Britain Blames Russia for Gas Crisis, but Not Everyone’s Buying It
Wednesday, October 13, 2021
Johanna Ross is a journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Brits are preparing themselves for a cold, expensive winter, with the government warning energy prices could increase by as much as 30% in 2022. Financial pundits are already advising people to save up for what could prove a choice between ‘heating and eating’ in the coming months.
And in the midst of the current fuel crisis, Russia is proving to be the ultimate scapegoat for the UK government, with President Putin being presented, incredibly, by British state media as being personally responsible for gas shortages and ‘having little sympathy for his European customers’.
The Times newspaper has been peddling the government line over the last few days, implying that Moscow is to blame. Last Friday an article was published, together with a photo of the Russian President, stating the ‘Ministers believe Russia is deliberately restricting gas exports as part of a strategy to force EU nations into approving Nord Stream 2’. The vague nature of the phrase ‘ministers believe’ demonstrates the extent to which this allegation is completely empty and without foundation.
This article was followed up with another one this week, quoting a specific government minister, Lord Agnew, as saying that the gas crisis was a ‘geopolitical move’ by Russia and that it had nothing to do with the quantity of gas available. Although the paper states ministers have been ‘reluctant to start a diplomatic spat by pointing directly at Moscow’, by publicly blaming domestic fuel shortages on the Kremlin, the government has done just that. In this way it shrugs off responsibility at a time when the Prime Minister’s approval ratings have fallen sharply. The main reason why it avoids any official accusations against Moscow at a diplomatic level is no doubt because there is no evidence to support the claims.
On the other hand, many energy experts and Russia watchers have come out in defence of the Kremlin, by refuting the assertions that ‘it’s all Russia’s fault’. Sir Tony Brenton followed up the first Times article with a letter highlighting the contradiction in UK policy: Sir, “Paradoxically we seem to be demanding more Russian gas while opposing a significant new pipeline, Nord Stream 2, for delivering it.” He then proceeded to cite a number of reasons for shortages at present: “a post-Covid surge in demand, less wind power, the cold 2020-21 winter and technical outages”. Brenton, along with others such as Angela Merkel, haven’t hesitated to point out that Russia is fulfilling all of its contractual obligations regarding gas. Some have even stressed that Russia’s output is in fact greater than it was this time last year.
Two other letters were published in response to The Times’ piece, both decrying Britain’s energy policy, with one stating that the National Grid had warned government years ago of potential shortages on the horizon. A lack of long-term planning is cited along with the shutting down of coal-fired power stations and failure to build new nuclear plants.
Mark Gaelotti, who is no friend of the Kremlin, and is a frequent critic of the Russian government, has written a piece on why blaming Russia for this phenomenon is ‘bad politics’. Gaelotti expounds that the gas shortfall has ‘numerous causes’ including “heightened demand from Asia, which is essentially monopolising the liquid natural gas (LNG) which otherwise represents the fungible supply often relied on to make up for shortfalls in piped gas”.
He gently reminds us that “Russia has no moral duty to provide more gas whenever the West wants it.” This is a crucial point, as from the British reporting you would think Russia was a close ally that had somehow let them down.
Far from it – why would Russia, after the staunchly anti-Russian position the British government has adopted in recent years – prioritise the British? The UK got itself into this sticky situation, detaching itself from the EU and it is now entirely responsible for its own energy security. It could have signed up to be a beneficiary of Nord Stream 2, like Germany, but chose not to for political reasons, as usual toeing the US line. Now Britain must live with the consequences of that decision.
As for the British public, who knows what fate belies them? The realities of life post-Brexit are now being exposed, and Boris Johnson desperately needs someone to point the finger of blame at. Therefore, Russia will continue to fill the role of the whipping boy. As Brits shiver away in their poorly insulated homes this year to save on heating costs, they will remember what the government told them: that it’s all Putin’s fault. Some will no doubt agree with this but the more astute citizen, familiar with this government’s incompetence won’t buy this false narrative. Instead, they’ll be asking why this happened and what the government is planning on doing about it.
And for Johnson, tied to cutting carbon emissions, this couldn’t have come at a worst time. With COP26 looming, he will be trying to ignore the fact that Britain has had to temporarily fire up coal power stations and has given the go ahead for the first new deep coal mine in 30 years. The PM may feel he can hide behind the reports in the establishment media, doing its best to distract the public with the ‘blame Russia’ game. But the more Russia is charged with every crime under the sun, the more skeptical the British public will become. One day, the buck has to stop with Boris Johnson, and it will.
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