Europe faces a 'winter of discontent' as the US profits from the energy crisis
Published: Sep 05, 2022 08:27 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

The European Union has collectively committed itself to a long proxy conflict against Russia in Ukraine, despite being critically energy dependent on oil and gas imports from Russia. If however, you listened to the words of their top bureaucrats, such as Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, one might never believe there is any problem. They talk about reducing energy dependency on Moscow as a quick and painless process, and vowed multiple times to "cripple Putin's war machine," determined no matter what to return a "European path" to Ukraine.

But things haven't been going to plan. Far from crushing Russia, Moscow has been able to make record amounts of revenue in energy exports by exploiting uncertainty in the market and reducing the flow of natural gas supplies to Europe, leading to an astronomical surge in energy prices which poses to throw the continent into a state of economic crisis. Worse still, winter is coming, meaning that demand and costs are only set to increase further. Germany is already rolling out measures to ration the use of electricity, such as demanding all electronic advertising be turned off at night, heating for private pools banned and limiting use of air conditioners. 

As the skyrocketing prices of bills hurt consumers, political unrest and discontent is proliferating across the continent, especially given the war in Ukraine is the root cause of all of it, something leaders are simply expecting their populations accept. In the Czech Republic over the weekend, over 70,000 marched in Prague against the EU, NATO and the energy crisis over the war in Ukraine, with its government having survived a vote of no-confidence over the crisis. On Monday, protests throughout Germany are being planned by "Die Linke" (The Left) party against the fuel crisis. In Cologne, over 2,000 already marched on Sunday demanding "elected officials to put their energy needs over the support for Ukraine."

The emerging discontent is only the tip of the iceberg, which will sap the political impetus of leaders throughout the continent to continue fuelling the conflict unabashedly. After all, if European leaders cannot readily convince their own populations to abide by COVID restrictions or accept vaccines for their own good, what chance do they stand in compelling them to continue making sacrifices for a war that is not their own? In the early days of the war, of course morale and support for Ukraine was high due to the initial shock and horror of Russia's military operation, but now six months later, it is obvious that such support is starting to erode with time and the people of Europe begin to pay a real price for it.

All of this is a reminder that when it comes to "diversifying" energy from Russia, there is no easy way out. It is not as simple as dumping one supply and finding another, precisely because markets operate on the logic of "supply and demand." If you remove the largest single supplier from a market, even if you can find other suppliers quickly, it constitutes a decrease of the overall supply and a surge of demand, which therefore leads to a surge in prices. Outside of the EU, this is what the UK is discovering right now. Even though they are not "dependent" on Russian gas in any way and stopped buying it, the narrowing of the market still poses consequences through price rises. 

The only way to reduce prices is to increase supplies from elsewhere, but that is simply not possible as Russia is the single largest exporter of Liquid Natural Gas in the world. If other sources of energy are to be relied on instead such will require trillions in worth of investment in infrastructure which will take years to normalize. No matter which way one looks at it, there is no easy or "quick fix" solution to the energy crisis. It is easy to point fingers at Moscow and say "we'll go elsewhere!" but actually doing so is another story. 

What makes matters worse is that European leaders more readily sacrificed Nord Stream 2, which would have been a solution to this crisis, at a whim on longstanding pressure, coercion and bullying from the US, a country who makes a huge profit out of this crisis through its own natural gas exports, whilst nonetheless refusing to help in this area. This paints a grim picture for Europe, who will now face a brazen "winter of discontent" as their own populations grow angry, cold, bitter, frustrated and out of pocket with the frenzied support of Ukraine at all costs. A crunch is coming, and undoubtedly Russia will see a window of opportunity in these closing months of 2022.

The author is a political and historical relations analyst. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn