The Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight: Western Leaders Bungle Russia Gas Supply, Barmy Oil Price Cap, and Appear Unable Even to Line Up Meetings

Sadly, charging Western leaders with incompetence has become a “dog bites man” story. Nevertheless, the consequences of all these screw-ups is so high that we feel compelled to chronicle them.

We’ll put the military mess in Ukraine to one side for now. Suffice it to say that Russia is beating a military trained and equipped to NATO standards over eight year, which had the additional advantage of building extensive, layered bunkers in Donbass. Russia is wearing it down with a peacetime expeditionary force, battle-hardened local militias, the Chechens, the Wagner Group (somewhere between volunteers and mercs) and most importantly lots of ammo and missiles. Russia has depleted Ukraine’s armored vehicles, heavy weapons, and seasoned fighters, as well as draining NATO caches, while reportedly manufacturing ammo and weapons at a rate so high that Russia is keeping up with the usage in the Special Military Operation. Russia has also demonstrated superiority to the West in missiles, missile defenses, and signal jamming. Yet somehow our strategists had convinced themselves that Russia was a military paper tiger, when that is increasingly looking like projection.

Apparently, the latest state of play is that Ukraine keeps shelling some bridges and a dam in Kherson. Bridges and dams are very sturdy, so realistically the worst Ukraine is likely to do is take a roadway or railway out of commission for a bit (one of the bridges under attack may be damaged to that degree). It appears the Ukraine forces there aren’t large or cohesive enough to launch the much-bruited August offensive, at least not big enough to do more than make some short-term gains. The most credible interpretation is that this effort is yet more PR: by going (not effectively) against visible targets, Ukraine is trying to persuade the locals that they still could return.

Things look even less good for Ukraine in Donbass. Military Summary reports that Russia has broken though in the southern part of the former zero line on the front that is ultimately defending Slaviansk and Kramatorsk, the final areas to be cleared in the Donestsk oblast. Military Summary also reports that there are many video of large-scale evacuation of Slaviansk and Kramatorsk. The Russian forces also started an aggressive assault on the very-well-bunkered defenses just to the west of Donetsk city, and are reported to have broken through part of that defense line. It’s been an embarrassment to Russia that Ukraine has continued to shell civilians in Donetsk. Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu promised a few weeks back that Russia would Do Something.

EU’s Gas Insanity

The EU and US both still appear unable to accept that having failed to kill Russia with their shock and awe sanctions, they are now caught in their own booby trap by reducing access to Russia commodities, particularly ones on which they depend like gas, oil, fertilizers, neon, titanium, aluminum, platinum, palladium….

And then they get pissy when Russia is less than fully cooperative in continuing to supply them, even as they also threaten to stop/reduce buying from Russia (admittedly on largely imaginary timelines).

Gas in the UK and Europe is already entering crisis mode, in the summer, yet all the officials seem able to do is announce unrealistic schemes. In the meantime, the shortages train is bearing down on the EU economy and its citizens. And Russia is not only winning the gas war but also the large PR war around it outside the collective West.

Recall that Germany, with Italy is one of the two EU countries most dependent on Russian gas. Recall also that the European Commission announced the EU would reduce its Russian gas buys by 2/3 by year end. DW triumphally reported, Russian gas edging toward extinction in Europe.

It now seems churlish for Europe to be mad at Russia for helping them to achieve that end. Prices of over 2200 Euros per 1000 cubic meters, the peak over the last few days, will most assuredly cut demand. That contrasts with 100 Euros per 1000 cubic meters in early 2020 and 250 Euros per 1000 cubic meters in early 2021.

Admittedly Europe did take some key moves on its own.

First, at least Germany and perhaps some other countries too were cheating on how one counted the “reduce gas purchases by 2/3 by year end” by increasing their deliveries in March and April and acknowledging they were stockpiling.

Germany stole Gazprom Germania assets, which led to Russian counter-sanctions. I have yet to see any data on how much impact that had.

Poland and Bulgaria stopped buying gas directly from Russia, allegedly because they didn’t want to play gas for roubles. Instead of buying gas from Russia at spot prices, they instead shifted to buying it from Germany at a markup over Germany’s price under long-term contract, which was lower than the old “direct from Russia” price. So it’s hard to take Poland’s sanctimoniousness about “We are not violating sanctions” seriously.

Now let us turn to the Nord Stream 1 row. Nord Stream 1 supplied roughly 55 billion cubic meters annually to Europe (I have seen varying estimates of total buys from Russia, ranging from 140 billion cubic meters to 155 billion). Russia cut the supply (first reported as “by 40%” then as “to 40%” and I still not sure which is correct) on that pipeline due its famous part taking a jaunt to a spa in Canada and then being detained there. Siemens confirmed the part was being fixed. Europeans grumble that Russia didn’t need to cut the gas so much but no one (importantly not Siemens) has said otherwise.

Putin said at least twice, starting >3 weeks ago, that there was another sick part. One can argue that Gazprom was remiss in not getting its parts serviced sooner, given that that was permitted under its contract with Siemens. But given what happened to the world-touring turbine, one can’t say definitively that Gazprom was acting in bad faith in waiting after the fate of its stranded part was in doubt.

So Gazprom has further cut its supply to 33 million cubic meters a day (yes, a different time frame) versus pipeline capacity of 160 million cubic meters a day. So a bit over 20%.

So let’s go back to the annual math. 55 billion cubic meters x an 80% reduction is 44 billion cubic meters. OMG how awful! Some of that might come back if Gazprom gets its fixes made, but the EU top brass appears to have written that off.1

The part that EU leaders and the press conveniently omit is that the EU has lost 34 billion cubic meters of thanks to no fault of Russia. That’s the annual supply that went formerly through Yamal-Europe. Bet hardly any of you recall hearing that name.

Yamal-Europe has two trunks. One goes through Lugansk Republic, then Ukraine. Even though the Special Military Operation started at the end of February, and a junction at issue was then in separatist hands, Ukraine one day got the bright idea of cutting supply to Europe because those untrustworthy separatists. Mind you, Ukraine steals gas from the Gazprom pipeline to the degree that Gazprom shut it off for a while to try to teach Ukraine a lesson. But Ukraine made it sound as if the pipeline assets were imperiled, not that Lugansk might steal gas for its own nefarious purposes. Even though that was nasty to Europe, not a critical word was spoken.

Oh, and remember our discussion of Poland pretending not to buy gas from Russia but instead buying gas out of Germany’s supply? They were the big buyer on the other Yamal-Europe trunk. So when they told Russia they weren’t paying for gas, Russia cut off that supply.

And also remember that Putin has repeatedly offered to open up Nord Stream 2. Its capacity is double that of Nord Stream 1. Nord Stream 2 was good to go except for a final certification which was delayed due to US pressure (the US took other moves to interfere earlier, like trying to prevent financing, so if I recall correctly, Russia took care of that). Scholz gave Putin a non-answer about two months ago. Putin mentioned his offer again, last week, but said Russia was using half the capacity now and would take up more if Europe waited too long. Even half of Nord Stream 2 would be more than the shortfall on Nord Stream 1.

Even though German national leaders, above all the Greens, reject the idea of resorting to Nord Stream 2 with extreme hostility, seven mayors from the island of Reugen wrote a letter asking for Nord Stream 2 to be put to use. Expect to see more of this sort of noise.

Now even if you can say that Russia is being nefarious and trying to screw Europe over its sanctions, they should hardly be surprised if Russia were retaliating. The US has admitted Ukraine is a proxy war. American and other national leaders act as if they can get Russians to rise up and turf out Putin, as if that would be so good for the West. All of his conceivable replacements are more hawkish. The West has also shown blatant, multi-faceted Russia hatred, and expressed a desire to break up Russia, presumably so as to better loot it, like in the good old Yeltsin days. Even if Russia is playing gas games, it has still been comparatively measured in its responses.

And the non-collective-West observers will not be too sympathetic with Europe. Europe cut off Yamal-Europe. They are refusing the not-at-all-required Russian offer of Nord Stream 2 (which Russia can service itself, no need for parts to go on international treks). It’s pretty likely that most will conclude Europe could get the gas if it wanted to but is cutting off its nose to spite its face.

Europe is trying to pretend that it can manage a winter of energy starvation. Alexander Mercouris discussed the Financial Times report on the EU’s plan, where they were all chuffed because everyone ex Hungary agreed so quickly.

