As Europe watches in sheer disbelief while gas prices spiral out of control amid mounting suspicions of Russian energy blackmail, the Kremlin appears to have set its sights on two much-coveted geopolitical prizes.
The first has been widely reported in the mainstream media and focuses on Moscow’s efforts to pressure EU officials into approving the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline by limiting supplies to Europe.
Many of those who initially doubted the Kremlin’s intentions have since had second thoughts when president Vladimir Putin himself recently suggested his country could send 10% more gas to Europe once Nord Stream 2 is approved.
The second prize has been much less discussed but goes straight to the heart of Russia’s fundamental disagreement with Europe’s liberal foundations.
As gas prices followed days of chaotic volatility throughout the summer, Putin criticised “smart alecs” in the European Commission for pushing through gas market reform and failing to sign long-term supply contracts.
Putin’s snide remarks brought nothing new. In fact, they merely reiterated Russia’s old grievance over the EU’s gas market liberalisation which former Gazprom chairman Dmitry Medvedev described as “the most stupid idea in modern economic history” even as far back as 2006.
What is important is that Russia has now seized on Europe’s energy crisis to pressure Brussels into reconsidering the very structure of its energy markets, which had been founded on the same ideological pillars that underpin the entire bloc, namely free trade, competition, and transparency.