The long, cold winter for Europe

The engines of the EU, the largest economies — France, Germany, Italy, and Spain — are all facing a slowdown, and have seen international agencies downgrade their prospect of growth. European commentary is awash with talks of the impending recession.

Harini CalamurUpdated: Wednesday, September 07, 2022, 04:04 PM IST
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A file photo from the start of Nord Stream pipeline construction in Portovaya Bay in 2010 | AP Photo

Last week Russia shut down the pipeline that supplied natural gas to Europe. The Russian energy major, Gazprom, said it was for routine maintenance, and would be restored in a few days. However, they have now said there are major leaks that need to get fixed, and this could mean indefinite shutdown of the pipeline, starving Europe in general — and Germany in particular — of energy just before winter sets in.

Nobody in Europe believes the Russian story of ‘leaks’, and they believe that this is the next stage of Russia raising the stakes against the western alliance, already reeling under an energy crisis. The Russian shut down of the Nord Stream pipeline is expected to propel energy prices to the stratosphere. The engines of the EU, the largest economies — France, Germany, Italy, and Spain — are all facing a slowdown, and have seen international agencies downgrade their prospect of growth. European commentary is awash with talks of the impending recession. On an average, there has already been a 30% hike in energy prices at the beginning of the year, and that is expected to double as winter sets in. This is expected to plunge large chunks of the EU and the UK into energy poverty, impacting the most vulnerable — households who cannot afford to keep warm.

Just over six months ago, Vladimir Putin – the President of Russia – ordered his troops to invade Ukraine. The invasion was supposed to be over in under a week, with experts expecting the massive Russian war machinery to crush their smaller neighbour. The western powers bolstered Ukraine with support — both in terms of accepting refugees, and in terms of providing cash, weapons, jets, training, and armaments to fight the war against the Russians. And for good measure, they imposed stringent sanctions on Russia.

But sanctions are not just one way — the country that you impose sanctions on also would retaliate in the same coin. And the Russian coin is rather weighty. It is the second largest natural gas producer — 17% of the world’s output, and the third largest oil producer — about 11% to 12% of the world’s output. Each time the price of oil shoots up, the Russians earn because of their ability to export at a higher price. And the world’s demand for energy is at an all-time high. Despite the last decade or so of continuous tensions with Putin’s Russia, Europe has not been able to wean itself away from Russian energy. About 30% of EU, and 40% of Germany’s natural gas requirements come from Russia. About 47% of their coal requirements come from Russia too. And, as Russia turns the screws on the supply of energy, it is going to hurt local populations.

Inflation is already running riot in the EU and UK. Currently, faced with a long hot summer, failing rains, and the worst drought in 500 years; they are looking at a long cold winter, with even higher prices. Add to this the unemployment woes — France and Italy both have unemployment at over 12% — and you have a social crisis looming. Already many of these nations have seen riots and violence around the economic situation. It is going to get worse.

It is time that the west reconsidered its approach to the war. As a bloc the west has gotten too used to picking on small nations, isolating them, and getting them to bend to their will. And then move out leaving those nations shattered for decades. Russia is not any of these nations.

Right now, the war has moved to a stalemate zone, which is slowly bleeding both sides to oblivion. It is likely that Ukraine will hold off Russia, but at great cost to its future self as its youngest and best perish. It is likely that Russia will not be beaten back by Ukraine, but the cost of it is more lost troops, a slipping control on internal politics, and isolation on the world stage. But Russia and Ukraine are not just bleeding each other out, they are bleeding the entire world.

The world needs to work together to give a face-saving way out of this war for Russia. The need for the West to humiliate and destroy the Russian bear needs to take second place to the future of the planet and the people on it. As does Russia’s need to dominate all its former republics. This is not going to be easy – with both sides taking entrenched positions based on their belief that they alone are right.

And maybe this is where the rest of the world comes into play. The world that is neither aligned with the west, nor with Russia – but has goodwill for both. A realignment of the Non-Aligned Movement to keep the peace between warring tribes.

The writer works at the intersection of digital content, technology, and audiences. She is a writer, columnist, visiting faculty, and filmmaker. She tweets at @calamur

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