Gazprom’s Force Majeure Claim Rattles Nerves in Germany

Yesterday’s declaration by state-owned Russian energy giant Gazprom that ‘unforeseeable circumstances’ could make it unable comply with European gas contracts is placing Germany in an even more precarious position. The prospect of Russia shutting down the flow of natural gas to Germany seems more probable. With Gazprom threatening to send less gas to Germany and other European nations, German firm Uniper, a major energy importer, has rejected the claim. According to a company spokesperson, Uniper rejects the force majeure claim put forward by Gazprom. Realistically, Uniper’s rejection does not change matters one way or another.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline is scheduled to come off its 10-day maintenance period and resume operations on Thursday. It’s unclear if the pipeline will start operating at a reduced capacity, or at all. Despite Berlin claiming to have reduced its overall dependence on Russian gas from 55% to 35% it is still highly dependent on Nord Stream 1. The two other pipelines providing natural gas to Germany from Russia were closed off.

Many analysts still seem to agree that Nord Stream 1 will resume operations, albeit in a limited capacity, perhaps. However, Germany’s nightmare scenario of Putin halting gas deliveries entirely is haunting Berlin and Brussels. The nation is already falling behind efforts to top off its natural gas storage supplies before winter sets in. We discussed this in an earlier entry last week. Gas rationing and other conservation steps will have a detrimental effect on the German economy.  A number of companies are concerned such measures will force them to close permanently.

Germany is not the only target either. A dozen EU nations have seen their gas supplies from Russia either severely reduced or cut off entirely. The lack of a European-based energy sharing plan and the shortsighted thinking of EU leaders on the energy-security front are now coming home to roost.

Ukraine Update 23 March, 2022 (Evening)

  • As evidence grows concerning Russian troops digging in north of Kiev, I do not understand the knee-jerk reaction by Western media outlets in declaring this a Ukrainian victory. Earlier this week it started becoming clear Russia was shifting to a strategy of attrition and Western newspapers, TV new channels and internet outlets openly reported this. The meaning of this was also discussed by pundits and for the most part they were correct. A strategy of attrition means a halt to advances by Russian forces for the time being and a reliance on indirect and direct-fire weapons to degrade Ukrainian defenses. With this in mind, the digging in and preparation of defensive positions by Russian troops should come as no surprise at the very least, nor should it be regarded as a Ukrainian victory. I understand the media and get why they do many of the things they do. But I do not like it, and sometimes I simply have to vent. This is one of those times 😊
  • When the meeting of NATO leaders starts in Brussels on Thursday, President Biden will face increasing pressure from US allies to spearhead alliance efforts to play a more active role in the Russia-Ukraine war. Aside from the ever-present desire by some NATO leaders to implements a no-fly zone over Ukraine or parts of it, there are other methods for assisting Ukraine that nations such as Poland and Slovakia would like to implement. None of these methods will move forward without at least tacit US approval and the Biden administration has been careful not to undertake or agree to any moves that could allow Russia to label the US or a NATO country as a co-combatant. Avoiding escalation has been at the forefront of US policy since hostilities began. On the other side of the coin, the less than stellar performance of the Russian military in the war so far has made some NATO members want to push the envelope so to speak. Right now wouldn’t be an ideal time to risk possible escalation, however. Vladimir Putin’s back is against the wall and if he feels trapped, the Russian leader will lash out. Then escalation becomes almost certain, and so does the prospect of a larger war.

NATO and the United States Signal A Rejection of Russia’s Security Demands

Comments made separately by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier on Friday make it appear likely the United States and the alliance will reject Russia’s demands that NATO expansion be halted. The two men stated that Russia will hold no influence on what nations NATO may consider for membership, effectively slamming the door on one of Vladimir Putin’s strongest for easing tensions with Ukraine. They each also warned of a “forceful” response to future Soviet military intervention in Ukraine. Blinken and Stoltenberg spoke following a virtual meeting of NATO foreign ministers. This was the first in what will be a series of meetings over the next week intended to bring an end to the Russian military buildup on the Ukraine border, as well as Moscow’s increasingly forceful rhetoric.

The risk of a new armed conflict breaking out could grow exponentially if Putin’s demands for security guarantees are officially rejected by the US and NATO next week. Of course, many analysts, diplomats and military officers in the West are of the opinion that Putin is aware his demands will be rejected, and he will have a justification for military action down the line. This has likely been the Russian play since a number of details on its demands were made public. On the surface, it might seem to some parties that Russia is willing to negotiate in good faith. Yet the heart of its security concerns and subsequent demands to NATO is made up of points Moscow is aware that neither Brussels nor Washington can accept.

On Monday, US and Russian diplomats will open discussions in Geneva that are expected to center on Ukraine. Discussions between NATO and Russian officials in Brussels will follow, as will more in-depth talks in Geneva. NATO and the US have stated they’re open to discussing arms-control and other related topics.

As for what’s currently happening in Kazakhstan, we’ll discuss that tomorrow, along with the connection between events there, including the intervention by the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization, and Ukraine.

Estonia To Provide Military Equipment To Ukraine

With the NATO alliance’s most powerful members committed to half-measures when it comes to supporting Ukraine during the present crisis, one of NATO’s smallest member-states is stepping up. Estonia appears ready to provide Javelin missiles and 122mm artillery pieces to Ukraine in the face of a large Russian military buildup on its border with Ukraine. The pair of twenty-first century sovereign nation states spent the bulk of the previous century as sister Soviet Socialist Republics. Memories of Soviet rule remain fresh in both nations despite the fact Estonia and Ukraine gained independence thirty-one years ago.

Although the symbolism of Estonia’s gesture is high, one has to wonder about how much sense it makes for Estonia to shortchange its own military of equipment that could be needed to defend its own border in the future. The Estonian armed forces are small and equipped with limited amounts of modern weapon systems. Replacing any Javelins and artillery pieces that are sent to Ukraine will not be easy. Unless an arrangement has already been agreed to between Tallinn and NATO headquarters in Brussels. The move will also require the permission of the United States and Finland since it is a US company which manufactures Javelins and a Finnish corporation that builds the artillery.

The Estonian government is also considering an increase in the amounts and types of soft-aid being provided to Ukraine. This includes assistance in setting up mobile field hospitals, and training for Ukrainian Army doctors and other medical professionals expected to treat combat casualties in the event war breaks out.

Russia Suspends Its Diplomatic Mission to NATO

Russia has suspended its diplomatic mission to NATO in response to the expulsion of eight members amid accusations of spying by NATO. Also, NATO’s military mission in Moscow will lose its accreditation on 1 November and the mission’s offices will be closed. The tit-for-tat comes from NATO expelling eight members of the Russian mission in early October. The alliance claimed these men were operating as “undeclared Russian intelligence officers.” The Russian government has said the move undermined hopes that relations with the U.S.-led alliance could normalize.

“NATO is not interested in equitable dialogue and joint work,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday after announcing the closure of the Russian mission. “If that’s the case, then we don’t see the need to keep pretending that changes in the foreseeable future are possible.”

Monday’s action marks the latest bump in the road for East-West relations, which have never truly recovered from Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. It now seems that Russia is openly acknowledging the fact it no longer seems willing to engage in constructive dialogue with the United States and Europe.  

Author’s Note: Short update today, apologies. Been a busy last week or so. I’ll get back up to standards by Wednesday. –Mike