DANIEL JOHNSON. 21 July 2022 •
When the Russian state energy giant Gazprom resumed pumping gas through the Nordstream 1 pipeline yesterday, after a ten-day shutdown, a collective sigh of relief was audible across the capitals of Europe. Yet Russian gas is flowing at only 30 to 40 per cent of normal capacity: enough to meet immediate demand, but not enough for EU countries to build up stocks for the winter to come.
So it is rather clear what Vladimir Putin intends to do – to play with Europe like a cat with a mouse. He was hinting at something when he said menacingly this week: “Maybe they will turn it off at some point, and Nord Stream 1 will stop, and that’s it.”
Indeed, Putin has already forced the EU Commission to impose a 15 per cent cut in gas consumption across the board. Once this comes into effect, it will sow division by penalising member states that don’t depend on Russian gas as much as those that do.
Such tensions, already undermining the EU’s response to the Ukraine invasion, were compounded yesterday by the European Central Bank’s decision to raise interest rates for the first time in eleven years. With inflation spiralling, a recession looming, and no fiscal union, the question of how to distribute the economic pain will be at the forefront of minds on the Continent.
EU officials have been scrambling around, desperately seeking alternative gas and oil suppliers, such as Azerbaijan, but there is no chance of replacing the enormity of Kremlin-controlled supplies anytime soon. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, knowing this, has warned that “Russia is blackmailing [the EU].” Her fears are supported by letters from Gazprom to its customers declaring a “force majeure” to justify cutting off supplies at any time due to “extraordinary” circumstances beyond its control.
We’ve already had a demonstration of the impact the Kremlin’s gas manipulation can have on Western leaders. Nord Stream 1 has been running below capacity since June, ostensibly because of a turbine being repaired in Canada but held up by sanctions. After EU pressure was applied on Ottawa, the Canadians returned the turbine, provoking furious protests from Kyiv.
At the heart of this concession was Europe’s largest economy, Germany, whose industrial base is a huge gas guzzler. A single plant, the BASF chemical giant’s headquarters in Ludwigshafen, consumes half as much gas as the whole of Denmark. If Putin were to turn off the tap, the consequences for Berlin would be “the most severe economic crisis since the end of the Second World War,” according to BASF’s chief, Martin Brudermüller.
A conservative estimate is that the German economy would contract by 6 per cent. That is the consequence of the Ostpolitik – what others might call opportunistic naivety towards Russia – pursued with myopic zeal by former German chancellors Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel.
The current Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, hasn’t been much better. He continues to prevaricate as Europe prepares to freeze. He was happy to burn vast quantities of coal to deal with the recent heatwave, but refuses to restart decommissioned nuclear plants to placate his Green coalition partners.
Around him, the dream of a strong and united European Union is crumbling. Italy has seen its ruling coalition fall apart. Prime Minister Draghi, in confirming his resignation, despaired that some in the Italian establishment were eager to appease Russian demands. With elections coming, populists such as the Brothers of Italy will exploit the energy crisis to steer the country on a pro-Russian course. And in France, Emmanuel Macron is as good as a lame duck, having lost his parliamentary majority last month.
Nor can this troubled Union rely on support from across the Atlantic, where Joe Biden is plumbing new depths of unpopularity, looks destined for defeat in November’s midterms, and will want to shore up his own ailing economy as much as possible.
If the Russians turn off the taps this winter, the European Union will be a lonelier and more divided force than at any point in its recent history. Far from leading the West’s response to Ukraine, as Brussels originally claimed, the Continent is being held to ransom by the Kremlin.
22 July: Also from The Telegraph :
Germany accused of ‘breaking all trust’ with Nato over failing to complete Ukraine tank deals.
Berlin has not yet completed any deals to back-fill soviet-era tanks sent to Ukraine by Nato allies including Poland and Greece.
By Arthur Scott-Geddes BERLIN 22 July 2022 •
Germany has been accused of letting down its Nato allies over a failure to back-fill tanks sent to Ukraine.
Soon after the Russian invasion began, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Greece began seeking deals with Germany to replace the Soviet-era tanks they were sending to Kyiv.
But more than five months into the war, none of these deals have been completed.
Roderich Kiesewetter, an opposition CDU politician and former officer in the German army, said on Thursday that the government’s offer to supply Poland – which sent 240 T-72 tanks to Ukraine – with just 20 Leopard 2 tanks over a period of several years was “outrageous”.
The deal “breaks all trust”, while Germany’s allies in central and eastern Europe “receive too little and too late”, he told broadcaster ARD.
Andrzej Duda, the Polish President, criticised the German government in May for breaking its promise to deliver the replacement tanks.
“Germany has promised to supply these tanks – but you have not kept that promise. And, to be honest, Poland is very disappointed,” he told Welt.
Poland wants the latest German-made tanks to replace the vehicles it sent to Ukraine, but talks over the deal have reportedly been deadlocked for months and are in danger of collapsing altogether.
Szymon Szynkowski, the deputy foreign minister, said last week there had been no “real offer from Germany that could be considered”.
The German government has also promised to send 15 Leopard 2 tanks to the Czech Republic – which has already delivered T-72 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine – but has yet to do so.
Many of the deals are reportedly in difficulty because Berlin wants to send its allies older vehicles like the Marder infantry fighting vehicle instead of newer machinery.
Christine Lambrecht, Germany’s defence minister, repeatedly said that the German army’s stocks are exhausted, but anger over the slow exchange plans is building even within the governing coalition.
Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, the outspoken head of the Bundestag defence committee, has said the government should consider sending tanks directly to Ukraine.
“We have to be brave and say: ‘Guys, let’s drop it and deliver directly to Ukraine’,” she said, referring to the possibility of the deals breaking down.