Retaliation: Germany seizes Russian-owned refineries as India rebukes Putin over war

(Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russia wants to wage an energy and economic war against Europe over its support for Ukraine. Germany has answered by seizing key Russian energy assets, escalating the fight between Moscow and the EU. Declaring a threat to energy security, Berlin “temporarily” took control of Rosneft refineries in a bid to ensure energy supply for the winter after Russia cut off natural gas supplies:

The German government has seized control of three Russian-owned oil refineries to secure supplies of gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel.

Germany’s economy ministry announced on Friday that it had temporarily taken over Russian oil giant Rosneft’s subsidiaries in the country. Rosneft Deutschland and RN Refining & Marketing account for about 12% of Germany’s oil refining capacity, the ministry said in a statement.

The move was designed to “counter the threat to the security of energy supply,” it added.

What have the Russians said about this move? So far, not much, notes Deutsche Welle. They may not be able to say or do much anyway. And they may have learned about it from the media, as Germany found it unnecessary to discuss the seizure up front:

A spokesperson for the Economy Ministry said on Friday at a regular news conference that it was not necessary to discuss the move with Russia.

However, taking over Schwedt does risk retaliatory measures from Moscow. So far, neither Rosneft Deutschland nor Rosneft have responded.

Retaliatory measures? This was a retaliation for Russia’s retaliatory move in cutting off natural gas supplies through the original Nord Stream pipeline a few weeks ago. Germany couldn’t risk Russia ordering a shutdown of its oil refineries on top of the embargo on natural gas. They had little choice but to act quickly before Russia could sabotage another major part of their energy supply.

That still could lead to further retaliation from Russia, but Putin’s options are becoming limited. He’s already suspended the natural gas imports into Germany. He may have other economic levers to pull, but with his army collapsing in Ukraine and Russian materiel falling into Ukrainian hands on an industrial scale, the risks of economic backfire are growing.

So what can Putin do? One option would be to negotiate an end to this disaster. In fact, that’s precisely what India PM Nerandra Modi bluntly told Putin to do, publicly scolding him that “this is not an era of war.”  Putin replied that he would like to do just that, but that the Ukrainians want to fight it out to the end:

Bluntly challenged by Indian Prime Minister Nerandra Modi over the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said that Russia would strive to stop the conflict “as soon as possible” but then blamed Ukraine for refusing to negotiate, though Putin ordered the invasion and his troops are still occupying a large swath of Ukrainian territory. …

In a stunning public rebuke, Modi told Putin: “Today’s era is not an era of war, and I have spoken to you on the phone about this.”

Modi’s remark, as the two leaders sat in front of journalists and cameras, came a day after Putin acknowledged he had heard “concerns and questions” about the war from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Responding to Modi, Putin said: “I know your position on the conflict in Ukraine, about your concerns that you constantly express. We will do our best to stop this as soon as possible. Only, unfortunately, the opposing side, the leadership of Ukraine, announced its abandonment of the negotiation process, declared that it wants to achieve its goals by military means, as they say, ‘on the battlefield.’ Nevertheless, we will always keep you informed of what is happening there.”

Go figure. Ukraine wants an end to all Russian occupation, whereas Putin and Sergei Lavrov wanted to force Volodymyr Zelensky into a capitulation that would make Kyiv a satellite of Moscow. Putin could end the war right now by promising to retreat back to Russia’s recognized international borders, leaving Crimea and the Donbas to Ukraine and reversing its 2014 actions as well. Putin can’t do that, however, not without falling victim to the mysterious Moscow Window Flu, and he knows it.

In any case, Putin’s tour of Asia is turning into a disaster. The scolding from Modi followed a less-than-enthusiastic embrace from Xi Jinping the day before. Germany’s seizure of Russian assets — likely permanently — will add to the impression that Putin’s world is collapsing around him. Putin had better calculate an exit strategy, and quickly, before a window nearby him sucks him through it and onto a street below.