The Putin Super Power Myth

Putin Visits Saint Petersburg
After Putin decided to invade Ukraine and the West slapped Russia with some pretty forceful sanctions, Russian oil became a far more risky commodity to trade. Photo: Contributor/Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
January 24, 2023

Last November, Russia put out an ad, one of many media-trolling fantasies, that depicted the struggles of a young British woman, trying to scrape together enough electricity in her freezing home in the freezing British countryside to power her phone long enough to go on a dating app and meet a Russian man, cozy in his warm flat in Moscow, heated and lit by Russian gas. When she finally manages to get there—apparently, she had a far easier time getting a visa than I ever did—she finds a toasty apartment crowded with other European women, all there for this Russian man and his access to Russian energy. 

It was the Kremlin’s prophecy of what they were sure the winter of 2023 would bring to Europe: a brutal reckoning for their support of Ukraine and betrayal of their energy overlord, Russia.  

It turned out, it was mostly hubris. A warm winter, low energy prices, and Europe’s rapid turn away from Russian energy have revealed that the balance of power wasn’t quite as durable as the Kremlin had predicted. Moreover, the now nearly two-month G7 and E.U. price cap on seaborne exports of Russian oil has produced surprising results, further cutting into the Kremlin’s energy dominance of the West. (To recap: It was a measure designed by the Biden administration to simultaneously incentivize Russia, one of the world’s largest oil producers, to both keep pumping oil so as to not create an energy crisis at a moment when the world was in an inflationary spiral all while preventing the Kremlin from manipulating prices to fund its ruthless invasion of Ukraine.)