Why Is Vladimir Putin Acting So Crazy?
By Brian Bremner
For Russian leaders, sticking it to the Americans has long been a source of both personal satisfaction and political gain. By that standard, President Vladimir Putin is riding high. He’s enraged Washington officialdom by supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—despite his apparent use of chemical weapons against civilians—and obstructing efforts to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Activists in the U.S. and Europe have called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi over the country’s harsh new antigay law. The Kremlin’s decision to shelter National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, wanted on espionage charges in the U.S., prompted President Obama to nix a one-on-one meeting ahead of the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Sept. 5 and 6.
Since reclaiming the presidency in May 2012, Putin has become the biggest impediment to the Obama administration’s foreign policy aims. That’s undoubtedly played well with Russians yearning for the days when the country was a superpower. Yet beneath Putin’s swagger lie weaknesses at the core of the economy that threaten Russia’s future—and with it, his power base. And for that, he can blame a familiar nemesis: the U.S.
His difficulty has nothing to do with intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles—and everything to do with natural gas that’s cooled to -260F at normal pressure, condensed into liquid form, and transported on special tankers to markets around the world. America’s surprising return as an energy superpower is complicating life for the Russian petro state. The rise of a vibrant, global, and pipeline-free liquefied natural gas (LNG) market is a direct threat to Russia’s interests in Europe, where Gazprom (GAZP:RU), the state-owned energy giant, supplies about 25 percent of the gas. So is the shift in pricing power from suppliers to consumers as a result of the huge supply shock emanating from North America.
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