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Western Europe financing Russia's 'naked aggression'

One global perspective is that President Obama’s five year-plus foray into foreign policy has at best helped produce global chaos. Now, with Secretary of State John Kerry licking political wounds inflicted by Iran and the Russian invasion of Crimea, Mr. Obama has sent the Rodney Dangerfield of politics, Joe Biden, to reassure Eastern Europe of his "unwavering support."

Demonstration in Ukraine during Russian invasion
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Since Russia seized Crimea, the administration’s “unwavering support” for NATO and East European nations like Ukraine has amounted to a couple speeches, flyovers by politicians like Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, and freezing U.S. bank accounts of as many as 10 Russians who likely emptied their Western accounts months before Mr. Putin snatched Crimea.

Even the staunchest supporters of this administration can’t hang their campaign hats on a single successful foreign policy, short of giving Mr. Obama credit for killing Osama bin Laden, an operation ordered by President George W. Bush and carried out by SEAL Team 6 during Mr. Obama’s first term.

Traditional allies like Israel have become frenemies under Mr. Obama’s watch while Iran continues its nuclear ambitions and North Korea regularly fires missiles and tests nuclear bombs while rattling sabers at South Korea and thousands of U.S. troops stationed there.

Now, the Cold War is heating up again and armed Russian troops are spilling into Ukraine faster than the administration can download the speeches that Mr. Biden so often mangles.

Sending Mr. Obama’s gaff-prone sidekick to tour a handful of European countries to tamp down regional anxieties over Russia’s designs on Ukraine is about as effective as it was when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deployed four Americans to a rented house in Benghazi to mediate between warring Islamic factions.

The administration lacks the credibility required to convince our allies the it has made a “bedrock commitment” to honor NATO’s basic premise that “if one member nation is attacked, all will come to its defense.”

“President Obama and I view Article 5 of the NATO Treaty as an absolutely solemn commitment which we will honor,” Biden said in an appearance with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, referring to the collective self-defense clause in the agreement. “We will honor.”

But what does “honor,” mean to this administration? Are we to believe that President Obama is going to build an international coalition to drive the Russians from Crimea, or will the administration task battle-weary U.S. troops it is withdrawing from Afghanistan to defend Ukraine and European ”honor.”

No, the solution does not lie in diplomacy or blusters of war and it has little to do with honoring our military commitments to Europe.

Western Europe is energy dependent, addicted to petrol that it doesn't produce. Russia is the regional pusher. Crimea is gone, and if Europe is to contain Russia's future aggressions, it must stop relying on Russia to fuel its ecomomies.

More than 50 percent of the Russian government's revenues come from Russia's state-owned gas-export monopoly, Gazprom; energy is Russia’s largest export.

Energy exports add $40 billion to Kremlin coffers annually and about three-fourths of Russia's gas exports – around 130 billion cubic meters in 2013, according to Gazprom, go to Western Europe.

Crimea was seized as U.S. and Western European foreign policies slumbered, belated drawing of red lines notwithstanding. However, in lieu of plausible military options, the president would need to convince Western Europe to produce more fossil fuels and start importing from Western countries, and fast.

Energy is Putin’s weakness. An already struggling Russian economy would likely fold under a successful Western embargo against petroleum products and he knows that.

The problem for the West is that there will be no such embargo put in place.

Western Europe will find it too difficult to kick its addiction to relatively cheap Russian petroleum. Russia’s massive petroleum reserves will continue to finance Putin's aggressive foreign policy as Western European countries continue to line up at the trough of Russian oil and gas.

This is quite a quandary for a U.S. administration that won’t even stand up to domestic environmental extremists who forbade it to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The U.S. needs oil from Canada to replace its own addiction to crude mined by unfriendly nations and OPEC.

Wednesday, in the setting of the grand Presidential Palace in historic Vilnius, Biden met with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvian President Andris Berzins, who flew in to hear Biden trash-talk the Kremlin.

“Russia cannot escape that the world is changing and rejecting outright their behavior,” Biden said. “And that there is a price to pay for naked aggression.”

Crimea consists of a mostly Russian population that this week voted by an overwhelming 96-percent margin to secede from Ukraine and become a Russian territory.

That is more of a home coming celebration than “naked aggression.” The President would be far wiser to call Mr. Biden home, approve the Keystone project without delay and remind Western Europe that it is financing Putin's "naked aggression."

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