24 April 2022: My Asharq/live evening TV news interview is a bit over seven minutes.
Would an oil embargo be “effective”?
I respond, What is “effective”? Clearly it would not end the war. However, a Ukranian soldier who decides to give his life to resist the Russian invaders has no illusion that his or her sacrifice, on its own, will end the war. But, he will makes what contribution he can.
So, the German leadership refuses to send Ukraine heavy weapons, and certainly won’t send German troops. However, Germany and the EU can at least step up and make this contribution – sanctionRussian oil now. This will greatly hinder Putin’s ability, within two to three months, to finance his war.
We discuss the question raised by the German leadership – by Chancellor Scholz (SPD party), Energy and Environment Minister Habeck (Greens) and Finance Minister Lindner (FDP liberals) – that supposedly an embargo in Russian oil (or gas) would do more harm to German citizens than to the Russian leadership.
The argument heard repeatedly from Berlin is that this is “not worth it” and also, that such an embargo it “would not end the war.”
Also, I answer the question of how much oil could Putin’s Russia divert from Europe to India if the EU and Germany embargoed oil.
I think I posed useful answers to these questions given the time we had. Your thoughts and critiques are welcomed, and solicited.
Here’s: i)English audio ii) Arabic videoiii) my English blog points
Al Jazeera asked me, about the Russian Foreign minister’s declaration that oil prices could go to $300/barrel if the West sanctions its oil. [Note: this interview was a week ago; but still relevant.]
I said: Finally the Russian minister has said something true. However, I explained that USA sanctions – as the EU also wanted – initially (Note: at the time of this interview, President Biden had not yet banned USA imports of Russian oil) had included exemptions from the larger SWIFT sanctions on Russian bank transactions specifically allowing continued payments for Russian oil and gas exports. And, last week, Putin, for his part, specifically also said he would not cut off Russian oil and gas deliveries to the West. So, why do we suddenly have the beginnings of a crisis of undersupply of Russian oil to the “”‘Global Barrel’ (dot com)”” oil market? It turned out that global-oil market actors themselves – the western banks that finance purchases, the spot market traders who make daily deals and oil-tanker owners who have to send their tankers to Russian ports to pick up oil – have broadly and voluntarily backed off from buying Russian oil. There are various reasons – there is over-compliance to sanctions, being super careful not to inadvertently violate the complex sanctions, reduce risk of sudden supply disruption from the Russian side, and also the fact that no tanker will pick up oil in a war zone or nearby without appropriate insurance, etc. There are also reputational issues of being seen by civil society as engaging in war profiteering if an entity purchases what is now deeply discounted Russian crude. I also explained that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) system of the OECD states, which should hold at minimum 90-days of the total imports of any OECD state’s oil imports, will soften the shortage of oil should the purchase of Russian oil be sanctioned by the USA and/or EU, or if Putin and Lavrov decide to cut off Russia’s oil supply to Europe.
I had a good live talk with CGTN TV hosts on my analysis of a growing “asymmetry” in energy relations between the EU and Russia.
Especially in natural gas, the EU is increasingly dependent on Russian supplies while Russia is decreasingly dependent on its EU market.
Under Putin, Russia and Gazprom have constantly worked not only to:
Build new pipelines to Europe (principally via the Baltic Sea-to-Germany) so as to detour its exports around Ukraine. This has enabled Putin to committ his present massive aggression there without risking delivery of Gazprom gas to its European markets west of Ukraine. However it has also worked to
Diversify its market for natural gas away from Europe. This includes 10-15-years of projects to build new major pipelines to China and Eurasia and plans for more still (e.g., Power of Siberia 2 pipeline), and to build large-scale LNG export terminals, owned mainly by Russia’s Novatek firm, in its Arctic regions and on Sakhalin Island in the far east. This gas is relatively sanctions-proofed in that it can be delivered by ship to any world market, though it mainly goes to Asia where LNG prices are generally highest.
I explain that this growing asymmetry is precisely why the USA-and-EU have NOT included energy sanctions in their package retaliating for Putin’s present war on Ukraine.
26.01.2022. Experts Wahid Machram, market analyst in Dubai; Samuel Ramadi at Oxford University, UK. and TRT Roundtable host David Foster in London made important points. Here’s a key assessment I made.:
There is a new and growing asymmetry between the European Union and Russia in energy supplies – one increasingly favoring Moscow.
Europe has opened itself to energy blackmail. The present winter 2021-22 gas shortage and skyrocketing prices are only one part. There is also the real possibility of Putin cutting off the pipeline gas he is still supplying in the event that Europe, esp. Germany, opposes any Russian invasion of Ukraine.
