Europe’s ‘Green Energy’ Enables Putin’s War Machine - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Europe’s ‘Green Energy’ Enables Putin’s War Machine
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How does he do it? Vladimir Putin, that is. With only the world’s 11th-biggest GDP, he has the third-most powerful military, on which he spent $67 billion in 2020. With which he bullies and invades neighbors and ties down NATO as a whole and the U.S. military separately. Granted, he’s an Evil Genius — never a good thing. But he has another ace in the hole: Europe and its energy demands. But it didn’t have to happen and almost didn’t.

Russia is now massing soldiers and hardware on its border with Ukraine, at the very least for intimidation and quite possibly for invasion. It’s not like it hasn’t done it before, with the 2014 seizure of Crimea and fighting in border territories that still continues.

The U.S. has been providing the former Soviet republic substantial military aid, apparently more than $2.5 billion since Russia began waging war against its former vassal state. But Ukraine is clearly the underdog and President Joe Biden’s threat of “harsh” sanctions probably doesn’t keep Putin awake at night. Unilateral sanctions almost never work. Ask Cuba. Shoring up other European countries with NATO military? Putin doesn’t want them.

But it should never have come down to this. The problem, in a nutshell, is Putin funnels energy to Europe for which Europe funnels back the hard currency that Russia uses to buy a military.

First, the Russian side of the equation. It’s a nation perhaps cursed with awful weather but blessed with the world’s greatest fossil fuel reserves. One sometimes hears that Russia’s GDP is on par with Italy’s. Wrong. Italy comes in at number eight with a nominal GDP of $1.85 trillion for FY 2020 while Russia is only eleventh with $1.46 trillion. That puts it well behind Germany ($3.85 trillion), the U.K., France, and yes Italy. Per capita, Russia ranks 68th, well below Chile.

Which in part is to say that if Germany alone spent that 2 percent of its GDP ($77 billion) as NATO members have agreed on as a minimum, it would beat Russia’s and maybe encourage the bear to hibernate. (And there are 27 other European nations in NATO, plus the U.S. and Canada.) But they don’t; they only spend 1.4 percent. Berlin is apparently still enjoying a “peace dividend” from World War II. Russia, conversely, spends 4.3 percent of its GDP on its military, which is part of the equation as to how it can have such a large military. The other part is its revenues.

Russia is the world’s second-largest fossil fuels producer, behind only the United States. But the U.S. uses most of that itself, with more than double Russia’s population and much greater use per capita. In terms of exports, for petroleum Russian ranks second worldwide, for gas first, and for coal third. And it looks even better against the competition when you consider that even as the U.S. exports a lot of oil and gas, it imports a lot as well. (That’s actually true of other commodities and an explanation would require a separate article.)

Overall in Russia, fossil fuel exports reached $262 billion in 2019 and comprised 60 percent of total exports. (Because of COVID, 2020 was an outlier.) And with the state-owned gas producer Gazprom enjoying record profits this year, this may be the most lucrative year ever. Na Zdorovie! Without that, the country couldn’t possibly maintain its massive military.

And who, pray, is buying all that fuel?

Most of it is Europe, primarily Germany. Germany gets almost all of its gas from Russia. No, not imported gas — total.

All 27 members of the EU plus the U.K. are now energy importers, including Denmark, which until recently was a net exporter. In 2019, Europe got over 43 percent of its imported coal from Russia, 26 percent of its oil, and 34 percent of its gas. Russia’s share of EU imports of natural gas (including liquefied natural gas) between 2009 and 2019 increased from 26.9 percent to 34.3 percent.

It appears all those solar panels and wind turbines haven’t accounted for as much as we’ve been led to believe in any realistic sense.

And yes, they could buy from elsewhere. The U.S. is Europe’s second-largest supplier of coal with plenty to spare while 37 percent of its natural gas exports already go to Europe and American gas production is rising. But liquefying dry natural gas for overseas shipment requires several steps and considerable energy as does the fracking the U.S. uses to get much of that gas. Thus all else being equal, Russian gas obtained without fracking and delivered dry through pipelines is going to be cheaper.

