A few years back, in one of his finest moments, Senator McCain said on a Sunday talk show that “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country.” It was right when he said it, and it’s even more right today.
Vladimir Putin’s circle of corrupt oligarchs gouge whatever money they can from the impoverished Russian economy and move it to bank accounts overseas. They do this after giving President Putin his cut, after which he apparently also sends the money overseas.
Many say Mr. Putin is the richest man in Russia, worth billions and billions. So the old Soviet model of the nomenklatura communist bureaucrats getting rich while the rest of the country declines is still in place.
With energy prices falling, though, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has essentially been in a recession for the past four years. With oil at $50 or less a barrel, Russian budgets plunge deeper into debt. It’s even doubtful the Russians have enough money to upgrade their military-energy industrial complex.
Through crafty press relations and his own bravado, a deluded Mr. Putin struggles to maintain the illusion that Russia is a strong economic power. It isn’t. Not even close.
Now, Russia still has a lot of oil and gas reserves. It uses this to bully Eastern and Western Europe. It threatens to cut off these resources if Europe dast complain about Mr. Putin’s power grabs in the Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, the Baltics, and elsewhere.
Enter President Trump. In his brilliant speech at Warsaw earlier this week, he called Mr. Putin’s energy bluff.
It may well have been the best speech of his young presidency. Mr. Trump delivered a stirring leadership message, emphasizing the importance of God, freedom, strong families, and democratic values.
While pledging to uphold NATO’s Article 5 — committing the members to protect one another — Mr. Trump went even deeper: “The fundamental question of our time,” he said, “is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost?”
He said, “if we do not have strong families and strong values then we will be weak and we will not survive.” He also spoke several times of the religious leadership and bravery of Pope John Paul II.
It was a bold strike for the West.
In an absolutely key part of the speech, he took direct aim at Mr. Putin’s energy bullying.
President Trump said, “We are committed to securing your access to alternative sources of energy, so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy.” Italics are all mine.
Mr. Trump has quickly made it clear that President Obama’s war on business is over. He’s also made it clear, through regulatory rollbacks of breathtaking scope, that the Obama war on fossil fuels is over.
Our new president wants America to achieve energy dominance. He withdrew from the costly Paris climate accord, which would have severely damaged the American economy. He directed the EPA to rescind the Obama Clean Power Plan, which would have led to skyrocketing electricity rates.
He fast-tracked the Keystone XL pipeline. He reopened the door for a modernized American coal industry. He’s overturning all the Obama obstacles to hydraulic fracturing, which his presidential opponent, Secretary Clinton, would have dramatically increased. He has opened the floodgates wide to energy exports.
Right now, U.S. oil reserves are almost in parity with those of Saudi Arabia. We have the second-most coal reserves in the world. There are enough American gas reserves to last us a century. We have already passed Russia as the world’s top natural-gas producer.
We are the world’s top producer of oil and petroleum hydrocarbons. Exports of liquified national gas are surging, with the Energy Department rapidly approving new LNG projects and other export terminals.
All these America-first energy policies are huge economic-growth and high-wage-job producers at home. In the Warsaw speech, Mr. Trump made it clear that America’s energy dominance will be used to help our friends across Europe. No longer will our allies have to rely on Russian Gazprom supplies with inflated, prosperity-killing prices.
In short, with the free-market policies he’s putting in place in America’s energy sector and throughout the American economy, the businessman president fully intends to cut into Russia’s energy-market share. As that takes hold, Russia’s gas-station economy will sink further.
As that takes hold, the bully-boy Mr. Putin will have to think twice about Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltics. He’ll have to think twice about his anti-American policies in the Middle East and North Korea. He’ll have to think twice about his increasingly precarious position as the modern-day Russian tsar.
The world may yet become a safer place.
Mr. Trump has Mr. Putin over a barrel.