Lest I be misunderstood, I set out clearly and unambiguously at the outset that only one person is responsible for the tragedy going on in Ukraine now, and that person is Vladimir Putin.
However, in my view he has had plenty of facilitators. And chief among them are those whose activism has decreed that Europe must virtue-signal its “green” credentials by not exploiting its own fossil fuel resources – even though fossil fuels are badly needed as renewable energy falls short and remains inherently unreliable. The result, of course, as is plainly seen today, is that Europe is hugely dependent on Russia for oil and gas.
How Europe is funding Putin’s war
It seems to me that Politico got it about right with its headline (above) to an articlei which carries the sub-heading “European countries are reluctant to stop buying oil and gas from Russia for fear of economic consequences at home.”
The Politico article is full of information that can’t fail to make one angry. It commences like this:
Who’s paying for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s jet fighters and tanks? The same EU countries that say they want him to stop his assault on Ukraine, a country that is supposedly their ally.
It’s a crazy paradox that Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki raised at an EU leaders’ summit on sanctions against Moscow that ran into Friday morning. The bloc was unable to agree measures against the SWIFT international payments system because so many countries use it for their all-important gas payments to Moscow.
“We are buying as European Union lots of Russian gas, lots of Russian oil. And President Putin is taking the money from us, from the Europeans. And he is turning this into aggression, invasion,” he said.
Some stark and frankly shocking statistics then follow. Russian exports to the EU (in 2020 so far as I can ascertain – a year when the covid pandemic suppressed economic activity, so the numbers may well be lower than normal) are by product and value (in euros) as follows:
Petroleum oils, crude: 31.9Bn.
Petroleum oils, other than crude: 14.9Bn.
Natural gas: 8Bn.
Coal (not agglomerated): 2.8Bn.
Residual petroleum products: 1.4Bn
A total of 65Bn. Per annum. In a year of low economic activity.
We are further told:
The total value of Russian exports to EU countries of mineral fuels and products, including oil and gas, exceeded Russian military spending in 2020 (in dollars).
In 2020, of Russian mineral exports (including energy commodities) the EU purchased 45.2%, with a further 1.7% being taken by the UK and 3.9% by the USA. In short, Europe and the USA bought almost half of Russian mineral exports (including energy commodities) that year, and by so doing have directly helped to fund Putin’s war machine.
How and why has this sorry state of affairs come about?
Why Europe is so dependent on Russia for natural gas
This is the heading to a CNBC articleii which appeared on 24th February 2022. It makes it abundantly clear that the rush to “carbon neutrality” lies at the heart of the problem:
The EU is the largest importer of natural gas in the world, according to the Directorate-General for Energy for the EU, with the largest share of its gas coming from Russia (41%)….
…the EU has been reducing its dependence on coal to reach its climate goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and cutting emissions by at least 55% by 2030. Currently, about 20% of EU’s electricity comes from coal production.
Since 2012, the EU has decreased its coal power generation by about a third, according to the Directorate-General for Energy for the EU.
In addition, Germany summarily rejected investments in nuclear energy with its Atomic Energy Act in 2011, a decision made in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. Only 13% of Europe’s energy now comes from nuclear power.
About 25% of the EU’s energy consumption comes from natural gas, according to the Directorate-General for Energy for the EU. Oil and petroleum (32%), renewable energy and biofuels (18%), and solid fossil fuels (11%) make up the rest.
That dependence on natural gas means a dependence on Russia. Today, the EU is the largest importer of natural gas in the world, according to the Directorate-General for Energy for the EU, with the largest share of its gas coming from Russia (41%), Norway (24%) and Algeria (11%).
Importing fossil fuels is hardly green. Making yourself dependent on a mad tyrant and importing huge proportions from his country is hardly wise. And it’s true that fossil fuel reserves in the EU are dwindling, but as CBS makes cleariii, if coal were reintroduced into the equation, the EU does have substantial energy reserves:
Poland has the largest energy reserves per capita – mainly anthracite and bituminous coal – followed by the Czech Republic and Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary and Greece (largely lignite). On average energy reserves in these EU states have decreased by about 15 percent since 2000.
And of course Eurpoe is not simply the EU. Norway has substantial reserves of oil and gas and so – potentially – has the UK. However, we in the UK have the problem of a “net zero” obsession which has taken over the establishment. And so, although we are repeatedly told that the UK’s dependence on Russia is not so great as that of the EU, an element of dependence there is, and the UK has also purchased fossil fuels from Russia and helped to fund Putin’s war. This is despite the fact that we have our own reserves which we could exploit, but which some people are determined to ensure that we leave in the ground. Because “climate change”. Far better to emit more greenhouse gases by transporting fossil fuels from Russia to the UK than to use our own fossil fuel reserves. Apparently. Because that way we in the UK can pretend we are “leading the world”. It never seemed to occur to these people that the leaders of the country currently invading Ukraine, and of two hugely populous states which have just abstained on a UN resolution against Russia (namely China and India) aren’t interested in doing anything about climate change. It doesn’t seem to dawn on them that this being the case, the virtue-signalling of the UK, the EU and to some extent the USA achieves nothing. Other than to increase (to a greater or lesser extent) dependency on Russia, and thereby help to bankroll a war which by any measure is an absolute outrage against all standards of decency.
