Category Archives: geopolitics

Will Germany decide to unfreeze relations with Russia after the pandemic? Czy Niemcy zdecydują się na odmrożenie relacji z Rosją po pandemii? [My interview]

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“”The chances of changing the sanction policy are small, as long as the current government exists (German government – ed.). If Vladimir Putin offered significant concessions to Ukraine, there would be great pressure in Berlin and Paris to lift certain sanctions” – emphasizes Thomas O’Donnell    Foto: Bundesregierung/Schacht

Polish journalist Artur Ciechanowicz asked me and four prominent German experts whether Germany will lift sanctions on Russia related to Ukraine:

Polish article in Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, May 6 GazetaPrawna.pl.  

English (via Google Translate):

The head of Russian diplomacy declared Moscow’s readiness to dialogue with Brussels, Berlin and other EU countries. We asked German experts if Germany would decide to reset

DGP conducted a survey among experts of think tanks in Germany, which largely determine the shape of the government’s foreign policy in Berlin. We asked about the offer, which has been formulated by representatives of the Russian authorities for the West for several months.  Sergei Lavrov at the Gorbachev Foundation recently argued that relations with the West should be thawed.  The head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the state that violated international law , annexing Crimea and triggering separatism in the Donbass in 2014, argued for the necessity of primacy of this law over the strength and indisputability of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of states. By the way, he created Russia as a key country in solving the problems facing Europe – above all the migration crisis.

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Decoding the Oil Price War 2: My Wikistrat webinar “Oil Price War & COVID Crisis” transcript

covid-oil_war_2bd-cropped-graphic_wikistrat_12apr20_captureMy Wikistrat webinar transcript “Oil Price War & COVID” from a couple weeks ago is now available on their website as a PDF.  Issues discussed include:

  • Why did Moscow declare the “war”? [Note: Putin & Sechin’s initial boasts Russia would hold out for “years”, kill shale & end sanctions all stopped in only a couple days!]
  • The Saudi response was sharply focused against Russian oil-pipeline markets in W Europe (Druzhba) & Asia.  [I believe this focused Mr. Putin’s attention on economic realities as opposed to Mr. Sechin’s anger-driven desire for revenge against US sanctions that had inflated his (self-)image of Rosneft and Russian oil-market prowess when up against a concerted Saudi counter-war, and the prospects of various US responses.  Reports are that Putin spend three days on the phone to undo this fiasco and, in the end, had to accept significant cuts to Russian output.  See my GlobalBarrel.com post of last week explaining the initial, flawed Russian strategy.]
  • The options Trump had to choose from undermine his long antipathy to OPEC. (Did he secretly offer Putin any Nord Stream 2, Ukraine or Venezuela sanctions relief? If so, Congress won’t approve.) Also: Big Oil (American Petroleum Institute) and W. Texas/other independent producers are pulling at Trump in two very different policy directions re. OPEC, tariffs, production controls, etc
  • And more (esp. in the Q&A): probable impact on carbon mitigation policies, the China market for LNG, US shale’s financial and production future, etc.

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Decoding the Oil Price War 1: Moscow seized COVID crisis to hit US shale, force sanctions relief

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The “Oil Price War of 2020” was launched at the worst possible time.  The COVID-19 pandemic was spreading to the world beyond China, promising to kill tens-of-thousands, and bring a global economic collapse.

However, this war was not preordained. Things could have gone otherwise from the start.  It was a decision, a sort of Pearl-Harbor-esque surprise attack, announced by Russian minister of energy, Alexander Novak, upon his arriving late to the OPEC-plus summit hall in Vienna on March 6.

If Moscow now abandons its all-out war on US shale, it will be because Putin has miscalculated.  He was willing to increase the pain for everyone else by exploiting the COVID-19 energy crisis in a half-baked attempt to get out from under the US sanctions.  However, the unanticipated repercussions might get too hot for Moscow.

The facts about why Putin decided to launch this oil price war are important to decode.  A key aspect to understand is that Moscow’s game plan was to blame the Saudis; and it soon began a disinformation campaign saying the Saudis launched the war.

We shall see, below and in future posts, how this blame-shifting is a stratagem designed to manipulate a section of US politicians and especially independent US oil producers, who traditionally hold strong, anti-Saudi sentiments (to be clear: they have good reasons to hold these anti-Saudi views), to preferentially sympathize with Russia against the Saudis and to lobby Trump and Congress to give Moscow relief from US sanctions.

Whether this Oil War strategy of Moscow can, at least in part, succeed in freeing Russia from US sanctions is not clear.  But, Moscow’s is highly motivated to succeed due to the significant constraints these sanctions are imposing on Russia.  They include sanctions in retaliation for its war against Ukraine, since 2014, which have undermined expansion of Russia’s domestic oil and gas sector; sanctions which have stalled Russian-German plans to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; and sanctions on Rosneft’s efforts to sustain the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela.

Today, as explained below, I would say the odds are against Moscow’s success, with the plan bordering on adventurism.  The Saudi’s initial response, in so far as it specifically targets Russia’s oil business, is rational; however, by de facto joining the Russian oil price war on US shale,  the Saudis will also provoke a backlash from powerful US oil-business and political interests, which is likely precisely what Putin and Igor Sechin hoped to bait the Saudis’ Prince MbS into doing.

