This is not the first sign that Russia is ready to take Europe hostage in natural gas prices, which are rising dramatically. But with Europe currently facing an energy crisis, context and timing are important – on both sides of the Atlantic. It is quite clear that both Washington and Brussels need to heed what Chizhov and Putin in particular have in mind.
For Europe, the cost of not cohabiting with Russia could ease gas shortages this winter, not to mention an explosion in gas prices. Since natural gas is the primary heating fuel for Europe, it is a potential existential threat. And more recently, prices have shown a tendency to swing widely, often driven by, or driven by, off-hand comments made by one person: Vladimir Putin.
Such a hardly subtle pressure comes at the most sensitive moment for Europe.
Europe may be at an inflection point in its energy-driven vulnerability to Russia for two reasons.
A new pipeline from Russia’s gas fields to Germany – called Nord Stream 2 – is moving forward. It is meant to shore up Europe’s access to the gas, but to give Russia even greater control over that access, something the US has pointed out as it opposed the project. (Recently, the Biden administration waived related sanctions, giving the effective green light, despite its concerns.)
At the same time, Europe is moving forward with the transition away from fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable energy sources. But that transition hasn’t happened yet. As Europe seeks a bridge from dirty sources like oil and coal, Relatively Clean natural gas is seen as a good fit.
And for gas, Europe depends on imports – particularly from Russia.
As Germany and France seek to reduce their reliance on nuclear power, they will likely turn to natural gas, at least until more wind and solar projects can be brought online.
One might speculate that Putin may be seeing this as a rare opportunity to reap significant politico-economic gains. While work is still underway on Nord Stream 2, Russia is already Europe’s main gas supplier, accounting for 41% of its imports. Europe’s turn to gas, and a new pipeline to Russia to get it, only adds to Putin’s power.
Putin is already quietly demonstrating what life might be like for a continent that has grown deep into existence, perhaps dependent on the Kremlin to meet its most critical energy needs. Russia is moving only a limited amount through the current pipeline system that transits Ukraine, and its state gas producer, Gazprom, is filling domestic stocks before refilling storage sites in Europe.
With energy prices rising and the global economy struggling to keep pace with a post-2020 rebound, low gas supplies are already putting parts of Europe at risk of an energy-driven deadlock. Unless Europe manages a reliable and sustainable transition to renewable energy, these pressures could very well intensify, providing potential foreshadowing on the near-term horizon.
Putin will clearly see a full EU transition away from gas, and towards renewable energy, as a potential threat to his influence. This is yet another reason for Putin looking to Nord Stream 2 to gain greater benefits (financial and geopolitical) before pulling off the EU’s green transition.
The US may not like the pipeline – former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called it a tool of Russian “coercion” – but Washington probably can’t do much about it. Having already troubled many forces in Western Europe over a range of issues, including the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan and the secretly crafted US-UK-Australia security partnership, the Biden administration should indeed tread very carefully.
The US may have non-geopolitical reasons to oppose Nord Stream 2 – and it may have reason to view US-supplied natural gas as a potential answer for Europe. The United States remains Europe’s largest single supplier Iiquefied Natural gas, which can be shipped through tankers.
Nevertheless, LNG is more expensive, relies on long-distance supply, and must be converted from liquid to gas upon arrival. And there is already heavy competition for LNG from other regions, particularly China. Nord Stream 2 would result in a guaranteed supply of natural gas to Europe, assuming EU member states would approve it over the next several months. Therefore, it remains an attractive option for Europe.
Russia’s warnings to Europe can also be seen as a warning to the US to withdraw its steadfast opposition to Nord Stream 2 – and as a protest against Russia’s broader efforts to build more binding ties to Western Europe. can be seen. Nord Stream is effectively an achievement. Still, the perceived US hostility towards it could spark another rift between Europe and the US, at a time when the Trump and now Biden administrations have done enough to degrade transatlantic ties.
In that sense, the U.S. needed Step back and let the pipeline proceed without complaint. Until Europe breaks its reliance on fossil fuels and hits a full-fledged green transition, Putin will hold the upper hand.
Credit : www.cnn.com