Russia’s War on Ukraine, the Wake-Up Call

  • Russia’s war in Ukraine has exposed the European Union’s (EU) inability to respond successfully to the greatest security challenge facing Europe since WWII.
  • Russia’s aggression on Ukraine has significantly undermined the effectiveness of the Franco-German Axis as the “Engine” of Europe.
  • Fundamentally different assessments of developments in international relations, and diverging national interests are two main factors for the absence of a unified EU policy on Russia.
  • The two explosions emanating from the Nord Stream pipeline recorded on 27 September 2022, near Bornholm, Denmark are another reminder of the failure of 
the trade-driven approach towards Russia, led by the Franco-German partnership.

The Franco-German Axis – The Engine of Europe

Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine seems to have woken up Germany and its European neighbours. Vladimir Putin has been weaponising energy supplies to Europe in response to EU sanctions, and European leaders have started to plan a future without Russian energy.

European governments are trying to diversify supply by buying more liquified natural gas (LNG) from countries such as Qatar and the United States (US), buying more pipeline gas from Norway and Azerbaijan, and introducing measures to reduce demand and save energy.

In the case of Germany, the government stopped importing Russian gas in August, and despite its unwillingness to support an EU gas embargo, Germany intends to end all Russian gas imports by the end of 2024. However, German and European reduction of Russian gas imports has not only been the result of efforts to diversify or to reduce consumption. Reports show that Russia has cut its gas supplies to EU states by 88% over the past year. As the level of the sanctions imposed by the EU escalated, Moscow began reducing gas supplies through Nord Stream 1. In June 2022, it cut deliveries through the pipeline by 75% – from 170m cubic metres of gas a day to roughly 40m cubic metres. In July, Russia shut the pipe down for 10 days, citing the need for maintenance, and when it reopened, the flow was halved to 20m cubic metres a day. In late August, Putin shut down Nord Stream 1 entirely, blaming problems with equipment. The pipeline has not been open since.

On 27 September, Norway and Denmark reported four leaks in both the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea, near the island of Bornholm. Seismologists say they detected explosions under the sea in the same area. The pipelines were filled with gas at the time, even though the gas was not flowing through them. European Commission head, Ursula von der Leyen, said that the pipelines were probably sabotaged, but both the EU and the US have not named Russia as the culprit.


How the Change-Through-Trade Approach led to Europe’s Dependence on Russian Energy

In 2021, Russia supplied around 40% of the EU’s natural gas. Germany’s delay in supporting Western sanctions through which the EU agreed to drastically reduce fossil fuel imports from Russia reflects how deep and long-standing the country’s dependence on Russian energy is. Before the war in Ukraine, Germany acquired roughly 55% of its gas from Russia.

During Germany’s ‘Neue Ostpolitik’ policy, German imports of Soviet gas rose steadily throughout the 1970s. This was also driven by the Oil Crisis of the mid-1970s, which caused Germany to further move towards natural gas as a source of energy – supplied by the Soviet Union.

By the 1960s several US presidents were concerned by Europe’s growing dependency on Russia as an energy supplier. From 1970 to 1980, Soviet gas exports to western Europe had risen from 1 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year to 26.5bcm annually. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan repeatedly tried to convince Germany and other European countries to reduce the amount of Russian gas they imported after receiving a CIA assessment in 1981 that warned that the Urengoy gas project would accelerate Soviet economic growth and provide the Soviets with $8bn in hard currency, facilitating a further military build-up.

Reagan’s rhetoric was combined with sanctions – in 1982 Reagan tried to force European firms to stop working on the Urengoy pipeline by imposing secondary sanctions on them; however, these were futile and the new pipeline started pumping in January 1984. The US position on Russia was further weakened in Europe with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and advocates in Germany of the Ostpolitik and the “change-through-trade” approach felt vindicated. In 2001, Chancellor Schröder confidently promoted the idea of a strategic partnership with Russia, inviting the new Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to address the Bundestag.