As it tries to punish Russia for the latter’s dismemberment of Ukraine, the West is discovering that the balance of power isn’t what it used to be. Russia is a huge supplier of oil and gas — traded in US dollars — which gives it both leverage over near-term energy flows and, far more ominous for the US, the ability to threaten the dollar’s reign as the world’s reserve currency. And it’s taking some big, active steps towards that goal. As Zero Hedge noted on Tuesday:
Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, travelled to India on Sunday, part of a wider Asian trip to shore up ties with eastern allies at a time when Moscow is being shunned by the West over its annexation of Crimea. Rosneft said it had also agreed with ONGC they may join forces in Rosneft’s yet-to-be built liquefied natural gas plant in the far east of Russia to the benefit of Indian consumers.
We just have one question: will payment for crude and LNG be made in Rubles or Rupees? Or in gold. Because it certainly won’t be in dollars.
Rosneft, which is increasing oil flows to Asia to diversify away from Europe, did not provide any additional details but said it had discussed potential cooperation with Reliance Industries and Indian Oil.
It did not have to: it is quite clear what is going on. While the US is bumbling every possible foreign policy move in Ukraine (and how could it not with John Kerry at the helm), and certainly in the middle east, where it is alienating Israel and Saudi just to get closer to Iran, Russia is aggressively cementing the next, biggest (certainly in terms of population and natural resources), and most important New Normal geopolitical Eurasian axis: China – Russia – India.
There is only one country missing – Germany. Because while diplomatically Germany is ideologically as close to the US as can be, its economy is far more reliant on China and Russia, something the two nations realize all too well. The second the German industrialists make it clear they are shifting their allegiance to the Eurasian Axis and away from the Group of 6 (ex Germany) most insolvent countries in the world, that will be the moment the days of the current reserve petrocurrency will be numbered.
To understand why trade deals between Russia, China and India are potentially huge, a little history is useful: Back in the 1970s, the US cut a deal with Saudi Arabia — at the time the world’s biggest oil producer — calling for the US to prop up the kingdom’s corrupt monarchy in return for a Saudi pledge that it would accept only dollars in return for oil. The “petrodollar” became the currency in which oil and most other goods were traded internationally, requiring every central bank and major corporation to hold a lot of dollars and cementing the greenback’s status as the world’s reserve currency. This in turn has allowed the US to build a global military empire, a cradle-to-grave entitlement system, and a credit-based consumer culture, without having to worry about where to find the funds. We just borrow from a world voracious for dollars.
But if Russia, China and India decide to start trading oil in their own currencies — or, as Zero Hedge speculates, in gold — then the petrodollar becomes just one of several major currencies. Central banks and trading firms that now hold 60% of their reserves in dollar-denominated bonds would have to rebalance by converting dollars to those other currencies. Trillions of dollars would be dumped on the global market in a very short time, which would lower the dollar’s foreign exchange value in a disruptive rather than advantageous way, raise domestic US interest rates and make it vastly harder for us to bully the rest of the world economically or militarily.
For Russia, China and India this looks like a win/win. Their own currencies gain prestige, giving their governments more political and military muscle. The US, their nemesis in the Great Game, is diminished. And the gold and silver they’ve vacuumed up in recent years rise in value more than enough to offset their depreciating Treasury bonds.
The West seems not to have grasped just how vulnerable it was when it got involved in this latest backyard squabble. But it may be about to find out.