They could agree so quickly because the “plan” is a napkin doodle.

First, it’s effective in the event of a complete shutoff of Russian gas. Russia is still providing 12 billion cubic meters a year to Europe though TurkStream, and apparently also another 14 billion cubic meters of LNG (note all the sources I have identified so far are at least 26 billion cubic meters short, so there appear to be other gas routes missing…). Na ga happen unless the EU makes it happen.

Second, the EU “vowed” to lower gas consumption by 15% from August 1 to the end of March, or 45 billion cubic meters.

Did you miss the elephant in the room? To lower gas consumption starting August 1, as in next Monday, the EU would have had to have started on detailed planning and implementation, particularly legal and regulatory, at least six months ago! This plan is a con.

Third, the math also does not appear to work. problem is they’ve already lost Yamal-Europe, and it will be nearly a full year of supply by the end of March next year, so 34 billion cubic meters from that alone. The problems with Gazprom will be less than a full year, so assume 3/4 of a year of 60% loss. That’s another 25 billion cubic meter shortfall. So they plan to cut 45 billion cubic meters when they look likely to be nearly 60 billion cubic meters short. There were optimistic projection that the US could provide 15 billion cubic meters of LNG but production facility outages and other issues make that look outdated.

In other words, there looks to be a gap using reasonable extrapolations from the current situation, let alone the “full cutoff” it pretends to address.

Fourth, the 15% reduction has lots of carveouts, so even on paper, it probably won’t get to a 45 billion cubic meter cut. From the pink paper:

Depending on the exemptions that would be ultimately invoked, the overall reduction would be between 38bn and 43bn cubic metres, one official said, citing internal estimates.

Fifth, the scheme is VOLUNTARY! This is all empty talk! Each country has to act on its own. Do you think that countries that are better positioned will make their citizens suffer more than they need to and share with others? I wouldn’t bet on it. Again from the Financial Times:

The compromise includes clauses that put the power to make the targets binding in the hands of EU capitals and reducing the length of time that the gas reduction plan would be in place from two years to one.

Sixth, this problem is going to be significantly solved by Mr. Market, and not in a very nice way. I haven’t seen current gas prices, but I believe they are still over 1700 Euros per 1000 cubic meters. If that level is sustained or worsens, we’ll see all sorts of pain and dislocations, starting with business cutbacks and failures. That then rolls into rises in unemployment, collapses in tax revenues, loan defaults, and banking system stress. There will be mounting economic costs by the start of October, if not sooner.

Oil Lunacy

Because we had so much fun with gas, I will be much more terse on the remaining topics.

The G-7 is refusing to drop its widely-ridiculed oil price cap scheme. From Reuters:

The Group of Seven richest economies aim to have a price-capping mechanism on Russian oil exports in place by Dec. 5, when European Union sanctions banning seaborne imports of Russian crude come into force, a senior G7 official said on Wednesday.

Given the high odds of Europe being in a major economic crisis by October-November if it refused to relent and agrees to open up Nord Stream 2, the odds favor this dopey plan being quietly shelved. If it does go ahead, it will simply add to damage in Europe, since Russia has said it won’t sell oil at a capped price.

If this idea still goes ahead, Russia by then will have worked out how to have the Russian government insure tankers, so it could presumably still supply oil to friendlies…who still would launder it back to the EU. So it is possible that less will change than it appears now. But Russia probably would cut output to send a message.

As an aside, this entire idea is based on the notion that reducing Russian oil revenues will severely damage Russia’s ability to wage war. The oil and gas sectors together account for 15% to a bit over 20% of GDP, depending on prices. So oil alone is lower.

Russia chooses to rely heavily on oil for taxes, not out of necessity, but out of the old principle, “Taxation is the art of plucking the most feathers with minimum hissing.” Russia could tax other commodities or other exports or even more purely domestic sources. For instance, it imposed a windfall profits tax on Gazprom. So this perception of “dependence” is another misunderstanding of Russia. Yes, it might be a nuisance to shift taxation somewhat away from oil in the unlikely event that were to look prudent, but it would not be catastrophic.

Oh, and on top of this oil cap scheme expected to goose oil prices instead, analysts are already expecting more demand for oil in 2023, since the US will have to replace the oil it removed from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

American Scheduling Bumbles

This topic is tertiary, but it indicates a lack of competence in basic staff work. Quite a few Chinese media outlets were saying as of yesterday that China had not confirmed that the Biden-Xi call for Thursday was on, and the articles strongly implied that that was unusual. The fact and timing of the call was confirmed by the White House only as of this morning, barely an hour before the call time (8:30 AM EDT). This looks messy. Our readers who know official protocol please weigh in.

I personally think if China is as serious as it seems to be about making an aggressive military response if Pelosi and now others were to visit Taiwan, the best way for Xi to have conveyed the message would have been to refused the call as premature. Xi is not the type to stoop to being blunt enough to penetrate Biden’s hubris and stubbornness.

The reason for taking note of the Chinese side apparently digging in its heels over some hidden process issue (I assume there was a procedure issue in addition to substantive; as again indicated, the strongest way to signal Chinese displeasure would be to put off the chat) is if my surmise is correct, it is not an isolated case. Kevin W noticed another gaffe in AntiWar:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that he will speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, although Blinken said the conversation “will not be a negotiation about Ukraine.”

Later in the day, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that there have not yet received requests for a Blinken-Lavrov call. “There have been no requests, only media reports,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

More evidence, as if it were really needed, that the crowd in charge in the US lacks manners as well as common sense.


1 The odds favor Gazprom turning the taps back up at some point, for the fun of literally gaslighting Europe and to play to China, India, and the Global South: “See, we gave them more gas when we could.”

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  1. timbers

    To add to all of the above…sit down before you read it and swallow your coffee first…this headline which if true Russia will never have to worry about NATO in our lifetimes:
    Boris Johnson Positioned As Next NATO Chief: Report

    1. Balakirev

      While many “news outlets” are simply reporting this as fact, The New Statesman’s article throws cold water on the whole idea. It notes that diplomacy and a command of detail are essential in the position, and that Johnson is known for neither quality.

      The article also notes that one negative vote would be sufficient to sink any applicant. Macron, Biden, and Erdogan are suggested for that veto–the latter, because (among other points) Johnson once submitted to a contest a moderately rude limerick, involving the Turkish president and a goat:

      Finishing up his forthcoming autobiography and doing a book tour would probably be a lot simpler and more remunerative for Johnson. Limericks don’t come easy.

    2. Boris

      I just screamed laughing. Or I just screamed.
      C’mon: lets have Hilly vs. Trump again in 2024: No hope is left, so at least let us have comedy while we are circling round the drain.

  2. ambrit

    Our Gracious Hostess has ommitted a second order effect that will bite fundaments closer to home, the blowback effects of European gas price rises. Being the souless commercial entities they are, the oil and gas companies will manage to not only ship LNG in some amount across the sea to Europe at much higher prices, but that higher price will ‘influence’ domestic American prices.
    We here in the half horse town are planning for our gas bills next winter to be significantly higher than before. (I am “front loading” our gas bills, ie. paying some percentage above the monthly bills now to build up a cushion for winter, when our gas consumption soars, for home heating.)
    A third order effect of higher gas prices will be higher electricity prices for much of North America. Much of American electricity generation is fuelled by natural gas for various reasons. Double, say, the price of the fuel that runs the electricity generators, and you must raise the price of the electricity so generated to compensate. I have already read comments mentioning rises in electric prices in America.
    Thus, this is beginning to look like an international Western own goal of monumental proportions.

    1. Louis Fyne

      expect $0.80 per therm minimum, or 2x to 2.5x the pre-Covid price.

      And for many Americans, their winter makes the typical winter in Frankfurt or Amsterdam look balmy.

      Seniors are going to die in silence this winter because they will have to choose between meds or heat

    2. MT_Wild

      We get our gas through a co-op. Each year at the end of the summer they allow us to pre-purchase gas up to the amount we used the previous winter.

      The assumption being that it’s cheaper to buy during the summer than during the winter. They have not sent out the notices for Winter 2022 yet, I’m curious if it gets handled differently this year.

