The story goes back to early 2000's when German's then Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder decided to develop strategic relations between Berlin and Moscow. He went so far as to offer partnership to Russia in EADS, a multinational European defense and aerospace powerhouse. In November 2004, Schroeder called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "flawless democrat." Unsurprisingly, in 2004, Schroeder hailed Turkey's Islamist autocrat, then prime minister (now president) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a "great reformer."
On the evening of December 9, 2005, seventeen days after Schroeder left office as chancellor, he got a call from his friend Putin. Since leaving public office, Schroeder has worked for Russian state-owned energy companies, including Nord Stream AG, Rosneft, and Gazprom, for a salary of $1 million a year. On March 8, 2022, German's Public Prosecutor General initiated proceedings related to accusations against Schroeder of complicity in crimes against humanity due to his role in Russian state-owned corporations.
In 2008, the "flawless democrat" Putin invaded Georgia. The West was shocked. Putin critics, including this author, were shocked that the West was shocked. In 2014, Putin invaded the Crimean Peninsula, sovereign Ukrainian territory. The West remained shocked.
In February 2022, Putin invaded Ukraine and annexed parts of the sovereign state. Was the West still shocked? It should not have been.
In 1972, natural gas exports from the Soviet Union accounted for around 4% of European gas consumption. By 2021, Russia was providing almost 40% of Europe's gas. As Moscow's market share has gradually increased, so has its ability to manipulate prices and trigger crises. Most Europeans now acknowledge that this reliance on Russia represents a major strategic blunder. Too late. Europe's "green energy transition" features one major flaw: it relies on Russian gas imports.
Back to the future. This will be an extremely difficult winter for all Europeans, whether they face blackouts or heating issues and sky-high energy bills. Apparently the "flawless democrat" Putin is hoping to weaponize winter and force Europe to surrender, but giving in to the Kremlin would be disastrous.
Back to the past. In 2017, the governments of Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed a declaration to confirm their support for the development of the East Mediterranean Pipeline (EastMed), a $6.7 billion, 1,900-km natural gas pipeline project to connect the gas reserves of Israel and Cyprus to Greece and onward to Europe. The pipeline would have an initial capacity to transport 10 billion cubic meters per year (bcm/y) of gas to Greece, Italy and other southeast European countries. The capacity would then be increased to a maximum of 20 bcm/y in the second phase. The project was confirmed as a "Project of Common Interest" (PCI) by the European governments.
The EastMed pipeline project was designed to improve Europe's energy security by diversifying its routes and sources and providing direct interconnection to the production fields while reducing dependence on Russian gas supplies. It would provide an opportunity for European Union member state Cyprus to connect to the European gas network, which would further enhance gas trading in southeast Europe.
Turkey, after a punishing international isolation following several diplomatic crises with Israel, threatened militarily to challenge EastMed. In contrast, other countries in the region such as Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the Gulf states supported what later became the EastMed group, also favored by the EU and United States. So far so good. But wait.
As the past several years saw the East Mediterranean turning into a slow-fuse time bomb sitting over rich hydrocarbons that are claimed questionably by Turkey as a stand-alone regional force, versus an alliance of Greece, Cyprus and Israel, U.S. President Joe Biden stepped in with a historic strategic miscalculation that came with a strategic cost: appeasing NATO's pro-Putin, part-time ally Turkey and jeopardizing Europe's energy security.
Only a few weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Biden surprised the EastMed partners by abruptly withdrawing U.S. support for the pipeline, thereby effectively killing the project, preventing a diversified energy supply to Europe, and further assuring Putin's energy blackmail against Europe.
The White House said the $6.7 billion project was antithetical to its "climate goals." Biden presumably hopes no one will actually still be using fossil fuels by 2025, the date for the planned completion of the EastMed pipeline. The Biden administration also cited a supposed lack of economic and commercial viability, even though a 2019 study financed by the EU confirmed that "the EastMed Project is technically feasible, economically viable and commercially competitive."
Biden's miscalculation must have caused much laughter and substantial champagne consumption in the Kremlin. "Welcome to the brave new world where Europeans are very soon going to pay €2.000 for 1.000 cubic meters of natural gas!" tweeted Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, and the country's former president and prime minister, on February 22, 2022.
Even if Putin was hesitant about making Ukraine his new war theater in January, Biden's mistake assured him that he was on the right track. If the Europeans freeze this winter or must pay sky-high bills, they should drink a toast to the likes of Schroeder and Biden.
Burak Bekdil, one of Turkey's leading journalists, was recently fired from the country's most noted newspaper after 29 years, for writing in Gatestone what is taking place in Turkey. He is a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.