The energy systems have tremendous inertia, and it would be a strategic blunder to think that a political directive can provide the EU with alternatives to the Russian energy by a wave of the magic wand. The EU wants to be in control of when it stops importing Russian oil and gas, but this may not be possible, writes Vitaly Yermakov, Expert, Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies, HSE University.
The EU has been trying to lessen its dependency on Russian energy for many years, most recently via a gradual and “managed” separation as part of the energy transition process. The EU energy transition agenda with its emphasis on a higher share of domestically produced renewables in the energy balance has been designed in part to address not only the environmental concerns of the Europeans, but their energy security concerns as well. The practical implementation of these policies, however, turned out to be problematic. The attempts to fast-track the transition and remove hydrocarbons from the energy balance too soon has resulted in underinvestment into the traditional forms of energy and has led to price spikes. The problems are obvious, and the need for a course correction is undeniable. The politics, however, has been trumping economics and forcing the EU to double-down on policies that might become destructive for its economy.
The events in Ukraine have produced the largest political conflict between Russia and the EU since the end of the “cold war” and had profound effects on the EU policy towards Russia’s energy supplies. It has turned a long and carefully planned separation between Russia and Europe that both sides were contemplating for quite some time into a hasty and ugly divorce in which ex-partners are trying to hurt each other as much as possible regardless of consequences and collateral damage. In the process we have witnessed the attempts to identify and use vulnerabilities in the energy value chains by each of the opponents leading to the weaponization of energy and making it part of the ongoing proxy war between Russia and the West.
The EU policies have changed from reducing dependence on Russian energy to its complete phaseout, as soon as possible. The reality is, however, that the energy systems have tremendous inertia, and it would be a strategic blunder to think that a political directive can provide the EU with alternatives to the Russian energy by a wave of the magic wand.