The 2022 invasion of Ukraine has opened a season of economic sanctions against Russia, the most important of which affect gas and oil exports. Contrary to the West’s hopes, these sanctions are putting the European Union, increasingly divided internally, in dire straits, with galloping inflation and the risk of making a mockery, for the umpteenth time, of the hope for a united Europe, politically, economically and militarily.
It is no secret to anyone that Putin has been betting on this implosion of the EU for years – ever since he conquered and annexed Crimea eight years ago, without anyone daring more than a few timid protests. From 2014 onwards, the Kremlin has had plenty of time to prepare for the next step, just as Adolf Hitler had done, 80 years earlier: first the annexation of the Sudetenland, then Bohemia, then Austria, while the West, frightened and divided, accepted Nazi expansion as inevitable.
In recent years, Russian diplomacy has been working flat out to make a war in Ukraine possible and economically viable. On the one hand by strengthening anti-democratic and friendly regimes, such as the Hungarian and Belarusian regimes, and on the other hand by financing political parties and individual European leaders who knew where they stood and could count on significant influence in times of need. As a final masterpiece, however, an efficient strategy was needed to ensure that any economic sanctions would not make any military action suicidal. The three main props of the strategy were to achieve almost total energy dependency of the whole of Central Europe (with the Druzhba pipeline and the Nord Stream 2 submarine pipeline project), military and energy agreements with an influential NATO member, Turkey, which is now forced to obey orders and desperately seek a compromise, energy dependency agreements with all geopolitically relevant developing countries.
The crowning achievement of this strategy is the annual organisation of the Eurasian Economic Forum, held every October in Verona, Italy, and organised by the Russian government, the Northern League, and Banca Intesa (whose CEO, Antonio Fallico, is famous for his Moscow connections and now vigorously advocates the illegitimacy of sanctions against Russia), the CEO of Trafigura, Jeremy Weir), the CEO of Rosneft (Igor Sechin), the top management of the Russian oil industry and the most influential pro-Putin politicians (Romano Prodi, Matteo Salvini, Marine Le Pen, Gerhard Schröder, Hirofumi Katase and others ).
Prominent among them, of course, are the leaders of the Italian Northern League, who are now officially on Putin’s payroll – which is why the conference is being held in Verona, a Lega Nord fiefdom. In 2022, of course, bringing everyone together in Verona would be impossible, so this year the forum has been moved to June, to St. Petersburg, and the list of participants is being kept secret – but it is clear that it includes politicians and industrialists from all over the world, including the European Union .
It is in the context of this forum that, in 2013, Trafigura and Rosneft signed a five-year agreement, later renewed, for the supply of oil: 10.11 million tonnes of crude oil that, although coming from Russia, are marketed each year from Trafigura’s offices in Switzerland and Singapore, and are therefore not blocked by economic sanctions against Russia . In this way, in these very weeks, even though Russian oil deliveries are officially under attack, the figures say that they continue, are growing, and (thanks to the price explosion) guarantee Putin and his generals an increasing sum of billions to spend on the war in Ukraine. Silencing any voices to the contrary, all over the West, are political leaders linked to Trafigura who, if necessary, are ready to justify the limitation of sanctions with the energy needs of the European Union.
Towards a new world order
Concentration of the supply of critical raw materials in non-EU countries
André Gide wrote in his book ‘The Counterfeiters’: ‘The present would be full of every possible future, if the past did not already project a history onto it’, and what is happening these days is a clear confirmation of this, despite the amazement lavished on it by politicians and the press. Putin’s madness, like the indignation of Biden, Stoltenberg, and the European Chancelleries, is part of a game of parties, whose developments are the logical consequence of facts, choices, and decisions taken since 2007.
It is no coincidence that Il Sole24 Ore of 13 January 2021 wrote: “In Russia, more gold than dollars in central bank reserves”: an update that shows a gold bullion stock of USD 128.5 billion, equal to 22.9% of reserves and currently exceeded only by assets in euros (which account for 29.5% of the total), while those in dollars, which have been falling sharply for years, have dropped to 22.2% . In the light of today’s developments, this figure appears to be an indicator of what has been brewing for years. In such a context, the Trafigura-Kremlin agreement, as well as the attack on Ukraine itself, are not random, unrelated events. The Milanese newspaper has been writing about this for years: on 7 October 2019 it writes that ‘China and Russia dump the dollar, hoard gold and sell Treasuries’ .
