Ukraine, Sanctions, and Fossil Fuel Dependency

In the wake of the September 23rd UN Climate Summit, as well as The People’s Climate March on September 21st, international focus is once again being directed towards climate change. Unfortunately, climate change has put one of the largest industries in the world, oil, in direct conflict with the survival of the entire planet. This conflict has been fueling (no pun intended) a desire to see fossil fuel replaced with a more environmentally friendly alternative. But what effect would ecologically sustainable technologies have on international relations? In what situation could we imagine a push for energy reform working to the benefit of the world in terms of international relations? While several examples come to mind to support the idea that environmental sustainability would benefit the current state of affairs on the international stage, I wish to use the ongoing crisis in Ukraine as a case where reducing dependency on oil, particularly foreign oil, can serve as a tool to benefit the US, EU, and Ukraine.

While neo-liberals and conservatives often argue that free trade agreements and global markets encourage peaceful and mutually beneficial relationships between states, they fail to take into account the power dynamics that arise in some economic relationships. States with large oil reserves, as well as the military power to defend them, are permitted more privilege and international leniency than states lower in resources. Russia is a perfect example of this. After the ousting of Ukraine’s corrupt pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych and the installation of an interim government, Russia moved into Ukraine and annexed Crimea. After an illegal referendum that had a turnout of 127% of the Crimean population (despite many Tartars claiming they would boycott the polls, and likely because Russian citizens were reportedly permitted to vote in the referendum), reports of intimidation by suspected Russian soldiers out of uniform, and the insane near-consensus outcome of 96.77% voting in favor of secession, Russia, by Vladimir Putin’s own ridiculous standards, “legitimately” absorbed Crimea. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidadesnik/2014/03/18/how-russia-rigged-crimean-referendum/). Similar polls follow after separatists, armed and assisted by Moscow soldiers, created the self proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in East Ukraine. Washington Post sample polls also show an inconsistency in the outcomes of these polls. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/05/08/new-poll-shows-eastern-ukraines-separatists-are-wrong/)

There is little doubt both these votes were rigged. Couple these attempts by Russia and its affiliates to feign democracy in East Ukraine with overwhelming evidence to suggest Russian troops have crossed the border, such as over one hundred Russian soldiers inexplicably being returned dead from the east under mysterious circumstances (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/28/us-ukraine-crisis-russia-casualties-excl-idUSKBN0GS20320140828), and blatant admission by separatist leaders that weapons have been supplied by Russia to the separatists, including the weapon believed to have downed flight Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/23/us-ukraine-crisis-commander-exclusive-idUSKBN0FS1V920140723), it is clear that a message needs to be sent to Vladimir Putin.

The EU and US have repeatedly gone back and forth with Russia, trading sanctions and threats, and while the sanctions have done some damage to the Russian economy, there is still more that needs to be done. The EU buys a large amount of its oil from Russia (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/03/21/world/europe/how-much-europe-depends-on-russian-energy.html), and while this is a weakness now, it is a potential opportunity for the west to kill two birds with one stone. Making a move to ease public outcry to act on climate change, as well as to condemn Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, the US and EU should move forward with massive energy reform, investing in renewable energy, creating jobs in green fuel, leading the way on global fossil fuel reform, and gradually decreasing oil dependency on Russia, thus allowing more strict responses to Russia’s actions and putting less money in the pockets of Russia’s wealthy class. While leading the way around the world toward green energy, the US can also attempt to bring the world’s other greatest polluter, China, into the green future by encouraging investment in domestic as well as American green energy projects. Russia signed a massive oil deal with China in the midst of the Ukrainian crisis (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-27503017). This was likely a response to Ukraine leaving Russia’s sphere of influence. But this deal could become unimportant if the international community makes further steps to make oil irrelevant to the world economy. An end to the need for foreign oil could also encourage China to stop contributing to Russia’s oil economy. Remove Russia’s power as an oil giant, and their imperial potential will fade as their oil leverage turns to dust. Also, Ukraine has run into trouble with Russia attempting to call its gas bill ((http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-07-11/gazprom-stuck-with-1-dot-8-billion-tax-bill-after-ukraine-defaults) – an obvious political attack on the new Ukrainian government. New economic growth in sustainable energy will also reduce future dependence and allow Ukraine to develop more autonomy through economic self-sustainability. While some politicians in the states have encouraged the use of oil from the unpopular Keystone XL Pipeline to alleviate Ukraine’s lack of oil supplies with severed Russian ties, (http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/your-world-cavuto/2014/07/21/all-eyes-wh-response-downing-jet-ukraine) the better solution would be a cooperative investment in non-environmentally destructive fuels. This option provides Ukraine with less dependence on the United States and obviously benefits our environment.

States become more autonomous when they aren’t intimidated by the economic coercion of larger powers, and larger more powerful states are only able to respond so much to another state’s wrongdoings if they are dependent on them for economic reasons. Domestic investment in ecologically friendly alternatives and encouraging global divestment in fossil fuels is the best option to remove Russia’s economic power and to hold Putin responsible for his crimes in Ukraine. If Putin’s economic power can be stripped from him by removing his ability to laud oil over the west’s heads, his bargaining strength on the world stage will be a shadow of what it once was.

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3 thoughts on “Ukraine, Sanctions, and Fossil Fuel Dependency

  1. This is a very good analysis of the way that oil fuels many nations international standing. while you specifically talk about Russia i think it would be interesting to look at other smaller oil rich nations such as Brunei, Qatar, and the U.A.E. While Russia would surely be hurt by less demand for oil it is still a global power in other respects with a large powerful military and a permanent seat on the UN security council. Many of these smaller nations get almost all their international power from oil and have propped up cradle to grave welfare states almost entirely on oil money. It would be interesting to look at how these states could adapt in more energy stable world.

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  2. If the world switches to more green energy many nations such as Russia, as you noted, as well as other regions like Saudi Arabia would lose a lot of leverage in world’s politics. I’m not so sure how likely it will be that this approach will be taken though, even with a lot of people being more open to environmentally clean energy and innovations in that energy, considering just how pivotal oil is to the infrastructures of nearly every (if not all) industrialized nations on the planet, as well as how hard it is to power and entire nations with green energy at this point in time anyways.

    Very interesting thought about how it could work against Russia and lower its influence in a way, I would have to look more into that.

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  3. This is an interesting analysis of how dependent some states are of oil to keep their internatinal power. After reading this I can see that there would be many good outcomes if we reduced the importance of oil by switching to more enviromental friendly alternatives. I think it would be interesting to take a closer look at the negative effects that “turning oil into dust” would have on international relations.

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