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MaltaToday 9 March 2022 MIDWEEK

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OPINION 10 maltatoday | WEDNESDAY • 9 MARCH 2022 How is it OK to buy gas from Russia… but not sell passports to Russians? THE above question was aimed primarily at Sophie Int'Velt: you know, the Dutch MEP who has just declared a 'war on Kremlin money'… by clamping down on various 'citizen-by-investment schemes' across the EU (including Malta's). Hmmm. Yes, well I can just imagine the reaction at the Kremlin itself. They must be shitting in their Russian pants by now, don't you think? Heck, they're prob- ably scrambling to withdraw all those tanks, soldiers, missiles and artillery from Ukraine, even as we speak… For let's face it: I doubt Vladimir Putin would have even invaded that country in the first place, had he known that the Eu- ropean Union's response would be so… erm… 'disproportionate'. I mean: all he really did, at the end of the day, was commit a truly shocking war- crime, by launching an unprovoked at- tack on a peaceful neighbouring country (targeting civilian facilities, such as hospi- tals and schools, in the process.) And all he really threatened the rest of Europe with – if it so much as dared inter- vene, in any way – was… erm… 'nuclear war'. See what I mean? Surely, that's no justi- fication to resort to such a devastating re- taliatory strike, is it now? Because even if Putin were to make good on those nucle- ar threats of his… OK, the initial nuclear explosion would probably kill a few tens of millions, on the spot; and the ensuing radiation would probably make the rest of Europe uninhabitable, for the next few million years at least… But if Russian oligarchs were no longer permitted to buy Maltese passports, at E1 million a pop? Forever, and ever, and ever? Bloody hell! I shudder to even im- agine the consequences, for the Russian war machine… and so too, I imagine, does Vladimir Putin. No, indeed. I expect Russia will now respond to Sophie Int'Velt's horrifying threat, by immediately retreating across the Ukrainian border with its tail between its legs. And the next thing we'll probably hear from the Kremlin, is an announce- ment of 'unconditional surrender'. (And I can see the precise wording already: 'We're sorry, we truly are… but please, PLEASE! Anything, but the cessation of Malta's 'Golden Passport' scheme…' But back to the real world, folks: where Vladimir Putin – and the rest of Krem- lin – are probably just pissing themselves with laughter. And who can really blame them? 'War on Kremlin money', my foot! Leaving aside the tiny detail that – in case Sophie Int'Velt hasn't noticed yet – Malta has already stopped its sale of passports to Russian citizens (and as such, any fur- ther suspension of the scheme will not fi- nancially affect Russia in any conceivable way)… … it's not exactly a top priority in the 'war on Kremlin money', is it now? Or at least: not when compared to the billions upon billions of euros that get pumped into the Russian economy, on an annual basis… by exporting gas, oil and coal to other EU countries. Doink! Sophie didn't think of including that, did she, in her grand scheme of 'vis- iting financial terror upon the Kremlin'? No, of course not! After all, it would on- ly hurt the economies of those European countries that are happily doing business with Russia, on a daily basis, even as we speak. And that, by the way, includes her own native country, The Netherlands – whose total imports from Russia amounted to 40.7 billion last year (half of which – 20.4 billion – involved 'crude petroleum'). But that's just the start, of how Europe's fuel dependency on Russia is currently fi- nancing Putin's war in Ukraine. This, for instance, is from the EU's own website: "In 2019, almost two thirds of the extra-EU's crude oil imports came from Russia (27 %), […] A similar analysis shows that almost three quarters of the EU's imports of natural gas came from Russia (41 %), […], while over three quarters of solid fu- el (mostly coal) imports originated from Russia (47%)..." Meanwhile, according to the Interna- tional Energy association: "In 2021, the European Union imported 155 billion cubic metres of natural gas from Russia, accounting for around 45% of EU gas im- ports and close to 40% of its total gas con- sumption." Now: in case you're wondering how much money Russia itself made from all those exports to European countries, over the years… let's just say that the IEA also estimates that: "Revenues from oil and gas-related tax- es and export tariffs accounted for 45% of Russia's federal budget in January 2022. Considering current market prices, the export value of Russian piped gas to the EU alone amounts to $400 million per day. Total export revenues for crude oil and refined products currently amount to around $700 million per day." As far as I can see, that works out at a tidy profit – in Russia's favour - of rough- ly $1.2 billion a day: and therefore, over $300 billion a year. So… how many tanks, planes, guns, and missiles do you reckon a country can buy with that sort of money, anyway? (Actually wait, no: I'd rather not even know that, to be honest…) And considering that (according to Wikipedia, at any rate) Russia only spends around $61 billion on its military each year… how long do you think that the Kremlin can realistically continue to fund its military operations in Ukraine, under those circumstances? The short answer, I suppose, is… 'forev- er'. Because if Russia is making anywhere up to a FIVE TIMES its ordinary annual military expenditure, just from its roar- ing energy trade with European partners alone… well, it easily can afford to invade a heck of a lot more than just Ukraine, don't you reckon? And this, in turn, also explains why the EU's 'war on Kremlin money' has so far been so laughably misdirected. Just a few days ago, Germany's Economy Minister Robert Habeck went on record saying: "I would not advocate an embargo on Rus- sian imports of fossil fuels. I would even oppose it […] We need these energy sup- plies to maintain the price stability and energy security in Germany". Got that, folks? Never mind, for the moment, that the EU's 27 member states – with Germany leading the pack – are all fully in favour of 'hitting Russia with crippling sanctions' (so long as they don't also cripple themselves in the process, of course...) With Europe itself so utterly dependent on Russia for its own energy needs, it can't possibly afford to get in- volved in any 'war' with that country – be it military, or financial – for another, rather obvious reason. Let's face it: Vladimir Putin has his fin- ger on more than just the 'Big Red Nucle- ar Button'… he also controls the tap that keeps Europe plugged into its own energy grid. And as such, he wouldn't even need to resort to any nukes at all. He can sim- ply cut off most of Europe's energy supply at any time he likes – just like that – and there's quite literally nothing Europe can possibly do to stop him. But hey, don't despair! Sophie Int' Velt has, after all, just declared a 'war on Kremlin money', hasn't she? So… erm… what sort of 'war' does she actually have in mind? Will she 'harass, chase, and hunt down' (her own words, not mine) all those Eu- ropean Union member states that are – quite shockingly, it must be said – still conducting an energy trade, which en- riches the Kremlin by $300 billion a year? Will she insist, with the same vehe- mence, that the Commission ban all other European imports from Russia (and also Belarus, while I'm at it)?_ Will she, in a word, do anything – any- thing at all - that actually hurts the Krem- lin's finances, in any meaningful way? No, of course not! She will simply use Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a conven- ient pretext, to achieve what she's been angling after for years anyway. Her 'war on Kremlin money' will only ban 'citizen- ship-by-investment schemes' that: a) no longer feature Russian buyers anyway; and will therefore not have the slightest impact on the Kremlin's actual finances, and; b) only hurt countries like Malta, Cy- prus, Portugal, etc. (which – unlike Ger- many, Italy, the Netherlands or even the UK) are not actually 'doing any business with Russia' at all. But at least, she's given us all – includ- ing Vladimir Putin – something to have a good laugh about, in these troubled times. And that, on its own, is no mean feat… Raphael Vassallo Let's face it: Vladimir Putin has his finger on more than just the 'Big Red Nuclear Button'… he also controls the tap that keeps Europe plugged into its own energ y grid

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