The volume of Russian gold reserves increased fivefold between 2007 and 2020, reaching almost 2,300 tonnes at the end of 2020. On this subject, Deputy Finance Minister Vladimir Kolychev says: ‘I can say with certainty that the proportion of dollars will decrease. We are considering several currencies, among them the yuan and other currencies’ – including the euro. Why the Euro? Because of its weakness and blackmailability when it comes to energy acquisition? Two arguments in support of this thesis: on 16 September 1992, on what has gone down in history as the Black Wednesday of the European economy, when the Italian lira and the British pound were forced out of the EMS, as a result of financial speculation from which the financier George Soros profited in particular. That day almost 30 years ago when the Hungarian financier inflicted a heavy blow on the Bank of England by short selling sterling for more than 10 billion dollars, created a historic devaluation, which forced the Bank of England to take the British currency out of the European Monetary System .
Second topic: on 22 March 2018, the ‘War of Duties’ between China and the United States began, due to the introduction of tariffs decided by Donald Trump with the aim of damaging the Chinese economy . The strategy adopted by Trump had practically no effect – not least because of the above-mentioned pandemic . Thus, the signing by the President of the United States and the Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Liu He, in Washington on 15 January 2020, of ‘Phase One’ of the trade agreement that was supposed to put an end to tensions between the two countries, has in fact officially represented only the ratification of the formal act of surrender of the United States of America at the end of what some have rightly described as Phase One of World War III – including Beijing’s threats to Taiwan, which are similar to those announced by Putin shortly before the invasion of Ukraine . The West depends on Russia for gas, but depends on China for rare earths, since Beijing controls 98% of the world market.
This is the West’s endemic condition: of the 30 raw materials considered strategic for economic growth, only 20% are supplied by EU member states . Over 98% of the supply of rare earths comes from China, 98% of borate from Turkey, 87% of lithium from Australia, 71% of platinum from South Africa, 85% of niobium from Brazil, and so on for dozens of other technologically indispensable resources, as Il Sole 24 Ore writes: “China is increasingly explicitly threatening an embargo on rare earth exports to the United States: a measure that would have a very heavy impact on the American economy, which depends almost entirely on Beijing for the supply of these and other critical materials, precious not only in hi-tech but also in the defence sector” . A threat repeated by the Chinese newspaper Global Times: ‘As far as I know, China is seriously considering restricting exports of rare earths to the US’ .
The Trafigura-Kremlin axis
21 June 2013: Claude Dauphin (left) and Igor Sechin (right) sign the Trafigura-Rosneft contract
The collaboration between mining trading giant Trafigura and the Russian government officially began in June 2013, when Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and Trafigura President and CEO Claude Dauphin signed a five-year contract (with advance payment) for the supply of crude oil. The contract stipulates that Rosneft will export up to 10.11 million tonnes of crude oil and other petroleum products to Trafigura for USD 1.5 billion. The agreement is particularly important: Rosneft, besides being the leading company in the Russian oil industry, is a state-owned company and is therefore in the front line in case international sanctions hit the Russian government .
Igor Sechin, the CEO of Rosneft, a former KGB colonel, is known in Russia by the nickname ‘Darth Vader’ and, among US diplomats, as the ‘grey eminence of the Kremlin’ . Forbes estimates his personal wealth at USD 800 million, of which USD 77 million is from his minority shareholding in Rosneft alone. To this agreement must be added the one with the Moratti family, which allowed Rosneft to acquire 20.99% of the Italian refinery Saras . When, due to the Donbass invasion, Rosneft ended up on the international black list, Sechin sold 9% of Saras for a net gain of EUR 45 million – 153% of the value at which the Russians had bought it a year earlier .
ENI also benefited from the agreements with Rosneft, thanks to the cooperation agreement concerning the establishment of a series of joint ventures (in which ENI has a 33.3% share) in the Black Sea and the Barents Sea: projects unfortunately destined to be skipped (Black Sea) and frozen (Barents Sea) in 2018 due to sanctions . Hence the need to push on the deal with Trafigura, which is the perfect way to circumvent sanctions: the Russians sell to Singapore, Trafigura sells as a Swiss company, and sanctions become a joke.
