Cold War, literally

Perhaps he just longs for a return to the good old days when Europe trembled in fear of the Soviet Union. Russia’s version of Dick Cheney – the power behind President Medvedev – Vladimir Putin has ordered that Europe’s supply of natural gas be drastically cut.

Europe has been plunged into an energy crisis after Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s state-run gas company to cut supplies by 20 per cent.

As temperatures dropped below zero across much of Europe, the Russian prime minister instructed the head of Gazprom: “Cut it – starting today.”

The cut was ordered to punish neighbouring Ukraine, which Russia accuses of topping up its own gas supply by siphoning off energy meant for European consumers and sent through its pipelines.You can’t blame the former Soviets at Russia’s helm for throwing their weight around, ever since the USSR collapsed Europe has treated the former Soviet republics like something stuck on their shoes. How do you think the Kremlin must feel seeing poll after poll stating Europeans believe the US and Israel are the greatest threats to peace? Russia still possesses the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal. How about a little respect?

EU foreign ministers, meeting in Prague on Thursday, will then assess levels of gas supply disruption and discuss possible action to prevent energy shortages amid sub-zero temperatures in most European capitals.

EU countries are dependent for one quarter of their gas supplies on Russia, of which 80 per cent comes via pipelines that cross the Ukraine.

Some, such as Poland, depend on Gazprom for over three quarters of their gas supply. Britain receives up to 15 per cent of its supply from Russian sources, mainly channelled through French pipelines.

The Czech Republic, Poland, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia and Hungary have already reported problems with their supply.Collective punishment has long been a favorite method of creating external pressure to disrupt unwanted behavior. Ukraine has been getting a little uppity with Moscow of late. Now they’ll be squeezed from both sides by the Kremlin and the EU. Quite a brilliant ploy by Putin.

The Commission has insisted that “there is no immediate danger of disruption for European citizens”. But officials are worried that the latest wave of freezing weather, in one of the coldest winters for years, will push the EU into a full blown energy crisis by fuelling demand for Russian gas as people seek to heat their homes across Europe.

“The situation is changing. We are seeing a cold week ahead,” said the Commission spokesman.”Cold weather has an immediate effect on demand.”One of the big disadvantages of relying upon a foreign energy supplier is the relative ease with which they can manipulate supply. Smartly, Russia is timing gas reductions for maximum effect. Cutting gas supplies in the middle of summer wouldn’t create the same urgency for action by the EU.

This should also serve as a cautionary tale to the US. We need to maximize our use of domestic energy resources and reject policies that restrict our ability to lead the world in affordable energy production.

While the world has focused its ire like a laser on the Bush administration (and the Joooos!) the Kremlin has been free to act with impunity. After fifty years of Cold War there isn’t much will in Europe to stand up to Russia. The former Soviet bloc being a notable exception. No one knows Russia better than its former satellite nations, and they understand the bullies in Moscow are only encouraged by weakness. Will the EU be willing to stand with Ukraine and the rest of Eastern Europe if Putin continues his aggression?

Time will tell, but most likely they’ll just defer to the US to slow Russia’s westward march. Again.

Heckuva Job, Barry
The Three Levels of Trolldom