"Europe begins to freeze as taps are turned off in energy war", say David Charter and Robin Pagnamenta in The Times following the shutdown of a Russian gas pipeline that supplies 17 EU states via Ukraine. This was triggered by a payment dispute between Ukraine and Russian gas giant Gazprom. Some countries have called for "a state of emergency" as fears of sharp gas price rises mount.
Yet this "bust-up threatening to gum up the gas supplies of much of Southern and Eastern Europe hardly comes as a surprise", says Roger Boyes, also in The Times. Indeed, "it's part of the New Year ritual". Why hasn't the EU devised a strategy to deal with the Russian threat, after years of energy security talk generating nothing but hot air? Partly because western Europeans have bought into the myth that debt-laden Gazprom "is a normal commercial concern" faced with a Ukraine that is "chaotic, unreliable and a gas thief". In reality Gazprom's just "a political weapon" in Russia's ongoing dispute with Ukraine. Quite so, says Fredrik Erixon at the European Centre for International Political Economy, and "it should long have been clear to EU leaders they needed to diversify away from Russian gas. It's going to get worse unless very drastic action is taken."
At least Britain has got its energy policy right, says The Independent's Jeremy Warner. The UK uses little Russian gas. "Unfortunately, that hasn't made the country immune to the continuing row". Britain now imports roughly 40% of supply. And it is poorly placed to withstand a prolonged siege, with only 15 days' storage capacity versus 80 in France and Germany. Gas has also been flowing out of the country seeking higher spot prices on the Continent. And what this dispute shows is that "you don't want to become beholden for your energy needs to the grizzly old Russian bear".
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