About the new EU-Russia growing energy asymmetry:
On the demand side, Germany and Europe generally increasingly need natural gas, and are growing more dependent on Russian supplies, contrary to the promises of rapid progress to a carbon-free future of the German Green Party and others. The EU, and especially Berlin, have adopted ideologically-determind, technologically unrealistic and expensive energy-transition policies, with little concern for energy-supply security. This has made Europe increasingly dependent on Russian gas imports – 40% at present of total gas imports,
Meanwhile, on the supply side, Russia, the major European supplier, is increasingly finding ways to diversify its gas customer base away from Europe, to the Far East, especially to China, and to Eurasia generally. It also has new outlets for its vast Arctic gas resources by converting it to LNG that can go by ship to anywhere in the world.
Reportedly, the EU Commission plans to soon include nuclear power in its green finance taxonomy, finally making it eligible for favorable financing and carbon credits on a par with wind and solar.
This could be spun two ways: as a victory for science over populist capture of climate policies, or as a tipping point in Brussels angst at the growing complexities and costs of the “100% renewables and no nuclear” model.
In reality, it’s some and some.
On the one hand, in March, the Commission received reports solicited from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), its scientific expert arm, finding that nuclear waste is “manageable”, posing no “significant” harm to the environment, and that nuclear energy has been demonstrated to be eminently safe.
However, these assessments are not surprising. Had the Commission requested these years ago, they undoubtedly would have concluded similarly. Nuclear, public-health, risk-assessment and other expert bodies have been saying these things for years (full disclosure: my PhD is in experimental nuclear physics ).
The question then is, why is this scientific consensus only now becoming actionable for the Commission?
The interview was on Monday with no evidence of Gazprom filling EU storage on the date promised. Today, Wednesday, Gazprom has begun filling at least two of five promised EU storage sites.
To the best of my knowledge, from various sources who follow the industry and/or politics of this closely:
Gazprom began using its recently unused Yamal pipeline, flowing 30mcm/day (million cubic meters per day) to the Mallnow, Germany pumping station. This Russia-Belarus-Poland-Germany. pipeline, has a total capacity of 85 mcm/day (31 bcm/year – billion cubic meters per year).
Gazprom also applied to use its previously booked-and-paid-for but also recently unused capacity across Ukraine under the December 2019 transit contract with Naftogaz of 40 bcm/year (109.3 mcm/day). Of this, :Velke Kapusany, Slovakia station is receiving 92mcm/day, with SE Poland and Moldova receiving 18 mcm/day.
Gazprom is flowing via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline (directly from Russia into Germany via the Baltic Sea) 165mcm/day. This would be 60 bcm/year if continuous with no annual maintenance downtime, but its annual nameplate capacity is 55 bcm).
This is well below the total flow Gazprom was routinely sending in recent years via Yamal (31 bcm) plus via Ukrainian pipes (89.6 bcm in 2019, and 55.8+ bcm in 2020)
Thus, these are not yet “surge” supplies; it is not yet a concerted effort to urgently replenish the EU’s worryingly low gas storage levels before winter gets colder and in the likely event winter winds will drop significantly as they did last year, requiring still-more gas, for electrical generation. (This combination ran the then-nearly full EU and Ukrainian storages to very low levels, which have still not been replenished sufficiently for this winter.).
Such drama and uncertainty from Europe’s main energy supplier when it needs reliability and transparency is heghly problematic (though, of course, Europe and especially Berlin have been amply warned about this high degree of dependence on Gazprom)..
Oh, and note that the USA is evidently quite concerned about the Russian troop buildup on Ukraine’s border. However, the EU seems at a complete loss, absolutely absent from joining with the Biden Administration in dissuading Mr. Putin from some new aggression.
“Cooperation in energy transformation and trade to increase the economic strength of the Three Seas Region …”
Kongres590 – Warsaw – 14 October 2021
Moderator: prof. dr. hab. Zbigniew Krysiak, Chairman of the Program Council of the Institute of Schuman Thought Panellists:
Dr. Thomas W. O’Donnell, (PhD Nuclear Physics; Lecturer in Berlin & Energy & Geopolitical Analyst),
Julius Zellah, (President of the Light for Africa Online Foundation)
Paweł Kotowski, (Deputy Director of the Department of Economic Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Jarosław Malczewski, (President of the Polish Dairy Group),
Dr. Krzysztof Malczewski, (President of the B-2M Company)
Key points of my talk:
1. Poland has no previous experience in nuclear energy; and this is a difficult problem that needs to be tackled starting now. Also, any institute needs a sufficient scale to guarantee both high standards and employment security to those trained for industry, academia, safety, and planning. It is for this reason that nuclear training in Poland’ should be done jointly, together with all 12 of the Three Seas Initiative members (i.e., the eastern EU member states, and this may soon include also Ukraine – many of which countries already have established nuclear programs). And, as part of the Three Seas Initiative, this means also in conjunction with the USA, in particular its Department of Energy with a vast network of nationl laboratories and obviously decades of nuclear experience to draw on. Continue reading →
On Friday, 8 October, I was interviewed, with Aura Sabadus (@ASabadus) of ICIS-London, about Nord Stream 2’s impact on European energy politics on”Strait Talk” with TRT host Ayse Suberker. We discussed the geopolitical aims of Russian and German leaders for partnering on this pipeline.
