By Abby Liebing February 25, 2022 at 1:20pm
After Russia invaded Ukraine, nations all over the globe began slapping sanctions on Russia.
Since the initial military buildup on Ukraine’s border, the Biden administration has threatened that there would be dire repercussions if Russia were to invade Ukraine.
In an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned of “massive consequences” if President Vladimir Putin were to move on Ukraine.
Now, as Ukrainians are being killed and their homes and cities are being bombed by Russia, President Joe Biden has announced a large sanctions package on Russia.
“We have purposefully designed these sanctions to maximize the long-term impact on Russia and to minimize the impact on the United States and our allies,” Biden said during a news conference on Thursday, adding that they “exceed anything that’s ever been done.”
But one major component is missing.
The administration and other Western powers have not sanctioned Russia’s energy sector. This means that Russia can keep its energy stranglehold on Europe and keep making money.
With that kind of power, why would Putin want to pull out of Ukraine?
Russia supplies about 40 percent of Europe’s gas supply, according to the Financial Times.
Should the U.S. sanctions include Russia’s energy industry?
In a panic over the invasion and the assumption that the resulting sanctions would disrupt the gas industry, gas prices spiked nearly 70 percent in the United Kingdom and Europe.
But prices settled back down once it was realized that the West was not going to sanction Russia’s energy.
The sanctions Biden announced mostly target Russian finance, banking and tech along with elites and members of Putin’s inner circle, Politico reported.
“Today’s actions include sweeping financial sanctions and stringent export controls that will have profound impact on Russia’s economy, financial system, and access to cutting-edge technology,” a fact sheet from the White House said.
Some say these sanctions will take a serious toll on Russia.
“These sanctions are completely unprecedented in their strength,” said Julia Friedlander, a former Treasury Department and National Security Council official, according to CNN. “It really is taking a hatchet to Russian financial markets and the ability to move money around.”
While these sanctions are fairly expansive and could damage Russia, they do not have the power to deter Putin the same way a massive sanctioning of Russian energy would.
“Biden was careful to explain that he was not sanctioning the Russian export of energy,” David Aserkoff, an analyst at JPMorgan, told the Financial Times. “His speech was at pains to say that while the goal was to damage the Russian economy, he sought to limit the impact on petrol prices and implicitly other commodities as well.
“This was also consistent with the view that sanctions are supposed to hurt the enemy, not oneself.”
The president does not want to sanction the energy sector because of how it could inflict even higher gas prices on Western economies. Taking a punch at Russia’s energy could leave Europe without the fuel it needs.
Russia knows this. Putin has been using the energy to basically keep Europe on a leash and has moved forward with confidence because of that.
“So that’s part of a deliberate policy, and it’s unfortunate that the West sort of did not adjust to that situation until now where this is definitely used as some sort of leash on which the Kremlin hopes to keep the [European Union],” said Maria Snegovaya, a visiting scholar at George Washington University, according to Marketplace.
Benjamin Schmitt, a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, added, “It’s an obvious use of energy as a political weapon by the Kremlin. And it was meant to undermine the potential for Western responses to exactly what we’re seeing now.”
There were ways to get around this problem by diversifying energy sources for the West. The Biden administration should have been putting more effort into stabilizing the nation’s energy independence. Instead, it canceled the Keystone XL Pipeline project and halted oil and gas leases on federal land.
Meanwhile, just about anyone in the Middle East and the Mediterranean would have loved to get a chunk of the European energy sector, which would have decreased Russia’s power over Europe.
Israel, for example, has been seeking to build the EastMed pipeline, which would bring natural gas from offshore Israel and Cyprus to Greece and to Italy, Reuters reported. From there, the distribution could have spread across Europe.
But the Biden administration said in January that the U.S. no longer supported the project, as The Jerusalem Post reported.
The Gulf States, the monarchs of oil, are always willing to keep making money, but Europe itself stonewalled the Gulf Cooperation Council with its green deal, the European Council on Foreign Relations reported.
As a result, Europe receives less than 4 percent of GCC oil and gas exports.
Now, in the midst of Russia’s aggression, Europe and the rest of the West have nowhere to turn because of a severe lack of foresight.
Qatar made sure to point this out just days before the invasion. Its energy minister said that neither Qatar nor any single country could replace the Russian energy supplies to Europe, Reuters reported.
Saad al-Kaabi said that Qatari reserves, for example, were tied up in long-term contracts with Asian buyers.
So now, as Russia goes on the offensive, Europe, Biden and the whole Western world have their hands tied for the most part.
Sure, they can impose sanctions, but they can’t hit Russia where it hurts enough to make Putin stop.