OPINION: Russia’s efforts to use energy supplies as an economic weapon against Europe and its support of Ukraine were dealt a serious blow this week after Moscow ordered attacks on heat and power installations in northern Ukraine as a counteroffensive forced Russian forces to retreat.
Ukraine’s seven-day counteroffensive in the north of the country caught Russia offguard, with Russian forces having expected the attack to happen in the south.
According to pronouncements in Kyiv, some 3800 square kilometres of Ukrainian territory occupied by Russian forces has been liberated up — up to the border with Russia — with unconfirmed suggestions that the reclaimed area is significantly larger than officially reported and that some territory in the neighbouring Luhansk region has also been recaptured.
Russia’s response was to launch missile attacks on heat and power generating facilities in Ukraine’s Kharkiv, Poltava, Dnipro and Zaporozhiye regions, leaving several million of people in the east of the country without electricity and water supplies.
According to Ukraine presidential adviser Mikhail Podolyak, the blackout after the attack lasted for hours rather than days, thanks to the country’s extensive energy network.
The two main power lines supplying Kharkiv and the surrounding region have also been repaired, according to Ukrainian power utility Ukrenergo.
The Russian missile strikes were clearly intended to instill fear and uncertainty among ordinary people in Ukraine ahead of the upcoming winter, with the utilities under attack supplying heat and power to households, and the majority of the population in Ukrainian cities having no alternative sources of power.
However, the attacks provided further confirmation to the West that Russia views energy supplies as a another weapon in its arsenal.
Russia has repeatedly used the fear of energy disruption and a freezing winter to step up pressure on European governments, some of which have seen residents taking to the streets to protest about the energy crisis.
However, as with its failure to acknowledge the strength of the Ukrainian resistance, Russia was wrong to believe the street protests would destabilise Europe’s political landscape or lead to sanctions being delayed, or or even cancelled.
Instead, the European Union has responded with a set of measures aimed at pulling back the rising gas and power prices, with proposals to introduce a windfall levy on non-gas power plants, profit sharing for fossil fuels producers, a mandatory cut on electricity consumption and the provision of emergency liquidity for power utilities.
An early milestone for Europe was to arrange alternative gas supplies via quickly approved liquefied natural gas import terminals.
European states have also temporarily set aside the Green agenda, turning to nuclear and coal power sources, and providing assurances to new oil and gas projects as a short-term measure to help replace some of the Russian gas volumes.
Last week, Ukraine demonstrated it may prevail in the war within the next several months — a goal that many observers had previously regarded as impossible.
European states’ aims to fully eliminate their dependence on Russian oil and gas also looked unrealistic to many earlier this year.
However, the European Union’s new measures are giving the continent a strong foundation to tackle the energy crisis and remove the bloc’s dependence on Russian oil and gas supplies.
Russia’s energy weapon is being disarmed.
(This is an Upstream opinion article.)