The costs of the war in Ukraine are testing European leaders – and things could get worse | Europe

The desperate efforts in Italy to prevent the fall of Mario Draghi’s government are just the latest political storm in Europe linked to Vladimir Putin’s tests of the West’s powers of endurance. Draghi’s foreign minister, Luigi di Maio, suggested that it would be Putin who would celebrate the fall of another Western government if Draghi did not survive a confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday.

“A rudderless boat is adrift,” said Ferruccio Resta, president of the Italian University Rectors’ Conference – a metaphor that could apply, to Putin’s satisfaction, to much of Europe then. that governments are coming under increasing pressure over the perceived domestic cost of the war in Ukraine.

The narrative of a popular uprising brewing against Western sanctions on Russia certainly aligns well with Putin’s central narrative that time and the economy are on his side since the sanctions hurt European consumers more than those in Russia.

He believes that soaring fuel prices are the deadliest macroeconomic shock for politicians, as it boosts inflation while slowing economic growth.

It is still premature to have a definitive opinion on the extent of the potential electoral backlash in Europe, and Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs spokesman, for example, has angrily complained that rising price was attributed to EU sanctions without any evidence. Borrell said of critics of EU sanctions: “Don’t they have eyes? Aren’t they looking at the charts? Do they ignore numbers or facts? »

In France, Emmanuel Macron has been weakened, even suffocated, by the loss of his parliamentary majority to parties more naturally favorable to Putin. In Spain, the Socialists, facing elections next year, have just lost their power base in Andalusia, the most populous region. The centre-right People’s Party hit a new high of 36.3% in the latest GAD3 poll, its best result since April 2017. If repeated in an election, it would be its best result since 2011.

In Estonia, staunchly anti-Putin Prime Minister Kaja Kallas survived last week after her previous coalition government fell in a dispute over the country’s inflation rate of 19%, the highest in the euro zone. of 19 nations. Electricity prices in Estonia have reached an all-time high, averaging €300 per megawatt hour last week.

Kallas skillfully rebuilt his government, but at the expense of the Estonian budget and its credibility. If the economy has not improved by the legislative elections next March, it could be in trouble. In Warsaw, the PiS is worried about an electoral defeat next autumn, even if the opposition remains favorable to Ukraine. In Bulgaria, a pro-Western government has fallen. And, of course, Volodymyr Zelenskiy has just been spectacularly disappointed by the self-inflicted death of Boris Johnson in Britain.

Probably the most recent politician who has done the best at the polls is Viktor Orbán, Putin’s biggest ally in Europe. Orbán brags about it. He said that at first he thought European politicians had only “shot themselves in the foot”, but now it is clear that it was a blow to the lungs of the European economy, which is struggling to breathe everywhere.

It may be about to get worse – much worse. On Wednesday, apart from the question for Italy of Draghi’s survival, the EU will have to decide whether it can agree a solidarity mechanism if Russian gas supplies run out this winter.

Putin’s intentions on this front will become clear on Thursday when Russian monopoly gas supplier Gazprom decides to resume supplies to Europe after the planned annual maintenance outage of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline. The signs are ominous. Gazprom has already stated in a private letter to gas customers that it cannot guarantee gas supply and has declared force majeure.

Dependence on Russian gas varies widely across Europe

German politicians are not hiding the scale of the threat from the electorate, part of an effort to ensure they understand that Putin is guilty. German Economy Minister Robert Habeck described Putin’s tactics as an attack on Germany capable of causing catastrophe.

Klaus Müller, Germany’s energy regulator, said gas prices for consumers could triple by 2023. He said it was “absolutely realistic” that customers who currently pay €1,500 a year for gas are asked to pay €4,500 and more in the future. Thomas Matussek, Germany’s former ambassador to London, told the BBC on Monday: “If things go well, we are probably entering the biggest economic crisis Germany has seen since the end of the Second World War. “

Despite the current heat wave, Matussek was right to say that winter is already coming, and that the critical issue will be the level of European gas reserves entering this winter. Putin’s optimal leverage will come from keeping Germany, still dependent on Russia for a third of its incoming gas in winter, on the shortest of leashes. Unlike previous routine maintenance operations, Gazprom has not increased gas supply through Ukrainian pipelines this time around, so Russian gas exports to Europe are currently around a quarter of the normal. A titanic struggle between Germany and Russia could be looming.

On the other hand, some countries are better protected. Italy, for example, has filled well over 65% of its gas storage capacity and is on track to meet its target of reaching 90% storage levels in October, Roberto said over the weekend. Cingolani, Minister of Ecological Transition.

Gas supply routes from Russia to Europe

Russia cut off gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland and the Netherlands, and limited supplies to eight other countries. Spaniard Enagas said Spaniards have nothing to fear from a Russian cut since it can access gas from elsewhere.

This is where the risk for Russia lies. He can go bankrupt trying to wreck EU resolve this winter by shutting off power to as many European countries as possible. But Putin will only have one chance, and if he fails and European reserves are large enough to survive until next summer, the West will be on the verge of breaking free from its dependence on Russian gas. . Putin will definitely have blown up Russia’s main source of revenue and largest gas export market.

Fiona Hill, a former US assistant secretary of state, says there are electoral risks for Moscow, particularly in 2024 when Putin seeks to extend his term. She says Putin “wants to end this conflict. He wants to appear legit. He wants us to be the ones who feel we don’t have time – while he also has a ticking clock.

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