Quite a lot has been written about the motivations of Vladimir Putin in trying to be the 21st century Hitler. His lengthy speech of self-justification sounded rather unhinged to a lot of people. There is speculation about his health, possible steroid use, maybe neurological issues. More provably, he has a long record of vicious hatred of democracy, insatiable greed, and cruelty. He seems to be a megalomaniac. He may be after Ukraine’s arable land, minerals, oil, or just revenge for being rejected.
And I do wonder if he is a desperate man for some other reason.
Anybody here remember reading Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy? A huge, heavy read, with many interwoven plot strands all over the world, about a fictional World War III. And the precipitating event, that pushed the (then still existent) Soviet Union into war, was a disaster at a major Russian oil refinery, caused by insurgents. They were looking at desperate shortages because of that loss. They started a war in Europe to draw Western resources away from their intended oil grab in the Mideast.
No such visible, one-time disaster has visited Russia. But an ongoing mess of their own making may be causing a lot of hidden trouble. It’s what happens when you build your fossil fuel infrastructure on permafrost, and then overheat the planet.
Siberia and the Arctic in general are heating 2 to 3 times as fast as the rest of the planet. We see entire towns threatened by the melting of their foundations. A year or two ago, melting permafrost undermined and cracked open a huge fuel oil storage tank in Siberia. Due to the colorant added to distinguish the type of fuel, the spill was vividly visible making its way down the river it reached, in satellite and drone footage. And last year, huge swaths of the Russian Arctic burned. They will again this year, no doubt, and again, and again.
Pipelines don’t do well with unstable footings. If they crack and leak, it will be detected and the pumps shut down while repairs are made. How many repairs a year are we talking about? How expensive does that become before it is outright unsustainable? Does anyone watch for these things? It isn’t what you might think of as national security information, but American oil companies go out of their way to conceal their own pipeline failures from the media. No doubt Russian oil and gas oligarchs are as secretive. And of course the whole tundra is outgassing so much methane that small bursts might go unremarked. It builds up to explosive levels and makes giant blast craters in the ground. I would hate to be out on that terrain in a lightning storm.
Half the Russian export economy is oil and natural gas. In the past week the amount sold to Europe actually INCREASED. This is not sustainable in the long run, as everyone except fossil fuel oligarchs can see. But warming might be making the long run quite a bit shorter. Does Putin know this? Does it scare him?