Yet in a sense, albeit indirectly, France and Germany saw this coming and France did something about it while Germany started to — and then reversed course.

After the 1973 Arab oil embargo, even though France was almost untouched, the government decided it couldn’t be held hostage in the future and went on a massive spree to replace fossil fuels with nuclear — no Greta Thunberg nagging required. Within just seven years most of its grid energy was from nuclear and soon thereafter it had accomplished its goal and actually become the world’s biggest electricity exporter. It still is.

Germany, with by far Europe’s largest energy demand (by country, not per capita), was heading in that direction. It had 26 nuclear plants providing almost a third of the nation’s electricity. Not surprisingly, knowing German technological skills, that included the world’s most productive plant. It could have eliminated the use of fossil fuels for the grid both domestic and imported, meanwhile dramatically decreasing its “greenhouse gas” emissions. Then like France, it could have become an exporter. Meanwhile, 11 other EU-27 countries had nuclear reactors as does the U.K.

But after Chernobyl in 1986, Deutschland’s resolve began to waver. Then came the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Never mind that the real disaster was about 18,500 souls washed away by an utterly massive tsunami. Three reactors on the coast went into meltdown because they used old active shutdown technology, causing perhaps one death so far allegedly from direct causation. Also never mind that Germany gets tsunamis approximately never and has low seismic activity.

That was it. Germany loves its environmentalists almost as much as it loves beer. So when the Green Party demanded shutting down the nuclear industry and replacing it with “green energy,” the country clicked its heels and snapped to it. 

Indeed, the nuclear closures have proceeded apace. Only six plants are left, scheduled for mothballing next year. As for “renewable” energy, Germany has wind but not much sun. My ex-wife and I once spent three weeks there, after which we referred to it as “The summer without sun.” Afterward, we still visited a lot — in winter. Those nifty articles about how much power the country gets from “renewables” always commit the same crime; they exclude imports. Hoppla! Oops! (READ MORE: A Cold, Dark Winter Approaches: Blackouts Anticipated as Green Energy Falters)

The result is that Germans pay more for electricity with taxes included than any other Europeans, as much as three times that of other EU countries and, yes, considerably more than France. And yet it now has mandated a phase-out of internal combustion vehicles. Viel Gluck! Good luck! Meanwhile President Emmanuel Macron — God bless him! — has announced his country will build more reactors, tying it to the country’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while the Netherlands has decided to extend the life of its current sole reactor and add two more.

But Germany and its leading by example has left Europe with a tremendous hunger for fossil fuels and Putin, the nice guy that he is, has been glad to help out. That, in part, is why Europe recently has paid near record highs for its energy. To the extent Russia has played a role, part has been opportunistic and part appears to be extortion. The newly built Gazprom pipeline Nord Stream 2 “is no ordinary business project,” states the Atlantic Council. “On the contrary, it is a geopolitical weapon aimed at the heart of Europe that has been conceived since day one as a tool to isolate Ukraine and strengthen Russia’s position in its confrontation with the Western world.”

Which is why for now, at least, Germany is saying “Nein!” to regulatory approval. Good for them!

But it remains that Europe has bought Russia’s military. And reduced the size of Ukraine with perhaps more to come. It has probably directly kept Putin in power since his kleptocracy is essentially built on energy production. It’s also tremendously helped China’s military, which has bought and stolen a lot of Russian technology.

Granted, to a great extent the U.S. has also enabled China with its massive Chinese imports. But the U.S. “addiction” to cheap imports of relatively high quality is far more understandable than a Europe that in denying Russia its position as a world military power could have had vastly cheaper and cleaner electricity regarding both traditional pollutants and greenhouse gases.

It could have been a win all the way around for the entire world except not Russia generally but Putin specifically. Now Europe is paying a heavy price and Ukraine may soon pay a terrible one.

Michael Fumento (www.fumento.com) is an attorney, author, and science journalist for over 35 years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Sunday Times, the Atlantic, and many other fora. He is a former paratrooper who was a photojournalist in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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