Russia has occupied the Ukrainian province of Crimea for over two weeks now. So far nothing’s seemingly able to stop Putin from taking over the whole country. Certainly the war-weary U.S. is not up for taking on yet another armed conflict, and the Ukrainian military is barely holding out.
As the sun soared over my head this afternoon, I realized the one thing that could pull the plug on Putin’s military adventures: the spread of renewable energy. Russia’s military, while formidable in comparison to Ukraine’s, is not Russia’s real strength. Russia’s real strength is the country’s economic might. As the largest supplier of oil and natural gas to Europe [PDF], Putin knows he can get away with just about anything. All it takes is for Putin to merely threaten to withhold these energy sales and the European Union will cave.
Don’t believe me? How else can you explain why a secret briefing document spotted in the hands of an advisor on the way into #10 Downing Street states that the UK will oppose economic sanctions on Russia for it’s Ukraine escapades? Not only are we not talking about a military response but even something as tame as economic sanctions are off the table.
But one thing can shift the advantage to the EU: renewable energy. If the EU invests in solar, wind, and hydro energy it could make natural gas an afterthought and sap Russia of much-needed funds. Renewable energy shifts power from giant energy companies like Gazprom to local control.
Energy independence is what keeps Vladimir Putin up at night because the energy card is really the only card he has to play.