Putin’s Gas Weapon. Fakes and Manipulations of Russian Energy Blackmail

Putin’s regime is trying to undermine the unity of the European Union and force it to reduce its support for Ukraine. To do this, the Kremlin uses the already familiar tools of energy blackmail and carries out information attacks, spreading fakes and manipulations. The Russians are trying to scare EU citizens with a “winter apocalypse,” and governments — with mass protests over rising tariffs.

The Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security has figured out how reasonable Russian threats are.

Manipulation: the EU is to blame for stopping the Nord Stream

On September 2, Russian Gazprom reported the shutdown of the Nord Stream gas pipeline, referring to a malfunction in the compressor station. Employees of the company allegedly found a leakage of lubricating oil in the gas pumping unit. The Russians claim that due to sanction restrictions, troubleshooting is not possible and shift responsibility to the Siemens company.

In fact: Siemens explained that the detected “malfunction” can be eliminated promptly and is not the reason for stopping the gas pipeline. Hence, Gazprom’s decision is political, as are the Kremlin’s demands for the lifting of sanctions.

Lie: US forces Europe to abandon Russian gas and buy liquefied American gas at an inflated price

In fact: Russia has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to use energy not as a commodity, but as a weapon. The European Commission described the shutdown of the Nord Stream as “another confirmation of the unreliability of the supplier” and “proof of Russia’s cynicism.” 

To diversify energy supply sources, European countries are building LNG terminals, renting terminals for liquefied gas production. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has accelerated the process of abandoning Russian gas in Europe.

Lie: By abandoning Russian gas, Europe will lose a reliable supplier of cheap energy resources, whereas Russia will lose nothing

In fact: Europe was a key market for Russian energy resources. In 2021, gas exports brought Russia USD 55 billion. Most of this amount falls on EU countries, which were always disciplined buyers and did not accumulate debts. Having lost the European market, Russia will lose tens of billions of dollars each year, will be forced to reduce production and burn part of the gas. The International Energy Agency estimates that gas production losses will reach 500 billion cubic meters in the next three years. For logistical reasons, Russia will not be able to quickly refocus on “friendly” countries. In addition, gas was often sold to them not at the market, but at the “political” price.     

Lie: Europe will freeze without Russian gas

In fact: In Europe, the Energy Saving Plan agreed by the EU energy ministers in July is already being implemented. According to the plan, in August–March, gas consumption should be reduced by 15%. 

In Germany, in particular, historic buildings are not lit and the temperature of air conditioning is reduced. In August, Germany cut gas consumption by 25%. According to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, as of 31 August, EU gas storage facilities were 80% full.

Manipulation: Rising tariffs will provoke riots in Europe and force governments to abandon support for Ukraine

In fact: Protest moods in European countries, provoked by tariff rises and inflation, are indeed present. In the EU, however, measures are being taken to mitigate the situation. In particular, Germany reduces the value added tax on gas consumption from 19% to 7%. The government has allocated EUR 15 million to support the energy company Uniper, which has suffered from Russian gas blackmail. Household support programmes will also be funded: the government will compensate for the increase in tariffs. In addition, most EU citizens support the severance of relations with Russia, sanctions, and actions of their governments to support Ukraine, and even consider them insufficient. This is evidenced by the data of the “Democracy Perception Index 2022” survey.

Using energy as a weapon, Putin’s regime is trying to destabilize Europe, exacerbate differences, provoke conflicts, and destroy welfare. By blackmailing the EU, Putin has trapped himself because the loss of the European market is a painful blow to the Russian economy. For European countries, this transition period is neither easy, but both governments and most citizens understand the need to restrain Russia and deprive it of its leverage. However, the decisive factor is the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Both the security of Europe, in particular, the energy security, as well as the further fate of the Putin regime depend on them.  

Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security

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