First Cold Snap of the Winter Arrives In Europe

I arrived back in the United States last evening after a 7-hour flight back across the Atlantic. Originally, I planned to depart either today or Monday but after disembarking and seeing the questionable weather for Southeastern England I decided to depart on Saturday. It turns out to have been a smart move. Today ice, snow, freezing fog and frigid temperatures have descended upon Great Britain. Western Europe will also be affected as this first snap of Arctic weather will arrive on the continent by Monday, bringing on Europe’s first test of its energy supplies this winter. So far, warmer temperatures have kept energy usage manageable. Now, with the weather changing and troubles with French nuclear plants having caused a brief power outage in Paris last week, many Europeans are becoming uneasy about what the winter may hold.

The European Union continues to claim natural gas storage amounts exceed 90% as national governments urge citizens, companies and local authorities to conserve energy usage as much as possible.   This week’s coming frigid temperatures will reveal how well-prepared Europe really is. French grid operator RTE has stated there are no power cuts planned for Monday or Tuesday. Whether or not this remains true will depend on the weather. A drop in electrical use across France last week, as well as increased output at French nuclear power plants starting tomorrow, are expected to satisfy demand in France.

France is not the only nation uneasy about what the coming cold snap might bring. Belgian newspaper De Tijd reported on Friday that a leaked government report has revealed Belgium’s natural gas supply could be at risk in the event of extended cold temperatures and subsequent increased demand. The Swedish government is urging Swedes to conserve energy to reduce the possibility of power cuts. On my Atlantic transit and time in England on Saturday I heard many Britons voice concerns about potential blackouts looming as the cold weather looms. All things considered, Europeans are right to be worried.

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.

A Look Around Europe 6 September, 2022

Britain has a new prime minister, Gazprom is laying blame for Nord Stream 1’s maintenance issues on Siemens and the French president is imploring French citizens to cut energy usage by 10%. These are some of the events making news and shaping opinions around the continent today.

  • Boris Johnson’s successor has finally taken the reins of power in Great Britain. Liz Truss is now in charge and forming her government. Compared to Johnson, Truss seems almost demure, but when it comes to policy she’s a conservative firebrand. She comes to 10 Downing Street after spending less than a year as foreign secretary. During her tenure as foreign secretary, Russia invaded Ukraine. Truss was harshly criticized for a number of comments she made in the weeks leading up to the war and in the months since. Diplomatic faux pas’ more or less. Most of the criticism has come from the Russian government. Earlier today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the new British Prime Minister and said her reluctance to compromise will be of no help to Great Britain on the international stage. Time will tell if his words are correct.
  • A Gazprom senior executive stated today that pumping operations for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline will not resume until Siemens repairs or replaced faulty equipment. A turbine at Portovaya compressor station has developed an engine oil leak. Siemens claims the issue should not keep the pipeline closed. Gazprom and the Russian government appear to think otherwise. Winter is approaching and Europe is in the midst of its worst energy crisis. Germany claims the pipeline closure is the latest volley of actions and accusations between Moscow and Europe since the invasion of Ukraine.
  • France is adopting new steps as the energy crisis deepens. With energy prices surging, French President Emmanuel Macron announced Monday that his country will send natural gas to Germany if needed. In exchange, Germany will provide electricity to France if the need becomes necessary. Macron is also urging French citizens to reduce energy usage by ten percent during this crisis. Last Friday the French government announced that French electricity company EDF will restart all of its nuclear reactors by winter to help the nation through the worsening energy crisis. 

Scholz Pushes New Pipeline Initiative

With Germany in the midst of a deepening energy crisis German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is now calling for the construction of a pipeline which would reach from Portugal to Central Europe. Naturally, the goal of such a pipeline would be to reduce Germany’s dependence on Russian gas. Even though Germany and other European nations have made strides to shrink their dependence on gas shipments from Russia, it has become clear that reliance will not diminish before the winter season arrives. Scholz has broached the topic of a pipeline with the officials from Portugal, Spain, France and the European Union. Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa has been pushing for the pipeline proposal to be examined by the EU since the early days of Russia’ invasion of Ukraine. Germany and other nations with a heavy reliance on Russian gas paid the issue little mind.

Now Germany appears intent to push the matter, even publicly admitting regret that a sincere effort was not made earlier. Of course, the geopolitical situation has changed. Now that Germany is anxiously seeking other sources for natural gas supplies, a pipeline from Portugal to Central Europe suddenly seems to be an ideal solution.

Unfortunately for Berlin, the energy troubles confronting Germany are not strictly limited natural gas. Water levels on the Rhine River dropped to a critical low on Friday. This will affect barge traffic on the river and subsequently restrict the flow of essential commodities to inland Europe even more. Not exactly welcome news and a firm indication that the energy crisis facing Europe is a long way from being brought under control.

Ukraine Update 5 April, 2022

  • Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy is addressing the United Nations Security Council this morning for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine. The appearance, via video link, comes after Zelenskiy visited Bucha on Monday. Bucha is a town where the bodies of many Ukrainian citizens were discovered. Zelenskiy accuses Russia of committing war crimes. Zelenskiy was also critical of UN failures to defend the peace and security.  
  • Latvia has ordered the closure of two Russian consulates and told the staffs to leave the country. This action comes on the heels of Lithuania having downgraded diplomatic ties with Russia and expelling Moscow’s ambassador. These actions were made following revelation of atrocities committed against Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops.
  • Conflicting reports on the status of Ukrainian forces in Mariupol continue to filter out of the region. Reports that the Ukrainian Marine units inside the besieged city have surrendered were contradicted this morning by the Ukrainian military, which claims the 503rd Marine Battalion has not surrendered en masse and continues to fight.
  • With the horrors of Bucha now coming to light there are many other reported atrocities being reported in other Ukrainian towns that have been occupied by Russian troops for some time. How accurate these reports are remain to be seen. Yet given what has been discovered in Bucha, there is likely some truth to these latest reports. France has even reportedly launched an investigation into war crimes committed against French citizens in Ukraine.