In a worst-case scenario for the ages, Russia has pulled the plug on energy to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
“Will Putin Invade?” mused Politico on December 21, 2021, noting: “On the Front Lines of Ukraine’s Long War, That’s Beside the Point.”
“A reporting trip to Donbass reveals the tight hold Russia already has over the lives of Ukrainians accustomed to living with war,” reported David M. Herszenhorn.
“With Russia massing troops on the border and the U.S. warning that an invasion could be imminent, our reporting trip sought to paint a picture of the war that has been going on for nearly eight years, killing more than 14,000 people and displacing more than 730,000,” wrote Herszenhorn.
The Politico reporting team, “also hoped to gauge whether the risk of escalation seemed as dire to Ukrainian soldiers and commanders as Washington claimed.”
Who can blame Politico?
In the closing days of 2021, and in early 2022, while the Biden Administration was insisting- vociferously and correctly- that Russian president Vladimir Putin was planning an invasion, the Kremlin was adamantly denying any such possibility.
That modus operandi- attack and deny- set the stage for this entire conflict. Russian disinformation has made reporting on this conflict very difficult from the beginning.
“Anything or anyone that doesn’t support the Kremlin line is being suppressed,” reported Axios on April 11, 2022. “Demonstrators and journalists face up to 15 years in prison for protesting the war or reporting truthfully on it.”
“The sanctions have only amplified the sentiment among most Russians that western aggression caused this conflict in the first place,” added Axios, quoting the director of Russia’s top independent polling company.
“Western Move to Choke Russia’s Oil Exports Boomerangs, for Now,” admitted the New York Times on June 21. “China and India, the world’s most populous countries, have swooped in to buy roughly the same volume of Russian oil that would have gone to the West. Oil prices are so high that Russia is making even more money now from sales than it did before the war began four months ago. And its once-flailing currency has surged in value against the dollar.”
“Russia’s ruble is the strongest currency in the world this year,” agreed CBS on June 28.
“The rouble is soaring and Putin is stronger than ever- our sanctions have backfired,” concluded Simon Jenkins for the Guardian on July 29.
“Russia Confounds the West by Recapturing Its Oil Riches,” added the Wall Street Journal on August 29. “Moscow is raking in more revenue than ever with the help of new buyers, new traders and the world’s seemingly insatiable demand for crude.”
Meanwhile, Putin has been toying with European energy consumers, turning the Nord Stream pipeline off and back on again.
In July, Russia “temporarily” halted gas flowing into Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. Initially Gazprom, the large Russian oil and gas company in control of the Nord Stream 1, blamed regularly scheduled maintenance.
German energy consumers and world leaders held their breath.
After two very nervous weeks, the flow was resumed- only to be cut off again almost immediately, this time to only 20%.
“Regarding the operation of the Portovaya compressor station,” Gazprom tweeted on July 25, 2022. “Due to the expiration of prescribed time before overhaul (in line with the Rostekhnadzor notification and taking into account the technical condition of the relevant machine). Gazprom is shutting down one more gas turbine engine produced by Siemens at the Portovaya CS.”
“The daily throughout of the Portovaya CS from 7:00 am (Moscow time) July 27 will be up to 33 million cubic meters,” Gazprom concluded.
“Russia is a responsible gas supplier, and regardless of what anyone says in the European Commission, in European capitals, in the United States, Russia is, and will continue to be the country that largely guarantees Europe’s energy security,” Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov assured the Russian News Agency TASS on July 25, 2022.
“If Europe continues on its path of totally reckless imposition of restrictions and sanctions that hit it, then the situation will be different, but Russia is not interested in this,” Peskov warned.
Even after everything, and as recently as two weeks ago, some members of the media and foreign policy experts were willing to err on the side of optimism, with the Wall Street Journal platforming the opinion that Putin’s veiled threat to cut off energy supplies to Europe was a bluff.
Most experts and world leaders, however, could see the writing on the wall. In spite of the Kremlin’s repeated and hot denials of any plans to cut European energy exports to zero, or perhaps because of them, Germany has been bracing for the worst.
This week, Europe’s worst fears have been confirmed.
“Russia cuts off gas exports to Europe via Nord Stream indefinitely,” reported Uliana Pavlova and Anna Cooban for CNN on September 2, 2022.
Citing every reason from technical difficulties to a, “disagreement between the parties on the application of contracts”, Gazprom and Moscow again billed the shut-down as temporary.
“Until the issues on the operation of the equipment are resolved, gas supplies to the Nord Stream gas pipeline have been completely stopped,” said Gazprom.
Whether anyone actually ever believed this, the charade didn’t last long. Moscow has since dispensed with the theatre; the threat is no longer thinly veiled. There is no veil.
“Russia switches off Europe’s main gas pipeline until sanctions are lifted,” reported the Financial Times on September 5, 2022.
Russian officials, true to type, are still stubbornly blaming the shut-down on shortages of parts caused by western sanctions rather than calling it a political countermove outright.
“The problems pumping gas came about because of the sanctions western countries introduced against our country and several companies,” Dmitry Peskov said in a statement. “There are no other reasons that could have caused this pumping problem.”
Considering the Kremlin has been playing this game with EU leaders for months now- shutting down the pipeline, then turning it back on again, reducing and then resuming the flows of energy- Germany and other EU nations dependent on the Nord Stream would be unwise to believe this.
“Energy policy is always power policy, is always interest policy, is therefore always security policy,” lamented Robert Hallbeck, Germany’s economics and climate minister, at a March 2022 conference in Berlin. “And if you look back, you almost can’t understand how we could be so blind to overlook that.”
“We knew, or we could have known, that it was not only stupid to place all our security policy cards on just one country, but that it also wasn’t a smart idea to put them on that particular country,” Hallbeck admitted. “We have to acknowledge that we acted wrongly in the past.”
Hallbeck might have a point.
With the Nord Stream reduced to zero, the end of the conflict between the EU and Russia over Ukraine may be looming as soon as winter’s first cold-snap.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)