Over the past few days, a critical natural gas supply from Russia to Europe – the Nord Stream pipeline – has been suspended for an indefinite period under alleged technical malfunctions. Europe and the president of Ukraine condemn this as an energy 'blackmail' planned by Russia as a retaliation against sanctions administered since the onset of the Ukraine war in February. Consequently, Europe's already narrowed gas supplies have reduced by a further 80% with no sign of rebounding soon as the pipeline will not be operated until proper repairs according to Russian regulators.
Arguably, the most pressing question about the pipeline is not just about when it will be operational but if supplies will even be provisioned again for European consumption.
Historically, Russia has supplied a significant proportion of natural gas to European countries such as the UK and Germany; in 2021, Russia was the largest exporter of oil and natural gas with 40% of gas consumed in the EU coming from Russian origins. Thus the closure has had huge ramifications for many European countries as they are forced to enhance their energy independence through alternative energy supplies such as renewables, or even transfer back to oil.
Many EU countries have struggled to organise appropriate communication networks and policies essential for energy security thus highlighting the uncertain question of whether Russia and Europe will rejoice as energy partners once again in the future.
Germany recently announced a £56.2 billion energy package to counteract rising energy prices simultaneously with disentangling dependence on Russian energy by making one-off payments to those most vulnerable, including energy-intensive businesses.
Further, many countries at home and abroad have signed a policy only permitting the purchase of Russian oil and petroleum products when they are sold at or below a set cost or ‘price cap’. Finance ministers have said the price cap has been ‘specially designed' with the dual goal of reducing revenues from oil to contract Russia's economy hence fundings for Putin’s ‘war of aggression' in Ukraine.
Russia’s stubbornness has meant that the nation is resisting the price cap by not exporting to participating countries and continues to steadily forward efforts in expanding its nuclear energy sector as shown by the Proryv, or ‘breakthrough’, project. Still, it is expected that the EU will certainly press harsher Russian energy sanctions for the foreseeable future, with aims to expand the oil embargo and constrain other Russian energy supplies such as nuclear.
The numerous policy loops and bends which have allowed the war and energy crisis to continue makes it all seem endless. However, potential pathways have been suggested which could lead to its hopeful cessation but none will be easily experienced.
European Union Officials believe there will be a likely ‘crunch point’ in the coming months that would lead to some form of abrupt change, for the better or the worse. Materialised signs of this discontent include growing issues from rising prices such as business closures, problems that will hinder EU humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine, further strike actions, unemployment and protests, or even a probable political stand-off between Europe and Russian leaders.
Overall, this metaphorical energy tug-off war has shown Europe that Russia may no longer be a reliable energy partner. Efforts are being pursued which align to benefit national self-interest hence none of which are likely to converge and guide towards a well-rounded solution that appeases both parties.
This political reality is messy and uncertain but requires the EU to grow its strategic brain and military muscle alongside strong, collaborative international dialogue on energy markets and security.
Reducing reliance on Russian energy is not a simple task but a necessary pursuit for a securer future.
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