Cutting Germany’s energy supply makes it obvious what kind of deadly game Vladimir Putin is playing. Can he still be beaten?
“US officials say ‘biggest fear’ has come true as Russia cuts gas supplies to Europe,” wrote Natasha Bertrand for CNN on July 26, 2022.
“Russia’s energy coercion has put pressure on energy markets, raised prices for consumers, and threatened global energy security,” a National Security Council spokesperson told CNN. “These actions only underscore the importance of the work the United States and European Commission are doing to end our reliance on Russian energy.”
“We will continue working with our European partners to reduce dependence on Russian energy and support their efforts to prepare for further Russian destabilization of energy markets,” the spokesperson added.
“Russia Cuts Gas Flow to Europe, Intensifying Fears It Is Weaponizing Fuel,” lamented the New York Times on July 25, 2022. “On the eve of a European Union meeting to debate a gas conservation plan to make the bloc less vulnerable to a Russian squeeze, Moscow slashed the flow to Germany.”
While outlets like CNN and the NYT aren’t openly wondering why E.U. leaders weren’t prepared for this worst-case scenario some must have at least suspected was coming, notes of mystification are creeping in. After all, why wouldn’t Vladimir Putin answer EU sanctions with sanctions of his own?
Using phrases like, “retaliation for western sanctions,” and, “uncharted territory,” news outlets are dancing around a thorny question: It’s obvious what game Putin is playing; What game are E.U. leaders playing?
“What Happens If Russia Cuts Off Gas to Europe?” warned a Goldman Sachs white paper back on July 20, 2022.
“Europe’s largest economy and other eurozone nations are deeply dependent on the gas that flows through the pipeline, which closed for maintenance this month,” concluded the banking giant soberly. “While media reports indicate it will reopen at reduced capacity, speculation has swirled that it could remain shuttered.”
Alas: When the “maintenance” concluded, the Nord Stream 1 reopened at only 20% capacity. With this move, Vladimir Putin has essentially turned the tables on world powers opposing him.
The E.U. was hoping to make things so expensive in Russia with sanctions and embargoes, popular sentiment for the conflict and support for Putin would evaporate in Russia as the populace suffered for Putin’s unnecessary aggression in Ukraine.
Not only did that strategy not work, the opposite effect has been achieved: Putin is leveraging high gas prices, high inflation, plus engineering an energy crisis in the E.U., to dry up global popular support for Ukraine.
“Russia risks a post-Ukraine-war future as an isolated energy pariah- and it’s energy behavior this winter will determine whether that risk becomes an enduring reality,” wrote David Frum for the Atlantic, forgetting perhaps that Russia is perfectly happy to sell its cheap energy to China and India.
“Russia chokes gas flow, Germans fear ‘Lehman Moment’,” reported the Asia Times on June 24, 2022. “Politicians tremble at prediction of a boost in the typical German household’s heating bill by $2,772 a year.”
As of June 24, Russia had already cut the Nord Stream 1 flow to 40%; as of July 27, 2022, that percentage is down to 20%. As it stands, German households may now be looking at winter heating bill increases at twice or three times $2,772 a year.
World leaders and EU officials in favor of continuing to back Ukraine in the conflict will indeed soon feel the wrath of their voters, who are facing a winter with only 20% of the energy they depend on to heat their homes and get to work- if that.
While many U.S. and European journalists are still all-in, even on strategies which are failing badly and perhaps have already failed completely, declaring, “The West must not be blackmailed,” even the world’s elite journalist class may be singing a different tune once the realities of Europe’s energy vulnerabilities are truly laid bare.
While the Atlantic is still framing this impasse in terms of electric cars, high gas prices and a much-needed transition away from fossil fuels, the reality may be on par with a major natural disaster unfolding across Europe this winter.
Putin laid his trap well: Not only do E.U. countries depend heavily on Germany, some smaller neighboring countries actually depend on Germany for their own energy needs. If Nord Stream 1 energy is reduced to 0%- which Putin can do anytime he wants- and even if it isn’t, German officials may soon be in an unenviable and intractable position. With supplies so low, who gets the gas: German citizens or those in nearby Hungary?
And that isn’t all.
“Perhaps the most dangerous point of vulnerability is within the German network itself,” as even the Atlantic grudgingly admits. “Gas is pushed through pipelines under pressure. If the network doesn’t contain enough gas, the pressure drops and the gas cannot move.”
“A big enough shortfall going into the pipe can translate into a 100 percent shortage at the other end. So any rationing plan is likely to be very unequal: In order to sustain pressure in high-priority pipes, the gas may have to be turned off altogether to lower-priority pipes,” the article concluded grimly.
Any guesses as to who in society will qualify as “high-priority pipes”?
“The political risks of the decisions here are obviously high,” explains the Atlantic, in case that wasn’t gut-wrenchingly obvious. “Put industry before consumers? Electricity before heating? Big cities before small towns?”
Making these decisions, and forcing German voters to live and die by them, might mean assuming much more than political risks. These are the types of perceived widespread government failures that result in a major political sea change and upheaval.
Had E.U. and U.S. embargoes and sanctions worked as intended, it would be Russian citizens being squeezed economically and turning on Vladimir Putin. .
“The global crisis trigged by Putin’s war is the culprit, for all our current economic woes and worsening fears,” fumes Frum for the Atlantic. “The sooner that war is won by Ukraine, the faster the crisis will ease.”
What Frum and so many others in the commentariat class don’t seem to have realized yet is that the war may already be over: Putin won the conflict before it even started.
The E.U. bet heavily on Russian energy products- much too heavily. When it did, it gave Vladimir Putin all the leverage he would need to invade Ukraine.
And get away with it.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)