Has COP26 made President Putin the most Powerful man in the World?

Ed Lander
The Psychograph
Published in
5 min readFeb 25, 2022
French President Emmanuelle Macron meets with President Putin in Moscow, in February 2022, to attempt to de-escalate tensions in Eastern Europe

At the time of writing, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is waging a military incursion into the Ukraine. After weeks of warnings from Western intelligence agencies, and after Russia and Belarus extended their joint ‘training exercises’ on Sunday 20th of March, President Putin unilaterally declared the Eastern provinces of Ukraine, Luhansk and Donetsk, as independent states. And, in Putin’s interpretation of international law, this allowed Russian Federation peacekeeping forces in to protect the Russian speaking and Russian Orthodox Church supporting citizens, in a nod to the NATO mission in Bosnia in 1992. Fast forward to today, the 25th February 2022, and President Putin is waging a full-scale military operation inside the Ukraine, targeting key Ukrainian military installations, in an effort to apparently protect the fledgling Eastern states of Luhansk and Donetsk.

If we rewind briefly back to 2021, and the much celebrated COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the world celebrated a tough new climate accord that sought to ‘phase down’ the use of coal in energy production. Of course coal is a notoriously dirty and polluting fossil fuel, that not only impacts air quality but also produces large amounts of harmful greenhouse gases. However it is still being used to produce approximately 40% of India’s energy, a country of over 1.3 billion people, and provides approximately 60% of China’s domestic electricity supply, a country of over 1.4 billion people, and the world’s largest consumer of energy. After COP26, countries including China attempted to start their pivot from coal to natural gas. Combined with generalised inflation, and also spikes in demand as the global economy began to open up after the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, the price of natural gas spiked.

These natural gas price spikes resulted in some policy crawl back in China, with the Chinese leadership deciding to continue to green light coal-fired power stations in light of the resurgent demand for natural gas. And, of course, it’s not just that natural gas is a cleaner fuel than coal — natural gas has been hailed as a ‘bridge fuel’ in the clean energy transition, which can be used to make hydrogen [1]. Of course, for OPEC, and other fossil fuel producing giants, like Russia and the United States, the spike in demand for natural gas is a boon. And let’s not forget that Russia is the second largest natural gas exporter in the world, after the United States, and it is estimated that roughly 20% of all global natural gas reserves are located in the Russian Federation. So when Russian aggression and posturing in Europe produces spikes in the price of crude oil, it creates a dangerous incentive for President Putin and his colleagues at Gazprom, a Russian-state owned energy company and the largest publicly-listed natural gas company in the world.

In fact this has not gone unnoticed, as recently imposed sanctions on the Russian Federation include senior figures at Gazprom, as well as the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, which was set to begin supply of natural gas from Russia to Germany, bypassing the Ukraine and Poland, later this year. It’s also worth recognising the cosy relationship the Russian Federation now enjoys with China, and China’s implicit support for the military operation in the Ukraine, with Chinese foreign office officials choosing to point the finger of blame at the United States for Russia’s seemingly long-planned and unprovoked attack on the Ukraine.

President Xi Jinping receives President Putin at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics

Of course President Putin’s reasons for his actions in the Ukraine also include NATO’s refusal to not allow the Ukraine into its membership in the future, and the general encroachment of NATO up to Russia’s borders during the 20th century.

So here we are, in shocking and unprecedented territory — another war in Europe, and in the wake of the exhausting and already traumatising COVID-19 pandemic. And with Putin’s power so firmly entrenched, and even his most feared political rivals unable to mount a response [2], it does seem like we are powerless to stop it. However, we have previously seen large anti-war movements against similarly unprovoked, and legally highly dubious, military campaigns in recent years, such as against the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Perhaps the 24th February anti-war protests in the Russian city of St. Petersberg, despite the harsh restrictions of protests against the Kremlin’s leadership, are an indication that perhaps it will once again be ordinary people who stand up to their leaders and demand peace? After all, if President Putin’s reasons for invading the Ukraine are to protect Russian speaking and Russian supporting Ukrainians, then surely escalating the war in the Ukraine will only increase the likelihood of ordinary Russians and Ukrainians being caught up in the conflict?

Anti-war protestors in St. Petersberg, Russia, on the 24th February 2022

[1] Of course, without carbon capture and storage technology (CCS), so called ‘grey hydrogen’ will release just as much carbon dioxide as burning the fuel in its original form

[2] Alexei Navalny is currently serving a prison sentence in Russia, on corruption charges, after narrowly surviving an alleged poisoning attempt in 2020