by Philip Cunliffe
Monday, 5
December 2022
Analysis
07:00

It’s time to end gas sanctions on Russia

Europe is facing a long and dark winter
by Philip Cunliffe
Credit: Getty

Finland is now the first Western country to concede that it will suffer power outages this winter, while Austria is preparing food distribution networks that can function in event of a blackout. Here in the UK, and in the typical mode of the privatised British state, there is a steady drip of reports from the National Grid on how they are preparing for possible power cuts. In this way the population is softened up for the likelihood of blackouts, without any elected leader or minister being forced to take political responsibility or make a formal announcement on behalf of the nation for this disaster. 

In addition to exposing the dire state of energy infrastructure across Western Europe, the energy crunch has shown that much-vaunted wind and solar energy were only viable alongside a ready supply of gas to compensate for the intermittency of the weather. Even France, traditionally energy secure due to its large supply of nuclear power, is finding itself caught short as repairs take longer than anticipated on its ageing fleet of reactors. 


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Even the network of interconnectors on which European countries have hitherto depended to shunt energy from areas of surplus to areas of deficit stands exposed: the interconnectors only function well when countries are not scrabbling for energy all at once. Britain, Germany, Slovakia and Norway are all mooting the prospect of having to prioritise their own energy needs over those of their neighbours for the coming winter, knocking out pillars of the interconnector system. The perversity of all of this is that it is self-imposed, artificial scarcity. 

This artificial scarcity comes in two forms: ideological and geopolitical. Given the storage problems that still plague solar and wind energy, the fact that decarbonisation has raced ahead of what is technically feasible reflects the ideological zeal behind it. At the same time, Belgium, Britain and Germany’s governments have gouged their national capacity to generate low-carbon nuclear power. That energy production could systematically be stripped back on this scale while keeping houses warm and cities lit at night, was dependent on a steady supply of gas from Russia.

But since the sanctions on Russian gas, this is now no longer possible. Although there seems to be a welcome new consensus growing in favour of nuclear power, it will take years for Europe to recover from the artificial scarcity imposed by the reliance on renewables. In the interim, however, we could loosen the vice by reducing the sanctions on Russia and letting the gas flow again. Sanctions have little to commend them. The siege effect of sanctions forces beleaguered peoples to rally to their leaders. 

At the same time, new black markets and sanction-busting efforts strengthen the clientelist and patronage networks on which authoritarian regimes such as Putin’s depend. Certainly, the sanctions have not stopped Putin’s war machine from grinding on. Now the tragedy is compounded by the fact that thus far, the sanctions are damaging the West more than they are Russia

With President Joe Biden suggesting that he would be open to negotiations with the Russian President, now would be an opportune moment to get the gas flowing back into Europe. The blunt truth is that waving Ukrainian flags will not keep us warm this winter. If Europe is to avoid a new dark age of soaring energy bills, de-industrialisation and blackouts, we must start by ending the sanctions regime on Russia.

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John Dellingby
John Dellingby
2 months ago

I’m all for ending the sanctions on Russia as soon as they withdraw all their forces back into the Russian Federation in line with the borders in 2014 and renounce their illegal occupations and annexation of Crimea, Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Unprovoked aggression against one’s neighbours must never be rewarded or seen to be rewarded.

Peter B
Peter B
2 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

I know it’s Christmas, but you’re really far too generous. What about paying for all the deaths and destruction they’ve caused ?
Even if Russia did all that you asked, unless something else changed, it would still be a dangerous and unstable kleptocracy with leaders we cannot trust who will take actions like invading Ukraine again in future. I don’t think we can pretend we can just push the reset button here.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

To be honest I’ve come to accept that the Russian government will likely fall in the near future and will be replaced by something worse. That said, they bought it on themselves and it’s not the Wests job to save them from their own idiocy. For the next few decades, we’re going to have to deal with a bitter, resentful and wounded Russia.

A shame for me personally though as I always wanted to visit St Petersburg, but I fear a British man with his wife might not be safe in the new Russia.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

Sure. There would be no war if only Russia would accept NATO expansion all the way to their borders, US missiles next door to Moscow, US funded “democratic” revolution that violently overthrows a democratically elected legal government in a large neighboring nation, and Russian speaking minorities in the Donbass being attacked and pulverised.

