Not long after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, another mobilization began. European energy ministers and diplomats started jetting across the world and inking energy deals — racing to prepare for a rough winter should Russia choose to cut off its cheap gas in retaliation for Western sanctions.
Since then, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has fiddled with the gas tap to Europe repeatedly. Through Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas monopoly, Russia has vastly reduced supplies or suspended them for days at a time — until last week, when it announced that it would indefinitely halt flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that supplies Germany, and through it, much of Europe.
Yet when the blow finally came, it provoked more ridicule than outrage among European leaders, who say that by now they would expect nothing less from Mr. Putin and that they have accepted that the era of cheap Russian gas is over, unimaginable as that might have seemed just months ago.
“It would have been surprising the other way around,” Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy minister, said this week of Russia’s announcement that Nord Stream 1 would remain shut. “The only thing from Russia that is reliable is the lies.”
Even the markets seemed to take the latest disruption in stride. After rising 5 percent on the heels of Gazprom’s announcement, prices are now lower than they were at the start of last week.
That does not mean that European nations are not feeling the pain, or have skirted the risk that the energy crunch could sow social unrest, fracturing their unity against the Kremlin this winter. But a lot of the damage has already been done, with gas prices several times above anything that would be considered normal and pressure mounting on consumers and businesses.
The question remains, then, of just how successful the hard pivot from Russian energy actually is — whether Europe has lined up enough new sources, whether its stockpiles can get it through the winter, whether conservation efforts can make a difference and whether governments can help shield consumers from rising prices.
Russian officials are watching and waiting for what they believe is the inevitable collapse of European resolve as the economic pain bites.
“I think that the coming winter will show how real their belief is in the possibility of refusing Russian gas,” the Russian energy minister, Nikolai Shulginov, said in an interview with the Russian state-run news agency Tass. “This will be a completely new life for the Europeans. I think that, most likely, they will not be able to refuse.”
Russian state news outlets are full of reports of protests in Europe. Italians, Russian state media reported, are being told to boil their pasta for just two minutes before turning off the heat, while Germans are forgoing showers.
The message: Sooner or later, the Europeans’ unity against Russia will crumble under the weight of high gas prices, while Russia’s standing has been elevated.
The State of the War
- Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant: After United Nations inspectors visited the Russian-controlled facility last week amid continuing shelling and fears of a looming nuclear catastrophe, the organization released a report calling for Russia and Ukraine to halt all military activity around the complex.
- An Expanding Military: Though President Vladimir V. Putin ordered a sharp increase in the size of Russia’s armed forces, he seems reluctant to declare a draft. Here is why.
- Russia’s Military Supplies: According to newly declassified American intelligence, Russia is buying millions of artillery shells and rockets from North Korea — a sign that global sanctions have severely restricted its supply chains and forced Moscow to turn to pariah states.
- Far From the War: Though much of Russia’s effort on the battlefield has not gone as Mr. Putin had planned, at home he has mostly succeeded in shielding Russians from the hardships of war — no draft, no mass funerals, no feelings of loss or conflict.
“We have not lost anything and will not lose anything,” Mr. Putin said on Wednesday.
But increasingly, Europe’s leaders are signaling that, having spent months preparing for this moment, they are ready for the showdown.
“Now our work is paying off!” the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Wednesday in Brussels. “At the beginning of the war, Russia’s pipeline gas was 40 percent of all imported gas. Today it is now down to only 9 percent of our gas imports.”