    3. Karl

      This is all very good news in Ashland, Oregon. We get our electricity from a city-owned utility, which gets its supply at cost by contract from Federally owned dams on the Columbia river. This year is a pretty good year for water storage and runoff on the Upper Columbia watershed (unlike the Colorado watershed which is in dire straits). This means lots of surplus energy is being sold at today’s very high market prices (set at marginal cost of gas fired turbines). According to EIA, gas prices in the Pacific Northwest are now in the very high $8-10/Mwh range (up from $5 a month ago). This means the Federal system will be reaping huge surplus electricity sales profits (thanks California!). These profits, by law, are applied toward lowering long term firm electricity prices paid by member retail utilities like Ashland in the next rate case! Whoopee!

    4. Failed Intellectual (Emeritus)

      Exactly this. Here in Ontario Canada, rising gas prices ‘due to the Ukraine war’ is already happening.

      Enbridge sends out notices every year here when the Ontario Energy Board authorizes changes in natural gas rates (the O.E.B. is the provincial government regulator that oversees our gas monopolist Enbridge), which can happen up to 4 times per year. As of July 1st, the rate increase for residential customers is going from 18.3745 ¢/m3 to 27.6752 ¢/m3 of natural gas. The accompanying blurb from Enbridge states that:

      “The continuing Russian conflict paired with increased global demand for U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports has resulted in historically high natural gas market prices”.

      I’m sure they are just getting started.

      1. ThePodBayDoorsAreClosed

        Here in Australia the green chickens are returning home to roost at speed, just like in Germany 15 years of telling coal operators they will be run out of business has meant that suppliers and plants did not invest in exploration, production, or maintenance. So today we have the grid operator paying large Australian businesses to shut down production so that the retail energy grid does not (again) fall over. The amount is in the billions and will shortly appear as a line item on residential energy bills.

        The new Labor government, which 32% of people voted for, released their “catastrophic state of the environment” report, which they said was based on the findings of “30 of the nation’s top experts”. They must think people have forgotten how to read, because 21 of the 30 are actually aboriginal activists (at least one of them had the decency to write that they were “finishing an undergraduate degree in science”). There is a marked increase of aboriginals being recruited as front people for all sorts of far left/communist/globalist agendas, presumably because then anyone asking basic questions can be branded a “racist”. Aboriginals are already 3x over represented in Parliament, to great fanfare.

        Because it’s a minority government they cannot pass anything without the support of the Greens Party, the MP leader of which has refused to appear in front of an Australian flag (for the first time ever the new PM was somehow sworn in without reference to either God or Queen but that’s another story). The head of the Greens is in a bit of a bind, with 350 new coal plants being built around the world and Australia supplying them, he will need to find a way to say “we can’t use our own coal here but it’s okey dokey to burn it overseas”. It’s already cheaper for a housewife in Tokyo to buy Australian gas than a housewife in Toowoomba, if he cuts off coal exports (he’s working on it) we’ll be freezing in the dark and he won’t have the funds to pay for increased castrations and the rest of their heterophobic agenda. Forward Soviet!

    5. clarky90

      The Russians have declared “A Climate Emergency” for Europe. We in New Zealand are watching intently as Europe’s New Green Deal unfolds. Will we be happy?

  3. Henry

    Christ, we should be burning less fossil fuels, not advocating for more.

    This embargo growing from the barrel of a gun is one of the least ideal ways to do it, but here we are.
    It’s easier to burn down the outhouse, than to install indoor plumbing, clearly.
    Advocating for a full force, continent wide subsidy to get every nuclear, solar, and wind plant running at max capacity is the reasonable way to make sure folks’ budgets aren’t thrown into the woodchipper of market forces.
    Keeping all standard oil and gas taxes intact, to discourage use, is the way to do it.
    Providing huge tax refunds to households across the country who are no doubt doing extra work to deal with the hassle, is the way to do it.
    A sales tax moratorium, to reduce the prices of consumer goods that’ll otherwise be jacked up due to shipping and manufacture costs, is the way to do it.
    Subsidizing public transit to hell and back again, is the way to do it.
    State rebate programs on electric heaters, electric vehicles, and insulation renovations, is the way to do it.

    Saying “The liberals have subjected us to the market for everything, and now we have to let it play out to it’s logical conclusion”, is not the way to do it.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Your ire is REALLY out of line.

      First, I have called repeatedly for radical conservation. This is not that. You instead will see more burning of coal, and dirtier coal than Russian coal, plus peat and firewood. Despite claims that firewood is not that bad, having lit many fires of very well dried wood, it produces a fair bit of smoke, which = particulate mater and incomplete combustion, which = CO2 generation.

      Second, you are fantasizing. Did you not read the post? Action needs to start as of August 1 which effectively means nothing can happen except maybe LNG imports, which are worse than Russia gas (energy costs of transport, methane releases from fracking).

      Your proposals are inadequate to address the longer-term problem, let alone the immediate problem. Europe is about to see large scale business failure and potentially also a banking system crisis. This could lead to all sorts of out of band outcomes, starting with Arab Spring level revolts and a rise of right wing authoritarians. Orban could look tame compared to what comes next.

      It is way way too late for tinkering at the margin with tax and subsidy gimmicks when food and fuel price shortages are coming within months. Governments are seen as having a duty to provide for an adequate level of provisioning of society, in the modern world by either doing so directly (government owned utilities) or making sure the private sector does an adequate job at least for working people (it is considered OK for the poor to suffer). We are about to see widespread defaults on that baseline obligation. Europe will reap a whirlwind if it does not open up Nord Stream 2.

      Germany is not restarting its nuclear plants. France is not changing its nuclear output either. Solar is not a very good source of energy in far north and often cloudy Europe, and wind is not reliable.

      More generally, and I will be blunt, the Green New Deal crowd is doing more harm than good. They are acting as if atomistic market-based solutions will work, when we need largely top-down, war level mobilization. No one is willing to admit to the gap between what is needed versus them trotting out green energy unicorns due to the perceived and bogus need to make a energy downsizing sound not painful. Pandering to the idea that we don’t need to scare people and must create false hope (about the needed change not being hard and requiring sacrifice) preserves the status quo and with it, destruction.

      The problem is in the US it would also take actions that would take a decade to fix, like how we do infrastructure contracting. Our projects take forever and run over cost and budget. The process is almost designed to assure bad outcomes. France and Japan have much better approaches but the US has too much ego to copy them, even before you get to political and institutional inertia.

      1. Grumpy Engineer

        Despite claims that firewood is not that bad, having lit many fires of very well dried wood, it produces a fair bit of smoke“.

        Aye, it does indeed. Per (emphasis mine):

        Cars and trucks get more attention but nationally, domestic wood burning is the largest single source of PM2.5. According to one analysis of government data, it produces more than twice as much as all road traffic. While concerns about diesel vehicles focus largely on the nitrogen dioxide they produce, the evidence tying particulates to death and disease is even more powerful.

        And on top of this, there are ~5X as many people in the UK who drive diesels (~40% of cars) as there are people who heat with wood (~7.5% of households). It’s not quite a one-to-one comparison, but this roughly implies that the typical wood stove owner generates 10X as much pollution as the typical diesel car owner. Ouch.

        This is consistent with a second reference I found at To quote:

        On an equivalent hourly operational basis, a domestic stove is likely to emit a much higher mass of PM than a diesel vehicle meeting Euro 4/IV standards or above and greater than 50% of the PM emissions from a large Euro III HGV [heavy goods vehicle] as shown in Figure 2. Furthermore, emissions from domestic space heaters will be seasonal. Within winter months, it might be expected that a stove will operate over several hours each day compared with much shorter commuter journeys by car.

        So a wood stove pollutes nearly as much as a big diesel truck built way back in 2002. Europe’s embrace of biomass is definitely a step in the wrong direction.

          1. Grumpy Engineer

            Oof. Yes. I hadn’t even considered traditional fireplaces. The technical paper I referenced focused mainly on modern wood stoves that meet Europe’s Eco-design Directive, and despite the label they pollute significantly more than most diesels. [The chart on page 18 summarizes it nicely.]

            Older stoves would be worse, and fireplaces would land on a special level of badness all their own.

            And your comment about efficiency is really important. Less efficient stoves (or worse yet, fireplaces) require even more wood to keep the house warm. This means more more tree-cutting and greater costs for households. Sigh… Deforestation and lung cancer await.

