Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Laughing Gas War

Viktor Bogorad
There are many ways to kill one’s enemies: nuke them, bomb them with conventional weapons, make them fight each other in a civil war, starve them out using blockades and sanctions, undermine their economies through market manipulation and so on. Or, failing all that, you can try to make them bust a gut laughing. Previous attempts by the US to destroy Russia have failed. The use of nukes against Russia would reliably result in the US becoming annihilated in about 30 minutes. Conventional weapons wouldn’t make much of a difference unless the US staged a land invasion, and invading Russia has always been and remains to this day an act of suicidal stupidity. American attempts at isolating Russia internationally have failed. Sanctions imposed on Russia have caused little damage the Russian economy, which is continuing to boom. With no other options left, it would appear that the Washingtonians have decided to resort to the one and only trick still available to them: to resort to antics that might make Russia collapse from laughing too hard.

The Washingtonians’ clown act involves pretending, in all seriousness, that they are going to stop Russia from supplying Europe with natural gas and to take over this market themselves, which they plan to supply with their liquefied natural gas exports obtained through fracking. (Conventional natural gas resources in the US have peaked and shale gas obtainable through fracking is all that is left.)

Importing liquefied gas across oceans via tankers when the same product is available on the same continent via pipelines is a dumb idea on every level: cost, risk, reliability, technological complexity and, last but not least, energy efficiency because shipping gas is a waste of energy. Undaunted, the US Congress has just ignited an intercontinental gas war by imposing new sanctions on Russia and, incidentally, on any European company eager to ensure Europe’s energy security by working together with Russia’s energy sector. The US is also spending close to $50 billion to convert its existing liquefied natural gas import terminals to export terminals, and has approved plans for over 40 new export terminals and capacity improvements to existing ones.

The Russians, who make it their business to understand the natural gas industry, find this plan laughable. To be sure, not all Russians are laughing. First, there is a large number of Russians—especially those whose job is to “protect the Motherland”—who lack any discernible sense of humor, especially when it comes to threats emanating from the US. The latest Washingtonian shenanigans may add some amount of condescension and derision to their innate suspicion and mistrust, but we shouldn’t expect them to even crack a smile. Second, there are Russia’s forlorn pro-Western liberals who have never achieved much of anything politically, but at least they got to clean up on Western grant money while being coached by American diplomats and NGOs on ways to overthrow Putin. They are now plumbing the depths of despair. Lastly, there are all the Americaphobes among the general Russian population, who are forever talking up the American threat to democracy and world peace. It is hard for them to get their point across when everyone is so busy laughing at the ridiculous noise emanating from Washington.

What’s so funny? The humor of this situation needs to be explained carefully because it lies buried under a dense mass of technical details of which American politicians and Western mass media seem blissfully unaware. As usual, explaining a joke often renders it unfunny in the laugh-out-loud sense, but it can remain funny in the sense appreciated by professionals in the field of comedy who are able to declare that something is indeed funny while remaining perfectly serious. If you are an energy business nerd and have the time and the inclination to peruse a detailed and decidedly unfunny analysis of the situation, you should read this excellent article by Arthur Berman. If you are neither an energy business nerd nor a professional comedian and just want to get the joke, then read on. [2652 words]