By Timofei Bordachev
First, such veritable cannibalism would more closely resemble the political culture of less developed countries, which is unlikely to reflect the ideas of Russian politicians. Secondly, those who fund the war in Ukraine with their taxes, namely industry and big business, had better become the victims of their own aggression against Russia. It cannot be Russia’s aim to punish ordinary people in such a way. Finally, even if heating costs in Europe skyrocket and homes get really cold, it would be naïve to think that this will be a reason for Europeans to overthrow their political leaders.
Let’s start with the latter. Contrary to popular belief, Western Europeans are not that effeminate when it comes to everyday life. Anyone who has ever lived in France, Great Britain or Germany, and not only in the summer heat, knows: our mischievous neighbors are quite resistant to cold and other domestic inconveniences. Certainly there is a sizable group of citizens in Europe who, for centuries, would stoke a fireplace in every room and literally light candles during the day. But this large and middle European bourgeoisie has amassed so much wealth that paying any bill is not a serious problem for them. We are of course talking about the rich countries of Western Europe.
All other inhabitants – the Europeans as the vast majority – have long since learned to endure deprivation stoically. They really know how to save on heating and hot water, and this habit has developed in Western Europe not over decades, but rather over centuries of their turbulent history. The citizens of the French capital react to the complaints of Russian city dwellers, who are used to warmth in the house in winter: You can put on a warm sweater and socks and sleep in your pajamas under two blankets. We’re not talking about the poor, because in Europe the normal middle class is quite used to living modestly when it comes to heating.
So when European voters take to the streets with demonstrations and pogroms, it is out of dissatisfaction with the government’s policies and not because of objective external circumstances. In addition, the Europeans are now actually being heated up with Russophobia – even if doubts are slowly penetrating that Russia alone is to blame for the dramatic developments. However, the outbreak of armed fighting has largely silenced any doubts about the correctness of the domestic arguments. The fact that the problems that have grown up are not due to economic policy mistakes or even corruption, but supposedly to the fight against Russia, reconciles the residents sufficiently with the unloved reality. And at the same time, it allows governments to face their immediate future with relative composure.
Another thing is that you cannot warm any branch of industry with a sweater. And from this indeed arises the possibility that the coming season will bring serious shocks to Europe. However, even on this issue we should not rely on emotions, but on an objective analysis of the state of affairs in Europe’s economic dependence on relatively cheap gas from Russia. First of all, there is an acute lack of a sober assessment of how dependent the industrial giants in Germany and France are on energy supplies from Russia in the domestic political debate. What can and what will they do to free themselves from this dependency? This is all the more important now that most observers believe that the 50-year era of the energy alliance between Russia and Western Europe is coming to an end.
Unfortunately, this question remains outside of our considerations, because instead it is assumed that this dependency is extremely large, as usual. Let’s assume that this is so. But do we then also know whether and how deadly the effects will be? Undoubtedly, the blow will be very noticeable. Personally, however, I have little doubt that the Europeans will seek a way out with some degree of success. So far, the solution has been seen in somewhat hasty appeals and requests to the closest neighbors: Algeria, Norway or Azerbaijan. The first two named have full sovereignty and have therefore reacted rather coldly to the wishes of the Europeans. Far more dependent on the West, Baku fears that its own problems with corruption and backward institutions will make it easy prey for subversive efforts by the US and its allies. Fragile Kazakhstan is also in a similarly uncomfortable situation.
At the moment we do not know how much of the bottlenecks Europeans can “catch” under the current conditions on the international market. At the same time, there are historical examples of how these states are able to come together in critical situations and find non-trivial solutions. For example, during the oil crisis in 1973, a way out was found in cooperation with the USSR and the construction of nuclear power plants. And one should at least not underestimate the credo of Western Europe formulated at the time: “We don’t have any oil, but we have many clever minds and ideas.”
Also, this is only about the needs of a few industrialized countries in Western Europe. All the others – the southern European countries, the Baltics, Poland and the Czechs – could safely cease their economic activity. For Germany, that would in some cases only be to their advantage, as it would dampen the arrogance of these Eastern European US agents and also allow for the final submission of Italy and Spain. Finally, in Berlin and Paris, there may even be a little interest in seeing Eastern Europe return to its wild originality.
Nor should we rejoice at the everyday difficulties of Europeans, their literal freezing this winter. If only because in difficult historical moments it is particularly important to preserve the most important achievements of one’s own civilization. This makes Russia a great power and not a “crowd”, as Nikolai Gogol defined the political nature of our Ukrainian brothers. That is, we take no pleasure in the mere fact of the physical suffering of an opponent who has not inflicted directly comparable suffering on us.
So instead of jubilantly hailing the impending troubles of our closest adversaries in the West, we should take seriously questions about the future, especially our own. We do not yet know how developed the infrastructure for energy cooperation between Russia and other major oil and gas consumers is. So far things seem to be going well, but it is evident that a past trading scale comparable to Europe will require a lot of time and work in the future. In addition, in principle, Russia should not be concerned with simply replacing one external buyer with another, although this is a centuries-old trading tradition.
A plausible scenario would be that a huge increase in energy prices in Europe could lead to major disruptions in European industry and force governments to ease pressure on Russia over the Ukraine issue. It’s hard to argue that this scenario would be for the best and would save many lives. But given Europe’s stubbornness to date and the US’s utter indifference to the difficulties that awaited Europe, it would be too credulous to rely entirely on it.
more on the subject – Back to reality? – Habeck and Co. cannot close the energy gap
Translated from the Russian
Timothy Bordachev (born 1973) is Doctor of Political Science and International Relations Expert, Director of the Center for Complex European and International Studies at the Faculty of World Economy and World Politics at HSE University in Moscow, and Program Director at the Valdai Club. As a researcher, he specializes in international relations and current issues in world politics, and in particular in Russian-European relations.