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.

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.

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.

Ukraine Update 11 September, 2022

  • The Ukrainian military launched a counteroffensive in the northeast region of the country has made significant progress and taken the Russians by surprise. The number of Russian military units in the Kharkov region had dropped considerably once Russia shifted the focus of its military campaign in Ukraine from the north to the east and south. In the lead-up to the much anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive, the Kherson area in the south looked to be the focal point for the coming attack. Naturally, Russia shifted a large number of troops and equipment from the northeast to Kherson. This played right into Ukrainian hands. They took the bait and now Kiev’s forces are reaping the benefits. Ukraine is making claims of boisterous victories and significant progress. While it is clear significant progress is begin made, independent verification on some of the claims coming out of Kiev has not yet come. Western media is heralding the results of the counteroffensive as bringing about a new phase of the war and a shift from the war of attrition to a more maneuver-based campaign. As is generally the case with journalists, they might be jumping the gun. Ukraine must defend the ground it has recaptured in the northeast and there are indications of Russian forces stepping up attacks in the area.
  • Germany is under pressure to move more expediently on the promised delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine. After the Russian invasion began in February, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a plan to rearm Germany and provide heavy weapons to Ukraine. Now over six-months into the conflict, many of the promised weapons have yet to arrive. The German government has not explained the delays. Fears that Russia will suspend all gas deliveries to Germany are undoubtedly playing a role in Berlin’s long-term thinking. Given Nord Stream 1’s indefinite shut down and the worsening energy situation in Europe, I would not expect to see an increase in the number of German weapons arriving in Ukraine anytime soon.

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.