In the world of geopolitics, seemingly innocent news can have great consequences.
Take the Arab Spring, which began when a Tunisian vendor immolated himself after he was told he would lose his livelihood.
Or consider the seemingly innocuous miscommunication between East German authorities that culminated in the reunification of Germany in 1989.
But one event that foreshadows something rather troubling is the recent deal between Russia and the People’s Republic of China for a $400 billion pipeline between the Caucasus Mountains and Vladivostok, Russia, which will ensure a steady supply of liquefied natural gas into Asia.
The agreement also includes Russian LNG flowing into China for 30 years.
Despite his passive-aggressive antics in Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been busy securing a future market for his petrodollars, which could even further jeopardize Western efforts to maintain security in a volatile region.
With the environmental concerns of coal burning quite apparent in China, and with a massive nuclear backlash thanks to the Fukushima-Daiichi meltdown in Japan, East Asian demand for natural gas is high because it burns much cleaner than coal, and it is cheaper than nuclear energy.
Add to this the sad reality that American LNG is more expensive to transport by tanker across an ocean, and the current ban on exporting the gas means Japan might soon have to take the Russian option.
Though I am loath to spell out doom-and-gloom scenarios, we must not forget what has happened to Germany in regard to the latest instability in Ukraine.
About 36 percent of Germany’s natural gas comes from Russia. This leaves German Prime Minister Angela Merkel in a bind because confronting Putin could result in further desperate searching for ore energy.
The country is steadily transitioning away from nuclear power.
The frustrating reality is that nearly any tool can be used as a geopolitical bludgeon.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries once tried this tactic on the United States in 1973 after we supported Israel in the Yom Kippur War.
The embargo stopped once the cartel began to disagree.
But when there is only one chef in the kitchen, Putin will simply export his gas to whomever is willing to pay, despite international condemnation and no one to tell him to stop.
What the U.S. should do is learn from Putin’s example and seek to employ, as President Barack Obama has stated, “an all-of-the-above approach.”
To counter Mr. Putin’s LNG brute-force diplomacy, the U.S. can begin exporting its own LNG to Europe and Asia.
Of course, it may not be as efficient as the Gazprom pipelines, but it does give Europe a breather from the threat of Putin controlling the gas valves.
Additionally, more impactful sanctions, such as the ones applied to South Africa and enforced quite heartily during the Carter Administration, will have more of an effect than slaps on the wrist to government officials who frankly could not care less if some of their bank accounts in the U.S. are frozen while others in Switzerland are perfectly valid.
It has been months since the Russian maskirovka takeover of Crimea, yet Putin is emboldened by the half-hearted Western response.
A Chinese pipeline connects Russia’s east and west, and this little story is emblematic of Putin’s geopolitical velvet glove.
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