How the EU hooked itself on Putin’s gas

Boris Johnson outlines plan to phase out Russian oil and gas

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The warning signs of over-reliance on Russian gas have been in sight for years – and the EU could pay a heavy price for its dependency on what has long been known as one of the least trustworthy governments in the world. Now, the EU has said it is to cut Russian gas imports by two-thirds within a year as it seeks to reduce its dependency on the country’s fuel supplies.

Russia supplies some 40 percent of the EU’s gas, with Italy, Germany and several central European countries particularly reliant.

Russian providers also export about 25 percent of the bloc’s crude oil.

The EU, particularly big players like Germany, have come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks for playing into the hands of Russia by letting them provide such a significant resource to them at such a high level.

Germany’s hand was essentially forced to suspend the approval the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia – something that could now be redundant forever.

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The pipeline was approved only a year after the annexation of Crimea – the essential precursor to the war the world currently witnessing in the rest of Ukraine.

At the time, the USA, Poland, UK and Ukraine itself sounded the alarm regarding the deal before it was signed in 2015.

Then-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned European households would be left dependent on “a malign Russian state”.

But how did the EU get here? And is there really any alternative?

Three components make up the EU’s attraction to Russian gas – cheap, easy to transport, and reliably available.

With its vast Siberian fields, Russia owns the world’s largest reserves of natural gas.

The country began exporting to Poland in the 1940s and laid pipelines in the 1960s to deliver fuel to and through satellite states of what was then the Soviet Union.

Even at the height of the Cold War, deliveries remained steady.

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But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and Ukraine have fought over pipelines running through Ukraine and its territory, prompting Russian authorities to seek out other routes.

A third of Russian gas flowing into Europe comes through Ukraine.

In 2006 and 2009, disputes with Ukraine over pricing and supply of gas led to cutoffs of Russian energy travelling through the country.

The second shutdown lasted almost two weeks and struck in the middle of winter, leading countries like Slovakia and some Balkan countries to ration gas, forcing factories to close and cutting supplies to consumers.

Since then, the most vulnerable countries have raced to lay pipelines that avoid Ukraine, as well as import gas from far away sources like the USA and the Middle East.

Pipelines like Nord Stream, Northern Lights, Yamal Europe, and Blue Stream have also politically strengthened Russia in Europe, bypassing years of frought relations with Ukraine and gas transit fee revenues for both sides.

While gas supplies come from various parts of the world, this race has thus bankrolled the Kremlin – and put many EU countries in a subservient state to the Russian Federation.

All of this has been compounded by close ties between Russian and German elites, particularly in the years of Angela Merkel as Chancellor of Germany.

Italy also forged close ties with Moscow and has become second-biggest EU trading partner for Russia following Germany – former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Mr Putin famously formed a tight bond.

Now, parts of eastern Europe such as Hungary and Czechia receive almost all of their gas from Russia.

Meanwhile, Russia accounts for 55 percent of gas imports in Poland and as much as 65 percent in Germany.

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