Regens and Beddows: Putin’s war in Ukraine is about economic dominance


The invasion raises a fundamental question about globalization: is it safe for democracies to depend on economic relations with autocratic countries – such as Russia, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia – which become more threatening as do they get rich?

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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to break up and subjugate Ukraine is not just a matter of deep animosity towards the West or his vision to restore Russia’s lost lands. These considerations likely influenced his decision to invade, but Putin’s calculations were also driven by a strategic goal: to maintain and strengthen Russia’s position as a dominant player in global energy and fuel markets. food.

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This is why the war in Ukraine raises a fundamental question about globalization: is it safe for democracies to become dependent on economic relations with autocratic countries – such as Russia, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia – who violate human rights, endanger security and grow more threatening the richer they get? The unfolding tragedy in Ukraine proves that the current policy of economic engagement based on hope without genuine adherence to a rules-based international order is producing a perverse result. It gives autocrats a way to influence the domestic and foreign policies of Western democracies.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged this on April 6, noting that nothing less than a full embargo on Russian energy imports is enough to stop atrocities and end EU funding of Russian aggression. . Europe’s dependence on Russian energy is funding Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine: about 25% of Europe’s oil and 40% of its natural gas comes from Russia. Europe, especially Germany, made a Faustian bargain: phase out coal-fired power plants, reduce or eliminate nuclear power, and buy Russian power. Economic ties ensure peace in Russia, allow Europe to meet energy needs and demand reductions in carbon emissions.

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Instead, Europeans became dependent on uninterrupted Russian energy flows, paid to upgrade Russian forces, and failed to prevent war. This is hardly the outcome that political proponents of Europe envisioned and sold to their audiences.

Russian aggression goes beyond upending global oil and gas prices or causing inflation to rise. Putin’s war shows that energy security is vital to prevent autocratic countries from bullying democratic countries. German, Austrian and Hungarian reluctance to immediately stop importing Russian gas and oil – Hungarian Victor Orban even expressed his willingness to pay in rubles – despite calls from other EU countries proves that a safe Reliable energy prevents long-term moral hazard, financial risk and unlimited reliance on autocratic whims.

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This underlines why it is essential to have an independent and Western-oriented Ukraine. Ukraine has the second-largest natural gas reserves in Europe and the sixth-largest coal reserves in the world, with most of those reserves concentrated in the energy-rich Donbass. It has an existing gas pipeline to Europe and ports on the Sea of ​​Azov and the Black Sea for energy exports.

The Donbass is also literally a “breadbasket” for the world – producing 9% of the world’s export market wheat, 10% of its barley, 16% of its maize and 42% of its sunflower oil. Adding Ukraine’s wheat, barley, corn and sunflower oil to Russia’s world share in the production of wheat (21%), barley (10%), corn (18% ) and sunflower oil (21%), or removing Ukrainian production from global market share, potentially gives Moscow a dominant economic position rivaling Canada and the United States.

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Now that Moscow has lost its bet on a quick and easy victory over Kyiv, Russia is doubling down and trying to secure a battlefield victory so that eastern and southern Ukraine – especially Donbass and the coast of the Black Sea – fall under Russian domination. Putin is betting that the West’s desire for diplomatic settlement will allow him to consolidate his gains and that his European customers as well as India and China will continue to buy Russian energy. It would also allow Russia to take advantage of scarcity and rising grain and cooking oil prices to impact global food availability.

It is a bet that Canada, America and other Western democracies cannot afford to win. Failing to prevent this outcome gives Putin greater economic dominance over the world’s food supply, huge energy reserves and power in energy markets.

James L. Regensa member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is founding director and Regents Professor at the Center for Intelligence and National Security at the University of Oklahoma, an intelligence community center for academic excellence. John S. Beddows is a retired Canadian Army officer.

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