Considering the pain the world is already suffering, Putin and Sechin’s callous game to exploit the COVID-19 oil-market crisis must be seen for what it is.  Most especially, one should not acquiesce to Moscow’s disinformation campaign to shift the blame elsewhere.

In Vienna: Who started the price war?

For weeks, Riyadh had aggressively lobbied the 10 OPEC and 11 non-OPEC members of the OPEC-plus alliance to agree to a major production cut.  This alliance had been born in 2016, of a newfound, market-dictated, yet grudging, Russian-Saudi mutual recognition of the reality that only such a large-scale collective effort could begin to get control of a market in long-term oversupply.  By December 2019, their OPEC-plus group had Continue reading

Europe’s Gas Crunch:  The Pending Crisis Around Nordstream 2 & Ukraine Transit

My public talk in Washington, 12 June:

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Despite Berlin and Moscow’s rush to make the Nordstream 2 (NS2) pipeline construction through the Baltic Sea a fait accompli, opposition from several EU states has stalled its completion. Meanwhile, Gazprom’s transit contract with Ukraine will expire in January and Moscow has put unacceptable preconditions on negotiating a new one. Once again, Europe must brace itself for a Russian gas-supply crisis. Professor Thomas O’Donnell will discuss European states’ various interests and heightened energy anxieties, the prospects for the NS2 pipeline, and Russia’s strategy.

Speaker:  Thomas O’Donnell, 

Instructor, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin;  Title VIII Short-term Scholar, Kennan Institute — Scholar’s Research-Project Page at Kennan

RSVP Now

Wednesday, June 12, 2019
2:00pm-3:00pm  –   5th Floor Conference Room

Directions

Wilson Center
Ronald Reagan Building and
International Trade Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania, Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20004   Phone: 202.691.4000    kennan@wilsoncenter.org

Washington interviews: Energy Relations of Russia, Germany, Poland & Ukraine (Kennan Fellow)

g7-trump-merkel-round-9jun18-jezco_denzel_ger_gov_photo.jpgWhat are US experts’ and officials’ views on the increasingly conflictive energy and geostrategic relations between Russia, Germany, Poland and Ukraine? 

Greetings. I’m in Washington as a “Title VIII” fellow of the Kennan Institute in the Woodrow Wilson Center, interviewing people in think tanks and government (legislative and executive) on these topics. I’ll also give a public talk on this at Wilson on 12 June, at 2 PM (more info soon). putin_wink-round-hnewkremlinstooge-wordpress

I’m interested to hear anything readers think should be asked and of whom.  Don’t hesitate to write me at twod(at)umich.edu or my (temp) Wilson email: thomas.odonnell(at) wilsoncenter.org

A central issue: why is Germany so adamantly for Nordstream 2 despite the negative security consequences for Ukraine and despite the tremendous hit this project is causing to German soft-power not only with Poland, but with most Central and Eastern European (CEE) and Nordic states?  (Here’s my own analysis.)  How do US experts see this? Continue reading

Putin’s OPEC tactics: Iran sanctions and the Saudis [IBD cites me]

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June 2018 OPEC meeting’s key players (AP)

Last week, Gillian Rich at Investor’s Business Daily (Washington), asked me (Berlin) and others about the OPEC’s 20-21 June meeting. Below here, I give my views in more detail, including the tie-in to the Trump project to isolate Iran and my comment about Putin likely betraying the Iranians again.  The IBD piece is here: Trump Could Make OPEC’s Next Meeting As Dysfunctional As G-7 Summit. 15 June ’18.

We spoke about market and geopolitical aspects. On the latter, I emphasized both the Trump Administration’s evolving plan to sanction and isolate Iran, and Russia’s new role as a central player with OPEC ever since the 2016 joint Russian-OPEC decision to raise production.

That’s when Putin played a new role for any Russian leader. Not only did he coordinate Russian oil policy with OPEC’s, he got personally involved in heated discussions, getting on the phone late in the last night with Iranian and Saudi leaders to get the deal sealed. Continue reading

A Comment on: “A Trans-Atlantic Manifesto in Times of Trump – A German Perspective,” by foreign policy experts

I sent this today to European and American contacts – apologies for duplications.

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

I read with interest the declaration: “In spite of it all, America: A Trans-Atlantic Manifesto in Times of Donald Trump – A German Perspective,” signed by a number of leading German foreign policy experts today in Die Zeit and translated in the NYTimes.
Point 10 is of particular interest and much welcomed as – at long last – a frank characterization in Germany of the Nord Stream 2 project for what it plainly is: “a geopolitical project:”  Quoting:
10. Energy security policy — giving up Nord Stream 2 is in Germany’s interest
There is one more policy area in which the German government should reconsider its position to open the door for productive cooperation: energy security policy. The United States has identified Nord Stream 2, the planned pipeline running through the Baltic Sea to Russia, as a geostrategic project. They are correct. More important: This pipeline project is not in the joint European interest. Nord Stream 2 contradicts a policy of greater energy independence and undermines the envisaged European Energy Union. We should try to identify a joint approach with our European partners and the United States. (emphasis added – T.O’D.)

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