Water in the Gas Tank

The United States’ position on Russia vis à vis Ukraine is likely to suffer from its European allies’ dependence on Russian natural gas.

Swift, severe, united.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reiterated these three words for weeks in describing the response the United States and its allies are promising Russian President Vladimir Putin if he orders an invasion of Ukraine.

But how united is the West right now against Moscow, really?

While the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv was preparing to evacuate its nonessential personnel, news broke that Germany, the European Union’s biggest economy, was refusing to grant Estonia a permit to move German military equipment to Ukraine. Berlin said the official reason was that, given World War II had originated in Germany, it wished to avoid contributing to a new conflict on the continent that could get worse.

The unofficial reason was less noble, and more pragmatic.

When Energy Drives the World

When he arrived with a bang at the White House in 2017, Donald Trump immediately sent shock waves internationally by openly questioning the strength and relevance of NATO. Before him stood, both literally and figuratively, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a symbol of the union of liberal democracies on the Old Continent. At their very first meeting in the White House, Trump caused a genuine diplomatic scandal before reporters from around the world when he refused to shake her hand.

In addition, one year later at the NATO summit, Trump added another layer of scandal when he declared, “Germany is totally controlled by Russia … they were getting from 60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline, and you tell me if that’s appropriate, because I think it’s not.”

At the time, of course, people saw this rhetoric for what it was: abrasive, insulting and profoundly anti-diplomatic. And, it must be remembered, these words were coming from an American president who was himself accused of being under Russian influence during his own election.

Now, four years later, Trump’s perspective is taking on a whole new dimension in light of developments in the region. This is because over the course of 20 years, two gas pipeline projects originating from Russia and aimed at supplying Germany have been the subject of bitter debate among the NATO member states. Since the start of the 2000s, the three Baltic nations have expressed reservations about the Nord Stream pipeline, which, they say would increase Russian influence over Europe. A decade later, the film was rewound and lengthened with a second pipeline: Nord Stream 2.

The temporary suspension of the project last fall by German regulatory authorities who questioned European regulatory standards caused a 20% increase in the price of natural gas in Europe last winter, leverage that Putin currently enjoys, especially in a context where energy prices have exploded in the last few weeks.

United at Home?

Need we point out the obvious? Ukraine is not yet a member of NATO; it has only shown interest in joining, a fact that is at the root of the current crisis. This means that Ukraine does not enjoy protection under Article 5 of the NATO treaty, according to which, “an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.” In other words, it is not just that some countries are lukewarm on the idea of defending Ukraine; it is that no one is obliged to do so.

Even before it unites NATO in support of Ukraine, the White House must confront an even more fundamental fact: the U.S. itself is not unified on the issue. Republican voters are around twice as likely to have a more positive view of Putin than they do of Joe Biden.

In Washington, the president is facing attacks from Republican voters who blame him for Russia’s current aggressive posture, especially in light of the American weakness projected by the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan. At the same time, given that a majority of the population disapproves of Biden’s performance and is less inclined to see the country enter into a new military adventure, Biden’s tool kit is limited.

Two weeks before the 2008 election, Biden, then Barack Obama’s running mate, spoke out of turn during a public address by predicting that Obama, due to his younger age and limited experience, would be tested internationally in his very first year should he be elected president.

It is clear that during eight years in the White House, Obama was likely not tested as harshly as Biden has been in one year as president.

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About Reg Moss 120 Articles
Reg is a writer, teacher, and translator with an interest in social issues especially as pertains to education and matters of race, class, gender, immigration, etc.

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