Is Vladimir Putin going for broke? The breaking news out of Russia is that its gas monopoly, Gazprom, is “cutting” natural gas supplies to Europe to a fifth of what it normally supplies to the continent. While the ostensible reasons being cited are turbine maintenance and the non-arrival of them after repairs from Canada, which is a way to blame Germany, the “real” reason could be a high-stakes “game of chicken” where Russia plays the “gas card” to wean away European support to Ukraine, of weaponizing energy in its battle with the West.
Wheat shipments from the Black Sea ports are expected to resume under a United Nations-brokered deal, though this “deal” is under threat, mainly due to Russian strikes on Odesa, the main port from where grain shipments leave. Thus, these “moves” indicate that Putin is weaponizing “gas and grain” for leverage over Europe.
In a way, the continent had this coming, especially Germany, which under Merkl and Schroeder, refused to wean themselves away from dependence on Russian gas. What’s more, it played into Putin’s hands by shuttering Coal-fired power plants and decommissioning Nuclear Reactors.
Considering that Germany depends on Russian gas for nearly half of its total needs, this is like handing an ace to your opponent in a high-stakes game of poker. More so when the rest of Europe too is dependent on Russian gas, though not to the extent that Germany is.
On the other hand, European “unity” against Russia can become the casualty of this game of Russian Roulette, where member states of the EU (European Union) are pitted against each other on ways to work around Putin’s threats, where the “worst case” scenario, envisions a complete “cutoff” of Russian gas before the winter sets in, which means that Europe must be ready for a “winter from hell”. Much depends on what the EU does, with an emergency meeting of its Energy Ministers due today.
It is not gas alone that Putin is using as a bargaining (or, some say, blackmailing) chip, but even food, as seen from the prolonged blockade of the Black Sea shipping lanes and the refusal to cooperate to prevent a world hunger crisis. Indeed, it sure looks like Putin is going for the kill here by weaponizing “gas and grain”, leaving others guessing what’s next.
It does not stop here, as Russian oil exports are also being used as weapons of choice. While the US and its European partners look for ways around this, China and India are, in a way, “propping up” Putin by buying Russian oil. Add Iran and other nations opposed to the West; this has the potential for a realignment of the Balance of Geopolitical power.
Some indications of this post-Ukrainian war global order can be seen in the way Asian and African nations have either been supportive of Russia or are supposedly “neutral”, which in reality means that they are simply “hedging” their bets and playing their cards well.
This Double Whammy of gas and grain as weapons added to the “shocks” to the world order post the Ukrainian war, and as some observers pointed out, there is a chance for deglobalization, what with the Chinese lockdowns and the economic slowdown there leading to “clogged” supply chains, in a way contributing to high inflation worldwide.
This comes at a time when the Global Economy was already stuttering due to the Pandemic, and with Putin playing spoilsport, it sure looks like an inevitable bottomless recession. Moreover, Russia’s default last month is another “move” in the Global Chessboard.
All these powerplays mean that we are in a long period of global turmoil and turbulence where “everyone and their dog” knows that uncertainty is the only certainty. Hopefully, this sabre rattling does not lead to the Armageddon scenario of a Nuclear or, for that matter, even a Chemical weapon strike.
One would be forgiven for failing to make sense of all this “weirdness” we feel around us. The Pandemic and Putin have wrought havoc on the world, and the fabled Central Banks of the West cannot turn on the Printing Presses of easy money, worried over inflation. Another P, Populism, is already making a comeback, as can be seen from the string of victories of decidedly populist politicians, from the Philippines to Latin America, and Trump-supported candidates poised for victory in the November Midterms.
To conclude, what the world needs now is a leader of the kind that was on display during the Second World War, and Joe Biden and his fellow European rulers are a pale shadow of the above, which Putin is relishing as he goes for broke.
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