Ordinary people have, I think, looked on in horror at some of Russia’s actions over the last few years. The takeover of Crimea – a province of Ukraine with a significant Russian speaking population and the more recent incarceration of Alexei Navalny – have caused outrage.
While we can and should condemn the actions, Europe has responded in a way that has demonstrated a lack of clear analysis of the consequences of imposing badly thought out sanctions.
The reaction to the invasion of Crimea has seen Russia impose a ban on the importation of foodstuffs from the US and the EU. This followed an earlier prohibition on the export of EU foodstuffs to Russia imposed by the EU itself, so the previously large Russian market for Irish beef and dairy products has disappeared.
Russia has emerged with a greatly increased self-sufficiency in food, in both beef and dairy, and has become the largest wheat exporter in the world. While diplomatic relations have soured, Russia was continuously being relied on as the main supplier of natural gas to Europe, a reliance which has left the EU hopelessly exposed to an artificially created shortage and a six-fold increase in price.
This is having huge knock-on effects on EU and Irish fertiliser prices. Just last week I heard of an Irish farmer paying well over €800/t to secure some of his urea supplies for the spring.
At the same time, we have refused to push forward the development of a liquefied gas terminal in the Shannon estuary that would have opened up world supplies of natural gas instead of being at the end of a supply pipe coming from Russia to the UK. But the bigger short-term question may in fact be over the actual capacity to produce food without adequate nutrition for crops next spring.
The completed – but not yet operating – pipeline carrying gas directly from Russia to Germany may well be one of the factors influencing Russia from supplying normal quantities of gas to Europe. So far, Ireland has failed to take sensible energy policy decisions - it can do so no longer.