The Guardian view on Europe’s energy crisis: facing down Putin will not come cheap

(The Guardian, 15 Jul 2022) Governments will need to spend big to protect vulnerable people this winter.

Europe is sweltering during a prolonged summer heatwave. But the attention of political leaders is increasingly focused on the coming winter. As a succession of recent warnings from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and elsewhere has underlined, an energy crisis to rival the oil price shock in the 1970s could hit when the weather turns cold.

As Vladimir Putin seeks to make the west pay for its support for Ukraine since February’s brutal invasion, Moscow has intensified its squeeze on gas exports to Europe. On Monday, Russia shut down its main pipeline to Germany – having previously reduced the flow of gas through it by 60%. Ostensibly, Nord Stream 1 has been closed to allow scheduled maintenance work, but its reopening later this month is far from certain. Gas supplies to Italy have been reduced by a further third; in all, a total of 12 EU countries have been either fully or partially cut off from Russian gas supplies. Supplies are accordingly dwindling before the period when they will be most needed. And, amid shortages and outages, European gas prices are almost 10 times higher than in the US.

Matters could get worse. The IEA has cautioned that rationing of fuel to industry, and even households, may become necessary if Mr Putin moves to a complete cutoff of gas supplies over the winter. As Russian troops expand their occupation of eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin is aiming to exert economic leverage over Europe’s response through a form of energy blackmail. Last week, Mr Putin threatened to unleash “catastrophic consequences” on markets if the west instituted further sanctions, such as a mooted cap on oil prices.

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The Guardian, 15 Jul 2022: The Guardian view on Europe’s energy crisis: facing down Putin will not come cheap