Atlantic Council Researcher John Roberts: “The EU Has Realized, Albeit Late, How Dangerous It Is to Be Dependent on Russia.”

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Since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian War, the European Union (EU) has been imposing sanctions on Russia, allegedly to punish the nation. Moscow, on the other hand, is attempting to divide the EU’s member states by exploiting the need on Russian energy. European nations are looking for an alternative to Russian gas as the energy sector experiences new developments. In this context, the explosions that occurred in the Nord Stream Gas Pipelines have been on the continent’s agenda.

Based on this, the Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) has conducted an interview with Atlantic Council Researcher John Roberts to evaluate Europe’s energy agenda.

  1. After the Russia-Ukraine war, Europe fell into an energy crisis. As response to the war G7 countries decided to impose a price cap on Russian oil. Then, Russia also stopped the flow of gas in the Nord Stream-1 Gas Pipeline. How do you evaluate the process that has taken place?

I think the Europeans may have made a mistake because the price cap is not very effective. The EU has launched a justified initiative to impose taxation and price caps in order to block the flow of oil from Russia. This initiative, however, is impractical. The key point here is that Russia will save itself with every step taken by Europe because one of the important points is the steps taken by the Russians and the actions of Russia that the Europeans believe are wrong.

The second key point is the steps that Russia will take against any action the Europeans make. As a matter of fact, the Moscow administration has stopped the flow of natural gas to the Nord Stream-1 Gas Pipeline in response to oil sanctions. This decision is of great importance because for two years, Europe will be scrambling to gather whatever gas it can from wherever it can find it. The EU has now realized, albeit late, how dangerous it is to be dependent on Russia. Therefore, in the coming period, the EU will try to ensure energy security and eliminate its dependence on Russia.

In this context, the EU has two options. Firstly, it can increase the use of renewable energy sources. Secondly, it may increase the supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from suppliers such as the United States (US) and Qatar. So, it is a massive mistake by Russia because the short-term pay it inflicts on Europe is severe but short lived. Only a year or so. It is clear that Europe can do without Russian gas. But whether or not Russia can do without Europe is up for debate.

At this point, the Asian market comes to mind. China is becoming the dominant energy purchaser of Russia because Russia does not have many choices. It will still supply gas to some southeastern European countries such as Serbia. But it will have lost its main market, which is Europe. Thus, China will become the sole buyer.  In this case, Beijing will be the price setter. This might mean that trade between the two countries will be subject to China’s terms. Therefore, the Chinese will gain the opportunity to press not only for low gas prices, but also for shares. For instance, Chinese companies would want a sizable stake in the expansion of the East Siberian gas infrastructure, something Moscow has always opposed.

  1. What are the EUs alternatives in light of the impending winter? Can you say that Europe has been unable to manage the energy crisis and the sanctions?

Whether Europe can withstand the winter depends on the weather. It is not yet known whether the winter will be harsher or milder than expected. But the only clearly known fact is that Europe’s storages are 90% stocked up with gas for the winter. For Europe, the current situation is a success. 90% means that there is close to three months’ supply in storage. So long as one assumes that consumption remains about 15% down what it was last year, Europe will make it through the winter.

On the other hand, a harsh and cold winter will cause European storages to be immediately emptied. Moreover, no increase has yet been achieved in LNG production. Therefore, it is possible that some problems will arise. Nevertheless, it is clear that the EU will get through the winter perhaps with minor problems. Because the problems that may arise should be the kind of problems that can be neutralized. In this context, Europeans could share modest amounts of gas with each other. However, the outcome will depend on Italy’s more moderate approach and the next Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s favorable view of the EU.

  1. As you know, there have been explosions in the Nord Stream Gas Pipeline recently. What do you believe is the cause of the explosions? How will the explosions have an impact on the energy crisis?

First, there is no evidence that this was a sabotage. However, when looking at the developments, the EU and the US perceived this event as a sabotage by Russia against the Nord Stream Gas Pipeline. Russia has become a target because, in the past, it had used explosions to further its agenda. A similar situation had occurred on April 9, 2009, when the line carrying gas from Turkmenistan to Russia was shut down by Moscow. Russia has stated that if there is no natural gas flow to Turkmenistan within 12 hours, it will stop all purchases. The build-up of natural gas at the valve station within those 12 hours caused an explosion and resulted in the pipeline being shut down.

Another example was in 2006. Russia bombed the line supplying natural gas and electricity to Georgia due to a dispute. The incident occurred on both the main and the reserve line of the Trans-Caucasus pipeline, which sent Russian gas to Georgia and Armenia. The explosion served as a warning to Georgia not to negotiate with Russia.

Considering that Russia is targeting pipelines in order to stop energy supplies at any time, it may turn out that the Nord Stream Gas Pipelines were sabotaged by Moscow. However, evidence is needed to confirm this.

John Roberts:

John Roberts is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center. He is also a senior partner of Methinks Ltd, a consulting company that focuses on the fields of politics, economic development, and energy. He specializes in the development of energy in the Caucasus and Central Asia and in the pipelines connecting or intended to connect the Caspian to China, Russia, India, and Europe.

2020 yılında Hacettepe Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olan Elif Tektaş, aynı yıl Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Lisansüstü Eğitim Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda Ortadoğu ve Afrika Çalışmaları Bilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans programına başlamıştır. Halihazırda yüksek lisans eğitimine devam eden Tektaş, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.