I stressed, the issue is not whether Europe is dependent on Russian gas – it is and it will remain so for the foreseeable future for up to 40% of its imports. The issue is what route this gas takes to arrive from Russia into Europe.
Consider: Russia historically exported 80% of the gas it sends to Europe using massive Soviet-era pipelines transiting Ukraine, the remainder via a Belarus-Poland-Germany pipeline. However, for 20 years Continue reading →
I was quite happy with the answer of IEA (International Energy Agency*) director, Dr. Fadi Birol, to two critical questions I posed, first on how the European Commission should include nuclear power in its “green financing taxonomy,” and secondly, against German over-reliance on variable renewables (I termed this “renewable fundamentalism”) which I said produces high “organizational entropy,” that is, unworkable and unaffordable, completely “reinvented” so-called “smart grids” with “grid scale stage” whose technology is not sufficiently developed all to cope with the problem of unavoidable wind and solar energy fluctuations, which become more massive as the percentage of installed renewables increases. This is a significant contribution to Germany’s (and the EU’s) present crises of energy supply and price security. (The video above is set to start at my two questions.)
I recorded this last Fall, 2020, during Corona lockdown, to give an overview of my course for prospective students.
I’ve taught this course twice per year since 2016 – save this past year’s Corona shutdown. This is a longish video summary of 12 class sessions. It should give a good sense of my critical assessment of the German model of “Energiewende” – a policy of “100% renewables and no nuclear.” I analyze this model as a set back to the German and global fights to reduce CO2 emissions. Why?
Most succulently: If climate change is the huge problem the German Green Party says it is (and it is), if it really requires a “war on carbon emissions;” then why shut Germany’s nuclear fleet? These 17 (!) nuclear plants produced approximately as much carbon-free electricity as all the solar and wind Germany has so far installed. Obviously this is NOT a war on carbon, it is a war on carbon AND nuclear, with BOTH targeted at the same level of alarm.
At bottom, this “100% renewables with no nuclear” policy, the “Energiewende“, is a romantic, unscientific program to which Merkel surrendered within 48 hours after the report of the Fukushima failure due to a monster sunami having hit this nuclear facility on the Japanese coast.
This precipitous “atomic exit,” in my estimation, marked complete victory of Green populism over science-driven policy in Germany. This German model soon attained hegemony worldwide. However, it is now being seriously questioned by climate activists, as Germany has failed to meet its CO2 reduction and renewable generation targets at home, while its price of electricity is the world’s high-test amongst large industrialized countries. As I mention in the video, the Eighth Independent Monitors Report on the progress of the Energiewende made the rather alarming assessment that it will be impossible to ever supply Germany’s domestic market with electricity supplied by domestic renewable sources. Interestingly, this assessment has not been a point of discussion in the present German national election campaigning.
My Op-Ed on German motives for Nord Stream 2 appeared in the Dziennik Gazeta Pravwna 4 Aug. 2021 (no. 149 dziennik.pl, forsal.pl), derived from an English interview (below here) with Artur Ciechanowiicz (PAP, Brussels). [Polish Op-Ed link]
Here is my full English interview, expanded for clarity:
1) [AC] What are the consequences of the Nord Stream 2 deal between Washington and Berlin?
[T O’D] Stepping back a bit: this deal marks a victory by Berlin in its long and intensifying contest with its ally, the USA, over which of these two biggest transatlantic powers will decide the alliance’s strategy with respect to Russia and China. The two allies deeply disagree on this matter.
In the USA, both Democrats and Republicans have agreed since the Obama administration that “Great Power Competition” must be the strategy for the alliance versus Russia and China. The Americans strongly feel it is necessary to “decouple” from globalism’s deep trade and tech integration with China and Russia, that these states must either change their disrespect for global trade rules and moderate their increasingly aggressive geopolitical activities, or be isolated and forcibly contained.
Germany, with almost 50% of its GDP from global trade, deeply disagrees with this US strategy [i.e., German exports provide 46.9% of GDP, the USA’s only 11.7%]. Berlin likes global rules; but its unbalanced economy cannot afford trade decoupling and it broadly opposes forceful military containment of China and Russia. Instead, it wants only negotiations and occasional sanctions.
