Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas has become a glaring strategic weakness as tensions with Moscow mount over Ukraine. For decades, countries like Germany have relied heavily on Russia to meet their energy needs, importing over 40% of their natural gas from Gazprom. This heavy reliance has given Russia enormous political and economic leverage that it is now exploiting.
As European countries have imposed sanctions on Russia, Moscow has throttled gas flows in retaliation. The energy crisis has shown Europe’s vulnerability. With winter coming, gas shortages threaten to disrupt industries and leave millions cold.
“We gambled on Russia for too long,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in an interview with CNN last week. “Now Putin is turning off the spigot, and Europe is paying the price.”
Facing public pressure over soaring energy costs, European leaders are scrambling to find alternatives to Russian energy. Germany, the bloc’s largest economy, has made deals to import gas from Qatar and accelerate its transition to renewable energy. But experts say Europe has left itself with no easy options as the crisis exposes the consequences of long-term overdependence.
“Europe made itself far too reliant on Russia,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Getting out of this trap will take years. There are no quick fixes that protect European economies and citizens this winter.”
The crunch has fueled calls for a coordinated European energy policy focused on diversification and strategic reserves. But tensions have emerged between countries over how to share the burden. “We cannot allow Putin to divide Europe,” said Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Twitter last week. “We must stand together in the face of Russian blackmail.”
With winter setting in, analysts say Putin is betting that pressure from cold, angry citizens will force European leaders to back down on Ukraine. But so far, most have remained steadfast. “We will not be intimidated,” said French President Emmanuel Macron in a national address last week. “Freedom and sovereignty are priceless.”
Strong message of unity from #NATO foreign ministers in Bucharest. We are stepping up support to our partners Moldova, Georgia & Bosnia and Herzegovina, who face Russian pressure. We also addressed the challenges posed by China & how we must continue to strengthen our resilience. pic.twitter.com/9HJf7fvM8H
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) November 30, 2022
Europe now faces a crucial test of its resolve. With no simple options, leaders must weigh massive costs against fundamental principles as Russia turns up the heat.