Vladimir Putin accused of militarizing Russian gas

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Russian President Vladimir Putin observes joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises. September 13, 2021 (Sputnik / Alexey Druzhinin / Kremlin via REUTERS)

Vladimir Putin is trying to put pressure on Europe to approve its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline by arming Russian gas supplies.

With construction work on Russia’s controversial energy pipeline finally completed, critics say the Kremlin is artificially raising gas prices in a bid to speed up the long certification process and get the pipeline operational. Such maneuvers seem to justify previous fears about Vladimir Putin’s militarization of Russian energy supplies to the EU, but there has not yet been a meaningful response from Washington, Berlin or Brussels.

For several weeks, Russia has been accused of deliberately failing to respond to increased European demand for gas, leading to soaring prices and alarming storage levels across the continent. Many analysts believe Moscow’s goal is to stress the need for Nord Stream 2 in order to bypass the many legal and bureaucratic delays that still prevent the pipeline from delivering gas from Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea. Currently, it is estimated that administrative hurdles could delay the pipeline for months or even more than a year.

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Since its creation, the Nord Stream 2 project has encountered strong opposition from both sides of the Atlantic. The European Parliament has repeatedly voted against the pipeline, while central European countries like Poland fear it will strengthen Russia’s grip on regional energy markets and strengthen Putin’s ability to blackmail his neighbors.

Many Ukrainians see the pipeline as an economically unjustified geopolitical weapon aimed directly at their country. They argue that the main goal of Nord Stream 2 is to end Moscow’s dependence on Ukraine’s gas transit system, potentially paving the way for a major escalation in an ongoing campaign of military aggression. Russian who is already in his eighth year.

In the United States, the pipeline has sparked bipartisan opposition that continues to rumble despite President Biden’s May 2021 decision to ease sanctions measures. Allegations of recent manipulation of Russia’s energy supply prompted a vigorous reaction from US Senator Pat Toomey, the senior Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, who told the Atlantic Council: “Any deal allowing the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is seriously defective. Administration to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG as required by law under CAATSA [Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act] to stop Moscow’s efforts to militarize gas supplies to Europe.

In December 2020, the US Congress passed draconian sanctions measures aimed at stopping construction of the pipeline. However, President Biden backed down in late spring and lifted the sanctions out of deference to Germany. Following a major outcry, the two countries then signed an agreement in July committing to impose sanctions if Russia “militarized” the use of energy or threatened Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Despite these commitments, no action has been taken on the current accusations regarding Russian energy supplies to the EU. While many European politicians and congressional leaders have expressed concerns, Germany is currently in the final stages of a national election campaign and is unable to enter a showdown with the Kremlin.

Yuriy Vitrenko, CEO of Ukrainian energy giant Naftogaz, believes there is no doubt that today’s gas shortages are a deliberate ploy by Moscow that should trigger sanctions from Germany and the United States.

“What Russia is doing is very intentionally suspending gas supplies to Europe. Moscow is suspending gas supply in order to force Europe to accept Nord Stream 2 and certify it before the US Congress adopts additional sanctions, ”says Vitrenko. “Russia’s actions are the epitome of the militarization of gas. Anyone who refuses to acknowledge what Moscow is doing, especially when it is doing it so blatantly, sends a dangerous message to the Russians that they can use gas to blackmail Europe and get away with it. ”

Last week, the Biden administration’s new energy adviser, Amos Hochstein, warned of a looming energy crisis in Europe this winter due to supply shortages in Russia. Speaking to the Financial Times, Hochstein said Russia had “under-supplied the market relative to its traditional supplies” and contributed to the highest prices on record. “If you have a really cold winter in January and February, you might run out of supplies. And this is where I worry. It’s not just a few geopolitical games. People’s lives are at stake.

However, while Hochstein has stated unequivocally that Russia has “militarized natural gas for many, many years”, he did not say Moscow has deliberately cut gas supplies in recent months. Such restraint is perhaps not surprising. If the allegations of market manipulation were officially confirmed, it could potentially trigger additional sanctions against Moscow under the terms of the US-German deal.

“We agree with Mr Hochstein’s efforts to draw attention to the growing gas crisis in Europe which could leave the continent cold this winter,” comments Vitrenko. “At the same time, we don’t understand why the Biden administration is reducing sanctions pressure on Russia as the Kremlin increases the militarization of gas across Europe. Our position is that US sanctions should be fully enforced as long as Putin continues to use gas as a weapon. We must act to hold Russia to account. This can be achieved not by allowing Russia to have the ultimate gas weaponry tool, the Nord Stream 2, but by removing that tool and ensuring that the Kremlin can never use it. “

As concerns about Russia’s grip on European gas supplies grow, U.S. Senators Toomey and Ted Cruz this week threatened to suspend the appointments of five senior Treasury Department officials indefinitely if the Biden administration does not the company operating Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project is not blacklisted. .

“Administration’s so-called ‘deal’ with Germany grants Vladimir Putin a geostrategic victory, strengthens corrupt Russian influence in Europe, and significantly weakens the security of Ukraine, Poland and other states at the forefront of the Kremlin aggression, “Toomey and Cruz said in a letter to the chairmen of the Senate banking and foreign relations committees.

Diane Francis is a non-resident senior researcher at the Eurasia Center of the Atlantic Council, editor-in-chief of the National Post in Canada, author of ten books and author of a newsletter on America.

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