Wait, What About the Oil Price?

I am using narratives to understand the failure of the EU—Russia Energy Dialogue. This approach gives priority to ideas over material factors. But what about the oil price? What impact did it have on the trajectory of the Energy


Dialogue? There are some who have claimed that high oil prices, ipso facto, have spurred Russian belligerence, and thus made a partnership between Russia and the West impossible.[1] Still, rejecting narratives for oil prices is misleading, as the two are mutually complementary. There are two main reasons for this. First of all, while there is no denying the importance of the oil price, its causal effect on the Energy Dialogue remains oblique. For instance, in 2000, when the Energy Dialogue launched, oil prices had trebled in short time. Yet Russia chose to enter a multilateral Energy Dialogue with the EU. The same goes for the global financial crisis. Between summer 2008 and winter 2009, the oil price plummeted from 140 to 40 dollars per barrel.[2] Yet the inertia of the Energy Dialogue remained intact. In fact, during this brief period, Russia invaded Georgia and shut off the gas to Ukraine for the second time—arguably the two most damaging events in the history of the Energy Dialogue. Of course, this was before Ukraine 2014, after which the price of oil continued to drop, without forcing a swift resolution of the conflict. The price of oil is important, to be sure, but not in and of itself. It has to be understood in the context of narratives, which in turn are shaped by time and space. Rather than mutually exclusive, they are in fact dialogically intertwined, and need to be treated as such.

Second of all, removing the intervening causal power of narratives merely obfuscates the fact that oil prices, too, are narratives. Indeed, there is not a single oil price, but merely an average weighting of many prices, the mean of which changes every ticking second, in a perpetual dialogue of supply and demand. Economics is a game of perceptions, and perceptions vary by definition, in time and space. Therefore, the price of oil itself is heterologous. Likewise, the price of oil has no a priori causal value outside narratives. The price of oil only exists in so far as it is being performed and reproduced through narratives.

  • [1] Thomas L. Friedman, “The First Law of Petropolitics,” Foreign Policy May/June, no. 156 (2006);Anne Applebaum, “A Crude Theory,” Slate, 3 January 2011.
  • [2] Barry W Ickes and Clifford G. Gaddy, “Russia after the Global Financial Crisis,” Journal ofEurasian Geography and Economics 51, no. 3 (2010).
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