Europe Becomes Serious About Improving Energy Security

The sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines last week is providing an impetus for European nations to increase security in the Baltic Sea and other areas becoming increasingly vital to Europe’s efforts to meet its energy demands. The Baltic is not the only region where security concerns are being addressed. Nations in other areas of the continent are taking steps to secure energy networks. From Italy to Norway efforts are underway to implement new security measures before winter arrives. Russia and the West continue trading accusations over just who was responsible the explosions that have effectively closed the pipelines. While the true identity of the guilty party, there is no denying that Europe’s energy nodes and supply routes are vulnerable to further sabotage, hacking, and other types of attacks aimed at degrading or closing them down.

Norway is adopting new measures to protect its energy infrastructure in the aftermath of the pipeline explosions in the Baltic. One of these steps is tightening border controls as the number of military-aged young men crossing into Norway from Russia rises in the aftermath of the Kremlin’s activation of 300,000 reservists. This situation offers an opportunity for Russia to clandestinely inject teams of intelligence officers or special operations teams into Norway to create an option for future operations against Norwegian energy infrastructure. With Norway now being Europe’s biggest gas supplier, this measure is not surprising. Oslo has already deployed additional military and police forces to increase security around offshore installations and facilities ashore.

Other factors are at play as Europe strives to increase security of its energy and infrastructure elements. The European Union and NATO are both getting into the act with military assets and other supporting measures. The good news is that Europe is waking up to the threat its energy markets and facilities.

The bad news is that the threat is very real and not likely to diminish in the coming weeks and months.

US Strategic Interests And Ukraine

Russia’s annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk and other occupied territories in Ukraine was announced by Vladimir Putin today. By all indications, Ukraine is nowhere near ready to honor these regions as sovereign Russian territory. Kiev will continue the fight to regain its lost territory. And Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy will keep pushing ahead stubbornly despite the threats and damage being inflicted upon the economies of the West because the United States and Europe continue to encourage and enable him, despite the growing danger of escalation, and deepening economic downturn in Western nations. Meanwhile, the US is preparing to send another $12.3 BILLION in economic and military aid to Ukraine.

With hundreds of billions of dollars having gone to Ukraine since the start of the war, I’m beginning to wonder how and why Ukraine seems to be a vital interest for the United States. I’m aware of the way many people see it. “The Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom and survival. We have a moral obligation to help them and contain Russia.”

Yes and No.

Yes, we might have a moral obligation to assist Ukraine in this war. However, morality and foreign policy make for strange bedfellows. The US had a moral obligation to help the Jews escaping from Europe in the early days of World War II as well. But we did practically nothing to help them. Flash forward to 2022 and the US is shoveling boatloads of military and economic aid into Ukraine. So, what does the US have to show for it? Yes, Ukraine’s efforts have helped contain Russia, that is true. But given the likely condition of the Russian military at the end of this war, further expansion is improbable. Even if that weren’t the case, the US does not need Ukraine as a buffer between Europe and Russia.

I am sliding off point a bit and apologize. Yet I cannot shake the feeling that Ukraine has failed to prove it will play a role in US strategic interests’ post-conflict in order for the money and material sent Kiev’s way to be deemed a worthy effort. The relationship does not look to be mutually beneficial for both parties when all is said and done.

  Sometime next week I’d like to come back to this subject after giving it some thought and consideration over the weekend. We’ll discuss the annexation and security concerns in the Baltic over the weekend. Hope everyone is doing well.

Sabotage In The Baltic

As expected, evidence surrounding the underwater explosions along the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea on Monday is leaning towards sabotage as the cause. And just as predictably, fingers in Europe and Washington are instinctively pointing east towards Russia. Two explosions caused large leaks in both undersea natural gas pipelines. The Nord Stream pipelines originate in Russia.

Now experts are trying to decipher the meaning behind the attacks while energy and security officials in Europe are now forced to deal with the possibility of further attacks on fuel infrastructure sites. Retired senior German intelligence official Gerhard Schindler told German news channel Welt that Russia is the only real suspect behind the attack.  “An unnoticed, conspiratorial damage to pipelines at a depth of 80 meters in the Baltic Sea requires sophisticated technical and organizational capabilities that clearly point to a state actor. Only Russia can really be considered for this, especially since it stands to gain the most from this act of sabotage.”

