Von der Leyen made her announcement as if it were news. But it’s not — not to anyone who’s been paying attention over the past two decades. Using energy as a political weapon is hardly a novel tactic for Russian President Vladimir Putin. That Europe faces an energy crisis because of Russian energy blackmail, then, is just as predictable as Russia’s atrocious conduct in its war on Ukraine.
It did not have to be this way. Led by the continent’s biggest and richest power, Germany, Europe had plenty of time to avoid the unenviable predicament in which it now finds itself. The European energy dilemma is the result of three interrelated illusions: that dependence on Russian gas was worth whatever (minor) risks it entailed, that the supplier of that gas was a partner rather than an adversary, and that conventional war on the continent was a thing of the past.
For years, German politicians routinely deflected criticism of Nord Stream by stating that their hands were tied. The pipeline was a “commercial project,” they insisted, over which the German government exercised no control. But increasing European dependence on Russian gas at the expense of other sources has always entailed a political dimension, especially in Germany. No one forced Berlin to shutter its nuclear energy sector in a fit of characteristically German panic in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Unlike the island nation of Japan, Germany sits in the middle of a continent, safe from the earthquake-induced tsunamis of the sort that destroyed the Fukushima plant. Thanks to then-Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hasty decision to phase out nuclear energy by the end of 2022 by the time Putin decided to wage energy war against Europe, Germany was even more addicted to Russian gas.
Belying their excuse that Nord Stream 2 exists beyond the reach of politics, the German political establishment fell under the spell of another illusion, which was that the project represented the apotheosis of Russia’s integration with the West. A mere week after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, the chief executive of German industrial giant Siemens visited Moscow, where he spoke of the first armed seizure of territory on European soil since World War II as mere “short-term turbulence” in an otherwise constructive relationship. A few months later, then-foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier traveled to Yekaterinburg, Russia, to endorse an…
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