Russia recently fired a shot that landed outside the border of Ukraine: pipes carrying gas to Poland and Bulgaria, two of Ukraine’s staunchest allies, have been shut off for refusal to remit payment in rubles. Leaders of other European countries who have sent weapons and support to Ukraine fear that they’ll be affected next.
I have no idea how long the economies of European countries could stand up without energy that’s currently supplied by Russia’s kleptocrats. I hope we don’t have to find out, as the consequences for the American economy would be profound as well.
Russia’s decision to shut off the pipes suggests that sanctions against Russia have begun to pinch. The decision also indicates a broadening of the Ukrainian conflict. No modern economy can survive without energy. When food can’t be refrigerated, when there’s no HVAC functioning in high rises and hospitals, when people can’t commute to work, will they get desperate enough to want to fight?
Russia has engaged the rest of the world in a high-stakes game of chicken. Either live with Russian autocrats who quash free speech and invade other countries to extend their realm influence, or be prepared to deal with less access to energy.
When OPEC tightened the supply of oil provided to the United States in the 1970s, we responded with regulations that demanded greater fuel efficiency in cars, we eased environmental controls over drilling, and we began to fund alternative energy R&D more aggressively. However, when the OPEC crisis ended, two of those three responses fell by the wayside.
Wouldn’t America be a better place now if we had access to more sustainable energy sources? Wouldn’t it be nice not to have our economy held hostage by reliance on energy from kleptocrats? Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn at least one lesson from history?