It’s a gas

So Russia’s cut off Ukraine’s gas. Two things come to light here.

First, how a reasonable marketing disagreement can get out of hand (with the wronged party portrayed as the bully.) Second, just how fragile Europe’s energy infrastructure is: with only a few weeks of gas in reserve, Russia could game much of Europe on the spot market with barely an effort.

Russia’s being painted as the bad guy playing fast and loose with a smaller neighbour. Whereas in reality, it’s probably more like the situation between England and Scotland – the smaller country is being ungrateful for the multiple concessions it receives and the older brother’s finally had enough. (Scotland spends far more in tax than it receives from its own citizens; the difference is made up by English taxpayers. Yet with a political class defined by common hatred of the English, there’s no realisation that their economy is being supported by their benevolent southern neighbour.)

Ukraine receives cut-price gas from Russia, a remnant of the old Soviet Union where satellite states could buy energy at a discount. Russia, not unreasonably (although in a somewhat bellicose way) wants to move Ukraine closer to market prices, and Ukraine doesn’t like it.

And because of all this, Europe’s been on the brink of an energy crisis for years without doing much about it. For all the population density and energy needs of this crowded continent, the lifelines that bring in burnables are few and narrow: some North Sea platforms, a few wind farms dotted about, some hamsters pedalling a wheel in Brighton. (OK, I was joking about the hamsters.) The bulk of Europe’s energy flows along fewer than a dozen pipes, none more than a metre in radius, all of them going through some rather dodgy geography. If there was ever a reason to roof your house in solar panels, this is it.

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