU pulling the plug on Russian fossil fuels unilaterally. Agreed that is a pretty extreme step but one that would certainly act as a bucket of cold water on Putin’s activities in Ukraine’s eastern borderlands.

Whatever the solution, a solution there must be because until such time as Europe weans itself off Russian Gas (34% of supply last time I checked) we appear to be a pretty pathetic and impotent lot. In a couple of years’ time we can look forward to a steady stream of LNG tankers crossing the Atlantic with American shale gas at the same time as we continue to improve our energy efficiency and diversify our electricity production away from CCGT generation and into renewables; but that doesn’t address the immediacy of the moral and political problem. Europe is going to need to take a long hard look in the mirror and work out whether a destabilised Ukraine, twitchy ex-soviet states and an emboldened Putin with ambitions to reassert soviet style power on our Eastern borders is a price we are happy to pay. And as we have seen in the last week that price isn’t simply a theoretical one; European lives were lost and Ukrainian lives continue to be blighted and lost every day that this conflict continues. This type of behaviour by Russia has precedent during the cold war when proxy wars were fought in Angola, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The unfortunate facts are that if you provide hired thugs with complex surface to air missile systems you will inevitably get local commanders going off reservation and doing stupid or criminal acts. MH17 is a classic example of that.

So the question energy buyers should be asking themselves, if you want a morale riddle to unravel, is the following; how many red lines crossed and civilian lives lost are we prepared to tacitly sanction to ensure that our energy prices stay low? And what if it was your life or your child’s life in that plane, what price then?

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