          2. Paul Beard

            I lived in a house with a fireplace as a child (just the one fireplace) and learned what they can do:

            roast chestnuts – yes
            roast potatoes – yes
            toast bread – yes
            fill your lungs with soot -yes
            heat the house – you must be joking

            The doctor visited one day and said to my mother I could get out of bed when the house warmed up. She replied ‘it is warmed up’

            I’m still OK at 20c, maybe I should be living in Germany this winter

        1. juno mas

          Yes, wood stoves are not a locally attractive heating alternative. Wood burning exerts massive amounts of particulate matter (PM 10-micon or less) into the local atmosphere at earth-hugging altitude where it seriously impacts human health. (Coal did the same to the London atmosphere.)

        2. Krollchem

          The problem with wood-burning stoves is not primarily the PM2.5 particles but the carcinogenic volatile organic carbons (VOC) that condense on the soot particles. The particles serve as inaccurate, but easy, measurements of the carcinogenic hazard.

          The German Twinfire fireplace dramatically reduces the VOC emissions via the complete combustion of the wood feed materials.

          Due to the European Commission’s energy reduction goals, all available wood stoves and firewood have been sold out. Granted most of the wood stoves sold in Europe have the emission issues you state.

          In the US many state regulatory agencies forbid the EPA-approved Twinfire wood stove because it is not on their list of state-approved stoves (e.g. Washington state).

        3. playon

          We see the results from wood burning every winter around here, as a lot of rural folks use wood stoves for heat, and some townspeople also. We tend to get inversions in the winter, especially in Jan & Feb, and as a result the air quality in our county is the worst in the state of WA. Along with the wood smoke the freeway exhaust is also trapped, and I’m not counting the summer wildfires which inundated our valley eight out of the last ten years. The haze is visible and deadly, and the inversions seem to be getting longer and more common compared to 20 years ago.

          1. Krollchem

            You are correct about the wood-burning pollution in Washington. I might add it is much less than the forest fires from a few years ago:

            Furthermore, forest fires produce more pollutants than fireplaces:

            Washington residents along the Puget Sound also must contend with massive pollution from bunker C emissions freighters and military vessels.

            In all cases, the residents generally fail to use PPE to protect their lungs from such pollution when it gets bad. However, they do wear face diapers during COVID that provide no real protection against the much smaller viroid particles.

      2. Michaelmas

        Yves S: France is not changing its nuclear output either.

        Indeed, this is unfortunately the current state of play —

        From the FT —

        ‘Britain’s power grid provides electricity lifeline to Europe: System is net exporter for first time since 2017 after record French nuclear shutdowns’

        ‘…The trend is largely driven by France having its lowest nuclear output for more than 10 years as half of the country’s 56 reactors, which form the backbone of the country’s electricity system, were offline in May for refuelling or maintenance, as well as unexpected problems such as corrosion at older plants….

        ‘The difficulties in France have pushed power prices in the country to record highs, “which has led to the regular occurrence of [Great Britain] to France exports”, said Joe Camish, lead analyst at the consultancy Cornwall Insight.

        ‘France’s nuclear difficulties have exacerbated the energy crisis ravaging the continent as the EU prepares for further cuts in imports of Russian gas.’

        1. nippersdad

          I believe I have also seen where many of the nuclear plants have been idled because of drought and high temperatures making the cooling systems inefficient enough to be actually dangerous.

          1. Grumpy Engineer

            The drought and high temperatures don’t make the cooling systems dangerous, but they do limit how much heat the system can handle and therefore how much power the facility can produce.

            This is particularly true of stations that use river water for cooling. If you inject the same amount of heat into a volumetric flow rate that is reduced by drought, the ΔT becomes larger. And if you’re starting off with elevated temperatures to begin with, this means that even less heat can be injected before you bump into regulatory limits that keep the river ecosystems from getting cooked.

            The French could at least partially address this by adding cooling towers and/or evaporative chillers, so that most of the waste heat goes into the air instead of the river, but I haven’t heard of any plans to do so. Which is a bit of a head-scratcher. It’s not like this is a new problem. Pretty much any time they have a bad heat wave they bump into these limits. It’s been happening for years.

      3. nippersdad

        “More generally, and I will be blunt, the Green New Deal crowd is doing more harm than good.”

        This is hardly fair. The GND was proposed over a decade ago by actual Greens, and was intended to be implemented over several decades at a cost that has never actually been realistically addressed. Here in the US, it was coopted by Sanders at half the cost in ’16, and whittled down to a ghost of itself in 2020 before being deep sixed by Manchin/Biden and turned into a tax cut (SALT) for wealthy coastal elites by Republicans in the Democratic caucus like Josh Gottheimer.

        Neoliberals and liberal interventionists, however they may describe themselves, have never been accused of actually being Green, so attributing their recent actions to the GND only serves to delegitimize the original concept by associating it with those who have been intentionally sabotaging climate efforts for years.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I have seen no one in the Green New Deal advocate radical conservation. They also fail to include the energy and pollution costs of new energy technology and other infrastructure builds.

          1. nippersdad

            As you well know, the Green party that first wrote up the GND here in the US has no power; Hawkins and Stein both got less than one percent of the vote. In it they do discuss energy, pollution and infrastructural costs*; the conservation measures, for example, were included in the already watered down BBB as part of the jobs portion, but of necessity were watered down even further over time until they no longer featured in anything the Democrats proposing it hoped to retain.

            Recent “adherents” that have been calling for a GND have shown by their actions that they are unwilling to implement it. Over half of my problem with those pols here in the US who have claimed to advocate for it is the fact that they are not willing to stand up for the things, like the GND, that got them elected. When “Mama bear” came calling they folded like a cheap suit.

            When you are calling the GND a part of “Biden’s platform” it is clear that most of the rhetoric has just been performative. Anyone aware of Biden’s record would have known immediately that the BBB was left over from the negotiations with Sanders prior to his dropping out in 2020 in order to get progressives on board, and the breaking up of the infrastructure bill was proof of concept. As predicted it didn’t ultimately happen, and that is a reflection on those who thought they could gaslight others into thinking it would.

            Attributing all of the problems of the world to a party with no power whose platform was cynically coopted by neolibs only serves to insulate those who are making the problem even worse. NN Cassandra makes a good point when she says that this will be used to delegitimize the entire project, and how we are already seeing that happen.


            1. Grumpy Engineer

              I took a hard look at the GND at, and it is not a viable plan. There are two key problems:

              [1] The subject of energy storage is neglected almost entirely.

              The paper by Mark Jacobson ( that is repeatedly referenced in the plan calls for 541.6 TWh of energy storage, which (if you’re not familiar with the scale of energy storage systems) is a “spray your coffee all over the keyboard” kind of number. We currently import 0.1 TWh of batteries per year and manufacture another 0.01 TWh ourselves. Needless to say, deploying 500+ TWh won’t happen by 2030.

              Jacobson’s paper was also heavily criticized for its plan for US rivers, where peak hydroelectric generating capability would be expanded ten-fold, downstream ecosystems and communities be damned. He ignored major real-world resource constraints here.

              [2] The timeline is optimistic to the point of absurdity. Getting everything done by 2030? We currently have ~280 million cars in the US. If we took that previously mentioned 0.11 TWh per year and directed it instead to zero-emission EVs, we could build 1.6 million per year. But that’s only enough to cover 10% of current US car sales. And to ultimately replace 280 million vehicles? Even if we replaced only half and abandoned the other half, it would still take nearly a century.

              Now there are other technologies that might reduce our dependence on batteries, such as pumped storage and electrolyzed hydrogen. But these would entail massive amounts of earth moving & ecosystem disruption and hundreds of thousands of miles of new high-pressure pipelines, respectively. The public opposition would be massive. The GND plan mentions none of these things.

              That’s my “litmus test” for renewable energy plans. If they don’t talk extensively about energy storage (both in terms of quantities and technologies used), they’re not real plans. And even if they do, they need to address real-world resource constraints.

              1. nippersdad

                I am sure that is an entirely valid argument; no doubt about it. The main point, from my perspective, is not to have all of the I’s dotted and T’s crossed, but to make a good faith effort to START addressing the issue. As they say, no war plan survives the first contact with the enemy, but you at least have to address the fact that we do need to be on a war basis to address the climate issue.

                I have been awaiting real progress on this since Carter put solar cells on the White House roof. The first Congressional hearing on the issue was in ’88. Biden is now opening virtually every spigot he can find to increase fossil fuel production and Kentucky is up to 35 deaths from flooding, seven states out West are about to go dry and thousands are dying as we speak across the globe from severe heat waves.

