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If we’re buying Putin’s oil, we’re paying for his war crimes

Anders Fogh Rasmussen is the founder and chairman of Rasmussen Global. He was security adviser to former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (2016–19) and is former NATO secretary-general (2009-14) and former Prime Minister of Denmark (2001-09). 

Three weeks in, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war is not going to plan. 

His dream of quick and painless regime change in Ukraine is turning into a nightmare in the face of stiff resistance. Told they would be welcomed as liberators, Russian troops are instead being met with Javelin missiles and sniper fire. Even in the towns where Russians are nominally in control, citizens clad in Ukrainian flags stand toe-to-toe with invading soldiers. 

In large parts of the country, the invasion has stalled, and the war is entering a dangerous new phase. Putin is doubling down and resorting to increasingly brutal tactics, as Russian troops lob shells and missiles at civilian areas. But as he increases the brutality of his war effort, we must also step up the intensity of our response. And we must address the elephant in the room: oil and gas imports to Europe. To end this war, the European Union needs to turn off the taps. 

So far, the West has shown resolve and unity in the face of this crisis. Economic sanctions are starting to bite, and every day another European or American company shuts their operations in Russia. Putin may be doing all he can to hide his war from ordinary Russians, but he cannot hide the economic consequences. Russians can no longer watch Netflix or buy the latest iPhone. And even if they could, the ruble in their pocket is worth half what it was two weeks ago. 

But even as we enforce sanctions, we are still sending hundreds of millions of euros every day that are being used to fund the Russian war effort. In 2021, 36 percent of Russian government revenues came from oil and gas sales. The EU remains Russia’s largest trading partner and the main market for its energy reserves. More than 50 percent of the country’s oil and gas exports go to Europe. With one hand we push the Russian economy off a cliff, with the other, we throw it a lifeline. 

This current policy is counterproductive. As oil and gas prices soar, we pour more and more money into Putin’s coffers — we are directly financing his war, and his war crimes. The only efficient solution is a complete end of transfers to Russia. The EU needs to join the U.S. and immediately end all import of Russian oil and gas. This would bring Russia’s economy to its knees. 

Make no mistake. A complete end to imports of Russian oil and gas to Europe will come at a price. But that price is small compared to the current suffering of the Ukrainian people; it is tiny compared to the loss of freedom that will occur if we don’t act now. And it is a price we can handle. 

Energy policy is also security policy. By replacing Russian gas flows with more liquefied natural gas, increasing imports of oil from other suppliers, unfreezing our storage capacity and reducing our energy consumption, we can manage the situation in the short term. In the longer term, we must improve energy efficiency and speed up the development of new and sustainable energy sources. 

Putin is calculating that Europe’s economic interests will trump its moral and political support for Ukraine. We must prove him wrong. We must show we are in this for the long haul. That we are prepared to weather an economic storm to end our reliance on Russian energy. This will certainly not come cheap, but if it helps to end the suffering in Ukraine, it is a price worth paying. 

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