Gas prices have skyrocketed in the past few weeks, with the price of some gas stocks having risen almost eightfold since the start of the year. Most experts explain this with a rise in demand, particularly in Asia, with economies recovering after the pandemic shock of 2020 and competing markets pushing the prices up.
Some, however, are using the opportunity to put the blame on Russia and Putin, attacking in particular the new gas pipeline North Stream 2, which has recently been completed in spite of the threat of sanctions but is not operative yet. “Russia’s gas blackmail”, said a headline on TVP Info, Poland’s major news channel. Poland has traditionally been hostile to North Stream 2, claiming it would be used by Russia as a geopolitical weapon and had offered itself as a hub for the delivery of liquid gas from the United States.
“The U.S. was right — Europe has become a ‘hostage’ to Russia over energy, analysts warn”, commented the business channel CNBC on its website. “Russia rode to Europe’s rescue and offered to increase gas supplies to the region amid soaring prices on Wednesday. Experts said the move showed Europe is now largely at Russia’s mercy when it comes to energy. The U.S. has been warning for years that Europe is vulnerable to Russia being able to switch gas supplies on or off.”
Running to Europe’s rescue could of course only be interpreted as yet another malign act by an inexorably malign regime. “Critics of North Stream 2 have always warned against this kind of blackmailing”, wrote the German newspaper “Die Welt”, speaking of Vladimir Putin’s “neoimperial policy”.
Ukraine too accused Russia of manipulating gas prices. “Russia is manipulating gas prices to force EU concessions on energy security. We’re really manipulating prices, so you should launch Nord Stream 2 to stabilise the prices. This is a clear narrative for us”, said Ukrainian Deputy-Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna in an interview.
Ukraine sees itself at war with Russia but at the same time wants to keep the transit of Russian gas, while claiming not to buy Russian gas directly. Gas transit fees have traditionally been an important source of income for the Ukrainian budget. Ukraine has argued that keeping the transit of Russian gas through it has been the sole guarantee for Ukraine’s “security” and was holding back Russia from a full-scale invasion. This is allegedly the reason Ukraine has repeatedly opposed North Stream 2, which it too claims Russia could transform into a weapon.
It has been reported that Gazprom sold all the gas in its storage facilities in the EU over the summer, while at the same time not booking any additional transport capacity through Ukraine and Poland beyond what was already contractually agreed. Poland and Ukraine have in general never publicly signaled that they would see increases in Russian gas deliveries as a positive development.
Dmitry Peskov, the Russian President’s press spokesperson in a recent declaration said that if the whole of the new pipeline could be connected to the grid as swiftly as possible, supplies to Europe this winter would be assured and the price would certainly drop. Some want to see in this not a goodwill gesture from Russia, but an instance of blackmailing. Russia after all is not capable of anything other than blackmailing, even when it shows a human face, it seems.
Until a few weeks ago the opponents of North Stream 2 were vehemently protesting that it would make Germany and, as a consequence, Europe, too dependent on gas supplies from Russia. Now the same people who were saying that Russia was going to deliver too much gas to Europe seem to argue that Russia is not delivering enough gas.
Europe and the US have repeatedly made clearly over the past years that they want to deal with Russia from a position of strength and moral superiority, imposing sanctions, denouncing and condemning almost every move that Russia does to protect her own interests and that conflict with their interests. At the same time the EU and the US seem expect Russia to increase gas deliveries through a Western ally (Ukraine) that has done nothing to soberly co-operate with Russia for the past eight years at least. That’s a rather stunning and apparently unsolvable contradiction.
Stefano Di Lorenzo