On 24 February 2022, Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, its neighbor to the southwest, marking a major escalation of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War that began in 2014. The invasion was preceded by a prolonged Russian military build-up that started early 2021. During this crisis, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, criticized NATO's post-1997 enlargement as a security threat and he demanded that Ukraine be legally prohibited from joining the military alliance. Putin also espoused irredentist views: Russian irredentism refers to irredentist claims to parts of the former Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union made during the 21st century for the Russian Federation. It seeks to unify all Russians outside of Russian borders inside a unified state.
Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states,” Putin said, in his pre-invasion address early Friday.
“Moreover, it has a certain advantage in several cutting-edge weapons. In this context, there should be no doubt for anyone that any potential aggressor will face defeat and ominous consequences should it directly attack our country.”
Oil, Power, and War
In December 2021, Russia went next level when it advanced two draft treaties that contained requests it referred to as "security guarantees.” They included a) a legally binding promise that Ukraine would not join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and b) the immediate reduction in NATO troops and military hardware stationed in Eastern Europe. It threatened an “unspecified military response if those demands were not met in full,” to which the U.S. responded that "swift and severe economic sanctions would result from an invasion of Ukraine.”
It’s difficult, however, to sanction a country upon which the world depends. The Russian Federation, for example, is the largest exporter of oil, natural gas and hard coal to the European Union. According to Eurostat, 39% of the EU's petroleum oil imports and 40% of their natural gas imports came from Russia in 2021. For eastern European counties such as — Estonia, Poland, Slovakia and Finland — that statistic soars to 75% of their gas and petroleum oils originating in Russia.
In the United States, Russian crude and petroleum products were also at their highest level in almost a decade last year, and a similar pattern is playing out in 2022.
According to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, the United States imported $17.71 billion of Russian crude and products in 2021. As refineries like Chevron and ExxonMobil were deprived of access to Venezuelan crude by US sanctions, they and the U.S. consumer turned to Russia to meet the demand.
Oil supply will be impacted in two ways when fighting breaks out: sanctions and transportation. “The role that Ukraine plays is primarily as a transit state through which Russian energy products can move,” said Gregory Brew, a Kissinger Fellow at Yale University who specializes in security studies and global affairs. “I’m not going to pretend this will be painless,” Biden added, speaking from the White House on Friday. “You’re going to feel this at the pump.”
Russia’s Military Doctrine
Russia’s exact number of nuclear warheads is a state secret, but the Federation of American Scientists estimates that Russia possesses 6,800 nuclear weapons, while the United States has 6,185. Russia and the U.S. each have 1,600 active deployed strategic nuclear warheads.
Yet during an annual state-of-the-nation address given on March 1, 2018, President Vladimir Putin publicly claimed that Russia was now in possession of several new classes of nuclear weapons, including some with capabilities previously speculated to exist.
The Status-6 Ocean Multipurpose System, in particular, is designed to create a tsunami wave up to 500m tall that will radioactively contaminate a wide area on an enemy coast with cobalt-60, a weapon of mass destruction. The robotic mini submarines can travel 185 km per hour, with a range of 6,200 miles, a depth of 3,330 feet and are cloaked by stealth technology to elude acoustic tracking devices. Codenamed "Kanyon" by Pentagon officials, the Brookings Institute reports that Status-6 could nihilate a continent the size of the United Kingdom within 24 hours.
According to Russia’s Military Doctrine, nuclear weapons can be used by Russia "in response to the use of conventional, nuclear, and weapons of mass destruction against it or its allies, when the very existence of the state is threatened.” Military analysts believe Russia’s war strategy will be to initiate an exchange that brings adversaries to the negotiating table.
NATO: The Silver Bullet
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an intergovernmental military alliance between 27 European countries, 2 North American countries, and 1 Eurasian country. NATO constitutes a system of collective security, whereby its independent member states agree to a united mutual defense in response to an attack by an external party.
“While neither Russia nor Ukraine are official members of NATO,” said Ruslan Bortnik, Director of the Ukrainian Institute of Politics, “Ukraine is an informal, de facto partner.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday “the U.S. will provide an additional $200 million in defensive military aid to the country this week” in addition to the 2.7 billion the U.S. has proffered in military assistance to the Ukraine since 2014. In fact, Ukraine is the 4th largest benefactor of United States military assistance.
A Decisive Victory
The academic lesson drawn from the clear victory of World War II was that the United States, who controlled the majority of the world’s energy reserves in 1940, was crowned the key decision maker in the global conflict. But according to the Pentagon, the amount of petroleum needed for each soldier each day has increased four times between World War II and the Gulf War, quadrupled again when the US invaded Iraq, and quintupled by Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.
With 150,000 Russian troops surrounding the Ukraine this morning, it’s perfectly clear whose controlling the world’s energy now. What’s less certain is the cost, and how dearly Mother Russia and other lawmakers will make the world pay.