Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

Pipeline Politics, Maritime Insurance, and Russia’s War in Ukraine

by Peter Zeihan on June 1, 2022

I’m re-sharing a couple of videos from early May to highlight a couple key trends coming to a head: the EU ban on Russian oil imports, and a continuing challenge of indemnification for ships carrying cargoes of Russian goods–oil, stolen Ukrainian grain, etc.

On the first, it’s taken Europeans months to hammer out an agreement and a timeline–with plenty of caveats–but replacing your largest oil supplier overnight is a considerable feat. But EU leaders came out over the weekend announcing that a general framework had been reached, seeing most of the EU taper off of Russian oil by year’s end. One of the biggest exemptions is Russian crude delivered by pipeline, a necessary boon for landlocked importers like Hungary, and how Russia delivers a third of its oil to Europe.

While it’s easy to be cynical, we should not gloss over the fact that over the next several months the world’s largest economic bloc will be scaling down nearly 70% of its primary fuel source. Moscow is already adding European nations to its “do not sell list,” with the Netherlands joining Finland, Bulgaria and Poland in having to seek workarounds in accessing piped Russian natural gas deliveries. The Dutch have one of Europe’s largest LNG import terminals, and there is a lot of interconnected gas infrastructure to keep supplies moving around in the meantime, but the writing is on the wall.

For now.

The EU’s largest customers of Russian energy, Germany and Turkey, will the be ones to watch here. German corporations and labor unions remain opposed to a full German embargo of Russian natural gas and the Turks… well, when it comes to NATO and EU directives and sanctions packages, the Turks are going to do what’s best for Turkey.

Which makes the increasingly difficult time Russian cargoes are having all the more interesting. Private insurance companies, crews, captains, and port workers are simply refusing to cover, load, unload, and give harbor to Russian ships and Russian goods. While the EU is putting together another (the sixth!) sanctions package that will touch on some of these issues, the global shipping industry has shown a remarkable willingness to self-police and oppose Russian participation in regional and global shipping markets. China and India may continue to buy Russian crude (for now), but they’re doing so with state-owned ships and with state-backed insurers underwriting everything. Both economies are far too large to handle all of their goods trade in such a matter, however, and it will be interesting to see if their purchases of heavily-discounted Russian crude oil will be met with any market-driven consequences from the shipping industry.

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