Russian Natural Gas and Geopolitical Realignment — A Reverse Domino Theory

Geopolitical Short Papers

Russian Natural Gas and Geopolitical Realignment — A Reverse Domino Theory

George McMillan
George McMillan
Founder and Head of Research

Mon November 27, 20232:30 PM EST5 Minute Read

Last Updated: Fri February 16, 20245:36 PM EST

With the Cold War in the rearview mirror for over three decades, the road ahead shows that cheap Russian natural gas delivered by pipeline is the biggest threat to the United States’ superpower status.

Natural gas delivered by pipeline is significantly more cost-competitive than any other form of energy, with any industrial power center boasting natural gas pipelines to Russia seeing significantly lower energy costs, boosting their machine tools, heavy equipment, automobiles, advanced electronics, consumer products, and agricultural fertilizers in the global markets. Those countries not connected are likely to be less competitive industrially and will experience higher levels of inflation associated with declining living standards. 

The Russian Federation has an abundance of clean and inexpensive natural gas ranging from the Caspian Sea region to the Ural mountains, along the entire Arctic Ocean range, and to the Far East, including Sakhalin Island just under 30 miles north of Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido. Russia can therefore supply the United States’ allies across Eurasia with natural gas by pipeline far more cheaply than the US can with liquified natural gas (LNG) by ship. Consequently, the domino theory, originally applied to Marxist communism, is more appropriate today to describe alliances centered on natural gas shipped by pipeline.

Warhawks

Since the Reagan and Thatcher administrations, American and British war hawks have been worried about Russia’s ability to deliver cheap natural gas via pipeline to Germany, China, Japan (via Sakhalin Island), and even to the entire Korean peninsula via Vladivostok. The fear is that once one a Western ally connects to cheap Russian natural gas, then ensues a race for the other industrial power centers to gain the same competitive advantage in the global market. 

The US and UK counter strategy has been to prevent: (a) Russian natural gas from reaching an end user among the Western European or the Pacific Rim allies; and (b) The end user paying Russia directly in rubles, thus undermining the petrodollar financial system that supports the United States’ burgeoning $34 trillion debt. It doesn’t matter where or how a natural gas pipeline is sabotaged—inside Russia or outside Russia—the motive is always to prevent (a) then (b). This makes the understanding of the conflict zones all along Eurasia easier to understand—they are not random. 

The hypothesis from Halford Mackinder, the father of geopolitical theory and founder of Oxford University School of Geography at the turn of the 20th Century, was that the more Russia can deliver its abundance of raw materials from the “Eurasian heartland” to the Eurasian “coastal rimland” industrial power centers, the more Russia will become the global political center of gravity. This hypothesis has become only more true with the advance of railways and pipelines that accelerate low-cost overland delivery.

Diplomatic, Infrastructure, Military, and Economic (DIME)

The economic diplomatic concern is that since: (a) Russia and China have been infrastructurally integrating with the completion and expansion of Power of Siberia 1, with Power of Siberia 2 in the works; (b) Russia and Germany are becoming increasingly infrastructurally integrated with Nordstream 1 and 2; and (c) Japan has since 2009 slated a Sakhalin-Hokkaido railway tunnel and pipeline project; then (d) South Korea would be next to follow with a peninsular pipeline through North Korea to Vladivostok to keep its automobile and consumer products industries competitive globally.

Following suit, though India may be unable to connect to Russia via pipeline directly as Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India pipelines have been stalled for decades due to the ongoing religious and ethnic rivalries in the region, the Modi government nevertheless wants to complete the International North-South Trade Corridor (INSTC) project from Russia through the Caucasus to Chabahar Port in Iran, across the Arabian Sea. The three-fold goal here is: (1) To gain a direct overland route to receive Russian and Iranian oil and liquified natural gas (LNG); (2) To avoid rival Chinese and Pakistani territory; and (3) To minimize the time cargo and tanker ships sit on the open sea where they more vulnerable to interdiction by rival powers.

Among energy circles, many believe the concern of cheap Russian natural gas contributing to the loss of US allies is the motive behind the US sabotaging the Ural pipeline in 1982, politically sabotaging the notional Black Sea South Stream pipeline from Novorossiysk to Burgas in 2014, and steadfastly opposing Gerhard Schroder’s approval of Nord Stream 1 and 2 under the Baltic Sea that avoided US-NATO-controlled Poland, Ukraine, and Georgia. The idea is that once one ally gains that economic and living standard advantage, the other allies would be incentivized to follow suit, and the US and UK would become isolated. 

Ambassador George Kennan’s Five Industrial Power Center strategy consisted primarily of the US being allied with Germany in Western Europe and Japan in the Pacific Rim to isolate the Soviet Union and China. It is this Five-Power-Center strategy (six, with the inclusion of a now more developed India) that would have been eclipsed had the series of pipeline and energy projects between Russia and Germany, India, China, South Korea, and Japan been permitted to continue. The Russian invasion of Ukraine led the US to place sanctions on Russia that halted progress on all of those projects—just in the nick of time.

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About the Author

George McMillan
George McMillan
Founder and Head of Research

As the Founder of the G3Strat Group, he combines business acumen with military precision to guide companies in risk resilience. With over a decade of experience, he has held multiple roles in security, intelligence, and training. His expertise includes risk assessment, national security, operational planning, and intelligence analysis.

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