Lower oil prices, reflected in falling petrol prices at the pump, have been a boon for Western consumers. Are they also a potent US weapon against Russia and Iran?
That’s the conclusion drawn by New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman, who says the US and Saudi Arabia, whether by accident or design, could be pumping Russia and Iran to brink of economic collapse.
Despite turmoil in many of the world’s oil-producing countries – Libya, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria – prices are hitting lows not seen in years, Friedman writes.
Rather than look at the causes, however, Friedman says to look at the result – budget shortfalls in Russia and Iran – and what it means.
Who benefits? He asks. The US wants its Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia to have more bite. Both the Saudis and the US are fighting a proxy war against Iran in Syria.
“This is business, but it also has the feel of war by other means: oil,” he writes.
Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times agrees that both Russia and Iran are starting to feel the squeeze of lower prices, although he doesn’t go as far as Friedman in speculating about a secret war.
“The economic pressure isn’t expected to change Putin’s aggressive efforts to retain strong influence over Ukraine, which he considers non-negotiable,” Richter writes. “But they are causing strains in his relations with the Russian elite and business establishment, two pillars of his political support.”
As for Iran, he writes, an oil price of anything less than $100 [£62.41] a barrel will create onerous budget deficits and undermine the nation’s position in ongoing nuclear negotiations with the West. The closing price on Wednesday was $81.40.
“Iran’s economic resurgence had enabled Iranian officials to claim they could get by even if the talks collapsed without providing further relief from tough international sanctions,” he writes.
In Russia, the media have taken notice.
“The Russian economy’s dependence on energy resources, gas and oil first and foremost, is often compared to drug addiction; people say that it is ‘on the oil needle’,” write the editors of Nezavisimaya Gazeta (translated by BBC Monitoring).
Full article: Is the oil crash a secret US war on Russia? (BBC)