Europe in a Self-Imposed Bind

Russia’s recent declaration that, as a response to Western sanctions, energy purchases made by “unfriendly countries” will have to be made in Russia’s sanctioned currency, the ruble, is going to cause problems in Europe. However, European Union (EU) nations claim that the sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and Europe do not allow for this kind of payment arrangement.

Recently, Gazprom halted energy exports to Bulgaria and Poland in response to their refusal to pay in rubles. This sent shockwaves throughout the European community, as the continent is reliant on exports from Russia to heat their homes in the winter.

As European nations scramble to find alternatives to Russian fossil fuels, the largest consumers internationally are, even now, Germany and Italy. These are important players in the EU, and their dependence will lead to serious issues when the summer ends. And the summer is not enough time to build any kind of real infrastructure to replace the 40% of natural gas imports that come from Russia.

Meanwhile, as Ukraine continues to refuse any offers of terms by Russia, worldwide food shortages are being warned about as a result of the conflict. Prices are already skyrocketing in the U.S. But Europe will feel some of the brunt of the possible shortages if they hit around a diminished harvest season, as a gas shortage makes heating homes precarious for European governments.

Europe is in a bind. They need to find a way to quickly end the conflict in Ukraine without escalating conflict with a nuclear-weapon state. There’s no guarantee that this can even be done. But it’s the only policy that will mitigate suffering for all parties involved.