Putin, Energy Markets And The Colder War by John Mauldin, Mauldin Economics
The story of energy is the story of human expansion. From the days when we roamed the African savanna, we tamed first fire and then other forms of energy, using them as tools to control our environment and improve our lives. The control of energy has always been at the heart of the human story.
This week our Outside the Box essay is from my friend Marin Katusa, who has written a fascinating book about a part of that story, a subplot of intrigue and conspiracy. Under Putin, Russia has aspired to dominate the energy markets. Called The Colder War, Marin’s book is a well-written tale of the rise of Putin and his desire to change the way the world’s energy markets are controlled.
I sat down a few months ago with an advance copy, not sure what to expect. Marin is personally very colorful and entertaining, but would that charisma translate to words on a page? I started on a Sunday afternoon and finished before I laid my head on the pillow that night. The Colder War was an entertaining and gripping story of the rise of Putin and the shifting sands of the world of oil. It was also an insightful overview of the last century. I highly recommend it.
At the end of the day, I disagree with Marin as to Putin’s ability to achieve his vision. While Putin wants to displace the petro-dollar as the global medium of energy exchange, he will fail. But maybe that’s the hometown boy in me thinking my team will win.
But that is the last 10% of the book. The first 90% is an easy must-read. Warning: it is not written from a US perspective. Marin’s view of the events of the last century sound more like those I hear when I travel outside the US.
I took the liberty of checking his story with a good friend of mine, Jerry Fullenwider, a very successful Texas oil entrepreneur, who lived in Russia during Putin’s rise. He confirmed Marin’s tales and more. He has his history right. And what a history it is. Today’s OTB is the introduction to the book, and if you’re intrigued, you can listen to Marin talk about the book and obtain a copy here.
I write this note from the airport in Geneva, where I am waiting on a plane to return to Atlanta for a day and then home. It is hard to imagine a more perfect few days than I have spent here on the lake.
It has been an exhilarating week, full of thought-provoking lectures and conversations. I am ready to go home and meditate on what I have learned. As usual, I intend to work and write on my way back to the States, so that I am ready to go to bed when I arrive. You have a great week.
Your watching the dollar analyst,
John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box
The Colder War
By Marin Katusa
I am going to tell you a story you’ll wish weren’t true.
Sometime soon, likely in the next five years or so, there is going to be an emergency meeting in the White House Situation Room. It probably will start in the wee hours of the morning, when the early risers among Europe’s oil traders and currency speculators have already begun to scramble out of the way of what’s coming. None of the worried participants in that meeting will have a good solution to propose, because there will be no way for the United States to turn without embracing calamity of one kind or another.
The president will listen as his closest advisers lay out the dilemma. After a long silence, he will say, “You’re telling me that everything – everything – is coming unglued.”
He’ll be right. At that point, there will be no good options, only less awful ones.
Don’t count on the wise and worldly who occupy the highest echelons of government power to know what they are doing when they sit in that meeting. Solving the puzzle of what to do will fall to the same kind of people who today are standing by and letting the disaster build.
Some of them just don’t know any better. They see all of mankind’s turmoil as cartoonlike conflicts between white hats and black hats. Others know that reality is more complex, but choose to feign ignorance – it’s so easy, and often politically convenient, to let everything boil down to good guys battling bad guys.
For years, political power players in the United States have joined their media allies in portraying Vladimir Putin as a coarse bully, a leftover from the KGB, a ruthless homophobic thug, a preening would-be Napoleon who worships men of action – especially himself. Even Hillary Clinton, who should know better, likened him to Hitler.
The ruthless part is quite real, but there is so much more to the truth. I’ve been studying Putin’s moves for as long as I’ve immersed myself in analyzing world energy markets – over a decade now. He’s a complicated man whom Americans have been viewing through the simplifying lens their leaders like to hold up. He is less of an ogre but far more dangerous than politicians and the media would lead you to believe.
It has been a terrible mistake for Washington’s political circles to dismiss him for so many years as just a hustler temporarily running a country, to cast him as a shooting star destined to flame out in the unforgiving world of Russian politics. It has been to his advantage that short people tend not to be taken seriously, even if, like Putin, they are martial arts champions and have a chiseled physique to display at age 62. And his less-than-dignified moments posing as He-Man have played into our readiness to treat him more as a clown than as a dangerous competitor.
But Washington should never have thought of him as a Cold War relic, any more than it should have thought of Russia as a once-lionlike country that had devolved into a goat. It should have seen that Putin has a long-range plan for Mother Russia – a map covering decades, not the four-year election cycles that dominate the attention of U.S. politicians – and both the vision and the resources to make the plan work. For 15 years, Putin has been formulating, bankrolling, and directing Cold War: The Sequel. Or, as I like to term it, The Colder War. He’s in it to win it.
And the way he plans to win it isn’t through the sword, but through control of the world’s energy supplies.
There’s no undoing the U.S. government’s failures to date. What I can do now is tell you the true story of the Colder War. I can trace the connections of world events you’ve read about and that only seemed unrelated. I can explain why Putin does what he does, so that you can anticipate what he’s likely to do next. I can show you the worldchanging power shift that is little recognized even though it is unfolding in plain sight, right before our eyes.
It’s all about energy – oil, gas, coal, uranium, hydroelectric