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March 07, 2022

Stop Buying Russian Oil; No-Fly Zone

Two huge decisions for this week.

Oil

There is already a bipartisan bill in Congress to cut off US oil imports from Russia. Apparently fearing that Americans will blame him for even higher gas prices, Biden is so far not supporting this effort. This is not a time to be partisan or political. Biden should support an immediate American ban on Russian oil, gas, and refined products. Republicans should refrain from blaming him for the even higher prices which may follow. On the other hand, if Biden doesn’t support defunding the Russians in this way, he will and should get all the blame both for a lack of support for Ukraine and the higher oil prices which are coming anyway. People might even remember that it was just a few months ago when he was urging Russia to sell more oil – and increase our dependency. BTW, it will be very good for the US if Congress finally does something hard and takes responsibility for the consequences.

Secretary of State Blinken says what we must consult with our allies about cutting off Russian fuel imports to the US. That’s nonsense. If we don’t bid against Europeans for that fuel and absorb some of the pain of higher world oil prices, we help Europeans who won’t be able to cut off imports as quickly. We unlike Europeans, also profit from higher hydrocarbon prices since we are an exporting nation – thanks to fracking.

We also must do everything we can to replace Russian fuel on the world market. Our own oil and gas production is running well below the peaks of a few years ago. American rigs are standing up and drilling again but our government must facilitate, not discourage, further production. Banks should not be discouraged from lending to fossil fuel producers. Pipelines like XL must be finished and opened in months. We need liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals to serve the new import terminals Europe is finally committing to building. None of this needs a government subsidy; high energy prices will finance it all if we get out of our own way. Even though it may take months for new American oil to reach the market, Russia will not be able to get financing to ramp up or even keep up its own production if it is clear that we will bring energy prices back down again.

Europe would have an awful time without Russian oil and gas right now. Much easier for us to cut the Russians off than it is for them. However, Russia may not give them any choice. What then? We must be ready to support them in any way we can with essential fuel. Longer term, Europe must tap its own oil and gas supplies even if the word “fracking” is unpopular in any language.

No Fly Zone

This one is much harder. However, the reasons that the US and the UK are giving for not imposing a no-fly zone are dangerous even if true: “It might mean war between NATO and Russia”. How can Lithuanians and other small NATO members be sure we won’t say the same thing if Russia attacks them? The only possible justification is that Russia hasn’t directly attacked NATO yet, although Putin has called the new sanctions an act of war.

I’m not certain we should impose a no-fly zone now – or that we shouldn’t. Joe Manchin as quoted in The Hill is right, however:

“To take anything off the table thinking we might not be able to use things because we've already taken it off the table is wrong.

“I will take nothing off the table. But I would be very clear that we're going to support the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian president and this government every way humanly possible.”

Why should we give Putin the freedom of knowing what we are not going to do?

The United States

The reaction to the part of the State of the Union address about Ukraine was resoundingly non-partisan. It was delivered well; it was received well. NATO has come together surprisingly quickly and effectively. A very recent Reuters poll shows Americans overwhelmingly willing to accept temporarily higher energy prices and even in support of a no-fly zone.

Our unity will be preserved by effective action; it will be wasted by ineffectual or partisan dithering. Our unity and willingness to act, to learn from the example of the brave Ukrainians, may be the last, best chance to avoid a choice between nuclear war and surrender.

See also:

Opinion: How to beat Putin, for real (Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post)

Brave Ukraine Can Unite a Fractured US

Defeating Putin Requires Winning the Energy War

High Oil and Gas Prices Fuel Russian and Iranian Aggressiveness

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