The EU’s time for dependence on Russian energy is over
Some commentators see the war in Ukraine as the EU’s finest hour, the realization of its founders’ ambition to become the “vanguard of world peace”. Some even claim the President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have “re-legitimized and brought the EU together”. Unfortunately, the reality appears to be quite different: indeed, this crisis has revealed very different priorities between EU member states and uncovered some potentially dangerous underlying fault lines.
Of course, the EU is not alone in this. Putin’s invasion has made the post-WWII world order one of the greatest challenges imaginable. His willingness to engage in naked military aggression has also exposed many of the institutional flaws in that order.
The UN was just formed to prevent what is happening in Ukraine, but it is completely paralyzed. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is reduced to making banal pleas about the need for peace while busy celebrating the conclusion of the UN’s International Year of Vegetables.
In his recent speech to the Security Council, President Zelenskyy did not mince his words. He pointed out that war crimes were being committed daily in his homeland “by a member of the United Nations Security Council” and warned that “the UN can easily be dissolved” if it does not reform.
The reality is that sanctions have minimal impact Russia‘s pursuit of this war. First of all, they just aren’t as encompassing or as airtight as originally presented. Although the ruble initially fell by 40 percent, it has almost completely recovered. But the EU has firmly opposed the one measure that could significantly alter the course of this war – the immediate suspension of Russian oil and gas imports.
The EU remains the single largest importer of oil from Russia. Its members have given Ukraine €1 billion in military aid while pumping nearly €1 billion a day into Putin’s war chest.
Despite all the sanctions hype, Russian energy giant Gazprom is still part of the Swift banking system, mainly to facilitate those huge energy payments. Though European states say they intend to halt their commercial purchases of Putin’s oil and gas, their statements are severely qualified and come with the usual Augustinian caveat: but not yet.
Lithuania, which has a proven track record of European failures on these matters, became the first EU country to impose an outright ban on Russian oil imports – despite its 80 percent dependence on them. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said: “If we can do it, so can the rest of Europe.” Now all three Baltic states have also banned imports of Russian gas – unilateral measures that may even violate EU law.
By supplying Ukraine with offensive weapons such as T-72 tanks, the Czech Republic and Poland are also going well beyond the EU’s commitment to limit such supplies to “defense supplies”.
While potentially in violation of EU law and policy, these practical measures come in response to Ukraine’s urgent calls for three things: “arms, arms, arms”.
However, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has refused to join other states in sending such heavy weapons to repel Putin’s recent offensive in Donbass. Germany’s increasing “splendid isolation” is worrying. Under the pressure of Europe’s largest military conflict since the Second World War, the unity of the EU is visibly crumbling. Without a course correction, the acting centrifugal forces could intensify
But could the EU break its dependency on Putin’s energy supplies? Yes, according to the Bruegel Institute’s economic think tank.
Though she admits there would be “a brief and painful period of adjustment,” she concludes that “if well managed, disruptions would be temporary.” Other economists inevitably disagree. But beyond the economic calculus, there are some compelling reasons why the EU should immediately decouple its energy dependency on Putin’s Russia.
First, halting Putin’s war effort to finance the finances has a moral obligation. Second, stopping his war funding is the only effective way to bring Putin to the negotiating table. Third, Putin will not be able to blackmail the EU to pressure Zelenskyy to accept unfavorable terms in peace negotiations by threatening EU energy supplies. Fourth, just like NATO in Srebrenica, the EU’s reputation will be tarnished forever if Ukrainian civilians continue to be massacred in a similar way.
The EU must show more determination to Putin to avoid a dangerous escalation in this war. As a first step, the EU’s cognitive dissonance must stop condemning and at the same time funding Putin’s war crimes.
Wars are inherently complex and non-linear, with highly unpredictable outcomes. If something can happen, there is an actual (unquantifiable) risk that it will – that’s why we buy fire extinguishers and insurance policies. Currently, the EU is not acting prudently – a legacy of the geopolitical short-sightedness of Schröder and Merkel and reinforced by Scholz’s transactional behavior.
The EU must stop funding this war because if it drags on there is a not inconsiderable risk that it could take a really bad turn. Our tried and tested “optimism-bias” could protect us from a tragedy that could be much closer than we think.
On the day of his invasion, Putin reminded everyone of his trump card – “today’s Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states” – as he spoke somberly of “consequences you have never encountered in your history”. Days later, he announced that Russia’s nuclear forces had been placed on “special alert.”
It was the moment when nuclear war, a prospect that had been unthinkable for six decades, was no longer unthinkable. Last week, CIA Director William Burns said, “None of us can take lightly the threat posed by potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons.”
No matter how distant, avoiding the possibility of a mushroom cloud on the horizon of 21st century Europe is an absolute must. In comparison, even a significant increase in petrol and gas prices would be a very small price to pay.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/time-for-eu-reliance-on-russian-energy-is-gone-41581104.html The EU’s time for dependence on Russian energy is over