All very reasonable, if only the Russkies weren’t so evil and Putin-ey.

“Unprovoked aggression against one’s neighbours must never be rewarded”
Yep, unprovoked aggression is only fine as long as it’s against some random country in the Middle East or Africa.

Last edited 2 months ago by Samir Iker
John Dellingby
John Dellingby
2 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

If Russia was so concerned about why its neighbours were clamouring to join NATO, it should have looked in the mirror. Prior to the 2014 Revolution, Crimea had autonomy and I see no reason why Moscow could have requested that in a peaceful manner to the people of the Donbas.

Never said it was. The West has paid dearly for its attack on Iraq. In any case, it doesn’t make Russia right.

Jerald Vanderraad
Jerald Vanderraad
2 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

NATO is a defensive alliance that was established to counter Soviet expansionism. Ironic, then, that Putin responded to an expanding NATO by trying to revert to the Soviet expansionism that NATO is protecting against.
The truth is Putin wants to make Russia great again, and that involves restoring key parts of the old Soviet Union under his control, be that through subservient puppets such as in Belarus or outright annexation. Volodimir Zelensky won handily in a an election, and many Ukrainians, particularly younger Ukrainians want a more Eurocentric future for their country. This is something Putin cannot accept, as Ukraine was pivotal to the economic strength of the old Soviet Union he wants to de facto restore.

Steve White
Steve White
2 months ago

Everyone knows that the sanctions haven’t done much to hurt Russia, and also everyone knows that they were and are all the idea of the United States. The problem is that Europe is weak. It has weak leaders, weak military, and weak economies. If they fell out on the wrong side of the US, what would happen to the EU nations that did that? What would the neoliberal media in the EU do to the leaders who chose to do that? It’s all fear, it’s all based on fear. It seems they fear this situation before them more than they do an expanded and even potential nuclear war with Russia. Even Turkey, that sees a future for itself with Russia is forced to go along. The US controls everyone’s futures for now. 

Last edited 2 months ago by Steve White
Joris van de Ven
Joris van de Ven
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve White

yeah we are not going to fall out on the wrong side. We are going to be united against Putin, until it is over. So you can save your efforts, we are not going to give up and fall out.
take your tin foil hat or Russian hacker hat and be gone, shoooo!!

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
2 months ago

Who is this ‘We’ you speak of? Another bunch of ‘True Believers’ like the Thursday pot bangers cheering on their imprisonment and children’s mental and education harms, and the destruction of the economy, and pensions, and on of inflation, and loss of their human rights?

Sheep drinking the Biden/Boris/MSM/Social-Media Kool-Aid.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve White

Wrong on just about everything. Russia is struggling, lying about inflationn and seeing many poorly trained, badly equipped men sent to die for no reason but Putin’s vanity. Short of the use of Nuclear weapons, Europe is fundamentally unconquerable. Other than Britain and France, all of Europe’s militairies are designed for trerritorial defence. Additional to this Poland is sending its older soviet style tanks to the Ukraine and is building up a massive force of modern tanks and artillery. The war will be painful to the West, but much less so thank to Ukraine

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

“Russia is struggling, lying about inflationn and seeing many poorly trained, badly equipped men sent to die”
And at the same time, Russia is a monstrous machine that’s about to resurrect the Warsaw pact and gobble up Poland.
Straight from the same playbook as Iraqi WMDs, Libyan war for democracy and the hunt for 9/11 attackers in Afghanistan. And you wonder why the rest of the world is looking away in disgust while Europe dances on Ukraine’s grave.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
2 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Russia has the ability to do tremendous damage to Ukraine. What has been proven is that Russia’s armed forces are not a Nato peer force. They are not even the best military in the Ukraine. Russia remains capable of doing huge damage, it just can’t win a contested battle in the Ukraine.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve White

The US is enacting a policy of economic scorched earth to combat Russia and it’s the European economy that’s getting scorched.

Europe had the chance to pursue strategic autonomy when its economy was strong. Instead it chose padding out its already substantial welfare state. Fair enough; but without the power to resist either Russian aggression or the dictates of the United States, soon it will have neither strategic autonomy or a welfare state.