Just as much of the political debate within the European Union, which manages to maintain a semblance of unity only at the cost of demeaning compromises, is a joke. One example: the former German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, resigned from his executive positions at Rosneft and Gazprom, but only after the pressure had become intolerable, and he did so by claiming that he did not agree with the sanctions and that it was ‘reasonable for Russia to be a stable country’ . Ukrainian Foreign Minister PavloKlimkin calls Schröder ‘Putin’s most important oligarch’. but the Kiev government itself has been fighting to prevent Roman Abramovich from being put on the sanctions list, and has so far avoided commenting on Goldman Sachs’ role in supporting Putin’s regime and its oligarchs, because to pick a fight with the son of Joe Biden, a Russian government trustee, is to lose US military support for the Ukrainian army. In this confusion, the reason why the Russians want the Donbass remains unsaid: not to save Russian-speaking minorities, but to acquire lithium, uranium and manganese mines for Rosneft and other Russian energy companies. If Russia ends the war by maintaining control over the Donbass, any losses in the hydrocarbon sector will be ridiculous compared to the gains made from these, which are among the most sought-after minerals for high-tech and the ‘green economy’.
Politicians paid by the Kremlin
27 February 2022: the Belgian energy minister, ecologist Tinne Van der Straeten (right), is forced on TV to admit her blatant conflict of interest
With the invasion of Ukraine, some of the Western politicians financially linked to the Kremlin were forced to come out of the closet – still active, not retired, politicians like Gerhard Schröder. And confirming that, in Germany, Putin has set his sights on the Social Democratic Party, comes the story of Manuela Schwesig, SPD, president of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, i.e. the German state where the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was to arrive. It is a poor region, so Ms Schwesig is betting a lot on the pipeline: in the same hours that Foreign Minister (SPD) Haiko Maas announces the first list of sanctions against Russia, she goes to talk to Gerhard Schröder to get confirmation that, war or no war, Nord Stream will be built.
But she is not alone: the President of the State of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer (CDU), called Moscow a ‘reliable and loyal’ energy partner in October 2021, while the President of the Ost-Auschuss der Deutsche Wirtschaft (the Eastern Committee of the German economy), Oliver Hermes, greeted the arrival of 2022 with the hope that the stop to the pipeline would soon be lifted – an opinion shared by the BDI (the Federal Association of Industrialists) . A powerful lobby, which today prevents Chancellor Olaf Scholz (already known for his reluctance to make decisions) from demanding tougher sanctions and handing Ukraine the promised weapons.
An interesting paper titled ‘Freedom at risk: the challenge of the century’ , the result of research by the International Republican Institute (USA) and the Fondation pour l’Innovation politique (France), and carried out in cooperation with various agencies around the world, alleges that in Germany and Belgium, various environmental groups opposed to nuclear energy, but in favour of Russian gas, are allegedly financed by Gazprom. The Russian giant’s money also ends up in America, as claimed on 11 March 2022 by two Republican congressmen. Among the environmental organisations named are the Sierra Club and the League of Conservative Voters Education Fund, “all of which are heavily involved in opposing the exploitation of shale gas in the United States in order to reduce competition with Russian oil and gas. They received ten million dollars a year from the American Sea Foundation, richly endowed by the Bermuda-based umbrella company’, suspected to be owned by Gazprom.
The Belgian Energy Minister, the ecologist Tinne Van der Straeten, before being a minister was a 50/50 partner in a major Belgian law firm, of which Gazprom is the largest client – and as a minister, Ms. Van der Straeten campaigned for the decommissioning of civil nuclear power plants to replace them with gas-fired power stations. At the end of February 2022, the press began to publish reports of funding received by the minister directly from Moscow . In April 2022, Mrs. Van der Straeten was able to happily announce Belgian state investment in the construction of a lithium power plant (sourced from Gazprom) owned by two companies, one of which is Trafigura .
