Russia’s state-controlled gas supplier Gazprom announced this week that it is reducing the amount of natural gas it supplies to Germany to 20 percent of the capacity through the main pipeline connecting the two countries.
Whatever pretext Moscow may offer for this move, the real reason is clear to all: Russia is retaliating for EU sanctions imposed for its war against Ukraine.
“Russia is blackmailing us,” complained EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “Russia uses energy as a weapon.”
She made her announcement like it was news. But it isn’t – for anyone who’s paid attention to it for the past two decades.
Using energy as a political weapon is not a new tactic for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
So Europe’s energy crisis over Russian energy blackmail is as predictable as Russia’s atrocious behavior in its war against Ukraine.
But it didn’t have to be that way.
Led by the continent’s greatest and wealthiest power, Germany, Europe has had plenty of time to avoid the unenviable predicament it now finds itself in.
The European energy dilemma is the result of three interconnected illusions – that dependence on Russian gas was worth all the (minor) risks involved; that the supplier of this gas was a partner rather than an adversary; and that conventional wars on the continent were a thing of the past.
For years, German politicians routinely deflected criticism of the Russian-German Nord Stream gas pipeline by pointing out that their hands were tied. It is a “commercial project,” they stressed, over which the German government has no control.
But increasing European dependence on Russian gas at the expense of other sources has always had a political dimension, particularly in Germany.
Nobody forced Berlin to shut down its nuclear power industry in a panic attack after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Unlike the island nation of Japan, Germany is in the middle of a continent, safe from the earthquake-related tsunamis that destroyed the Fukushima power plant.
Thanks to then-Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hasty decision to phase out nuclear power by the end of 2022, Germany was even more addicted to Russian gas by the time Putin decided to wage an energy war against Europe.
Despite the excuse that Nord Stream 2 exists beyond the reach of politics, the German political establishment was captivated by another illusion, namely that the project represented the apotheosis of Russia’s integration with the West.
Just a week after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, the CEO of German industrial giant Siemens visited Moscow, where he spoke of the first armed land grab on European soil since World War II as merely “temporary turbulence” in an otherwise constructive relationship .
A few months later, then Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier traveled to the Russian city of Yekaterinburg to seal an “economic and political” partnership between Moscow and the EU.
Planning for the second Nord Stream pipeline continued despite threats of sanctions from the Trump administration.
Last February, almost 80 years after his country’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Steinmeier (now German President) defended Nord Stream 2 as “one of the last bridges between Russia and Europe” and gave the company the moral seriousness that Germany normally reserves for initiatives related to post-war reconciliation.
Only after Russia fully invaded Ukraine was the pipeline put on hold.
Europe would not be facing an energy crisis today if more of its leaders had seen through the third and final illusion, that of a continent blessed with eternal peace.
Putin’s belief that he can subjugate Ukraine – the precipitating cause of the looming energy crisis – owes much to Western Europe’s lackluster military support for its embattled neighbor, as well as its own weak defense spending.
NATO’s refusal in 2008, at the behest of France and Germany, to open paths to membership for Georgia and Ukraine, gave Putin the green light to invade both countries.
The decrepit state of Europe’s military, especially Germany’s, similarly signaled a lack of seriousness in defending the continent against Russian raids. Western European leaders have been repeatedly warned about the nature of their illusions, no more forcefully than by Eastern Europeans.
Back in 2006, Poland’s defense minister compared Nord Stream to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which shamefully divided the nations of Eastern Europe between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
Three years later, in response to the Obama administration’s ill-fated “reboot” with Moscow, a group of distinguished Central and Eastern European statesmen issued an open letter declaring: “Russia has returned as a revisionist power with a 19th-century agenda pursues tactics and methods of the 21st century”.
Her admonitions went unheeded.
If the Germans are shaking more than usual this winter, it’s their own fault.
James Kirchick is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues and the Coming.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/european-leaders-have-nobody-to-blame-but-themselves-for-russian-gas-blackmail-41872956.html European leaders have only themselves to blame for Russia’s gas blackmail