For years, the United States has stood in strong opposition to the construction and then opening of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which runs under the Baltic Sea to directly connect Germany, and thereby the greater European Union (EU) to Russia’s considerable natural gas reserves. While the $11 billion pipeline itself is finished, it has yet to come online thanks to setbacks related to the extremely controversial nature of its construction. Proponents of the pipeline argue that it is essential for Europe’s energy supply, as exemplified by the continent’s current energy crunch. Opponents, with the United States at the helm, argue that not only will the project perpetuate the region’s reliance on world-warming fossil fuels, the pipeline will furthermore greatly compromise the EU’s energy security and dangerously increase the region’s reliance on Russia, giving Moscow enormous geopolitical power.
Opposing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was one of the rare common grounds shared by both the Obama and Trump administrations, and the Biden administration initially followed suit and announced sanctions against any companies involved in the project’s completion, but then decided to step down and waive those sanctions in May in a reported attempt to improve relations between the United States and Germany. But while the pipeline has now been completed, it has yet to get final approval from Germany to begin operations.
Now, Russia has more bargaining power than ever to get approval for the pipeline and increase their geopolitical reach in Europe. As the European economy has surged back to life after lockdown and people resume life-as-usual post-pandemic, demand for energy has far outstripped supply, leading to a severe energy crunch and subsequent spike in prices across the EU. Regional benchmark energy prices have already skyrocketed to nearly 500% just this year, and will likely only get worse as the Northern Hemisphere heads into the colder winter months when energy demand typically rises significantly.
All of this has almost certainly been music to Moscow’s ears, which already supplied nearly half of the EU’s natural gas supplies and would love nothing more than to monopolize that market. As the European energy crunch has intensified, Moscow has not increased its supply to meet the region’s demand, in a move that many experts have interpreted as a form of “energy blackmail” in order to strong-arm the German government into greenlighting the Nord Stream 2.
Now, in the latest development of the drama between Russia and Europe, Moscow has finally offered to increase its supply of natural gas to the energy-strapped region. On Wednesday Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would help to stabilize energy supply and energy prices across Europe, sending energy prices on a roller coaster ride and leading energy analysts to sound the warning bells that Europe is more vulnerable to Russian influence than ever before.
“Europe has now left itself hostage to Russia over energy supplies,” said in a Wednesday research note from Timothy Ash, emerging markets senior sovereign strategist at Bluebay Asset Management. ″[It’s] crystal clear that Russia has Europe (the EU and U.K.) in an energy headlock, and Europe (and the U.K.) are too weak to call it out and do anything about it,” he wrote, before putting a finer point on it: “Europe is cowering as it fears as it heads into winter Russia will further turn the screws (of energy pipelines off) and allow it to freeze until it gets its way and NS2 is certified.”
Increasing reliance on Moscow is not only a geopolitical danger -- the increase of demand for fossil fuels also poses a serious threat to climate goals. Europe hasn’t just turned to Moscow for natural gas, it has also looked into stockpiling coal for the winter. China and India, too, are facing their own energy crunches. China has even experienced rolling blackouts in recent weeks as Beijing struggles to keep up with demand. This has led to skyrocketing coal demand in a time that the world needs to stop burning coal altogether. Ultimately, these energy crunches around the world showcase just how much we are still reliant on fossil fuels to shore up our energy security, and the outsized power that this gives to major energy players such as Russia, creating a dangerous and delicate geopolitical (im)balance.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
More Top Reads from Oilprice.com:
- High Natural Gas Prices Could Lead To 2 Million Bpd Extra Oil Demand
- Is America Doomed To Replicate Europe’s Energy Crisis?
- A Cold Winter Could Send Oil Prices Soaring Past $100
Europe wanted to have it both ways but things don’t work that way. While the European Union (EU) was happy to receive reliable and cheap Russian piped gas supplies for the last 20 years, it wouldn’t hesitate to do America’s bidding of imposing sanctions on Russia or using delaying tactics to delay the operation of Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Well the chickens have come home to roost.
The EU wasted so much time preaching to the world on renewables and energy transition and producing legislations and policies aimed at accelerating energy transition and ditching fossil fuels that it has forgotten to look after its energy security until it found itself facing the shortcomings of renewables and empty gas stores.
Europe is now in no position to diversify its energy supplies. It has become hostage to one man: Vladimir Putin and is in no position to disentangle itself from his bear hug. If there is a harsh winter, the Europeans will shiver unless Putin shows benevolence towards them.
Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
International Oil Economist
Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
There.is no real gas supply problem in europe with huge has storage reserves in old gas fields, 36 LNG terminals, new pipeline to aserbaidschan open not already new Nordstream II to russia still in testing phase but old pipelines.
About 50% gas in FRG from norway 25% in EU with production at top level in future much gas from turkey, greece etc. israel already LNG producer etc.