Last edited 2 months ago by Matthew Powell
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
2 months ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

I envision Europe’s medium term future somewhat as a metaphorical animal carcass that a bunch of metaphorical wolves (great powers) fight over and tear apart.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve White

A very concise summary of the situation. Europe is resource poor in terms of energy. They have much less oil/gas than other places and most of what could easily be extracted already was extracted decades or centuries ago. Since burning coal would be a blasphemy too heinous to contemplate, they have little choice but to import energy from somewhere because as much as the greens would like it to be so, wind/solar can’t do the job yet. Even if they built nuclear plants, they’d be importing Uranium from the same places they now have to import oil/gas/etc. Added to that is Europe’s military dependence on the US, and one can see why Europe has these problems. The US/European partnership was never an equal one. After two world wars, Europe was destroyed and basically divided in half by the two most intact world powers. Instead of building up their own resources, technology, militaries, etc. in the decades following WWII, they used the military umbrella of the USA to ignore defense and fund generous welfare states. When the USSR fell, it got even worse as they now had no credible enemies (or so they thought). Now the chickens are coming home to roost. Russia has reasserted itself to some extent, China is rising, and Europe has zero leverage over anyone. They will ultimately be forced to do whatever the US dictates or lose their military protection. Sometime in the medium term future, this will likely mean cutting off China as well as Russia and assuming the role of permanent vassal state to the USA, which they’ll probably do gladly, considering Europe is so resource poor in terms of energy they have little choice but to become dependent on one or another of the great powers in a multipolar world and the US remains the least bad of the alternatives.

Martin Layfield
Martin Layfield
2 months ago

Nobody forced these energy policies on European electorates. They knew what they were voting for, and as a collective mass deserve to get it good and proper. I feel bad for the minority who didn’t vote for it, but the majority deserve the cold and the bills

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 months ago

In the case of the UK electorate at least, that is a tad unfair. All the major parties support pretty much the same energy policy.

Martin Layfield
Martin Layfield
2 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Perhaps, although I’d say it’s an indictment of Britain’s complacent political culture

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 months ago

Perhaps?
Perhaps doesn’t come into it.

D Glover
D Glover
2 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

The cost of announcing a new nuclear reactor is immediate for the politician doing it. He gets the protesters shouting at him.
The benefits come ten or twenty years later, when the lights don’t go out. By then he’s out of office. No-one ever shouted ‘look, the lights work! good old Harold Wilson!’

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
2 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

Short term thinking is one of the several hobgoblins of little minds.

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

Oh, I agree, but the costs of our current energy policies are distressingly immediate. I intend to punish our political class with all the might of my solitary vote.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 months ago
Reply to  D Glover

…and the real costs come a few decades after all that (hugely expensive) energy has been generated and something has to be done with the waste. ‘Look! It’s still going to kill people unless we store it safely somewhere (we don’t know where) at vast expense! Damn you Harold Wilson!’

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
2 months ago

“Belgium, Britain and Germany’s governments have gouged their national capacity to generate **low-carbon nuclear power**.”

What?

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 months ago

Dane geld was never a stable and reliable policy. Gas geld would signify that Putin held the whip hand over Russia’s gas customers.
Fracking (eventually) and a diversity of supply is a much better policy and probably worth a blackout or two.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago

A better idea would be to get on with fracking. That way we could have new supplies on stream by the end of 2023.

Steve White
Steve White
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Europe is never going to frac. It’s too green to do something so evil to the earth.
The question I have is that if Russia having too much sway over nations that it sells gas directly to (which the irony is, it’s still selling it, only through different channels) , then what about China? What about everyone’s dependence on China to make things… How much more sway do they have over the Western world than someone providing energy?
I mean what if China were to release a pandemic on the world, we’d sure cancel them right? Also, who are the ones that made us all dependent on China? It wasn’t just silly Europeans… This was an American policy to hollow out Western industry and our children’s and nations futures for cheap labor in China.
What we find is the same people who create all the problems have all the answers… the only answers…. I hear that Germany is now reaching out to NATO to protect it’s undersea pipelines… Sounds like a good idea… wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to them now…

Last edited 2 months ago by Steve White
Snapper AG
Snapper AG
2 months ago

Standing up to aggression is always costly. It’s hard to see how this argument is any different from appeasement of the past. If you’re not willing to accept high gas prices to defend Ukraine, when does the calculus change? What signals are you sending?
Are you willing to accept a shooting was to protect the Baltic states? Are you willing to cut off trade with China if they attack Taiwan. You’re sending a pretty clear signal that you’re not willing to make those sacrifices, and the result is to fatally undermine collective security.

