Europe’s response to Russian natural gas supply cuts

By Jongyeop Jeong, 12th Grade

Since February 24, when the Russian president proclaimed a “special military operation” for the “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine, there has been a war that’s still causing misery to millions of people. It is anticipated that what occurred on October 8 would further increase tensions between both countries. Two sections of the sole bridge connecting the Crimean Peninsula to Russia were destroyed by an unidentified attacker, resulting in at least three deaths. Consequently, it is expected that Russia’s supply of equipment, fuel, and ammunition to take control of regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia (southern Ukrainian provinces) will be severely affected. Russian authorities blamed Ukraine for the blast, but the Ukrainian government, although praising the damage, denied the responsibility. Putin declared this event “an act of terrorism” by Ukraine. 

Ukraine called Russia a “terrorist state” for conducting a missile strike on its main cities, including its capital Kyiv, at a United Nations General Assembly meeting called to discuss Moscow’s annexation of four partly-occupied regions of Ukraine: Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia. Sergiy Kyslytsya, a representative of Ukraine, remarked, “Russia is a terrorist state that must be deterred in the strongest possible ways.” He added that peace could not be maintained where an unstable dictatorship exists. Vassily Nebenzia, a delegate of Russia, avoided addressing the missile strikes but gave justification for Russia’s annexation of the four regions. He said, “We are being accused when we are trying to protect our brothers and sisters in eastern Ukraine”.

Russia staged a series of referendums with no prior notice last month and moved to annex the four Ukrainian regions. Ukraine and its allies have proclaimed the votes as illegal and coercive. A referendum is expected to be put to the vote by the assembly, denouncing Russia’s “attempted illegal annexations,” emphasizing that Russia has no validity under international law to execute such actions. It demands the immediate removal of Russian forces from Ukraine and appeals to all nations, international organizations, and agencies to refuse to recognize the annexations. Russia’s attempt to make the vote a secret ballot was rejected, with only 13 out of 193 countries supporting the request. As the war is elongating, the consequences of it are becoming more apparent: thousands of soldiers and civilians are losing their lives, and millions of people are being forced to leave their homelands. The heat of the war does not seem to cool down–instead, it’s getting even more severe.

The suspension of Russian natural gas supplies to Europe is one of the war’s most serious consequences. Before the conflict, Russia supplied over 40% of the natural gas used in the European Union through its enormous Siberian fields. This was an ideal arrangement for many years, since it was affordable and conveniently available via many pipelines. However, Russian state-owned firm Gazprom, the owner of these pipelines, started turning the taps off in May. Due to problems with a defective turbine, the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which provided nearly one-third of the gas Russia shipped to Europe, was shut down permanently. Many countries believe that the reports of repairs are false and that Russia is deliberately shutting off supplies in retaliation for the sanctions imposed by Europe after it invaded Ukraine. The three main uses of natural gas are to produce electricity in power plants, heat homes and businesses, and industries including steelmaking and fertilizer production. Recessions and a harsh winter are predicted for nations that rely significantly on Russian fossil fuels. 

Europe will need to face two challenges in the upcoming years. First, a freezing winter with exhausted gas supplies that might result in forced blackouts and business closures. Second, Europe will need to expand its use of renewable energy, such as extending the life of nuclear power plants, while reducing its reliance on Russian gas by negotiating new contracts with other suppliers. The final goal would be to open a new era of energy security, where each country becomes less dependent on a single supplier.

It was agreed that between August 2022 and March 2023, European Union member states would reduce their gas demand by 15%. This is voluntary, but the EU Council has warned that they may become mandatory if the situation with gas security worsens. Some countries have already taken small steps to reduce the need for energy: France has made it illegal for businesses to operate air conditioning while doors are open; cities in Germany are shutting off public lights, closing swimming pools, and lowering thermostats; air conditioning temperatures are strictly regulated in Spain (cannot be lower than 27 degrees Celsius).



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