Senior Vice President, Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA, Warsaw and Washington)
Europe shudders at the thought of a cold winter. There are not enough gas reserves in the storage facilities.
Prices jumped (see Week, №41 / 2021). Russia is triumphing. Vladimir Putin accuses “smart heads” in the European Commission of promoting the liberalization of the gas market. Russia also wants the EU to speed up the licensing process for the already completed Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project.
There is a temptation to weave this story into a single narrative, where Russia ruthlessly uses gas exports as a weapon, forcing Europe to beg for mercy. That would be too easy. It was not Russia that prevented Ukraine from modernizing its energy system, forcing Germany to close nuclear power plants, and the United Kingdom from slowing down the IceLink submarine cable to Iceland and closing the main gas storage facility.
These decisions exacerbated our vulnerability as soon as Asian customers began to buy every extra molecule of gas, and windless weather spoiled wind energy production. Russian spies and intriguers may have secretly encouraged wrongdoing, but the real culprits are our politicians and officials. We made these mistakes because we were naive, complacent, lazy, stingy, and greedy.
A similar story with information operations. Russia is undoubtedly using propaganda, lies, deception and intimidation to sow discord. She conducts these tricky operations both openly and covertly. Russian oligarchs are using Western courts to silence their critics. All this does not go unnoticed. We have every reason to protest against the Kremlin’s attacks on our democracy.
RUSSIAN SPIES AND INTRIGUERS MAY HAVE SECRETLY ENCOURAGED FLAWS, BUT THE REAL CULPRITS ARE OUR POLITICIANS AND OFFICIALS. WE MADE THESE MISTAKES BECAUSE WE WERE NAIVE, COMPLACENT, LAZY, STINGY, AND GREEDY.
However, let’s remember: Russia did not create YouTube, Facebook, Google, WhatsApp and Twitter – platforms where disinformation is spread. Russia has not created the regulatory environment (essentially impunity) in which these companies operate. The Kremlin did not create a legal system in which the British writer Oliver Bullo could be tried in Portugal for exposing the behavior of the Angolan cone in the United States. It is not Russia that has passed a ill-conceived data protection law that can be used to silence investigative journalists. Our legislators and IT oligarchs created this system because we were again naive, complacent, lazy, stingy and greedy.
In some countries the situation is better. Last week, I chaired a panel at the Riga Conference, during which the Finnish representative stressed his country’s plan to decarbonise electricity generation by 2025. Many years ago, Finland began to actively invest in wind and nuclear energy. The country can also use diesel at its gas-fired power plants in emergencies. Putin’s energy weapons are not working in Finland: an enviable position amid the plight of countries like Ukraine. Helsinki also has exemplary information protection. However, most European countries continue to dig a hole. On the energy front, we allow the poorest consumers to bear the brunt of exhausting decarbonisation devices (this year’s price jump is just a taste of what lies ahead in the years to come).
An illustrative example is the Digital Services Act (DSA), which is being considered by the European Parliament. It proposes to introduce full protection against “any cancellation, suspension or blocking of access… [or] interference (labeling in state-supported media) in editorial content and editorial content provider services”.
In the first reading it sounds good: the European equivalent of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. But what is an “editorial content provider”? For example, YouTube recently belatedly banned a notorious source of Kremlin disinformation, German-language RT. This would not be possible if the proposed DSA law were in force. No one is forcing the European Parliament to pass this law: it only demonstrates the good intentions of ill-informed decision-makers who do not realize that our democracies are under attack. Russia and China are willing to take advantage of such opportunities. And then we will have to blame only ourselves.