                At some point someone is going to have to come up with a jumping off point, and the only ones I see standing up are the Greens. Their plan may be complete crap, but at least it is a plan. They should not have to hold the bag for the deficiencies of those who have cynically coopted it in order to get just enough progressives to vote for Joe Biden to get his sorry carcass across the finish line.

                If we have problems, and we do, they cannot be ascribed to a GND that does not actually exist in the real world. I would suggest that we start to attack those who have prevented any progress and stop delegitimizing those who seek it.

              2. nippersdad

                Forgot to add in that my litmus test is going to be revamping the energy grid to allow for decentralized energy distribution. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is going to work unless you can do that. If they were to perfect the process of cold fusion tomorrow and sell it in little boxes you could pick up at Home Depot for twenty dollars apiece our sorry Third World grid could not handle it. That speaks to a regulatory issue that clearly is not in the cards at the present moment. Whatever else you can hold Manchin accountable for, you cannot blame him for that.

                Until they get serious all of this, including ecosystem disruption, storage and resource constraints are just dust thrown in the air to confuse the issues and effectively stunt any effort to progress where we actually can NOW.

    2. Lex

      Well yes, five plus years ago. What you’re suggesting would also require a unified political-economic action. I think Covid proved us wholly incapable of any such action. It’s also worth pointing out that the west does consider nuclear “green” (virgin wood pellets are green though), so that’s out. Gas was the transition fuel and the one that would allow heavy adoption of intermittent renewable generation because it’s got 50% less CO2 than coal and almost none of the other contaminant / emissions.

    3. NN Cassandra

      I would not be so sure this will end in some sort of green nirvana. Already I’m seeing more and more of the propaganda claim these shortages are caused by Green New Deal, ecologists and trying to move out of fossil fuels, which seems destined to be favored by ruling class, because it means all the carnage is NOT due to their idiotic sanctions. And when some “populist” comes to power, I bet he will demand more coal, fracking, nuclear, etc. as it is seen as anti-establishment thing.

  4. Lex

    The Axis of Incompetence. What are they going to do when Ukraine’s economy fully collapses? I suspect they don’t have a plan for that even though it looks imminent: the exchange rate is doing scary things, Naftogaz is defaulting on bonds, and at this rate it will be before October that the Ukrainian state may not be able to pay soldiers much less teachers, pensions and bureaucrats.

    Some telegram updates on the Antonovsky Bridge. It’s effectively done for heavy traffic. The first strike was on a near shore span and did nothing, the second was mostly defended and the third (most recent) was in the same place as the second. That one punched enough holes in the deck to really weaken the structural integrity. Another attack will probably drop a span. Of course the question remains: if there is to be a grand counteroffensive in Kherson, why would Ukraine destroy a bridge it will need? The obvious answer is that there is no coming counteroffensive, but Ukraine has been shifting reserves south so either they really do want to try or they’re ready to give up Donbas and hope to defend the south. Who knows, rational decision making from Bankovskaya is in short supply and it looks to the axis of incompetence for wisdom.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The US is already paying for Ukraine’s budget, just as we did in Afghanistan. That’s a big reason the support packages were so big. Not very much of the total is going for weapons.

      1. Oh

        We pay for the budget of all these propped up dictatorships but we can’t provide money for healthcare and welfare of the people. Only for more and more warfare. When the dictatorships crumble they take pallet loads of gold and money and go off to a country like Saudi Arabia. We have a great political machine in our country. Maybe more people should take notice.

        Thank you Yves, for your tireless efforts.

    2. Bsn

      If Ukraine could take out that bridge, it would markedly slow any Russian retreat from the north (Ukraine) side of Kherson. Of course the Ukrainians would have to force the Russians to “retreat” into and across the river from Kherson which is highly unlikely. But dents in the bridge look good as “proof of progress” in the western press

    3. Acacia

      What are they going to do when Ukraine’s economy fully collapses?

      Start another dumpster fire somewhere else (Taiwan?) and direct the media to start jabbering about that instead of Ukraine.

      1. Keith Newman

        Economic collapse in Ukraine: the West obviously doesn’t care at all about Ukrainians. Still, it would look bad if the country were taken over by drug lords and street gangs, hundreds of thousands were dying of cholera and millions were starving. To prevent that I expect the US will pay indefinitely for basic government services such as police, water treatment, garbage collection, some food for the poorest, etc. Then the media will stop covering Ukraine. Problem solved.

        1. Jams O'Donnell

          By the time the US starts to pay in, it will be a much smaller country, so should be do-able.

    4. Michaelmas

      Lex: What are they going to do when Ukraine’s economy fully collapses?

      From a neoliberal viewpoint, it’s all good as, win or lose the war games, lots of cheap Ukrainian labor will be heading west —

      Our European Values’: 1.21 Euro Minimum Wage in Ukraine

      ‘When a statutory minimum wage was first introduced in Ukraine, in 2015, it was 0.34 euros, or 34 cents per hour. After that, it was increased: in 2017 it was 68 cents, in 2019 it was 10 cents more, which is 78 cents, and since 2021 it has been 1.21 euros. Of course, that doesn’t mean that this minimum wage is actually paid correctly in this state. Thus, for a full work week in 2017, the monthly minimum wage was 96 euros. But in the textile and leather industry, for example, this minimum wage for one-third of the mostly female workforce was rarely paid on time …. ‘

    5. paul


      What are they going to do when Ukraine’s economy fully collapses?

      It seems to have been in collapse pre maiden.
      Robbed blind of its natural resources, youth and its strategic importance by just about any citizen who can get an out.

      A basket case left with no other role than a punchbag. All a bit ‘Carny’

      I wonder if they will be able to swing the next eurovision song contest from the UK.

  5. Mike

    Over a period of 2016-2020, there were numerous reports of Putin’s meetings with the public, a show having him answer direct questions from regional representatives, having many more complaints being unheard or being responded to slowly if at all. The mainstream media presented this as failures of the “regime” and Putin’s fault, of course – a sign his economy was tumbling.

    Now I think we can guess this was because of diversion of assets toward this buildup necessary to quash what was an obvious Ukrainian/NATO bid to overturn the DPR and LDR opposition, and do what with the populations there we can only guess. Shortages and lack of infrastructural repair are signs of diversions to other resources, but sometimes they are signs of mismanagement. In Russia’s case, it may have been alot of one, a little of the other.

    It’s easy to see how chickens have come home to roost in the West, now that the shortage shoe is on the other foot. Purposeful mismanagement and total lack of care leads our shortcomings.

    1. marku52

      This. The manufacturing effort to support this war much have taken years to build up.

      Planning ahead. What a concept.

  6. Judith

    Here is a link to M. K. Bhadrakumar of Indian Punchline on Blinken’s plan to call Lavrov.

    The spectre of the collapse of EU economies is rattling the Biden Administration. A CNN report yesterday was titled US officials say ‘biggest fear’ has come true as Russia cuts gas supplies to Europe. It said the Biden administration “is working furiously behind the scenes to keep European allies united” as the blowback from the sanctions against Russia hits them and the “impact on Europe could boomerang back onto the US, spiking natural gas and electricity prices.”

    The report quoted an unnamed US official saying Russia’s retaliation for western sanctions has put the West in “unchartered territory.” Suffice to say, Blinken’s call underscores the desperate urgency in Washington to open a line of communication to Moscow at the political level.

    How this volte-face plays out in European capitals, especially Kiev remains to be seen. Blinken led the western boycott of Lavrov at the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Bali as recently as July 7-8. President Biden extended a glamorous welcome to Zelensky’s wife Olena Zelenska to the White House who was on a high-profile visit last week, even as Blinken was preparing his stunning announcement.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I wish I could be a fly on the wall during that call. I did not include the Antiwar and many other accounts, that say the call is to be about a proposed prisoner exchange:

      Blinken said he plans to speak with Lavrov in the “coming days,” and the talks will likely be focused on the status of two Americans that are detained in Russia, WNBA star Britney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan.

      According to CNN, the Biden administration has offered to exchange Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year sentence in the US, for Griner and Whelan. Griner is currently on trial in Russia for drug possession, and Whelan was charged with espionage and sentenced to prison for 16 years.

      This seems to be whitewashing a difference in view as to what the case is about. The Russians seem to think she had dealing, not personal use, quantities on her:

      A criminal case has been opened into the “large-scale transportation of drugs, which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years behind bars in Russia,” according to The New York Times.