The route of the Russian Druzhba oil pipeline, unaffected by western sanctions against the Kremlin
From an April 2022 Wall Street Journal article, we learn that the economic-financial rollercoaster linked to the war in Ukraine has cracked even the legendary risk appetite of traders trading Russian crude oil. Officially, Trafigura has decided to stop exporting Rosneft’s crude oil, supplying only a few refined products such as diesel to Europe: a decision that was taken and communicated on a date far removed from that 15 May when the sanctions were due to come into force. So what happens to that unsold oil? A pertinent question, given that Russia continues to profit greatly.
In spite of the measures taken by the European Union, Moscow still has many buyers and at prices high enough to increase its trade balance revenue: before the war with Ukraine, Russia was selling about half of its 7.85 million barrels per day to Europe – and now it is redirecting them to other markets, primarily those in Asia . According to a 19 May note by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Alexander Novak, after a drop of 1 million barrels per day in April, Russian oil production increased by almost 300,000 barrels per day in May and will continue to increase in June, which shows how difficult it is to punish a major oil and gas power like Russia when so much of the world – especially developing countries – is dependent on fossil fuels.
The average flow of crude oil by sea was 3.44 million barrels per day, down 3% from 3.55 million barrels on 13 May . This is because many countries were already anticipating the measures taken by the European Union at the end of May. Yet Russia’s oil industry is growing, thanks to the war, despite the sanctions, and what is more, it is growing at a time when prices have skyrocketed.
It is a truly bleak picture, but one that serves to explain the internal divisions and growing weakness of the European Union. A picture that is chillingly reminiscent of the one described by Jean-Paul Sartre in his novel ‘The Reprieve’, describing how the rifts and fears in the West between 1936 and 1939 were one of the causes of the Second World War. Because we are all afraid, and we accepted, without a murmur, the Syrian slaughter and the conquest of Crimea. The rumbling of the Russian panzers, unfortunately, is getting closer. And there is a risk that they may refuel at any petrol pump in the West.
https://www.pressreader.com/italy/il-fatto-quotidiano/20190711/281668256543659 ; https://www.repubblica.it/economia/2022/03/06/news/russia_intesa_fallico_potenti_economia_finanza-340527418/ ; https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1155488194929319
https://www.linkiesta.it/2014/12/loro-di-mosca-spacca-la-lega-nord/ ; https://www.repubblica.it/cronaca/2019/07/12/news/salvini_savoini_e_quella_foto_a_mosca_con_l_amica_dei_mercenari-301001815/ ; https://www.open.online/2019/09/04/presunti-fondi-russi-alla-lega-i-sospetti-della-finanza-su-case-e-prelievi-dei-leghisti-al-metropol/ ; https://www.ilfoglio.it/articoli/2014/12/11/news/per-un-pugno-di-rubli-padani-79192/
https://www.italiaoggi.it/news/sulle-materie-prime-l-europa-e-sotto-scacco-2553434?callback=in&code=ZDHIMZC3MZQTYTKYMS0ZNJU2LWIYZDETMTJLMDHLZJQ1NDC3&state=941694893131484fadb98f3deca970ae ; https://www.cdp.it/resources/cms/documents/CDP-Brief_Cosa-succede-alle-materie-prime.pdf
https://www.leggo.it/esteri/news/zelensky_abramovich_sanzioni_trattative_pace_ultimissime_oggi_23_marzo_2022-6582625.html ; https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/21/business/russia-roman-abramovich-concord.html
https://www.earthdoc.org/docserver/fulltext/2214- 4609/2021/gis2021/Prospects_lithium_extraction_from_produced_water_in_oil_and_gas_fields_of.pdf?expires=1653477342&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=024C940D757675978853C260EBC433FB ; “La guerra delle materie prime e lo scudo ucraino” di Pietro Sabellahttp://www.ildomaniditalia.eu/la-guerra-delle-materie-prime-e-lo-scudo-ucraino-ecco-perche-leuropa-e-nel-mirino-di-putin-lo-spiega-sabella-in-un-paper/
https://mepiu.it/uranio-e-litio-perche-ucraina-deve-essere-cancellata-i-reali-motivi-che-nessuno-vuole-vedere/ ; “La guerra delle materie prime e lo scudo ucraino” di Pietro Sabellahttp://www.ildomaniditalia.eu/la-guerra-delle-materie-prime-e-lo-scudo-ucraino-ecco-perche-leuropa-e-nel-mirino-di-putin-lo-spiega-sabella-in-un-paper/