After yesterday afternoon’s mass rush to judgment by many in the media regarding the missile that landed in Poland, this morning they are being forced to walk back their initial claims. As have a number of politicians and government officials in Ukraine, Poland and across Europe. The reason for this because the preliminary investigation has revealed the missile was not fired by the Russian military. It seems the missile was likely launched by Ukrainian air defense forces likely during a Russian cruise missile attack. Components of the missile, an SA-10 Grumble, came down near the Polish village of Przewodów and killed two Poles.
Both NATO and the Polish government said earlier there is no indication of a deliberate Russian attack. In Ukraine, the government in Kiev has amended its position on the matter. After vociferously blaming Russia for the act, government officials have become rather quiet and are requesting access to the site of the blast. In Brussels NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said there will be no Article 4 meeting until the investigations have been completed.
Yesterday’s incident caused anxiety and concern around the Western world. Since the start of the war in Ukraine the possibility of the fighting spilling across the border into the territory of a NATO member-state and widening the conflict has been a major concern from Washington to Brussels. The first reports from Poland made it appear as if NATO’s greatest fear was coming to life. Luckily, as time went on it became clear this was not the case.
For months European Union officials have claimed the Union should prepared if Russia decides to halt gas shipments to Europe indefinitely. However, Gazprom’s decision halt Nord Stream 1 deliveries, ostensibly due to needed turbine repairs, has shown the earlier EU confidence might’ve been premature. Energy markets are volatile right now with prices surging. If this was not bad enough, many European energy companies are facing margin calls at the worst possible time. Collateral cash is not available in the amounts needed, mainly owing to the volatility of energy markets, which has been sparked in-turn by the energy. The chips are down, and the red light is flashing on the continent as leaders and energy ministers try and come to terms with the crisis now staring directly at them.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo warned today that swift action must be taken to prevent a broad economic shutdown continent-wide. “A few weeks like this and the European economy will just go into a full stop. Recovering from that is going to be much more complicated than intervening in gas markets today. The risk of that is de-industrialization and severe risk of fundamental social unrest.” De Croo made these comments in an interview with Bloomberg. Tomorrow 27 EU energy ministers will meet in Brussels to discuss a plan for intervention in European energy markets. As some analysts have said earlier this week, Europe is now facing a “Lehman Event” and swift intervention could be the only tool strong enough to stave off major disaster.
Even though European officials continue to claim gas storage supplies are sufficient enough to get EU nations through the winter, there’s increasing worry that if even one member-state must resort to blackouts and other energy restrictions it will create a domino-effect throughout the entire EU. Given the current state of energy in Europe this is a very possible prospect once winter sets in.
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.
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.
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.