Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Getty Images
When the U.S. and its allies announced they would sanction Russia’s massive energy sector this week, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak issued his own threats. He warned that the banning of Russian oil “would lead to catastrophic consequences for the global market,” with prices that could reach $300 per barrel. But his most specific target was Germany, which has suspended certification of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline. That decision, he asserted, gave the Kremlin “every right to take a matching decision” and stop natural gas flowing through the existing pipeline to Germany, effectively cutting the country off from its major supplier.
But, as any disinterested observer might say, “Wait a moment.” Russia is already squeezed by far more extensive sanctions than it ever expected, triggering the longest closure of the stock market in its history, a swan dive of the ruble, drastic restrictions on banks, the cancellation of most international flights, and a rush for the exits by Western firms as varied as McDonald’s and BP. Why would the Kremlin compound the pain by adding more sanctions, which will isolate the country even more and hit ordinary Russians much harder than ordinary Americans or Europeans?
On one level, this cut-off-my-nose-to-spite-my-face attitude is based on what Vladimir Putin believed was a safe assumption when he invaded Ukraine: Russians might suffer more economically for a while, but they can take it—they always have. By contrast, the U.S, Europe and others back down when their own interests suffer. After all, the Biden administration came into office eager to curtail U.S. production of fossil fuels to pursue its green agenda, while simultaneously appealing to Russia and others to increase their oil production to make up the deficit. It also promptly dropped the Trump administration’s efforts to block Nord Stream 2.
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