The battle, the Kremlin, its fuel and the pipeline


Siberian fuel began flowing to Germany within the early Eighties, symbolising the Soviet management’s readiness to cooperate with the capitalist west, regardless of the opposition of the US and UK’s chilly warriors.

In post-Soviet Russia, fuel exports earned far much less money than oil gross sales, however remained essential. Throughout the Nineteen Nineties recession and up till now, fuel export revenues have subsidised low-cost fuel for Russian households and business. Fuel gross sales to Germany have helped a a lot bigger buying and selling and political relationship to flourish.

This previous winter has strained that relationship. The European fuel market discovered itself in need of provide – on account of a number of components together with the fast post-pandemic financial revival and powerful demand in Asia – and costs spiked. Gazprom, the number-one provider of fuel imports to Europe, aggravated the provision scarcity by solely serving clients with long-term contracts, and declining to supply further volumes on the spot market.

This scarcity has pushed wholesale fuel costs by means of the roof. In nations such because the UK – the place neoliberal market dogma guidelines supreme, and there aren’t any constraints on vitality firms forcing the burden of worth spikes on to retail clients – this has led to spiralling electricity bills.


In latest months, as tensions mounted over Russia’s pretensions in Ukraine, European politicians and the top of the Worldwide Vitality Company accused Gazprom of holding Europe in need of fuel for political causes. The corporate vehemently denied this – though Russian politicians hinted that hurrying up the Nord Stream 2 approval course of, which started shortly after the US–German deal final July, may assist to beat issues.

However Gazprom’s claims that it had no fuel to spare sounded hole. It has damaged no guidelines; it merely restricted fuel deliveries to these coated by contract. However in doing so, it seems to have broken its personal business curiosity – dropping alternatives to make a fast killing at excessive costs – to adapt with state diktats. This isn’t shocking. It’s a state-controlled firm and topic to Kremlin instruction.

Scholz’s eventual resolution to junk Nord Stream 2 got here as no shock in Moscow. Senior German politicians had warned that Russian aggression in the direction of Ukraine may result in the venture being reviewed. However the Kremlin determined to take in extra financial ache for the sake of its imperial journey. That is the essence of Putinism: to compensate for financial weak point with armed thuggery.

In 2000, Putin was anointed as president with the blood of Chechen civilians and Russian conscript troopers. By crushing Chechnya’s nationwide independence motion within the Second Chechen Conflict, he restored the authority of the Russian state, which had been virtually fatally eroded within the Nineteen Nineties. (The western powers turned a blind eye.)


This opened the way in which for Russian capital’s most profitable decade, the 2000s, when Putin struck a brand new take care of the billionaire oligarchs who managed the oil, fuel and metals industries. Oil costs soared; revenues from the export of uncooked supplies rolled in.

However Russia’s hopes of imperial domination within the post-Soviet house and past weren’t realised. Economically, Central Asia slipped out of its management and into the Chinese language sphere of affect. China now invests in Kazakhstan’s oil; fuel from Turkmenistan, as soon as Gazprom’s foremost overseas provider, now goes to China. The Baltic states joined the European Union, and Ukraine additionally regarded west.

Within the aftermath of the world financial crash of 2009–10, Russia needed to sq. its imperial ambitions with financial issues usually related to creating nations – above all, learn how to escape the ‘oil curse’ and shift the financial system away from the export of uncooked supplies in the direction of manufacturing and technological progress.

But Putinism subordinated financial objectives and Russian enterprise pursuits to navy adventurism. 2014 was a key turning level. After the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovich’s authorities in Kyiv, Russia annexed Crimea, and Russian troopers and weaponry assured the survival of the Donetsk and Luhansk ‘republics’. Western sanctions, totally on Russian monetary establishments, adopted, and did important injury to Russian capital’s financial pursuits.


Whereas the state continued its open and covert navy actions in Ukraine and Syria, “the exercise of Russian enterprise overseas has sharply diminished”, according to economist Ilya Matveev. This shift was due, on the one hand, to the strategic orientation of the Kremlin with its emphasis on safety and “laborious energy” and, on the opposite, to the “exhaustion of the nation’s financial engine”.

Not solely have many Russian firms been starved of finance, however Russia has misplaced Ukraine as a market. Ukraine’s foremost buying and selling associate is now the EU, not Russia. Russia’s direct fuel gross sales to Ukraine – lengthy one in all its prime two export markets along with Germany – shuddered to a halt in 2016.

Scholz’s about-turn on Nord Stream 2 exhibits that Russia’s much more invaluable financial relationship with Germany might also be undermined.

Will Germany resolve to scale back its dependence on Russian fuel imports over the long run? That may rely a minimum of partly on the result of the battle in Ukraine. At a minimal, that difficulty shall be larger up the political agenda. Furthermore, it comes at a time when the EU’s designation of fuel as a ‘inexperienced’ gas that may clear up, somewhat than exacerbate, the local weather disaster, is underneath hearth from local weather scientists and campaigners.

Proper now, extraordinarily excessive vitality costs ought to make switching business funding into renewables simple. And all of us who hope for a greater future may at this second query the entire logic of fossil fuel-centred vitality insurance policies and provide methods. Maybe there we could discover some factors of sunshine within the darkness looming over Europe.

This Writer

Dr Simon Pirani is an vitality researcher and historian. His most up-to-date guide is Burning Up: A International Historical past of Fossil Gasoline Consumption (Pluto 2018). He blogs at People and Nature and tweets as @SimonPirani1. This text was initially revealed on


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