Continuing to pay for Russian oil and gas is misguided, and will bring unprecedented consequences for the West.
‘Business as usual’ with Russia will bring unprecedented consequences for the West | Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images
May 20, 2022
Petro Poroshenko is the fifth president of Ukraine.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his destructive war against Ukraine, he miscalculated greatly.
As a young democracy and developing economy, he thought Ukraine was too weak and divided to stand up to his war machine, and that the West was too hesitant, naive and comfortable in its false sense of security to stand behind us and hold Russia accountable. But the invasion confirmed the opposite.
Not many, if anybody at all, in Ukraine ever believed Putin was serious about peace or compromise. And ever since 2014, thanks to Western support, Ukraine has built its democracy, rebuilt its economy, strengthened its energy independence, advanced on the European and NATO tracks and bolstered its defense.
But is the West now finally willing to hit Putin where it really hurts — in his deep pockets?
In some Western circles, “business as usual” with Russia was always called for — mainly due to a dependence on oil and gas that forced various decision-makers into a friendship of convenience with the Kremlin. Then, the start of Ukraine’s invasion, and later on the Bucha massacre and Mariupol seemed to help change this once and for all.
But whenever Russian oil and gas come up, still, something always hits a wall. Putin is allowed to get away once again, and Europeans wind up continuing to pay around €1 billion every day for Russia’s blood-stained oil and gas, paying for the physical destruction of my country.
It is a misguided decision. And the collective West will never feel fully secure and at peace unless Russia is stopped and defeated in Ukraine today.
Earlier this month, G7 leaders made a promising proposal on this front, to commit to ending their dependence on Russian energy, including phasing out or banning the import of Russian oil. Though a half-step is better than no step at all, this won’t help the West break the chain of reliance. And Putin might consider it a chance to amplify divisions, as for him, Russia’s energy resources were always a weapon — just another pillar like the military or the propaganda apparatus.
I know that for Westerners, refusing Russia’s gas and oil is easier said than done. We are bearing the full cost of standing up to Putin; we realize there will be a financial cost for you as well. But that cost pales in comparison to what would happen if Ukraine were to be overrun and the war were to spill over the border into your countries — Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia . . .
If you knew that stopping Russian oil would help avoid a third world war, would you still object?
If cutting Putin off from the money he now gets for oil and gas would save your own independence and prevent possible nuclear war, would that not be a price worth paying?
Do not let a false sense of comfort today lead to decisions that will bring unprecedented consequences tomorrow.
Putin’s power doesn’t reside in the power of his military — we prove that every day we fight Russia’s invasion. Rather, it lies in his ability to bully, manipulate and blackmail others.
Putin pays handsomely for analytics and propaganda to make us believe that refusing Russian energy would ruin economies. He is convinced that democracy is inherently weak and that he can break it from within, exploiting internal divisions. Oil and gas are just the grease on the wheel of Putin’s strategy of divide and conquer.
This is why an oil embargo could become a litmus test, the first challenge for the efficiency and unity of the newly established Alliance of Democracies. And it will need to start with strong coordination and compliance among the alliance’s members on the sanctions policy against Putin’s autocratic regime.
It is high time to target Russia’s trade in oil by tankers. It is not enough to simply prevent Russian-flagged tankers from entering Western ports, there should be much stricter control of the origin of oil that is being transported to Europe and other Western countries.
And a total embargo is needed to ban trade with Russia.
Still, we need a first step, and this could start with Russia’s Druzhba (Friendship) oil pipeline that dates back to the 1960s. Constructed to pump Soviet oil to Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Poland and Eastern Germany, the pipeline remains a symbol of Russian imperialism today. It brings tons of crude oil flowing to Europe to this day.
However, where there is a will there is a way. There is always an alternative. And cutting the “friendship” pipeline would be a powerful game changer in the war Putin wages against Ukraine and the West.
There would be no greater sign of unity and solidarity, nor of energy resilience, in the face of aggression than cutting the “Friendship” pipeline and limiting the leverage the Kremlin has over Europe right now. It would send a powerful message to Putin that after this invasion, there can be no more “business as usual.”
And as long as it wages war in Europe, there is no druzhba with Russia anymore.