Skip to content
Meghan L. O'Sullivan

Russia’s Oil Weapon May Be More Potent Than Gas Blackmail

Responding to sanctions by cutting crude supplies in a tight market would hurt not just Europe but American consumers as well. 

Russian roughneck.

Russian roughneck.

Photographer: Dmitry LovetskyAFP/Getty Images

Russian military action in Ukraine could trigger an energy crisis even more serious than the one already hitting Europe. As has been pointed out, should the West hit Russia with severe new sanctions, President Vladimir Putin could cut off natural gas exports, leaving the continent shivering through midwinter. Yet there is another potential weapon of Russia’s that’s been less discussed and might be very effective: An ability to disrupt global oil markets, which would directly hit U.S. consumers.

There’s no doubt that Russia’s influence over natural gas exports to Europe gives Putin reason to believe he might avoid harsh punishment should he invade Ukraine or undertake major efforts to destabilize the Kyiv government. Despite talk from U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration about finding the Europeans supplies from elsewhere, there simply is not enough uncommitted natural gas in the global system that could be redirected to Europe at a reasonable price. Piped natural gas can only flow where existing infrastructure takes it.