Ukraine Fatigue Is Becoming A Very Real Concern In The US and Europe

On Saturday the Washington Post reported that the Biden administration is privately urging the Ukrainian government to indicate an openness to negotiations with Russia and downplay its refusal to hold peace talks unless Vladimir Putin is removed from power. According to the Post’s sources, the aim is not to force Kiev to enter negotiations, but to make certain Ukraine has the support of other partner nations, especially in Europe. As the war in Ukraine rages on it causes more damage to the world economy and there are growing signs that voters in Europe are souring on the prospect of supporting Ukraine’s war over a prolonged period. For that matter, there are signs in the United States that Ukraine Fatigue has established a beachhead. The midterm elections on Tuesday should prove to be an accurate barometer of the American public’s tolerance of Washington’s continuing blank check, no-holds-barred support of Ukraine.

 This winter will likely provide the greatest gauge for Europe’s tolerance for future support of the Ukraine war. Despite assurances from the European Union and several Western European nations about national and continent-wide storage of natural gas, concern remains about the effects a particularly cold winter could have in store for Europe. Industrial output is an area of particular concern. A hypothetical energy shortage in Germany, for example, will force Berlin to put restrictions in place that could have long-term negative consequences on the German economy. Added to these concerns in Europe is the latest wave of Russian missile and drone attacks against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. These strikes have been quite effective, despite the Ukrainian government’s insistences otherwise. In fact, Kiev is warning of significant disruptions to power, heat and water services over the winter if the attacks continue. Many Europeans believe it will only be a matter of time before Kiev turns to Europe to provide the materials and finance to repair its energy infrastructure. Yet with much of Europe facing its own energy worries in the coming months, Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian government could find his benefactors on the continent to be in a reluctant mood to provide help.

29 October 2022 Weekend Update: Zero-COVID and Russia Backing Out of Black Sea Deal

COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in the People’s Republic of China and providing an early test of Xi Jinping’s Zero-COVID doctrine in the aftermath of Xi capturing a third term in power. There was hope the Chinese leader would lighten the restrictive Zero-COVID policies in the recent CCP congress, but this did not occur. Concern is growing over the economic and social blowback Zero-Covid continues to bring. A new wave of lockdowns has been instituted in multiple locations. In the city of Zhengzhou, the largest iPhone factory in the PRC has been at least partially quarantined. Video shared on social media showed scenes of employees breaking out from the factory campus. This is hardly the vanguard of a coming social unrest wave, but the Chinese government would be wise to not dismiss this as an anomaly. With the economy still struggling to recover from the pandemic, Xi can ill afford to have a recalcitrant population.

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Yesterday Russia halted its participation in a UN-brokered grain deal following a ‘major drone attack’ on the Russian Black Sea Fleet near its homeport of Sevastopol. Of course, Moscow blames Ukraine for the attack and its withdrawal from the trade deal effectively halts Ukrainian grain exports. The UN was shaken by Russia’s decision and is moving to convince Moscow to reverse course. This deal has helped reduce global food prices since its implementation in July. Over 9 million tons of grain and other food products have been exported since then.

European Energy Crisis Update 24 October, 2022

With winter fast approaching, attention is shifting to Europe and its energy crisis. The primary question on the minds of geopolitical analysts, economists and politicians is: Can Europe avoid an energy disaster this coming winter? The continent has done everything possible to prepare for the coming season. According to the EU, natural gas storage stood at 93% among EU member-states as of 17 October. Whether this statistic is fact or hopeful thinking remains to be seen. Consumption has to remain moderate for Europe to make it through the winter season in good condition. But despite consumption reduction demands and measures, the most critical factor in natural gas and overall energy consumption and demand in Europe will be weather conditions. If the winter is a cold one, energy supplies will be hit hard and fast. A good number of European industries are already taking steps to contend with energy shortages.

Adding to the dilemma perhaps, is the attention Russia is paying to the Ukrainian power grid. Recently, cruise missile and suicide-drone strikes have been launched against Ukrainian energy facilities resulting in major blackouts across large parts of the country. If these conditions continue and worsen into the winter months, Ukraine could be in need of material and financial assistance to repair its energy facilities at a time when Europeans are dealing with their own energy shortages. As it stands right now, despite many European governments remaining enthusiastic about providing Ukraine with whatever it asks for, many EU citizens are growing weary of the sacrifices that people in Hamburg and Copenhagen are forced to make for people in Lviv and Kiev.

A scenario where Europeans are  asked to conserve their own energy demands in order to benefit Ukraine could result in a wedge being driven between Europe and Kiev. Time will tell.

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.

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.