      She is now claiming she was not given access to an attorney or read her rights and signed papers not knowing what was in them.

      But back to the idea that this is just an intro to talk about Europe. First this would be an awkward segue, particularly after how rude the US has been to Lavrov. Lavrov will most certainly use that to his advantage.

      Second, if Lavrov even indulges Blinken, I expect a long recitation of facts along the lines of “the EU did it to itself, well plus Canada” and concluding with Lavrov telling Blinken that he needs to get Ukraine to open up the one leg of Yamal-Europe though Ukraine and tell German the US no longer opposes opening up Nord Stream 2. After all, Lavrov is not an engineer and has no idea when the busted parts will work properly again.

      1. Bsn

        Yea, the whole Whelan story is interesting. Turns out she had vial(s) of hash oil. Anyone who knows about hash oil understands that it is in no way “for medical marijuana” use. Using oils as medicine would be like shooting heroin for a headache. It’s a bit sad (and unfortunate) that the pampered American athlete has to hit reality so hard. I hope she gets to come home soon.

        1. tegnost

          The Whelan story is espionage…Griner is the basketball player. The story I saw said vape pen cartridges which I suppose could be called
          “hash oil”, but whatever it actually was has maybe not been made clear.

        2. Michael Ismoe

          If she had gotten caught in Texas with the same amount of “medicine” she would be facing life imprisonment. I’m going with Found Guilty, serves 6 more days and is kicked out of the country and told never to return.

          It could be worse. She could have been caught with that medicine that begins with “I”. Then she would have been stoned (in a different way than usual) by Dr Fauci.

        3. GramSci

          I believe “hash oil” is available as medicine in every state where medical marijuana is legal.

        4. hunkerdown

          Medical patients sometimes require such high doses that it’s not fun for them.

          However, the ruling world religion is capitalism, and needs are warrants for exploitation, not satisfaction.

      2. Lex

        She was breaking US federal law by getting on a plane with it. She would be open to prosecution in the US or EU for doing the same thing. I don’t recall the quantity, but when I saw it I didn’t think anything but personal use. But prosecutors the world over, and especially in the US, use that to maximize penalties even when it’s obviously untrue.

    2. Gregorio

      Putin could pull off a giant PR coup if he offered to release Griner for the release of Assange.
      I’m guessing that the U.S. would say “nyet” to that, displaying its complete hypocrisy on “human rights.”

  7. Louis Fyne

    the West broke Ukraine, the owns it now.

    if i recall correctly the West (US mostly) pays for 1/2 of the UA government budget. and right now the UA government is in selective default of its debt.

    western aid allowed the UA currency to be pegged to the dollar, but the peg reset lower recently.

    UAis a basketcase and will collapse this winter, barring another $50 – $100 billion in straight up cash

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Scott Ritter in his videos thinks we are fully supporting Ukraine (definitely more dough than we gave monthly to Afghanistan, although to your point, apparently short of its needs).

      He did read the $40 billion bill. I infer he didn’t find as many clear footprints as he liked.

      1. JTMcPhee

        Wasn’t the last demand from Zelensky for $9 billion A MONTH?

        Up from $5 billions a month just a month earlier.

        That’s more to Ukraine, to be stripped down and divvied up among the grifters and looters who dominate that “economy,” than Uncle Sucker sends to Israel (?overtly, at least) in a YEAR.

  8. Louis Fyne

    like all quagmires, the West has no end game for Ukraine.

    The only definition of victory currently on the table is returning to pre-2014 status quote. Never going to happen, even if the White House is willing to get 20,000 Americans killed in Ukraine.

    We got negative synergy going on right now in Ukraine—the worst aspects of (a) Afghanistan (no definition of victory, sanitized assessments going to the White House), (b) contemporary media (not willing to be critical of the Establishment consensus), and (c) contemporary leadership’s love of doubling down on wrong policies.

    1. Susan the other

      The Yamal pipelines. I can’t help but wonder now, in addition to Hudson’s explanation that we finally shut down German industry, if we didn’t set out in 2014 to intentionally screw up Russian gas supplies coming into the EU from Ukraine. How intentional might it have been? And only half-planned – sort of letting the chips fall and being opportunistic. The war in Ukraine has not benefited the West in any way I can perceive except that it has cleaned out what had been the most corrupt country in eastern Europe. The Ukies were stealing Russian gas all along. Years before the Bidens tried to elbow their way in. Just puzzled by the unfolding of all of it. Letting Russia do the dirty work because, after all, it is their gas?

      1. JTMcPhee

        Also cleaned out inventories of US MIC-produced weapons with dead batteries and opaque instructions, so th eMIC has a bumper load of moar money from the nation’s pockets getting dumped into “replenishment” of weapons that mostly have proved ineffective. “Best military in the world,” hey? Losers, incompetent losers, dangling over a ottomless pit.

  9. Stephen

    This is a brilliant exposition.

    The gas debacle does look increasingly like the food debacle as a self inflicted wound. Except that this time Europe is hurting itself rather than primarily Africa and the Middle East.

    The Russians do seem to have been very forbearing. If we analyse this as a pure customer to supplier relationship then we in Europe have said: we will exit the supplier as quickly as possible, have played about with distribution routes such as Yamal, confiscated some of their assets such as Gazprom Germania, played hard and loose with the contracts through supplying Poland from Germany; and then to add spice have played about with their maintenance plans with respect to the jet setting turbine. At the same time, we are not listening to warnings intended to help us secure supply. If Gazprom / Russia is now not being 100% cooperative then it is hard to see how any other supplier would be in this situation.

    What on earth is anyone thinking? Do they even think? Has anybody learned the elementary rule that you must put yourself in the other party’s shoes in any supplier relationship?

    Everyone outside of the broadly defined western bubble must think we have gone mad. If so, they are right. They only element of this “war” that Russia is not winning right now is the propaganda war waged on captive western populations who do not read blogs such as this one. They are winning every other aspect of this “war”. Resoundingly. When will we come to our senses?

    1. marku52

      A fascinating book, “How will Capitalism End” by Wolfgang Streeck. It has nuggets like this one:

      “After a certain amount of time, it may no longer be possible to stop the rot: expectations of what politics can do may have eroded too far, and the civic skills and organizational structures needed to develop effective public demand may have atrophied beyond redemption, while the political personnel themselves may have adapted entirely to specializing in the management of appearances,rather than the representation of some version, however biased, of the public interest.”

      Look at the government response to almost anything: Public health, the homeless, building large infrastructure, healthcare, military procurement, diplomacy, forest fire suppression…. It’s incompetence everywhere. These people all got where they are by pretending to be what they are supposed to be, with no actual experience and skill behind them.

      Presented with an actual challenge that requires a skilled response, they are as hopeless as an actor who plays a brain surgeon trying out an actual surgery. I present you Blinken and Sullivan as “diplomats” for example. You could replace them with a wind up doll repeating platitudes about “democracy and freedom” and never notice the difference.

      1. Glossolalia

        while the political personnel themselves may have adapted entirely to specializing in the management of appearances,rather than the representation of some version, however biased, of the public interest.

        Very well said. We’re there now I think.

  10. Tom Pfotzer

    To all the people that have even more to lose from continued NeoCon destruction:

    How do you plan to wrap this albatross of enormous damage securely around the NeoCons’ neck, so that they are so thoroughly discredited that they never get near state power again?

    A “NeoCon Never Again” sort of thing.

    1. John Wright

      The estimated cost of Afghanistan/Iraq is 8 trillion dollars as estimated here:

      This comes to about $24K per USA citizen

      +900,000 deaths.

      If these “prior performance” numbers didn’t stop the ascendance of the neocons in the Biden administration one can wonder if the neocon influence can EVER be stopped before far more destruction occurs,

      1. Susan the other

        Something weird happened yesterday. There was a report commissioned from a think tank by the Pentagon analyzing what would make Russia go into full-on war mode. The report was supposedly done so that we wouldn’t push the Russians too far because nuclear weapons, etc. The conclusion was that the thing that would set Russia off would be a serious threat to Russia herself, Russian land, Russian cities. So what does Ukraine do two days later? Right on cue, the geniuses in Kiev threaten just such attacks on Russia and Russian cities. Who is advising these nitwits? We keep promising them more weapons and funding them? And they keep asking for nuclear weapons? This is hard to believe. It looks like choreography – with plausible denial – like the Pentagon report is some sort of exoneration from responsibility? I think it is long since time for us to tell Ukraine to buzz off.

