KOLB: It’s Time To Crush Russia’s Energy Sector

REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Charles Kolb Charles Kolb was deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy from 1990-1992 in the George H.W. Bush White House
Font Size:

The late U.S. Sen. John McCain accurately described Russia as a gas station with nuclear weapons.

Western governments have already imposed economic sanctions against Vladimir Putin personally, some of his oligarch buddies and the broader Russian economy, but we should move aggressively against Russia’s energy sector, which provides nearly half of Russia’s gross domestic product.

President Joe Biden and other European leaders have been careful to exempt Russian oil and natural gas exports from economic sanctions. They fear that crippling Russia’s energy exports might also harm their own economies through higher energy prices, higher commodity prices and higher inflation.

At the same time, there’s a concern that Putin will “weaponize” Russia’s oil and natural gas exports to disrupt the economies of Ukraine’s supporters by upending their post-COVID economic recoveries.

For months, Biden and his national security team have been several steps behind Putin, hoping against hope that Russia’s massive military buildup encircling Ukraine was just a routine training exercise. After last August’s Afghanistan debacle, their naïve, wishful thinking emboldened Putin as he spoke one lie after another before launching an unprovoked Ukraine invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.

Putin wants to extinguish freedom in an independent, innocent, European-oriented, sovereign nation. Tens of thousands of innocent civilians are likely to die as Putin’s carnage continues.

Rather than await Putin’s inevitable energy decision, let’s preempt him and immediately sever Russia’s energy sector from the international financial and banking sector. Liberal Western democracies can surely withstand the economic consequences of higher energy costs. Moreover, this temporary sacrifice is well worth making as brave Ukrainians make the ultimate sacrifice not just to save their own freedoms but also to preserve the post-World War II international order.

Biden must also immediately reverse his anti-fossil fuel energy policies, unleash maximum U.S. oil and gas production and expand American energy exports to Europe.

Months ago, Biden made the blunder of signaling that American troops would never fight to save Ukraine. He should have said nothing about “boots on the ground,” thereby continuing the same strategic ambiguity we project when it comes to defending Taiwan against possible Chinese aggression.

What’s unfolding now in Ukraine is not a new Cold War; it’s a dangerous, live, hot war in which Ukraine is serving as a proxy for the West’s fundamental democratic freedoms. How long will the West be able to shelter in place behind NATO’s Article 5, which states that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all NATO members?

We should be planning now in anticipation that Putin’s war against Ukraine will ultimately require NATO engagement, whether as the result of a Russian military accident, a cyberattack that harms one or more NATO countries, an unprecedented refugee crisis affecting NATO countries, or an even bolder move by Putin against the Baltic states.

Occasionally, ruthless dictators are exceptionally clear about their aggressive intentions. Like Adolf Hitler, Putin has been signaling for years precisely what his goals are: establishing a wider  sphere of influence on Russia’s western border and restoring as much of the former Soviet Union as possible. Western leaders have looked the other way in naïve disbelief as Putin has moved on Georgia, Crimea, Belarus, Kazakhstan and now Ukraine.

Putin has telegraphed almost every move in advance. He tends to make good on his threats. We keep hoping that he won’t.

On the first page of “Mein Kampf,” in print since 1925, Hitler announced his intention to incorporate his home country, Austria, into the greater German empire: “German-Austria must return to the great German mother country … One blood demands one Reich.” Once in power as Germany’s Chancellor starting in 1933, Hitler then annexed Austria in 1938.

How does one say “Anschluss” in Ukrainian?

Late last year, Biden staged a “democracy summit,” the results of which were mostly platitudes and happy talk. A real democracy summit is underway today in Ukraine under the extraordinary leadership of its brave president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and the participation of Ukraine’s military and thousands of Ukrainian citizens willing to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their country and freedom.

Vladimir Putin responds only to force. There are no further diplomatic off-ramps because Putin’s words are no longer credible. The early failure to stop Hitler resulted in massive international tragedy and devastation later.

The United States waged a 20-year war in Afghanistan that barely touched average Americans.

If we get this war wrong, higher energy prices will be the least of our worries.

Charles Kolb served as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy from 1990-1992 in the George H.W. Bush White House