DANIEL VAUGHAN: War Crimes and Heightened Contradictions in Ukraine

Over the weekend, reporting out of Bucha, Ukraine showed new signs that the Russians are committing actual war crimes. Gruesome pictures and evidence, vetted by Fox NewsThe Wall Street Journal, and New York Times, showed some of the worst war aftermaths yet.

But despite the new evidence of war crimes and brutality from Putin’s military, the realities are little change. The contradictions surrounding the conflict continue to heighten. Europe finances Russia’s coffers by buying Russia’s oil and gas. Even if the war crimes of Bucha impact people’s hearts, there’s still the reality that Putin has Europe by its energy chains.

Energy and security.

Energy security is national security. The two are the same. If your country can produce its energy and food, not relying on someone else, you hold a freer hand on the world stage. Europe is wholly dependent on Russia for its power.

The response from the Biden administration and Europe to these events in Europe was to investigate more sanctions:

“The Biden administration could impose sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy that it has not hit so far, including mining, transportation and additional areas of the Russian financial sector. The world continues to buy billions of dollars worth of Russian oil and gas, giving the Kremlin a direct financial lifeline.”

The critical part is the last section: oil and gas. Everything else is secondary in the sanctions list to the energy sector.

Russia’s currency, the rouble, has almost fully recovered after plummeting from the initial sanctions. Far from being isolated, Russia has slowly recovered from the start of the invasion and cut deals with China, India, and more.

Hypocrisy and contradictions.

The hypocrisy and contradictions of the moment are increasing with each passing day. The world can see Russia’s atrocities, and Europe continues sending money to Putin. Europe’s dependence on Russia undercuts all the talk of sanctions, action, and standing with Ukraine.

If Putin cuts off the pipeline, or if European countries refuse to pay in roubles or any other reason that comes to him, Europe is stuck. Germany is already debating rationing oil and gas, and the United Kingdom has similar debates occurring in parliament.

Energy security is national security. Energy impacts more than just a country’s ability to turn the lights on and off. It affects everything from industry, technology, and agriculture.

Germany’s economic advisors have already warned that Germany will enter a recession if Putin shuts off the oil and gas pipelines to Europe. It wouldn’t be a recession down the road. It would be immediate. If Germany loses access to Russian oil and gas, they enter a recession that same month.

Germany is the largest and most important economy in Europe. If they enter a recession, it impacts everyone around them. A recession would also affect the ability of the European Union to operate effectively.

Russia would feel the impact too. Russia has no incentive to turn off the pipelines. Putin needs Europe’s money almost as much as they need his energy commodities. The negotiations around oil and gas deliveries in Europe have entered a Mutually Assured Destruction phase. Neither party wants to pull the trigger on oil and gas, but consequences are unavoidable.

MAD and the new economy.

Russia could offset some of Europe’s money by selling more to India, China, and others. Europe could eventually pivot energy production to non-Russian reliant sources. But those decisions take time, and the time to act is now.

The atrocities in Bucha are awful. But unless Germany is willing to take Europe into a recession in response to allegations of war crimes, Putin will continue cashing checks. A James Meigs notes in Commentary Magazine, the reality is not avoidable:

Putin wasn’t just aware of this trend; he engineered it. Today, Russia is one of the world’s top producers of fossil fuels. But it uses less than half of what it takes out of the ground. The rest it exports. Meanwhile, as Shellenberger documents, Europe consumes 15 million barrels of oil a day, but produces less than four. It consumes 560 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year but produces only 230 billion.

These are numbers that cannot get waived away. Germany and Europe will need less of these resources over the summer, but fall and winter are coming.

Germany and Europe have a choice: do they plunge their countries into recession? Or do they respond to new atrocities and fulfill the moral cause they’ve laid down in public statements? The contradictions of their public comments are evident for everyone to see.

As are the checks getting sent every month to Russia. These decisions won’t get easier. Putin will get more emboldened with more time, the body bags will increase, and the contradictions will increase.