Recent events in Ukraine, and specifically Crimea, highlight the fact that rumors of the Soviet Union’s demise are exaggerated. Russian president Vladimir Putin has said that the collapse of the Soviet Union “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” in which “Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.”
Like Russian aggression in Georgia in 2008, its latest foray in the Crimea is being touted as an effort to protect these displaced Russians. A study of history and the current Russian economy reveals the real reasons for their actions.
Russian history repeatedly shows a vast country devastated by invaders, from the Mongols to the Germans. Following World War II, Russian leaders were determined to never allow the Motherland to succumb to foreign invaders again and created a buffer of Soviet controlled countries, later referred to as their “Near Abroad.” Attempts to regain influence in these former buffer states have ranged from threats of natural gas restrictions in the Baltic to actual military action in Georgia, and now Ukraine.
This brings up the second purpose for Russian actions in Crimea, energy production and exports. Russia finds itself in an odd position; vast reserves of natural gas and oil with few warm water ports to export it to areas outside Western Europe. With the seizure of Crimea, Russia has taken a step toward regaining these ports.
Recently, Russian troops moved into Kherson, an oil terminal port in southern Ukraine, under the veil of protecting it from terrorists. If they maintain control of Kherson, they can also control the flow of Ukrainian oil and gas to the other oil terminal port on the Black Sea, Odessa; the real prize for Russia.
Recently Russia has renewed its interest in Transdniestria, a breakaway region of eastern Moldova with a large ethnic Russian population. Russia last week increased the number of Russian “peacekeepers” in this region from 1,500 to 2,500. This places a sizeable Russian military contingent within 50 miles of Odessa.
While the U.S. may be unable to do much to stop the Russian advance militarily, there are economic actions President Obama can take to put pressure on the Russians to think twice about their actions. Many of these actions were recently outlined by K.T. MacFarland, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs under President Reagan.
The first would be immediate approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, 25 percent of whose capacity is slotted for transport of oil from the Bakken Oil Fields in Montana and North Dakota.
Five environmental impact studies of the pipeline, including by the EPA and the U.S. State Department, have shown it would have negligible impacts on the environment and would provide jobs for Americans. A secondary benefit in relation to Russian actions in Crimea would be the increased supply of oil on the world market and subsequent reduction in oil prices. Russia’s already shaky economy is heavily dependent on natural gas and oil exports.
Next, withdraw onerous restrictions on onshore and offshore drilling in the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico. This is not to suggest oil companies should be given unfettered access to these resources, but common sense regulations should be the rule.
Again, this would create jobs for hurting Americans and increase the flow of oil and natural gas to the world market. Putin can little afford to have his economy damaged by decreased gas and oil prices.
By using this country’s large energy reserves, the U.S. can gain influence over Putin and other world leaders. At the same time, the U.S. economy would benefit from job creation, tax revenue and decreased dependence on wildly fluctuating world oil and natural gas markets.
By approving the Keystone XL pipeline and removing excessive barriers to domestic oil and gas production, the president would take a very large step toward assuring U.S. energy security – and by extension national security – improving the economy and jobless numbers, and putting potential aggressors on notice that their days of energy blackmail are coming to an end.