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The strange energy wars as the Ukrainian war protracts

Bheki Gila. Photo: Supplied

Bheki Gila. Photo: Supplied

Published Jul 19, 2022

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By Ambassador Bheki Gila

As the war in Ukraine protracts, the more its uglier and implacable version fully exposes.

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That ugly version is energy, the ubiquitous adhesive that facilitates most wars including world wars, or those for whom it is the main reason the conflict conflagrates, as in the case of Ukraine.

This reality enjoins us to pay heed to the global energy relations, especially because they help give context to the amorphous body language of politicians’ doublespeak on the one hand and the actual execution of the war effort on the other.

For, it is only during armed conflict where the war rhetoric and energy national interests quickly part ways.

These fluid developments among transacting nations, coupled with the volatile causes of the ebbs and flows of the energy commodity prices and above all, the rapidity with which deals which were out of sight are suddenly illumined by odd chance or by the disdain of probability, make the moment of this crisis fertile for conspiratorial choices.

The most prominent lesson freely issuing from the crucibles of this NATO expansion proxy war which has been in the making since the 2014 coup in Ukraine, is that unlike financial sanctions, energy sanctions are not only impracticable but downright unnecessary.

Out of this folly, the NATO member countries in general and the EU in particular sought to experiment on the alluring and psychedelic power of imposing sanctions on others, notwithstanding their residual Faustian qualities to them.

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They went too far and touched a subject no exuberant sanctioner should ever contemplate, energy!

Most of the EU countries resolved to impose sanctions on Russian energy commodities on which they themselves depend, without having to stop and reflect where the alternative supplies would derive.

The visceral instinct that feeds this predilection is the sentiment that the powerful have no need to be rational. Its comical extreme manifested itself with Europe gleefully imposing sweeping energy sanctions against Russia and simultaneously cautioning the Bear not to ever think of restricting energy supply to Europe.

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In pursuit of this end, Germany has nationalised a subsidiary of Gazprom and renamed it The Energy of Europe.

They have also confiscated three Russian LNG tanker vessels on the Baltic Sea. In the exacerbation of their woes, the Germans have been begging the Canadians to return a part of a gas turbine submitted by Siemens for repairs.

Even with the tacit yet conditional acquiescence by Ottawa to waive the sanctions imperative, the transfer has suffered another setback when some Ukrainian activists in Canada applied for an injunction to block that move. And so, the 11th of July, the day of the shutdown of the Nord Stream gas pipeline for routine maintenance, found an unsettled Germany consumed with pondering the righteousness or impiety of energy sanctions against their principal supplier.

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Far in the Eastern shores of Sakhalin, Shell abandoned its equity participation in the multi-billion dollar Sakhalin II LNG complex.

The Japanese, for their part, volunteered to unilaterally impose sanctions against Russia. It is ironic therefore that the Tokyo ruling elite got shocked when Russia transferred all the equity of that investment into a locally registered corporation.

Moscow further prescribed that whoever desires to hold equity in it, would be well served by settling in Roubles.

Power games are truly infectious and the powerful seldom expect to be repaid in their own coins.

Murphy, for all his fame or notoriety, is acclaimed for phrasing the question, what could go wrong. In energy economics, or specifically, energy wars, everything can.

Kazakhstan, relatively insulated from the pressures of this energy crisis, has tripped into a sudden oil spillage controversy that has been lying in plain sight and not for the first time either. Horrible timing, they claim. Considering that there is a war raging in their neighbourhood, they had expected some exemption from environmental accountability. 80% of their oil is exported via Novorossiysk through the agency of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium with Russia.

The High Court in that region has suspended the export of hydrocarbons through the pipeline, blocking an estimated one million barrels of Kazakh oil from reaching western nations.

The honchos in Nur-Sultan are wondering whether or not their non-recognition of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk account for these developments.

Or indeed, that it was possibly the fact that they announced that Kazakh oil will replace the lost Russian oil in the European markets, is unclear. The conspiracy buffet table however, is burgeoning with tidbits for easy picking.

Of all these cases, America’s is the curioser of the lot. Dressed in full war regalia to attack everyone and everywhere, their energy missteps are garrulously roguish.

To boot, Hunter Biden ensures the further embarrassment of the incumbent with style, replete with videos of hedonistic debauchery. When the five million barrels were released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves, it would seem, to the chagrin of the chattering classes, that none of the oil went to use in the United States. The Chinese company where Hunter Biden was a paid consultant benefited from the allocation. The balance went to India, the Netherlands and Italy.

The efforts of the White House in Saudi Arabia with all their militaristic overtones, fell into one of two categories.

There is the most publicised agenda and also the least publicised one. In the least publicised, which had become knowledge to some privileged insiders, the most pressing was Riyadh’s purchase of Russian fuel oil which the U.S desperately sought to prevent. The measure of the US success in this visit, can be viewed from the ideal of Arab-Israeli military cooperation and avowed sympathy to NATO’s expansionist ambitions in Ukraine. Biden might have won the round for the Arab-Israeli military cooperation. But in the case of fuel purchases from Russia, MBS scooped the price and walked away in silent victory.

Mainland Europe may not escape what most pundits term the ‘Zelensky curse’. No matter the triggers and Boris Johnson’s amassing of scandals like medallions, ultimately the financial crisis in Britain claimed his Premiership for the price of an unfathomable war at great cost to Ukrainian blood and Euro-American treasure.

The Estonian Prime Minister had her reasons, ostensibly rooted in that country’s woes on account of sanctions against Russia.

Yet as first female Prime Minister of that country, her coalition succumbed to a developing financial crisis.

Mario Draghi, the renowned Italian banker and Prime minister has witnessed the collapse of his ruling coalition divided on the determination of the post covid social support and the support for the war effort in Ukraine. If the most urgent question is ‘who’s next’, this presupposes that the European masses are settled that there is a next. They just don’t know who.

In a desperate measure whose political calculus is difficult to evaluate, President Zelensky has been trying to reach the 54 African leaders on a zoom call. Only three countries obliged, including the Transitional Authority in Lybia. The other 50 countries didn’t show up, perhaps to eschew from the grip of the war opprobrium.

Murphy had a powerful friend, Peter Lawrence.

He too like Murphy, whatever he said, became Law, or as we know it today, the Peter Principle. Peter watched the ascendency of mediocrity onto the levers of US power and he contrived his hypothesis with care.

People inevitably get promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. Well said.

A lot of irrationality has ascended into the psyche of the most powerful. Either it is because nature is capricious and poetically wicked, or as Murphy has opined, we are all powerless to the whims of fate.

And to answer Murphy, in this energy crisis everything is going wrong.

Ambassador Bheki Gila is a Barrister-at-Law.

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