Europe Needs Russia's Gas. That's a Grave Weakness

A look at the implications of the world's dependence on Russian natural gas
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 24, 2022 9:45 AM CST
In Putin's War, Natural Gas Is a Weapon
Pipes at the landfall facilities of the 'Nord Stream 2' gas pipline are pictured in Lubmin, northern Germany, Feb. 15, 2022.   (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)

One of Russia's most powerful weapons isn't a weapon at all. It's natural gas. As Kenneth C. Griffin and Niall Ferguson write in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, "Without Russian energy, European citizens would struggle to get through winter. Mr. Putin has long understood the leverage this gives him." Indeed, about 40% of the continent's natural gas comes from Russia, and that percentage is only increasing as countries give up coal. With the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, some are looking at the role this energy interdependence—particularly that of Germany—has played in getting the world to this point and envisioning how things could change. A roundup:

  • Griffin and Ferguson point out energy-related mistakes that have been made, among them Europe's bet that "energy interdependence would temper Russian militarism ... instead Europe has funded the Kremlin’s rearmament" and Germany's decision to shutter all of its nuclear power plants by the end of this year. They argue that Europe needs to rapidly move toward swapping Russian gas for liquefied natural gas purchased from allies. The implications for the US: "It needs to produce more gas, not less. ... Bans on fracking are misguided and neutralize a critical economic and geopolitical advantage. The US should frack more, so it has the gas needed to wean Europe off Russian pipelines."

  • CNBC reports on what would happen if sanctions are imposed on Russian gas, or if Russia chooses to cut off the flow. The upshot: It would be bad. Here's Kateryna Filippenko's take; she's the principal analyst for Europe gas research at Wood Mackenzie: "In the event of prolonged disruption, gas inventory couldn't be rebuilt through the summer. We'd be facing a catastrophic situation of gas storage being close to zero for next winter. Prices would be sky high. Industries would need to shut down. Inflation would spiral. The European energy crisis could very well trigger a global recession."
  • At the Guardian, Fiona Harvey looks at the situation through a climate change lens. She points out that the move toward net zero emissions is needed to "stave off the worst impacts of climate breakdown," but will also be devastating for Russia. "Russia’s industries have never recovered from the fall of communism, and its economy is now based overwhelmingly on the export of fossil fuels ... Kremlin strategists are therefore keenly aware that in the longer term the global move to net zero threatens the whole basis of Russia's economy and global influence."
  • At the New York Times, Dennis C. Blair and Joseph F. Dunford Jr. take one leap forward. Moving toward cleaner energy will reduce the world's dependence on Russia, but a different threat will step into its shoes: China. Yes, the US and its allies have been "smartly deploying electric vehicles to end our dependence on oil and its market-controlling cartel." But we may just trade one vulnerability for another: the minerals needed to make lithium ion batteries. China has been laser focused on dominating this space. Our stats are worrisome: "US companies account for only 4% of lithium, 1% of nickel and 0% of cobalt refining. Further along this supply chain, Chinese companies produce 41% of the cathodes and 71% of the anodes used in EV batteries. The United States produces essentially none of these key components."
(More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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