The Biden Administration is proving to be the willing lackey of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At his January 19 press conference, Biden, perhaps aware that Putin’s forces have already surrounded Ukraine, acknowledged that Russia is very likely to undertake a “minor incursion” into the country where his son once held a powerful position in a major energy company.
Given the embarrassment that was the Afghanistan withdrawal, no one is taking seriously Biden’s belated promise that he would hold Putin accountable by imposing sanctions and increasing U.S. troop levels in Poland – or whatever.
This is, after all, the same Tough Joe Biden who sanctimoniously canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, suspended drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and lifted sanctions against Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
But is the Ukraine flap really the Russian gambit of highest concern? Or should Americans (and Canadians and maybe Norwegians) be much more concerned about Russia’s now wide-open door to impose it hegemony over the entire Arctic – as America withdraws from the region?
Putin’s Russia has had no qualms about expanding oil and gas drilling operations in the Arctic or of showing off its military might to protect those interests – and perhaps to control all Arctic shipping lanes. Why not demand that the U.S. return Alaska to Russia, claiming the 1867 purchase agreement was fatally flawed? The Squad would likely cheer!
The Russian and Biden moves threaten not just the Alaskan economy but the political stability of the northern hemisphere. Yet the Biden Administration has no visible plan to counter the Russians, either in Ukraine or in the Arctic. Returning Alaska to Russia would rid Biden of two GOP Senators, a GOP House member, and a lot of headaches.
Three years ago the Russians began drilling in Payakha (northern Siberia) in what could become the largest oil field in the Arctic. Rosnedra, Russia’s state mineral extraction agency, says the Payakha field could hold up to 1.2 billion tons of oil.
Production from the Siberian oilfields, which will be funneled through a new Kara Sea terminal in Sever, is projected to rise to 25 million tons a year (MMty) by 2024, 50 MMty by 2027, and a maximum 115 MMty by 2030.
Since that time, the Russians have beefed up operations. Construction has begun on about 2,000 kilometers of new long-distance pipelines and 7,000 km of local branch pipelines; three new airports; 10 helipads; and about 50 new ice-class tankers. Russia’s national oil company Rosneft is also planning 15 new towns for an estimated 400,000 oilfield workers.
Russia, in cooperation with the company Rosgazdobycha, also has begun operations at a major new gas field on the Arctic coast, partly on land and partly offshore in Ob Bay. The 19-well project includes horizontal operations up to 4,200 meters long under the shallow bay.
Also in the Arctic, the Russian mining and metallurgy company Nornickel has contracted with Finnish shipbuilders to construct a huge icebreaker to patrol the Russian Arctic with capability to break through 2-meter-thick snow-covered ice. The vessel, and perhaps a nuclear-powered icebreaker still in design stage, is needed to escort ships carrying nickel, copper, and other ores between Dudinka (on the Yenisey River) and Murmansk.
The Russians are also beefing up their military capabilities in the Arctic (as well as surrounding Ukraine). The Russian Navy has announced upcoming drills in the Arctic, as well as the Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean) through February. The war games will involve 140 warships and support vessels, 60 aircraft, 1,000 pieces of military equipment, and 10,000 personnel.
And it is reported that the Russians are deployable nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in eastern Siberia to support its Arctic brigade and be ready to strike in the event of an American response to its potential moves in Ukraine. Who knows, though? Maybe the Russians have cut a secret deal with the Big Guy to develop ANWR oil under an international agreement?
The same Green activists who succeeded in getting Joe Biden to shut down some (but not all) oil and gas operations in the Arctic have sputtered and spewed and wrung their hands over Russia’s fossil fuel forays into the Arctic.
Carolyn Kissane of the NYU Center for Global Affairs and geopolitical risk analyst Adrian Varga have argued that the 2020 heat wave that saw 100-degree temperatures in northern Russia might look like great news for Russia’s giant oil and natural gas companies. [The ability to use ships in the Barents and Kara Seas is a big plus, for sure.]
But, they contend, there is a great risk that 2.5 million square miles of permafrost – 40 percent of the world’s total – could disappear in the next 80 years, much of it in Russia. And that, they report, “spells disaster for the Earth’s climate, as well as for Russia’s national and energy security.” That permafrost contains huge abouts of carbon dioxide that resource extraction by the Russians, they fear, could unleash on the world and, well, bring on a climate nightmare.
Exacerbating that nightmare, the pair insist, is the Russian oil and gas industry’s woeful record of negligence that is compounded by decrepit infrastructure. [More oil is spilled in Russia than in any other nation.] Russia’s thousands of miles of pipelines are rapidly aging and notoriously (their words) undermaintained – and increasingly exposed to melting permafrost.
Kissane and Varga admit that Russia is unlikely to change course, as its entire economy is built on resource extraction. In their view, Russia’s energy economy is held together by a Faustian bargain – natural resource revenues today at the expense of people, ecosystems, and the economy in years to come.
The “green” Biden Administration, however, is encouraging Russia’s oil and gas industry while decimating the much better regulated American and Canadian counterparts. Where is the hue and cry from those who have feared that an American President might be a Russian asset?
The Institute for Energy Research reports that U.S. imports of oil and refined petroleum products from Russia have been increasing so much that Putin’s fiefdom has overtaken Mexico to become the No. 2 nation (after Canada) for U.S. oil imports. And just a year ago, the U.S. was energy independent.
To be sure, Biden’s Afghanistan debacle was a huge gift to China, which may soon move to swallow up Taiwan as it did to castrate Hong Kong. But Biden’s propping up of Russia’s oil and gas industry after severely crippling America’s deserves a serious review.
We would promise to hold our breath until the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Environmental Defense, or even the World Wildlife Fund launches a major campaign against Russia’s Arctic oil and gas expansionism. We could even add to that list the Biden Administration. But we prefer breathing.