Last edited 2 months ago by Snapper AG
Sudo Nonimus
Sudo Nonimus
2 months ago

With President Joe Biden suggesting that he would be open to negotiations with the Russian President

Biden is going to crawl on his knees again to beg actual energy producers for mercy.

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
2 months ago
Reply to  Sudo Nonimus

It is obvious Biden is out to wreck the global economy. He kneeled to KSA for oil to shore up his voter’s position for the Mid Terms (that it backfired did not matter as the Democrats had corrupted the election process totally anyway) – If he wanted actual oil for the American Citizen he would just allow USA to use its own.

Biden sent $91 Billion to Zalenski with no accounting – for him to steal and use to be a warlord, and to return $1 Billion to the Democrat party, and 10% for the Big Guy, with FTX Bankman-Fried as his bagman. Biden now wants another $37 Billion during the Lame Duck for Zaslenski…If any person thinks this is anything to do with freedom they are 100% wrong.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 months ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

Your brilliant analysis is wasted on this forum. You should be out there advising governments, setting the World to rights.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 months ago
Reply to  Sudo Nonimus

Biden is going to crawl on his knees again to beg actual energy producers for mercy
Is he begging himself for mercy? Because America is the biggest producer of fossil fuels. No. He is keen to regularise the situation so that the world economy does not decline further, and war, conflict increase. Its what mature leaders do. Others wage war on their neighbours just to indulge their grandiosity.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
2 months ago
Reply to  Sudo Nonimus

The US is already the largest energy producer in the world. Get your facts straight.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago

I see the Russian apologists/trolls are out in force in Comments.
If that weren’t the case, there wouldn’t be so many downvotes for perfectly legitimate comments, whether you agree with them or not. One or two maybe…
My advice? Stop being so OBVIOUS!!
On second thoughts, carry on as you were…

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

The delusion is also rather staggering. You’d think Russia had achieved all its objectives and could call the shots going by what some are saying. It’s almost like these guys are living in an alternate reality from what I can see.

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
2 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

You pay Russia a huge sum for little gas, then send Billions to Ukraine – madness.

You pay Russia to fight in Ukraine and pay Ukraine to fight in Ukraine.

That it has destroyed the country, killed over 200,000 and maimed more is what? Collateral Damage? Millions of displaced Refugees? The people’s lifetime wealth destroyed, the nation impoverished for generations, education destroyed. That millions in the poor parts of the world will starve from the fertilizer, oil, cooking oil, wheat, inflation is collateral damage? That the world may go in a depression over this, that UK and EU have debilitating inflation means people cannot afford their debt, that they cannot afford energy, that food is doubling, and that huge waves of unemployment are coming, with mass business closing…collateral Damage?

Really? This is a crime against humanity – this war is 100% corrupt, evil, bad, wrong – it is 100 times worse than Iraq and Afghanistan as it has divided the world into two opposing camps – the BRICS and Iran, Venezuela, KSA, and all other resource producers against the West….It may break the world into two….

You sheep Warmongering Neo-Cons, the evil you do with this war is Wicked!

David Giles
David Giles
2 months ago

This article’s title should be “Putin apologist finds a new argument for us letting him blackmail us permanently.”

Steve White
Steve White
2 months ago
Reply to  David Giles

Part of the problem is you see Russia being able to leverage control over your country if you buy gas from them. Which, yes, that’s probably true. But what you don’t see, because you haven’t been told to think this, is that your nation is being controlled by the other side of this issue. There is an invisible hand controlling your situation a whole lot more than a simple energy trading partner would. It’s just they also have much of the news and information narratives on their side. That’s called propaganda by the way. Did you know it still exists, and it’s not just associated with Russia? Do you think that there are just white hat and black hat narratives? There are serious problems with this whole situation that are not all Putin lies.

Last edited 2 months ago by Steve White
Joris van de Ven
Joris van de Ven
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve White

Ah, the conspiracy looney, every page has one. Asking us not to look at Putin, but wants to hack away at the alliance against darkness.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve White

What we do see – because it is staring us in the face – is that it is much better for us Europeans to be vassals of the US (if you want to call it that) than controlled by Russia. Why do you think the former USSR and Warsaw block nations all chose the EU and NATO instead of having close friendly relations with Russia? If you are too weak to rule, you have to make a deal with someone for (more or less mutual) protection. There will always be a a price, but at least we are free to choose who to go with.

