What is behind the Russia/Ukraine problem? It seems to me that what we are seeing is Russia’s attempt to fix a two-part problem:
Some oil and gas exporters, including Russia, are not receiving enough oil and gas revenue to meet their needs. They are not able to collect enough taxes to provide the services they have promised to their citizens, plus allow the amount of reinvestment that is needed to maintain production. Russia is starting to experience economic contraction because of the low revenue situation. This situation very closely related similar problems I have written about previously. In one post I talked about major independent oil companies not producing enough profit to provide the revenue needed for reinvestment, and because of this, cutting back on new investment. In another, I talked about the problem of too low US natural gas sales prices, relative to the cost of extraction.
Some oil and gas importers, including Ukraine, are not using their imported oil and gas in productive enough ways that they are able to afford to pay the market price for oil and gas. Russia gave Ukraine a lower natural gas price because some of Russia’s pipelines cross Ukraine, and Ukraine must maintain the pipeline. But even with this lower natural gas price, Ukraine is behind on its payments to Russia.
The US approach to the Russia /Ukraine situation reflects a serious misunderstanding of the situation. Russia has little choice but to try to raise the price of products it is selling, any way it can. It needs to cut out those who cannot afford its products, including Ukraine. If Europe increasingly cannot afford its products, Russia needs to find customers who can afford them.
There is little chance that the United States is going to be able to help Europe with its natural gas needs in any reasonable timeframe. Our best chance at keeping the global economy “working” for a little longer is to try to keep globalization working as best we can. This will likely require “making nice” to countries we are unhappy with, and putting up with what looks like aggression.
Policymakers like to think that the US has more power than it really does, and like to encourage stories suggesting great power in the press. Unfortunately, these stories are not true; we need policymakers who understand our real situation.
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