Harken back to the Cold War when the Soviet Union was a dark place, cut off economically. But Mikhail Gorbachev embraced a new age of enlightenment, ushering in “glasnost” in 1985 and leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The global community welcomed the former communist bloc, allowing Russia to sell its oil and gas to Western markets. Indeed, Russia became one of the world’s three biggest producers, along with Saudi Arabia and the United States. But since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, it has become an international pariah — barricaded from the West and its economic riches.
“Russia will never rebuild its economy once Europe finds new suppliers,” said Oleksiy Riabchyn, a former deputy minister of Ukraine’s Energy and the Environment. The reference is to Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas — a void that the United States and Ukraine can help fill.
Indeed, Europe got 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia a year ago. Now it is between 10 percent and 20 percent. The United States increased its 3.5 percent stake to 40 percent.
The financial hit is one thing. The political broadside is another. Most of the former Soviet Union is pro-Western, which is also Ukraine’s aspiration. Ukraine kicked out Vladimir Putin’s puppet Victor Yanukovych in 2014, causing Russia to invade and annex Crimea.
Riabchyn, also a member of the Ukrainian parliament from 2014 to 2019, said Russia had long planned an all-out assault on its neighbor to create a buffer zone and control Ukraine’s pipelines.
In 2015 and 2016, Russia attacked the Ukrainian power grid through internet intrusions. Now, it is doing so with bombs. Ukraine’s Department of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources said Russia had inflicted at least $53 billion in damages to its air, water and land resources — a byproduct of dropping more than 8,000 missiles on the country.
Ukraine had been a transit country — the logical throughway from Russia into Europe. It has several natural gas pipelines with a 146 billion cubic meters capacity annually. Ukraine, which has Europe’s third highest natural gas reserves behind Norway and the United Kingdom, says its 905 billion cubic meters could help supply Europe. But it needs Western finance to do so.
“Russian gas had been cheap,” Riabchyn said. “Russia built Nord Streams 1 and 2 to secure its gas income and control the supply to Europe. But when Germany shut down Nord Stream 2, Russia invaded Ukraine, thinking it would conquer us and control our pipelines.”
Russia is looking for friends and markets where it can find them. The most conspicuous places are China and India. And while China’s President Xi Jinping recently met with Putin, it had more symbolism than substance. Indeed, China’s economic well-being is tied to international markets and the civilized world, although it does like getting discounted oil and gas to feed its energy-starved economy.
Putin didn’t think the West had the stomach, will or treasury to defend Ukraine. But under President Biden, the Free World didn’t just stick together and safeguard freedom. It expedited its move to renewable energy. Europe aims to cut its greenhouse gases in half by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2050, while the United States wants to be carbon neutral by 2050.
“We are speeding up renewables and diversifying our energy supply because Putin has turned energy into a weapon,” said Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission. “Our energy sovereignty can’t be found in fossil fuels but in renewables. This transition is moving faster than ever before.”
Putin is caught in a time warp, trying to recreate the Soviet Union and relive its “glory days.” But freedom now reigns — and the countries once under Russia’s thumb will never relent. As a result, Russia’s 30-year romance with the West has ceased — a relationship that gave it access to newfound energy markets and cutting-edge technologies. Russia’s war has backfired, sending its economy back to much darker days.