As Russia tightens the vice, Trump’s warning recalled; Green Germany eyes fossil fuel

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By John J. Metzler

This was a crisis waiting to happen. Europe’s unfolding energy emergency was long in coming but at the same time widely encouraged by Western European states all too eager to embrace Russia’s cheap and available natural gas delivered to the European Union’s doorstep by a spiderweb of pipelines some dating from the Soviet era.

In the short term the deal worked well. That was then.  This is now.

But since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Europe’s admirably tough political pushback to Vladimir Putin’s aggression, there’s now a growing nervousness throughout Europe concerning the availability of Russian energy supplies which power much of Europe’s industries and heat the continent’s homes.

French President Emmanuel Macron accused Moscow of using energy deliveries to the West as “a weapon of war.” Speaking on the French TV network, TF1, he warned, “We will need do without Russian gas completely.” Currently France receives less than twenty percent of its total natural gas imports from Russia.

Today a network of Russian gas pipelines crisscrosses Eastern Europe. / AP

Macron reiterated that France would invest more in nuclear energy, which currently provides around 70 percent of the country’s electricity needs.

France fortunately is in a relatively good position facing energy supplies.  Germany, however the Continent’s economic powerhouse, faces dire consequences from Russian natural gas shortages.  So do countries as varied as the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy.  For example, the Czech Republic is more than 90 per cent dependent on Russian natural gas, and nearly fifty percent for Russian oil supplies.

It’s Summer now so nobody wants to think about it but gas shortages for industry mean slowdowns, shutdowns and job layoffs. Natural gas cutbacks to municipalities translate into chilly homes come Autumn. And Winter then approaches.

No gas is flowing though the key Nordstream pipeline, due to “technical and maintenance” issues. Robert Habeck, Germany’s vice Chancellor warns of a “political nightmare.”

Now in a riveting reality check, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz concedes that his country must reopen some 16 dormant fossil fuel power plants and extend the operating permission for 11 more.  Electric power cuts loom nonetheless.

At the onset of the Ukraine war, Russia supplied a third of Germany’s oil and more than half its natural gas.

Not in power for even a year, Scholz’s Social Democrat (SPD) coalition is particularly dependent on the environmentalist Green Party who has pursued a near theological commitment to Net Zero Goals and a crusade against Fossil fuels and nuclear power in general.

For the record Germany’s electric production comes from 29% coal/lignite, 12% nuclear, 15% natural gas and 41% renewals.  Fully 20% stems from wind power, with thousands of these ugly windmills marring the landscape throughout so much of Europe.

Nonetheless, European countries have been sanctioning trade with Russia. The 27-member European Union has cut more than two-thirds of Russian oil imports to member states in a decisive move that will cut off a huge source of financing for Putin’s war machine.  Seizing the high moral ground is admirable, but where will many countries get their oil?  Obviously, the Middle East but the Iran market beckons.

But this didn’t happen overnight.  Rather even in Soviet times Russia’s energy links to Europe were rooted in Moscow’s plans to have a reliable cash stream of steady business and hard currency flows while at the same time using this economic deal as powerful political blackmail over the countries it supplied.

Back during the Reagan Administration there was a conscious effort by Washington to convince West Germany at the time, not to take the temptation of cheap and available Soviet energy.

The Yamal pipeline was already sending supplies from Siberia to Western European markets.

Being in Germany at the time, I was shocked by the silly rationalizations being made by the captains of German industry, business, and the government who derided American opposition to Soviet energy supplies as “simplistic” and typical of a “cowboy mentality.”

This was business, the all-knowing experts comfortably nodded, “the Russians need us” and are “reliable commercial partners.”

Today a network of Russian gas pipelines crisscrosses Eastern Europe leading to Germany thus creating a undue and intentional energy dependency for Europe’s largest economy.

The newest of the links, the controversial Nordstream II, was grudgingly put on hold earlier this year.

The advertising backdrop of Russia’s Gazprom logo once emblazoned soccer stadiums across Europe. Today it’s often the Ukrainian flag.

In 2018, President Donald Trump warned during the UN General Assembly session, “Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy if it does not immediately change course.”

Delegates smiled and laughed. Who’s got the last laugh now?

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]

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