Last edited 2 months ago by Rasmus Fogh
Steve White
Steve White
2 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

If I was the leader of an EU nation, I would work towards our own sovereignty, our own independence from either side. I think it is a big price to pay to fully obey the desires of the US right now, which, the US is declining, it’s a declining power, and so it’s grasping and trying to consolidate its power right now in a situation where it’s economic hegemony (and therefore it’s ability to control much of what goes on in the world) is heading for an end point.
The hyper-finance, fiat capital of the West, along with its green obsession has it declining, and headed towards economic collapse in a world where the future belongs to commodities rich, and energy rich nations. Once Saudi Arabia and other nations abandon the Petrodollar (which is happening) it’s over. Nations are going to stop buying US debt, and the US is leveraged up to its neck in debt just to continue to function. In fact, the whole West is built on low interest rates and hyper financed business. That is in the process of its last days, all because of the US position on this war has made it happen, rapidly.
There will be an economic collapse in the US and Europe that has never been seen before, probably in 2023, or perhaps they can stretch it to 2024, but it’s going to be a “great reset” as they say, and the future is multipolar, meaning commodities rich nations will have value in their own currencies, gold and oil and commodities backed currencies. That’s the future, so betting on the US, getting in bed with it is actually a last love affair for the EU, as it will be in real trouble too, having followed the same model. On-shore European manufacturing, and tech, and drill your own gas, and make your own nuke plants, and do it all FAST. This war is both a distraction from that, and the potential cause of making all that much worse, and much more protracted than it would have to be… Europe could be in great shape by 2030 if it got its act together, and stopped looking over it’s shoulder at the US. 
The real war Europe needs to wage is one where it focused on it’s own econmic, manufacturing, and food security. Right now the EU is doing all of that wrong as it has been for years. It need peace with those on it’s own contenent while it does that. It might take a bloc of independent minded EU nations focusing on that to wake everyone up to it. It might take a break up of the EU, but right now, no one is willing to go first.

Last edited 2 months ago by Steve White
Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
2 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

This is accurate. Europe is in a strategically weak position and has little choice but to vassalize itself to one of the great powers for the foreseeable future. Given the alternatives, picking the least bad option is perfectly sensible. After all, most Americans don’t even like America anymore but are reasonable enough to realize China and Russia are still significantly worse.

Last edited 2 months ago by Steve Jolly
Rehoboth Organic Farms
Rehoboth Organic Farms
1 month ago

Excellent post. Very interesting
Thanks

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
2 months ago

we must start by ending the sanctions regime on Russia. Fixed the last line for you.

Joris van de Ven
Joris van de Ven
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Nice one!

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Whilst I understand the sentiment, calm down. Intimidating a nuclear armed country has its limits. Brute reality has a logic all of its own.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
2 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

It is certainly true that Russia has sufficient nukes to elimate the UK, Europe and America. So, what? The UK and France have, individually, enough nukes to eliminate Russia. Rusia does not face an existential crisis – a defeat in the Ukraine will not destroy Russia. Putin’s nuclear threats are simple posturing, attempting through nuclear blackmail what he is unable to achieve in any other manner. It should be ignored.

Peter B
Peter B
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Indeed, it is notable that Russia/Putin have repeatedly threatened nuclear escalation … if Finland and Sweden joined NATO … if “Russian” territories in Ukraine were “invaded” after the annexation “votes” … if the Kerch bridge was damaged … and so on.
But these all happened – and yet they never actually escalated. And Ukraine continues to reoccupy some of the regions invaded and claimed by Russia.
It’s hard to resist the feeling that almost any official statement by Putin’s Russia is untrue.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

putin does not need nukes – or to ‘win’ any war – he is being fully successful in destroying the Ukraine – job done , a wasteland between russia and Europe !!

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
2 months ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

Following Ukraine’s victory, they will be admitted to the western economic system, and will be rebuilt.

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

” Russia does not face an existential crisis” 
in your earlier post you said:“we must start by ending the sanctions regime on Russia”
“Calm down”: I said that.

Last edited 2 months ago by polidori redux