The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Biden’s war on fossil fuels has strengthened Putin and weakened America

President Biden speaks at the White House on Feb. 24. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Russian President Vladimir Putin was emboldened to launch his full-scale invasion of Ukraine because he believed that President Biden was bluffing when he threatened serious consequences.

On Thursday, Biden proved him right.

Not only did the United States and its NATO allies fail to kick Moscow out of the SWIFT banking network used by almost all major financial institutions to wire money — which would effectively exclude Russia from the global economy — Biden failed to sanction Putin’s two most significant exports: oil and natural gas. To the contrary, Biden announced that he had specifically designed the sanctions “to allow energy payments to continue.”

Putin gambled that Biden was not willing to risk sanctioning his lucrative energy exports, and thus driving up energy prices for U.S. consumers just months before the midterm elections. The bet paid off.

This failure of deterrence shows the folly of Biden’s war on fossil fuels. He inherited a nation that was an energy superpower. During his four years in office, President Donald Trump opened 100 million acres of public land and water, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to exploration. He withdrew from the Paris climate accord, approved the Keystone XL pipeline between the United States and Canada, and rolled back Obama-era regulations such as the Clean Power Plan that held back domestic exploration and production. Trump’s policy was “drill, baby drill.” The result? On his watch, the United States supplanted Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer.

This newfound energy independence transformed the national security landscape, strengthening the United States vis-a-vis Russia and other revanchist powers. But on taking office, Biden squandered the position of strength he inherited from Trump. He prioritized climate change over energy independence and launched a policy of energy disarmament. Biden rejoined the Paris agreement and canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, which by itself would have transported 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas — far more than the 538,000 barrels we import every day from Russia). He suspended oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and sought to deliver on his campaign promise to ban all “new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.” And he made clear his intention to tax and regulate the fossil fuel industry out of business, promising that his administration would “end fossil fuel.”

These policies have backfired — undermining the United States in its confrontation with Russia today. Thanks to Biden’s climate policies, and the record inflation his administration has helped unleash, the price of gasoline has risen from an average of $2.38 a gallon under Trump to $3.53 today — the largest year-over-year price rises in at least 30 years. That leaves little room to absorb the impact of massive oil and gas sanctions on Russia. The highest U.S. price for a gallon of regular gas has been $4.11. If Biden were to impose the kinds of crippling energy sanctions required to truly punish Russia, prices could rise far higher.

Putin knew Biden couldn’t take that risk. He saw that Biden’s approval rating was in free fall, and that the U.S. president had no political capital to spend at home in confronting Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. And Putin had prepared for this moment by amassing more than $630 billion in reserves of gold and hard currency to ride out any sanctions we impose. When it came to an energy standoff, Putin knew Russia had the upper hand. He was right.

On Tuesday, after the first Russian forces crossed Ukraine’s border into the Donbas region, a senior U.S. State Department official told Putin he need not worry about his energy exports if he launched a full-scale assault on Kyiv. “The sanctions that are being imposed today, as well that could be imposed in the near future, are not targeting and will not target oil and gas flows,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We would like the market to take note that there’s no need for increasing the price at the moment.” This is pathetic. The Biden administration publicly announced that it was more concerned about the reaction of the energy market than about how Putin would react in Ukraine.

Biden’s war on fossil fuels has weakened America and strengthened Russia — because he apparently cares more about fighting climate change than he cares about stopping Putin’s aggression or the cost to Americans at the gas pump.

What Biden and the Democrats don’t seem to understand is that you cannot simultaneously wage war on fossil fuels and stop Russia from waging war against Ukraine. Biden’s energy disarmament has weakened America on the world stage. The first step in reversing Putin’s aggression is to restore American energy independence.

Loading...