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Monthly Archives: October 2022

A Winter of Decisions

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In recent weeks, the war in Ukraine has seen major successes and failures on both sides. Advances have been made for the Ukrainian troops but Russia has found more pressure points to push, creating more economic unrest for the West. This conflict, only expected to last a few weeks, has turned into more than six months of intense battles and humanitarian disasters. Although physically it only affects portions of Ukraine’s population, its indirect consequences have extended much farther than eastern Europe. Russia has positioned itself directly against the entirety of the EU and the UN. These western powers have been heavily involved from the start, several rounds of sanctions have already been put into effect. However, their dogmatic approach to dealing with Russia is about to be tested in the coming winter. The U.S. has given lots of support in this conflict in the form of military aid and money, almost three billion dollars since the beginning of the Biden administration, but the consequences have been felt in the economy. A potential indicator for U.S. markets in the coming season may be Russia’s efforts to limit its oil and gas exports and increase energy costs for Ukraine. These next few months will prove to be critical in the outcome of the war and Russia’s future as a European nation.

The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has been occupied by Russia since the beginning of March this year. It is located along the Dnieper River in south-eastern Ukraine and is the largest power plant in all of Europe. This power plant is responsible for half of Ukraine’s nuclear energy and one fifth of its electricity. Since it has been lost, Ukraine has been scrambling to find a new source of energy: a major victory for the Kremlin. Weakening energy capabilities is Russia's quickest path to victory. The U.S. has attempted to make up the deficit by increasing gas exports to Europe. A Russian energy company has been in control of the plant since March which was only gained by means of excessive force. . Until the eleventh of September, one of the reactors was still operational. An inspection team from the UN was sent to evaluate its condition and salvage what they could because of the dependency the Ukrainians place on it. Since then, the entire plant has been shut down to minimize the risks from the continued shelling. Without a major energy supplier, Ukraine will have to depend on more support from the west to survive. Putin is using the energy crisis to his advantage and hopes that Ukrainian support will give out first before Russia does. The circumstances surrounding the power plant are a microcosm of the Kremlin’s strategy regarding energy in Europe: it will use it as a weapon.

Nord Stream 1, Russia’s biggest gas pipeline to Europe, was cut off indefinitely earlier this month. Without its biggest energy supplier, Europe is facing an energy crisis of its own. Since then, Nord Stream 2, the second Russian-German pipeline which isn’t fully certified, has experienced explosions in the Baltic sea. The source of the explosions is unclear, but many fingers have been pointed at Moscow. Another deliberate attack on Europe’s energy will only strengthen the alliances of the west, but also dramatize the energy crisis even further. This further aligns with Putin's plans, whether it was an act of sabotage or not, the weakening of western europe is just as consequential as weakening Ukraine. Europe and western allies won't be able to help Ukraine if they cannot help themselves. An energy crisis would take the focus of the war away from Ukraine. The Nord Stream pipeline exemplifies Russia’s strategy: it will weaken the energy market, energy prices will go up, and hopefully military aid will go down. With the winter months looming over the northern hemisphere, much of Europe will be in a scramble to find the energy needed to get through.

In an EU parliamentary meeting on the fourteenth of September, President Von der Leyen proposed another slate of economic sanctions on Russia stating that, “This is a war on our energy, a war on our economy, a war on our values and a war on our future.” The west has not backed down in its stance on the war and altou the war will take a financial toll on tem, they are prepared to accept it in the name of future international security. This was a declaration of intent to see this through to the end, regardless of the losses that might befall them. Many international security conferences were conducted over the summer months of the war and tackled the first few rounds of sanctions on Russia and its allies. This meeting, however, is the first that signals the resolve of the West to back Ukraine even through the tough winter period. Europe has gone to great lengths to bring down Russian gas imports to nine percent from forty. With limited resources, Europe looks to the United States as a source of gas. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, while speaking in Brussels, said that the US will not, “leave our European friends out in the cold.” The United State’s biggest role in this war may prove to be that of an energy supplier for Europe rather than a weapons supplier to Ukraine, although U.S. officials say that a new weapons supply worth 1.1 billion dollars is soon to be announced.

President Biden himself has met with European leaders several times over the last few weeks to urge them to maintain a stringent approach when punishing Russia. The White House expressed concerns that Putin’s weaponization of energy could cause European countries to falter and cut their losses or else continue to pay increasing energy bills. Although America cannot fill the energy needs that Europe received from Russia, its resolve to lend support is stronger than ever. The west is working towards a future where there is no longer dependence on Russian oil, which could be the ultimate sanction that Russia could receive. The energy domain has become the main stage for countries to show their true colors in this war.

This war is far from over. This winter will be proving and come spring time, the circumstances could be drastically changed. Some countries may withdraw military support and negotiate with Russia in order to relieve energy prices. Ukraine and its western allies plan to stick it out for a tough winter with high energy costs, hoping the Kremlin will give up on the idea that they will throw in the towel first. The U.S. will play a vital role in the war this winter. Without Russian energy on the market, Europe will look to import American gas and oil instead. If the coming energy crisis can be withstood, then continual military aid can be given to Ukraine.