What exactly can Moscow expect to gain from sabotaging its own natural gas pipelines, provided they are responsible? For starters, with Nordstream 1 now out of commission for an extended period because of the explosions, Europe is caught between two chairs. With winter approaching and concern about whether there will be sufficient energy supplies to get through the season, the eastern option is now completely off the table. This means that now European nations that are heavily dependent on Russian natural gas, especially Germany, have to find new energy sources to replace what was permanently lost following Monday’s explosions and leaks.

Despite official claims by Berlin that its natural gas stockpile is robust, German officials continue to seek new energy sources for the short term with increasing urgency. Perhaps the German government miscalculated the stockpile numbers and Germany really does not have anywhere near sufficient natural gas available. If this turns out to be the case, expect the blowback from it to be decidedly unpleasant around Europe and the rest of the world.

False Rumors Of A Coup In China Go Viral On Social Media Platforms This Weekend

Since late Friday rumors of a possible coup attempt in China stormed social media platforms across the world. Within 24 hours the rumors had become so prevalent that #ChinaCoup and related hashtags were trending on Twitter and news of the alleged coup went viral. The first reports spoke of long columns of People’s Liberation Army vehicles seen on the highways in and around Beijing. These were followed up by posts indicating airspace in and around Beijing and other areas of China had been shut down and all train and bus travel was cancelled. On Saturday, the real meat and potatoes of the coup rumors broke out stating ‘reliable sources’ had confirmed that Chinese President Xi Jinping was under house arrest and the military had taken over control of the city.

Naturally, credible news sources reported nothing of a coup or the arrest of Jinping. Mainly because there was no coup attempt and Jinping was not under house arrest. Social media took the unconfirmed news and ran with it, as social media has a tendency of doing. The topic grew in popularity throughout Saturday and only started to diminish once it became clear through credible sources that nothing of concern was going on in Beijing or elsewhere in China.

As for what started the rumors, this remains unknown for now. Events last week inside of China could’ve inspired the rather creative coup news. While Jinping was at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Uzbekistan, two former ministers were sentenced to death and four other former officials were sentenced to life in prison as part of Jinping’s heavy-handed crackdown on corruption in Chinese politics. This was followed by Jinping departing from public view upon his return from the SCO meeting.

The China coup rumors highlight an ever-present danger of social media. It does not take very much for erroneous news to trend and appear legitimate. In these times of uncertainty, widespread fake news and rumors on social media could result in violence, damage, and loss of life in the real world. Or worse. Unfortunately, social media is also quite vulnerable to being weaponized by a nation-state for its own needs and interests. As we move deeper into the 2020s, the probability of this happening at some point in the near future is increasing.

Central Asia Cools Down and a European Energy Update

  • Last week’s border clashes between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have ended and a fragile ceasefire is in place. Both nations have agreed to withdraw considerable amounts of military hardware and troops from the disputed area of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. The fighting that took place along the border between 14-16 September included tanks, aircraft, and artillery. Over 100 deaths were reported during the strife.

On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for there to be “no further escalation” between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. He also reached out to the leaders of both countries and urged them to take steps to resolve the border dispute through peaceful means. Although being members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have a history of tensions accented by the occasional border clash.

“We continue our efforts to resolve the Kyrgyz-Tajik border issues in a purely peaceful way,”    Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov told his citizens in an address Monday. Tajik government officials spoke along similar lines, calling negotiations the key to resolving Tajik-Kyrgyz issues.

  • European government continue to make plans and preparations for an anticipated energy crunch this coming winter. Germany is moving promptly to secure LNG contracts with a number of Persian Gulf states as the flow of gas from Russia is running at severely reduced levels. Meanwhile, Spain and France are revising their respective contingency plans in the hope of avoiding power cuts.

French energy corporation EDF’s efforts to repair and reactivate a number of nuclear reactors is meeting delays. Corrosion has had more of an affect on the reactors and plants than originally thought. If the reactors cannot be brought back online by winter, EDF has warned it might be forced to take ‘exceptional measures’ once the weather turns.

Spain is looking at the possibility of requiring energy-intensive companies to cease operations during consumption peaks. Meanwhile, Finland’s national grid operator Fingrid is warning that Finns should be prepared for power outages come winter.