By Alan Caruba
“Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has taken a giant step backwards into its Soviet past, and nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of energy politics. Modern Russian politics and energy sources, first oil and then both oil and gas, have been inextricably connected in a way unmatched by any other major power in the history of the world.”
That’s how Michael J. Economides and Donna Marie D’Aleo open their book, “From Soviet to Putin and Back: The Dominance of Energy in Today’s Russia.”
Central to the Russian psyche is its preference for strong leadership and, after what the Russians considered to have been the embarrassment of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, it was Putin who tapped into this centuries old desire for a Tsar. Secondary to that was the massive feeling of wounded pride when the old Soviet Union collapsed. Imagine being raised to believe that Communism was a superior economic and social system, only to discover that it was no match for the capitalism of the West?
The Soviet Union fell because, in the end, it was heavily, if not entirely, dependent on the sale of that nation’s vast oil and gas reserves. The fall in the price per barrel did in the Soviet Union and you can thank Ronald Reagan for that because it was he who hatched the plot with the King of Saudi Arabia to make it happen. Cheap oil thanks to Saudi production in the 1980s kept the price low. Soviet revenues declined.
Pride and the price of oil are surely part of the reason Russian troops are in Georgia today. The Russians want Georgia back under their control and are not unmindful that control of the pipeline that runs through Georgia would increase the power they already hold over Europe as its chief supplier of oil and gas.
Americans are awakening these days to some rude lessons about energy. If, for example, Congress refuses for some three decades to permit drilling where billions of barrels of American oil exists and refuses to permit exploration for more oil off the continental shelf, you end up paying up to $4.00 for a gallon of gasoline because you’re importing 60% or more of what you need from foreign sources.
Not all the corn grown in America could ever replace the amount of gasoline we require for a nation that virtually runs on the wheels of trucks and whose business is conducted by people accustomed to climbing on and off jet airliners. Not all the wind turbines or solar panels will ever provide the electricity we get from “dirty” coal or the 20% we get from “clean” nuclear power.
“The search for, and control of energy resources, have been central to major world conflicts, including both World Wars and other global conflicts and civil wars,” the book’s authors remind us.
The Russians understand that, even if Americans do not. War weary after five years in Iraq, a nation that sits atop the second largest reserves of oil in the Middle East, too many Americans are still too eager to castigate President Bush for ridding that region of the single most destabilizing force in modern times, Saddam Hussein. In the process, the projection of U.S. power has accelerated the degradation of the non-state menace of al Qaeda.
My guess—and that’s all it is—is that Europe and the U.S. will cede Georgia to Russia because there is no compelling reason to go to war over it. The failure to incorporate Georgia into NATO was, in retrospect, poor judgment. One wonders how fast the Ukraine’s application will be processed. The European Union is hardly a military power. The Russians sit on the United Nations Security Council and are not likely to welcome anything more than a weak protest.
The world has returned to the bad old days of the Cold War where two great powers competed, the United States and Russia. The Russians are pumping their own oil and gas reserves, earning handsome revenues in the global marketplace.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, the two Democrat leaders in Congress are more concerned about “saving the planet” from a non-existent global warming than in protecting our national interests. The Democrat candidate for President would be more at home in the Russian Duma discussing the redistribution of wealth and the creation of social programs than in defending the republic.