Pipeline as a Weapon: US in Search of Contingency EU Gas Supply in Case of Russia-Ukraine War

Written by | Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

Whether or not Vladimir Putin moves his troops into Ukraine, he has once again confronted Europe with a most painful reality: while being too weak to defend itself, it can no longer rely on the United States to come to its rescue, argues Jonathan Holslag, a professor of international politics at the Free University Brussels. “We are facing a reality in which Russia, despite its economy only having the size of Italy’s, can bully and intimidate a continent thanks to its energy reserves and its readiness to project vast military power,” Holslag added in his latest opinion piece. The European Union’s real dependency on the US’ backing has yet again come to the spotlight when it was announced Friday (14 January) that the US State Department has held talks with several international energy companies to supply more power in the event of Russian gas-cut offs to Europe if an escalating conflict between Russia and Ukraine disrupts Russian supplies.
According to US officials and industry sources involved in the talks, Washington is concerned Russia is preparing for the possibility of a new military assault on the country it invaded in 2014. Russia denies it plans to attack Ukraine. “We’ve discussed a range of contingencies,” a US source said. The talks come amid sky-high gas prices in EU markets and Russian refusals to increase supplies, in what Russia’s deputy prime minister Alexander Novak blamed on poor European planning. The EU depends on Russia for around a third of its gas supplies, and US sanctions over any conflict could disrupt that supply. Any interruptions to Russia’s gas supply to Europe would exacerbate an energy crisis caused by a shortage of the fuel. Record power prices have driven up consumer energy bills as well as business costs and sparked protests in some European countries.
The companies reportedly told the US government officials that global gas supplies are tight and that there is little gas available to substitute large volumes from Russia. “We’ve discussed a range of contingencies and we’ve talked about all that we’re doing with our nation state partners and allies,” the source from the State Department said. “We’ve done this with the European Commission, but we’ve also done it with energy companies. It’s accurate to say that we’ve spoken to them about our concerns and spoken to them about a range of contingencies, but there wasn’t any sort of ask when it comes to production.” As well as asking companies what capacity they had to raise supplies, US officials also asked whether companies had the capacity to increase exports and postpone field maintenance if necessary, the sources said. “The United States promised to have Europe’s back if there is an energy shortage due to conflict or sanctions,” an industry source said.

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