Ukraine: Russia engages in a showdown with Europe



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The the threat of using gas as a weapon had been stirred up since the start of the war in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin put it into effect on September 3. In retaliation for the Russian oil price cap project presented the day before by G7 ministers (United States, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and United Kingdom), the Russian president has decided to completely suspend all deliveries of Russian gas distributed by Nord Stream 1, the gas pipeline that supplies all the countries of Northern Europe.

Since then, European officials have multiplied messages and announcements to try to reassure their population in the face of this new situation, which carries the risk of shortages, rationing and new price explosions.

The German government announced on 4 September a 65 billion euro plan to help families cope with the surge in prices. He also agreed to revert to a long-standing commitment by postponing the closure of the last two nuclear reactors by a few months. The Netherlands followed suit by announcing a € 15 billion plan.

For its part, the European Commission is working hard on protective measures – including the possibility of a cap on gas prices – ahead of the next energy summit scheduled for 8 September. And as Sweden flies to the aid of its electricians, Switzerland, Germany and Finland are developing credit facilities to help their energy groups meet margin calls that have gone mad in European markets.

Everyone fears that the historic energy crisis will turn into an economic and social catastrophe. In one year the price of gas has been multiplied by ten, that of electricity by twenty, while the price of oil has almost doubled. In these six months, the European Union has spent around 230 billion euros more to secure its energy supplies, according to estimates published by Bloomberg.

After Germany, Sweden does not hesitate to speak of a “Lehman” moment (the collapse of the US bank is considered the trigger of the 2008 crisis) for energy. “Announcements from yesterday [l’arrêt des livraisons de gaz russe – ndlr] not only do we risk bringing a winter of war, but they also threaten our financial stability.Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson warned on 4 September.

Why doubt is no longer allowed: Vladimir Putin has entered into a showdown with Europe. For months, as Russian authorities played cat and mouse with Europeans over gas deliveries, Gazprom, the Kremlin’s gas arm, pleaded for technical difficulties and maintenance needs.

This time around, the Kremlin doesn’t even bother to spare appearances. He assumes his own policy of aggression. “The gas delivery problems are linked to Western sanctions taken against our country and many of our groups”Vladimir Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on September 5. He said Russian gas deliveries to Europe would not resume until sanctions were lifted.

Seeking wider international support

Without it being possible to assess the consequences, the war in Ukraine could be at a turning point. In any case, it has changed in size. By adopting the principle of a ceiling on the price of oil sold by Russia, the G7 finance ministers seek to internationalize the conflict against Russia. Their aim is to get all the countries that have so far chosen to support Russia or to stay away from the war in Ukraine – which many see as a European regional war – to join the sanctioning policy adopted at the end of February against Russia.

Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline station in Pomerania. © @Stefan Sauer / dpa Picture-Alliance via AFP

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