        1. Telee

          Yesterday the NYT ran an op-ed in which the author almost apologetically suggested that diplomacy might be in order. Reading the comments to that position revealed that almost all said that it was impossible to negotiate with Putin because he was another Hitler. Most were in favor of the US military waging all out war to defeat the Russians. Many favored a nuclear attack. The propaganda has worked wonders.

      2. Tom Pfotzer

        John Wright:

        First, thanks for that link. It made my day.

        Next: “This comes to about $24K per USA citizen”

        That bears repeating often. The costs need to be clearly stated.

        The other cost, which is as yet unstated, and is much greater, is the opportunity cost.

        What could we have done instead?

        What if we had built, instead of wrecked?

    2. Karl

      The neocons are undoubtedly dusting off post-Vietnam far right memes like “They [Democrats] lacked the will to win” for the next election.

      It took a quarter century after the last helicopter left Saigon for sufficient memory loss and far-right revisionism to shake off “Vietnam Syndrome”. It may take a similar length of time before the neocons are back.

      Yes, they’ll be back. And, with their help (and MIC funding) we the people will forget.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        You’re probably right. I wonder if it isn’t time to erect yet another memorial in DC, one to all the fallen victims of the NeoCons.

        Think StoneHenge, with a pillar-slab for each of the nations we’ve ruined, and all the people’s names scribed into the stone.

        We could invite each of the nations to contribute their own stone. We’d have plenty, right?

        To help explain things, there’d be a map to show visitors where these countries are.

        Plus a video interpretation center, with plenty shoot-em-up drama. Maybe some video games, like “Festering Soul: Remote Reaper in Iraq”.

    3. Ashburn

      How about a de-Neoconization modeled on Germany’s postwar de-Nazification program? A deep and sustained purge of all US officials linked, even tangentially, to our neocon policies.

  11. LawnDart

    To note while on this topic, Russia’s courts are beginning to lower the boom on the West. From Interfax:

    28 Jul 22
    Russian court orders U.S. messenger Snapchat be fined 1 mln rubles for not localizing personal data of Russian users

    28 Jul 22
    U.S. booking service fined 1 mln rubles for failure to localize personal data of Russian users

    28 Jul 22
    Swedish music service Spotify fined 500,000 rubles in Russia for refusing to localize Russians’ data – court

    28 Jul 22
    Russian court fines WhatsApp messenger 18 mln rubles for repeated failure to localize personal data of Russian users

    28 Jul 22
    U.S. streaming service Twitch facing fine of up to 4 mln rubles for not deleting video from Bucha – court

    28 Jul 22
    Court upholds recovery by bailiffs from Google of revenue-based fine of more than 7.2 bln rubles

    recovery by bailiffs?

    I wonder if the bailiffs are Chechens or Wagner Group…

  12. Hickory

    Whenever someone asks “what were they thinking?!” The correct answer often is, “they weren’t.”

    1. hunkerdown

      They were thinking of their private concerns and interests, and not y/ours. To let them off the hook with a charge of mere inattention is to enable them and others to do it again, and again, and again.

  13. Cobequids

    Could some of the “Old Hands” talk a bit about what languages are used when these official calls are made? I noted in the post about Sri Lanka that Foreign Minister Lavrov’s first posting was to Sri Lanka, where he learned Sinhalese (sp?). Was that normal once upon a time, that diplomats learned other languages?

    In the early 1970’s my neighbour (in Canada) was doing a PoliSci Honours degree in Russian foreign policy and he was just expected to learn Russian as part of that exercise. I wonder if today’s students are also expected to learn Russian?

    I seem to recall that Ms. Merkel generally spoke to Mr Putin in Russian, although he also spoke excellent German. I wonder if he reads and writes English, as well, well enough to conduct diplomacy?

    And what languages are used when Mr Blinken meets or phones his Chinese counterparts? Does each side bring translators?

    And do any of the Americans, like Ms Nuland, speak European languages?

    1. Michaelmas

      I wonder if he (Putin) reads and writes English, as well, well enough to conduct diplomacy?

      Putin understands English reasonably well, usually more than he lets on, maybe 80-90 percent enough to conduct basic diplomacy.

      His pronunciation is creaky.

      (According to someone I know well, who chaired a tech conference program where Putin and Medvedev were featured about a decade ago.)

      1. Polar Socialist

        There are a few videos in youtube where he has elementary conversations with western journalists. Obviously he can understand questions and reply to them, but I don’t think he’s comfortable using English.

        It’s also been said that besides being fluent in German, he also has basic/beginners language skills in Tatar and in Swedish.

      2. JTMcPhee

        Is it Putin’s job to be fluent in English? Does Biden speak Russian, or any Chinese dialect? They have people for that, obviously of varying degrees of competence and honesty… But us Americans, all we have to do is just speak real loud when demanding service from lesser breeds like Slavs. Language they will understand, right?

      3. Yves Smith Post author

        I am pretty sure Putin’s comprehension of spoken English is or at least recently was excellent. If you watch his interviews with Oliver Stone, he does not have Stone translated, and Stone does not dumb down his vocabulary or make sure only to use simple sentence structures (something I did as a matter of habit with the Japanese, not that they could not have understood more complex English, but why make them work harder than they needed to if I could make my point just as well by speaking a little differently?)

    2. LawnDart

      Using an interpreter though understanding the language allows time for an appropriately measured response to what was said.

    3. David

      Different levels involved here, so far as I know.
      Diplomats are expected to learn languages as part of their job, although there’s always a balance between the time and effort involved, and the actual practical benefit. For some countries, teaching diplomats Hangul (2-3 years full time) to serve in a country where English is widely spoken, may not be worth it. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that the Portuguese Ambassador to Seoul uses English, and takes an interpreter when needed.
      For large countries, any serious diplomatic service would be expected to know the language – Russia would certainly be a case.
      But this is professional level. Politicians have all sorts of levels of fluency. In the EU they will often speak to each other in English or French (how else would you expect the Portuguese and Greeks to communicate for example?) in daily informal dealings, and often in correspondence. Some government leaders have language skills that mean they can have conversations without interpreters, but this is aways tricky, and not always a good idea.
      But for high-level meetings you have interpreters, and probably specialists listening in to make sure all the nuances have been picked up. This would certainly be the case for Blinken/Xi unless things have got a lot more amateur over there. Having very high-level people talk to each other is always nerve-shredding, because you never know if someone’s going to make a mistake, get confused, lose a page in their brief, or whatever. Interpreters are one way of reducing the risk of damage, and they can also be a useful additional resource to help you understand what the other side is thinking (“he used this word rather than that word.”)

  14. David

    What we are seeing is the impossibility of crisis management by committee.
    This has been coming for a while, and it reflects the fact that no international security problem is one-dimensional: there’s generally a domestic political dimension, a foreign policy dimension, a military dimension, a finance dimension, an interior dimension, a trade dimension, as well as others. Although these different dimensions are often scornfully dismissed as “lobbies” or “interest groups”, they do in fact represent separate and often conflicting national priorities: Germany is a good current example of this at the moment. So a national position on, say, Ukraine, is already a delicate compromise between different types of national interest. Put two or three countries together, trying to manage a crisis in real time, and you start to get real problems. As the number of interactions increases, you rapidly reach a point of saturation. Even in something as relatively low-level as the Bosnia crisis, the majority of countries in the nascent EU didn’t try to play a decision-making role, they just went along with the communiqués. By the time of Kosovo, the NATO bureaucracy and the Council (with 19 members at that stage) essentially came apart at the end of the first week of the crisis, and it was managed from then on by a handful of the larger states and the Secretary General. But neither that crisis, nor Afghanistan, fundamentally affected the security of NATO or EU members.

    The present bloated organisations are simply incapable of taking rapid decisions that affect their own vital (and often opposing) interests. In the circumstances, any decision is better than none, any policy, no matter how stupid, is better than not having one, and any policy, no matter how stupid, will be continued, because that’s easier that than a gigantic and violently controversial argument about what to do instead, which stands no chance of resolution anyway. Solidarity, even around a stupid policy, can easily become an end in itself, since anything else can imply “weakness.”

    Nobody has ever tried to manage a crisis like this before, so it’s impossible to say how it will come out. But my personal belief is that we’l see bits falling off, deals being done, blind eyes being turned, leading ultimately to the collapse of the present policy, but without the embarrassment of saying that you are actually abandoning it.