Fossil fuel companies are trying to exploit this war for their gain. We can’t let them
The articleiv in today’s Guardian, bearing the above heading, demonstrates to my way of thinking a disconnect with reality. I think more than anything else it was the sub-heading which made me see red: “Without fossil fuel, and Europe’s dependence on it, Putin wouldn’t have so much power. We need clean energy now, but big oil has other plans”.
Without any apparent sense of irony, we are told:
As big oil tries to defend their investments in Russia, they’re simultaneously making the case that greater production at home will help combat Putin’s influence on the global stage. It’s like a drug dealer trying to convince authorities that the best way to take out a rival isn’t to crack down on drugs, but allow him to increase production. The net effect will be the same: more addicts, in this case to climate destroying fossil fuels.
While US LNG exports may help Europe in the short term, increasing US production will only deepen Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels and continue to prop up a global cartel in which Putin is a major player. The only viable long term solution is for Europe – and the rest of the world – to move as quickly as possible to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels with energy efficiency and renewables, as some forward-looking European politicians have been calling for.
A more wrong-headed analysis is difficult to imagine. So obsessed with climate change is the author (Jamie Henn, the founder and director of Fossil Free Media) that there is a total failure to recognise that Europe cannot simply snap its fingers and decree that it will no longer be dependent on fossil fuels for quite some time, if ever. This is all the more extraordinary, to my way of thinking, given that the author earlier in the article recognised the glaring truth quite clearly:
Putin’s ability to wage war in Ukraine and threaten the stability of Europe comes exclusively from his control over Russian oil and gas production. Forty per cent of Russia’s federal budget comes from oil and gas, which make up 60% of the country’s exports. This October, Russia was making more than $500m a day from fossil fuels, money that goes directly into funding Putin’s war machine.
This week I have listened, almost in disbelief, to European (mostly German) politicians seeking to water down sanctions against Russia because winter isn’t over and because they need Russian gas. I listened yesterday to a BBC journalist interviewing someone in Ukraine, and asking them what more they expected Europe to do, given Europe’s need for Russian gas.
Jamie Henn apparently believes that fossil fuel users are comparable to drug addicts. There seems to be no understanding that we in Europe will be dependent on fossil fuels for a good time to come, and that regardless of that, much of the rest of the world is quite happy to continue consuming their drug of choice. Putin seems to have anticipated that Europe might stop buying Russia’s fossil fuels (fat chance!) and to have made a side arrangement with President Xi of China, who may not have any scruples about sourcing his cheap and reliable energy from Russia. Worse still Xi might have watched the west’s supine response to Putin’s invasion, and calculated that action on Taiwan should be moved rapidly up the agenda.
Still, if we rid ourselves of dependence on Russian oil and gas by developing our own reserves,we can stop finding our hands covered in other people’s blood.
Some Guardian readers commenting on Jamie Henn’s article give me hope that we in the west may not after all be hopelessly brainwashed by the anti-fossil fuel lobby. A couple of encouraging comments just now:
The cheerleaders for Germany’s strategy of going all in on solar and wind – including shutting down its nuclear plants! – constantly belittled and berated everyone who warned that baseload generation is still a necessity.
Even just a few weeks ago, if you said “Germany can’t actually run on nothing but solar and wind”, you were treated as stupid and even evil.
Liberals need to critically examine the energy fantasies they have been promoting and accept the need for a significant amount of nuclear, hydro, or fossil power generation. Fossil should be procured from friendly countries if it’s used.
Private companies trading with Russia in oil has got absolutely nothing to do with the West’s reliance on oil and gas from there. That reliance has built up because European governments for the last couple of decades (and probably longer) have had no cohesive energy policy or long term plan to wean ourselves off fossil fuel. Look at the uk – dependent on multiple foreign suppliers to meet our current energy needs and a half-baked plan to ‘go green’ without a plan for how we are going to do this. Just a bunch of sound bytes from across the political spectrum which are wishful thinking at best. We have effectively stopped investing in North Sea gas even though we have little in the way of energy security and are importing liquid gas from halfway around the world at huge additional cost to the environment – and huge cost to consumers thanks to Putin’s machinations. It’s not the oil companies that have handed Putin power – they are just doing good business and have no obligation to look after the people of this, or any other country – it’s western governments and their lack of long term planning.