So, Nord Stream 2 is an iconic example of this clash, this “leadership fight” between the USA and Germany over the transatlantic alliance’s strategy towards Russia. Berlin wants to maintain energy ties at all costs, while the USA has long advocated maximum European energy independence from Russia, and to constrain Russia (and defend Ukraine) by forcing Putin to continue having to send gas across Ukraine to reach his European customers.
Russia, for its part, wants to re-incorporate former-Soviet Ukraine [plus Belarus, Moldova and Georgia, and minimally keep them outside of the EU and NATO], and has wanted to avoid having to send its gas to Europe via Ukraine. Moscow’s transit dependence on Ukraine not only provided income for Ukraine, this constrained Russian subversion and military aggression there, for fear that the transit pipelines could be interrupted by either Ukrainian state or non-state actors.
For Germany, the “insecurity” of having to import Russian gas through Ukraine deeply alarmed Berlin. And so it made a strategic decision over 20 years ago to partner with Russia, to build new pipelines to bring gas directly from Russia to Germany [via Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2] and on to European customers long supplied with the same Russian gas but via Ukraine. The aim was to make Germany the new hub for distribution of Russian gas in Europe.
Given Berlin’s logic, the 2014 Russian war on Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea only made it more sure than ever of the dangers of relying on Russian gas imports that have to transit Ukraine, and it redoubled its efforts to complete NS2, notwithstanding this would undermine German relations with three consecutive US administrations and with many of its EU allies, esp. Poland and East-Central Europe – a region where its much-prized soft power has been sacrificed.
My live interview (22 July 2021) on the Nord Stream 2 deal between Germany and USA. with CGTN (London office of Chinese state broadcaster. This was not edited, or I would not post it here.)
I explain the bind which Berlin had put the Biden administration in for agreeing to waive sanctions on Nord Stream 2 (NS2) in return for this bad deal. The German side was playing hardball. Berlin had made clear to Washington (well before Biden arrived in office) that the pipeline would be finished regardless of sanctions.
The German (and the Danish) side had already allowed Gazprom-owned North Stream 2 AG to continue construction in their territorial waters even when reputable insurance companies and the reputable construction-commissioning firms had abandoned the project due to the threat of US sanctions; and Berlin had made it clear to the US side that it would be completed regardless of any further sanctions. Sanctions on German firms could be circumvented by Berlin continuing to allow Russian firms to do any work that German firms were prevented from performing. And, sanctioning German firms, or NS2 AG, would cause outrage in every German political party except for the Greens, the only German party clearly opposed to the project. However, the Greens had made clear they did not think US sanctions on German firms was an appropriate measure for an ally to take.
I told DW that the key reason the US has always opposed Nord Stream 2 (NS2) was that it undermines Ukraine’s security – as well as Poland’s and other eastern European and Baltic states’ security.
I told DW that one can argue with the Biden-Blinken assessment (as I have) that they “had to” waive sanctions on the Russian-owned NS2 company, insisting that the pipeline was going to be completed anyway. Indeed, German and Dutch regulators had already allowed work to proceed even when the insurance firm and commissioning firm had left due to sanction threats, and Berlin had promised it would be completed no matter the sanctions.
However, the additional factor, which US spokesmen cite only obliquely, is that Merkel’s government was evidently willing to deny Biden a show of transatlantic unity from which to confront Putin. This shows the extreme lengths Merkel’s government had gone to to insure success in her partnership with Putin to finish NS2..
For Moscow, the essential aim of this partnership has been to avoid the “risk” (as Russian officials have put it) of having to export its gas across Ukraine, a country Putin wants to annex and is now at war with.
For Berlin, the most essential aim of this partnership is to avoid the “risk” (as I have been told repeatedly) of having to import Russian gas via what has long been seen by German political and economic elites as an “insecure” Ukraine (although it is obviously Moscow responsible for this “insecurity”), and as an “unreliable” Ukraine (i.e., German elites had lost confidence in Ukraine to reform itself, or at least the willingness to risk the process).
This German pipeline partnership with Putin,, in other words, is a decision to pursue narrow-national interests. It elevates protection of Germany’s Russian gas supplies for its troubled domestic energy system, and protection of Russian gas supplies for its principal EU trading partners, above the interests of Ukraine’s security and independence as Putin pushes to reincorporate Ukraine into the Russian Federation.
Rather than showing solidarity by forcing Putin to continue shipping his gas to Germany and to other EU sates via Ukraine, the gas will now come directly to Germany. Germany will become the principal hub for distribution of Russian gas to Europe, and Berlin will “handle” any difficulties with Moscow and Putin. Of course, Berlin never consulted with the other EU Member states, much less Kyiv, on what amounts to its narrow-nationalist energy-security plan for Europe.