    1. Michaelmas

      my personal belief is that we’l see bits falling off, deals being done

      Indeed. Watch Orban and Hungary, as probably the first out the gate.

      1. Science Officer Smirnoff

        The “Constitutional Dictator” of the Roman Republic is an instructive office (if paradoxical sounding to many American ears).

    2. Ignacio

      Your view seems quite possible. In the case of Germany with a gigantic industry at risk the case for turning blind eyes would be an epic one and I wonder how they can ensure enough energy supply at reasonable prices using this strategy without other players such as the US feeling very much pissed off. The game of solidarity in the case of Poland-Germany, meaning German companies accepting sky high prices while at the same time ensuring some Poles don’t get frozen next winter will at some point, depending on how things evolve, imply 1) either solidarity is broken at some point and Poland does not get NG from Germany or 2) Germany accepts NG supply through NS2 with everyone in Germany and abroad doing a huge effort not to notice the fact (the epic blind eye mentioned above).

  15. The Rev Kev

    A great summary this even if it is very disturbing. I mean seriously, if we could have fired up the time-traveling DeLorean and taken this post to back to January, how would we have made any sense of it? How would we be able to believe how things have turned out? The Russians are keying themselves up to finish this brutal war and already Ukrainian defenses are cracking. EU leaders still refuse to believe that a freight train is about to hit them when the gas starts to run out through a basic inability to do elemental arithmetic. It seems that Germany wants to muscle the other EU nations to send them gas to keep them going when all those nations are fully aware that Germany could certify the Nord Stream 2 whenever they want to solve a lot of their problems. And if the Ukraine loses this war, I would not be surprised to see “something” to happen to those pipelines passing through the Ukraine.

    But the really crazy thing is the refusal to even talk of negotiations. SecState Blinken has not takled to Lavrov since this war began which I would call dereliction of duty. You need to talk to your opponent to see what his thinking or otherwise you are in the dark. And it seems that the only EU leader that is talking common sense is Hungary’s Viktor Orbán of all people. And in the EU he is virtually person non grata. And I saw how there is still talk of bringing in a Russian oil price cap. All that would happen is that Russia would refuse to sell oil to those countries but which nonetheless would send oil prices high enough to be a hazard to Starlink satellites. It would take a fair bit of researching but I do wonder how many of these modern leaders ever took a humanities course. The seem to suffer from overly specialized training in their careers and when they hit a wall, they totally seem to blank out and demand that the wall move. But I do wonder how this is going to be written in history books down the track. Maybe it will be like us reading about 1914 and asking ourselves what was wring with those people and did they not see what they were doing.

    1. hk

      I wonder what people (including what ppl who are in, or even “teaching,” the “humanities” courses, think “humanities” really are. A common shtick by Martyonov (but also common among “engineers”) is to mock people with “humanities” background, even though I don’t think they know what humanities are really about. But what education background do these clowns have, really? They all did go to some sort of high prestige institutions, after all.

      1. Jack Parsons

        “These people” do not study humanities, but “leadership”. This means how to climb up the greasy pole, stomping on other people on the way up.

        I remember a quote by an old scientist who said that the ivy league scientists he worked with were not especially better than the others, but they always wound up running the lab.

      2. Acacia

        But what education background do these clowns have, really?

        Blinken: private prep schools in New York and Paris. Social studies (not sociology?) at Harvard. Co-editor of The Harvard Crimson, along with Mayo Pete. J.D. from Columbia.

        Again, “high prestige” doesn’t really mean more intelligent. It does mean more connected.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Social Studies is an elite concentration at Harvard, along with the similarly-flaky sounding History and Literature (my concentration) and History of Science. You have to apply to be accepted into these programs and only about 1/3 are selected. It is also not easy to be editor of the Crimson. This says more that Blinken knows how to get ahead in structured systems than that he is intelligent in the sense of having discernment or being able to engage in independent thought.

    2. Karl

      But the really crazy thing is the refusal to even talk of negotiations.

      I think Blinken knows there’s nothing to negotiate until Zelensky is flown out of Ukraine. And then Putin will negotiate directly with his appointed puppet. At that point, the USA’s role will be moot, and Blinken knows it.

      I would imagine the Zelensky family’s “grab and go” luggage have already been packed, and several swanky properties overseas being readied for him.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Ruh, row. Just saw this-

        ‘Moscow has acknowledged receiving a call request from Washington on Thursday. A conversation between the two nation’s top diplomats might take place as soon as the busy schedule of Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, makes it possible, the Foreign Ministry said.’

        And it gets funnier from then on-

        1. Greg

          Zakharova and Lavrov appear to be having a great time trolling the West these days; I imagine Lavrov will get back to Tony just as soon as he’s finished having illicit photographs taken with world leaders.

        2. Stephen


          “Made it clear to the Russian Federation that we are seeking a conversation between State Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov.”

          Do these guys do “diplomacy”? If I recall correctly, they also announced the intention to talk publicly before they had asked Russia.

          If I were Lavrov and the language used involved impolite terms such as “made it clear” then I think I would prioritise pretty much every other conversation first.

          He is probably very busy over the next week preparing for a crucial meeting with the diplomats who represent the Galápagos Islands.

    3. Michael.j

      Later news indicates that the Senate is attempting to give Sec Blinken a stick to facilitate his desires in discussions with FM Lavrov.

      Threatening Russia with “Terror” designation seems pretty hypocritical, high handed, and Imperial. I doubt that FM Lavrov will be impressed.

      The consequences could be devastating for Europe, but maybe that’s the intent.

  16. Lex

    Having reread the headline, I’m now imagining the whole thing as an episode of “it’s always sunny in Philadelphia”. The gang starts WWIII or something.

  17. Stephen

    I may be missing something but on top of all the reasons that Yves states for the 15% gas consumption reduction being leaky there is a always a baseline challenge with anything like this.

    Has the EU stated the baseline consumption they are measuring against and an associated intended absolute consumption figure? Maybe it is simple as extrapolating the 45 billion as 15% of the total but I am not so sure. Lots of potential for games here otherwise.

    A pure “cut” target can always be rationalised after the event as having been delivered by fiddling the baseline (historical consumption, projections, earlier targets etc,). Maybe that is is the intent. Corporates nearly always achieve their cost reduction objectives through similar means!

  18. ChrisRUEcon

    “The Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight”

    Oh, they can shoot straight alright …

    at their own feet.

    1. JTMcPhee

      More to the point, at the heads of the mopes who make up the vast real economy that funds and supports their effing death-wish idiocy.

  19. Irrational

    Great article!
    Re. Yamal-Europe and not a peep when Ukraine shut the Lugansk leg down: incredibly, but all the EU and its press does seems to be to copy Ukrainian press releases.
    On the flipside, Ukraine has apparently offered to deliver power to Europe. I wonder how reliable that will be from such a corrupt country in the middle of a war? And let’s not talk about the quid-pro-quos.

  20. Ael

    Anyone know the state of energy supply in Ukraine?

    Do they have enough of everything to keep the lights and heat on, come the fall/ winter?
    My initial expectation is that they will freeze in the dark, but I have no actual facts to back that up.

    1. Polar Socialist

      They do have a few gas fields of their own still under Kiev’s control. The capacity is around 20 bln cubic meters per year, which usually is not enough, but given that Ukraine has lost a lot of territory, population and industry they may cope.
      They also have nuclear power plants, and Poland surely will provide coal if and when needed, now that Verkhovna Rada made Polish citizens equal to Ukrainian citizens – whatever that means.

    2. redleg

      It appears that the Russians haven’t hit Ukrainian energy targets at any significant scale. The only ones I have heard about are railroad-related, due to the majority of trains in Ukraine being electric powered vs diesel.

  21. Cesar Jeopardy

    It may take them a long time to do so. But the EU may eventually get it about right. They’ll end the sanctions against Russia, they’ll beg for the Nordstream 2 pipeline to be opened, and they’ll give up for the time being the idea of looting Russia’s vast resources. I say “for the time being” because they are, after all, colonialist imperialists. All the while, the U.S. will be squealing like a stuck pig. Russia will take the high road and not rub the faces of the EU members in the filthy mess they’ve created. And yes, Russia will take as much of Ukraine as it wants and the people of Ukraine will realize that they are better off for it–no more will they be looted by the U.S.

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