AMAC Exclusive – By Aaron Kliegman
Winter is coming, and Russia is salivating.
As the weather turns cold and bitter in Europe, energy prices are skyrocketing. Europeans need to heat their homes, but supply is limited, and cost is prohibitive.
That’s bad news for just about everyone in Europe. Everyone, that is, except Russia. As the European Union (E.U.) has sought to eliminate domestic fossil fuels in recent years, production from renewables hasn’t kept up, leaving the continent dangerously close to an energy crisis – and dangerously reliant on Russia to make up the difference. With the added stress on the industry from COVID-19, Europe is now largely dependent on Russian exports, and vulnerable to surges in oil and gas prices caused completely by the whims of Russian state actors.
This wouldn’t be such a problem if Russia were a genuine partner acting in good faith. But that’s not reality. European politicians are now desperately requesting that Russia ramp up production and shipments of natural gas to the rest of Europe. Such an increase would end the gas shortage, reduce costs, and help Europeans stay warm this winter.
Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled gas giant, could easily increase production, meet Europe’s demands, and solve this energy crisis. Instead, the head of Gazprom and Russian President Vladimir Putin are falsely claiming Gazprom is near its maximum production levels and can’t increase supply and risk jeopardizing Russia’s energy reserves.
Everyone knows Russia is lying, but Europe can’t do anything about it because Moscow has all the strategic leverage. What’s worse, they clearly know it and are more than willing to use that leverage to their advantage. Just read what Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak told an energy conference earlier this month.
“I think there are two factors, which could somewhat cool off the current situation,” Novak said. “First of all, of course, this is, definitely, completion of certification and the fastest clearance for gas supplies via the completed Nord Stream 2,” referring to the Russian gas pipeline to Europe that has been under construction since 2016.
Putin himself echoed Novak’s message this week — only he was blunter: Russia can increase gas supplies to Europe only once Germany approves Nord Stream 2.
In other words, immediately approve Nord Stream 2, or freeze this winter. That’s Russia’s message to Europe. It’s blackmail. And it’ll probably work.
Completing Nord Stream 2 has been one of Russia’s most important foreign policy objectives for years. The pipeline, which bypasses Ukraine by running on the bed of the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, will put a fortune in the Kremlin’s pockets. More importantly, however, it will give Moscow significant leverage over Europe, potentially driving a wedge between the U.S. and our European allies. It’s already happening, even before the pipeline is fully operational.
In response, the E.U. isn’t threatening sanctions, but is rather speeding up licensing requirements for Nord Stream 2. The continent is bowing down to Putin, just as he wants.
Across the Atlantic, meanwhile, President Joe Biden is silent — perhaps because he’s largely responsible for creating this predicament.
Before Biden entered office, the Trump administration vocally opposed Nord Stream 2 and imposed sanctions on the project. Congress was in rare bipartisan agreement, similarly opposing the pipeline’s construction—largely based on worries about exactly the kind of scenario now playing out. Seeing such a widespread consensus, Biden also said he was against it upon assuming the presidency.
Four months into the job, however, Biden waived the harshest sanctions on the project largely because he wanted a one-day media story by scoring a summit with Putin, and in July the administration reached a deal with Germany to greenlight the pipeline without the imposition of further sanctions. In September, construction of the pipeline was completed, and Russia has begun filling it with gas. Once it gets clearance from German regulators, Nord Stream 2 will be fully operational.
Biden defended his actions by saying that because Nord Stream 2 was nearly complete, sanctions would only aggravate Germany and couldn’t stop construction. This defense is demonstrably false. Sanctions had halted construction. Sustained pressure could’ve possibly saved Europe from a future of Russian blackmail. At the very least it would have sent an important message to the world: The U.S. doesn’t endorse this pipeline, and those who use it may face consequences.
Instead, Europe must now beg Putin for scraps.
But this isn’t just about Nord Stream 2. Recall how Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. Beyond the economic benefits for America, the pipeline could’ve transported crude oil down to the Gulf of Mexico and then on to Europe. The pipeline would’ve boosted the energy security of not only the U.S., but also our European allies.
Instead, the Biden administration sacrificed energy security and geopolitical interests upon the altar of unrealistic climate goals.
Biden has promised countless times to rebuild and nurture America’s alliances. He’s also promised to get tough with Russia and Putin. As the current energy crisis in Europe makes clear, Biden has already broken both promises.