In a case of deja vu for those of us old enough to remember the Cold War, we have Russian
aggression, tanks rolling into a neighboring Eastern European country, and the usual spirited
objections flying fast and hard from the West. This time around, it’s a cranky Russian leader
named Vladimir Putin who doesn’t give a damn about those objections.
Why should he?
In the past, Soviet American relations were conducted like a game of chess, move and counter move. In the year 2014, however, the West has no effective means of dealing with Russian adventurism at all. Sanctions? What exactly do we sanction? Transfer of technology?
In today’s interconnected world, a thousand unseen pipelines facilitate the flow of technical
innovation and information across national borders. Can we interfere with Russian finances?
Not really. Yes, the trouble has dropped against other currencies, but paper money and stock
certificates are not the true measure of Russia’s wealth. That wealth is measured in the
country’s vast natural resources.
Western efforts to rein in Russia are doomed to failure. Russia supplies most of Europe’s oil
and natural gas. Without this steady supply, the European Union’s economy would crash
overnight. The tanks and troops in Ukraine are just the icing on the cake for Russian power...
And, truth to tell, it’s a pretty thin icing. The collapse of the Soviet Union a quarter century ago
revealed a military machine not nearly so formidable as the rest of the world believed; and,
since then, things have only gotten worse. Most of their weapons systems have either rusted
away, or been sold for parts to third world countries. In spite of recent efforts to modernize, the
Russian military is pathetic. Good thing the people of eastern Ukraine didn’t put up a fight!
In spite of what happens over the next days and weeks the politics, the posturing, the media
show the bottom line is a brutal truth: oil is the true currency of the world economy. Those who
control it hold power in the world economy. Russian president Vladimir Putin understands this.
He also understands the nature of American and European governments who, after pretending
to solve a problem, make a great amount of noise before backing down. The U.S. fuss over
Iran’s nuclear power development is a case in point. Watching that ongoing fiasco, Mr Putin
knows he has nothing to fear from the United States. Sending John Kerry to deal with Russia is
like sending a toy poodle to face down a pit bull: the results won’t be pretty.
All the hype and drama boil down to this: the Russians want eastern Ukraine. The Russian
president has a personal and emotional interest in the Ukraine situation. The Russians will get
what they want. The Western thirst for oil guarantees it.