OPINION: US President Joe Biden has not wasted time in getting under the skin of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the few weeks since taking over at the White House from predecessor Donald Trump, the new US administration has already warned of new sanctions over the controversial Nord Stream 2 project that aims to carry Russian gas to Germany.
And just last week, Biden lashed out at Russia over alleged meddling in last year's presidential election, promising that Putin will "pay the price" for such interference.
Biden's remarks spurred Putin into a televised response, where he accused the current US leadership of sharing responsibility for the “genocide of native Indian populations”, slavery and “extermination of civilians”, referencing the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
He also said that Russians “have a different genetic, cultural and moral code” than Americans who, he claimed, wrongly “believe Russians are the same people as they are themselves”.
For Russian political observers, Putin’s outlook on the world has been evident for years.
While it did not hinder the country’s economic growth during his first two tenures as president, the past decade has seen key decisions being made based on shaky rationales.
The Gazprom-owned Nord Stream 2 project is one example of a Kremlin decision that has ignored economic principles, with Putin and Russian government officials distorting reality to justify the project's importance to European nations.
Russia already had excessive gas export pipeline capacity to Europe before 2015, when Gazprom proposed building another subsea link to Germany.
If operated at full capacity, Russia could have transported close to 230 billion cubic metres of gas to Europe in 2015, way above that year’s exports of 159 Bcm.
Moreover, the trend of European countries opting to diversify their gas supplies away from Russia was already evident before 2015.
This was in response to Russia halting gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine to force the Kiev administration into agreeing to new gas shipping and purchasing terms, leaving Europe with an energy supply shortage for two weeks in early 2010 amid severe winter weather.
Putin has repeatedly accused the US of sponsoring democratic movements in Ukraine.
Nord Stream 2, coupled with the abandoned South Stream pipeline — the latter rejuvenated as TurkStream — are solely aimed at eliminating Russia's dependence on Ukraine as a gas transit country, not improving European energy security.
Gas sales to Europe provide billions of dollars of tax revenues to the Russian state, with Ukraine’s gas transit system remaining a major deterrent to a potential Russian military invasion of its neighbour.
Politicians in the likes of Germany and Austria who continue to support Nord Stream 2 need to face up to the reality that, in Putin, they are dealing with an increasingly unpredictable leader with a distorted view of the world outside his sphere of influence.
Biden has sounded a warning to the West over Putin's antics.
The time has come for European politicians to re-evaluate their attitude towards Russia by taking drastic steps against Putin’s ill-fated ambitions and Nord Stream 2 in order to ensure the continent's future political and economic stability.
(This is an Upstream opinion article.)