Image Source: Financial Times

Former Vice President Joe Biden is working behind the scenes to keep European allies united against Russia, even as Moscow continues to cut energy supplies to the European Union, which has sparked fear on both sides of the Atlantic.

Gazprom, the state-owned company in Russia, announced on Monday that it would reduce the flows through its Nord Stream 1 pipeline to just 20% of its capacity. Several US officials noted that the move was retaliation for western sanctions, and it would put Europe in “uncharted territory” when it comes to gas supply. As a result of this event, White House presidential coordinator for global energy Amos Hochstein left for Europe on Tuesday.

During his trip to Paris and Brussels, he will discuss contingency planning with the task force formed between the US and the EU last March after Russia invaded Ukraine.

This was our biggest fear, the US official stated. The ripple effect across Europe may have impacts on US prices, with prices for natural gas and electricity being increased as a result. It will also be a major test of European resilience and unity against Russia, which continues to insist on Ukrainian borders even though Ukraine already denounced these advances.

In an effort to limit natural gas consumption, the US and Brussels have been urging EU members to cut down gas use by 15% over the winter, and yesterday, European Union ministers finally agreed to take that measure, beginning in August.

A lot of discussion will also take place over the coming days about how to increase nuclear power production across Europe to compensate for an excess of gas. US officials are trying to convince Berlin to extend the life of its three remaining nuclear power plants amid the energy crisis, an official said. Germany planned to eliminate nuclear power entirely by the end of 2022.

Germany and France, especially, are extremely concerned that Europe might face serious gas shortages as winter approaches, according to US officials. Because of Nord Stream 1’s limited capacity, EU countries will have trouble filling their reserves over the next few months.

Nord Stream 2, another Russia-Europe gas pipeline, was scrapped by Germany after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. According to the US, the pipeline would only increase European dependence on Russian gas. German officials argued that the pipeline was simply commercial and would eventually make a more gradual transition out of nuclear and coal. As a result, the US allowed the pipeline project to move forward without the imposition of crippling sanctions.

An estimated 15% cut in Europe’s gas consumption, along with a surge in liquefied natural gas exports to Europe from the US, will not be enough to offset the shortages, officials said.

Russia is waging an open gas war against Europe, I fear, through Belarus, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said on Tuesday. In his view, it is clear the Russians are “lashing out” and trying to “destabilize Europe” since they are not achieving their goals in Ukraine.

The National Security Council spokesperson called Russia’s move just one of its latest attempts to use natural gas as a political and economic weapon.

Russia’s energy policies have put pressure on global energy markets, driven up prices for consumers, and threatened global energy security. These actions only serve to underscore just how important the work that the United States and the European Commission are doing is, when it comes to ending our dependence on Russian energy, the spokesperson said. “We will continue reducing our dependence on Russian energy, and prepare ourselves for further destabilization of the energy markets by Russia.”