Europe’s appalling cowardice over Ukraine has given new life to Putin

Half hearted Russian oil ban highlights EU’s difficulty in imposing effective sanctions

Jeremy Warner

. 31 May 2022 • 6:43pm

Putin russia

Putin must be laughing all the way to the bank, because the most palpable consequence so far of the EU’s half hearted oil embargo has been to further turbocharge the oil price CREDIT: SPUTNIK/KREMLIN POOL/EPA-EFE


The tables seem to have turned once again. Slowly but surely, Putin is regaining the initiative in his murderous assault on Ukraine. That’s partly down to a more competent, if extraordinarily destructive, military campaign.

But it is also because the Western alliance assembled against him is quite plainly fracturing, particularly within the European Union, where — predictably — it is proving virtually impossible to agree the common, hardline approach required to help Ukraine defeat Vladimir Putin’s ambitions. Volodymyr Zelensky sense of outraged grievance is entirely justified. He is being badly let down. 

As it is, Europe continues, through its purchases of Russian oil and gas, to finance the Kremlin’s rampage to the tune of nearly $1bn (£790m) a day. That it should do this while coincidentally promising to supply the military hardware Ukraine needs to defend itself would be laughable were not the consequences so calamitous.

The initial bravado of uncompromising sanctions against Russia has given way to messy half measures, and the pursuit of unconditional Russian defeat has softened to include some sort of a peace deal that would see Ukraine give up large tracts of its territory. 

Arms shipments are meanwhile falling short, while the intended EU ban on Russian oil has been watered down so as to exclude Hungary. Even as the European Commission demands that everyone holds the line, Italy has explicitly called for peace talks that would cede ground to Putin. 

The suspicion that even France and Germany are preparing to sell Zelensky down the river has been heightened by a recent joint telephone call from France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Olaf Scholz to Putin’s Kremlin

It is as if Europe’s heart isn’t really in Ukraine’s struggle. Economic self interest is taking priority over principled defence of democracy. 

In any case, the gap between the hardline rhetoric and the seeming reality of willingness to compromise grows by the day.

Putin must be laughing all the way to the bank, because the most palpable consequence so far of the EU’s half hearted oil embargo has been to further turbocharge the oil price. 

The higher it goes, the more Putin makes, even at the discounted prices he is forced to accept as Europe scales back its purchases. Be it China or India, there will always be willing alternative buyers

It all looked so different a month ago. Thanks to the bravery of the Ukrainian people, Putin’s efforts to overrun the county had been thwarted. European leaders spoke boldly of willingness to bear the economic hardship of banning imports of Russian oil and gas. 

In a speech to the European Parliament, Ursula Von der Leyen, the European Commission President, confidently predicted a European-wide ban on Russian oil “within days”. 

In the event, it has taken her four weeks to hammer out a deal, and even then it has come at the price of giving Hungary’s Putin sympathising Viktor Orban an exemption. 

Orban has used his veto over any embargo to maximum effect, once again highlighting the difficulty Europe faces in imposing effective punishment on Russia for its growing litany of war crimes, and indeed more broadly the tortuous process of getting almost anything done in Europe when the approval of 27 different nations is first required. 

Quite where all this leaves the “integrity” of Europe’s single market, defended to the last in negotiations with the UK over Brexit and Irish Protocol, is anyone’s guess. It plainly means nothing in the case of Hungary. 

With the world bifurcating into effectively two separate oil markets — cheap Russian product and the more expensively priced output from elsewhere that the EU has committed itself to — the Hungarian carve out gives a natural and unfair competitive advantage over all others in the EU. Hungary’s industries and refineries will continue to enjoy the fruits of heavily discounted Russian energy, while everyone else has to pay through the nose at an ever inflating market price for alternatives. 

The whole sorry mess raises serious questions about whether an oil embargo is an effective form of sanction in the first place. Russia is the world’s largest exporter of gas, and one of the largest of oil. 

Excluding it from European and American markets is, through higher prices, doing untold damage to the economies of the West while failing to deny Putin the funding he needs to finance his war. 

In its hunt for alternative buyers, the Kremlin is being forced to offer bargain basement prices, but will still be in the money, such has been the inflationary effect on overarching international oil prices. 

It is increasingly questionable who is damaged most by the embargo — Putin or the West. Still, Europe’s suggested ban is I suppose progress of sorts.

If the deal signed this week holds, some 90pc of current Russian oil exports to Europe will be gone by the end of the year. Some of the criticism of the German response is moreover somewhat unfair. 

Intelligence sources insist that Germany is still deadly serious about the supply of weapons as promised. 

There have been delays, but no fundamental loss of resolve. 

It is also determined to wean itself off Russian oil and gas. By refusing to pay in roubles, the Netherlands has already gone the whole hog on that front. 

It’s remarkable how quickly the narrative on all this keeps changing. At the onset of the energy crisis last autumn, soaring gas prices in the UK were being unfavourably contrasted with the Continent, where much greater gas storage capacity and apparently unlimited access to Russian supply kept costs relatively low. 

There were already warning signs of Russian manipulation of supply even at that stage, but few thought Moscow would be reckless enough to invade Ukraine, forcing Europe to go cold turkey on its addiction to Russian energy. 

That Britain should find it easier to do this than much of the rest of Europe is down only to the fact that other than diesel (where nearly 20pc of supply comes from Russia) Britain is far less reliant on Russian imports. Call it foresight, if you like, but this certainly makes it easier to adopt the moral high ground. On gas, the UK market has already self sanctioned well ahead of time; there hasn’t been a single shipment of Russian LNG since March. 

All the same, if the EU cannot even agree on the imposition of catchall sanctions, what hope for a European army and all the other accoutrements of the superpower status the EU pretends to?

4 comments

  1. “The initial bravado of uncompromising sanctions against Russia has given way to messy half measures, and the pursuit of unconditional Russian defeat has softened to include some sort of a peace deal that would see Ukraine give up large tracts of its territory.”

    That’s the EU for you. Supported by the scuzzball putler groveller rulers of France, Germany, Italy, Hungary and trash like Chomsky and Kissinger, as well as putler’s influential media and political shills in the US: the entire Trump wing of the GOP, plus Tucker Carlson, Michael Savage, Alex Jones, Candace Owens, Laura Ingraham etc.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. “Putin must be laughing all the way to the bank, because the most palpable consequence so far of the EU’s half hearted oil embargo has been to further turbocharge the oil price.”

    It was to be expected. The euphoria of seeing Europe standing tall and steady in the face of mafia aggression didn’t last very long. A short month or two. The Europe of the today is a sinking ship, I’m afraid. They will never stand up for their supposed “values”. Mafia land, bat virus land, rape land … they will walk all over this sorry-ass continent in the near future. The current politicians there – Macron, Scholz, Draghi, Orban – would have never been made even gardeners or janitors under the great Reagan, or Churchill or Thatcher. They would chase these dumbass spineless cowards off with broomsticks, like rats.
    But, Biden shares much of the fault for the high oil price. He turned our country from being oil independent to being an oil beggar.

    Liked by 2 people

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