Unprecedented economic crisis has gripped Europe following the war as the continent’s rich nations struggle against severe energy crunch and sharp price rise, writes Gopal Misra
The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is a perilous affair. The death-dance accompanied by un-measurable destruction has converged with human misery of refugees seeking livelihood across Europe to bring unspeakable hardships to the people of the continent. The human tragedy might end in a catastrophe, if Russia uses tactical nuclear weapons.
With nearly one third of Ukraine plunging into darkness after electricity lines were hit by the Russian bombings, and thousands of people facing acute shortage of drinking water, a dead of winter awaits Europe. And instead of any resolution to this conflict, the dark war clouds continue to threaten European existence. It has ushered in a winter of rising discontent for the people in different parts of Europe. They are getting themselves warmed by burning biomass. In Poland, in villages, trees are being cut to obtain logs for heating purposes.
In France, the rationing of petrol has already begun. One has to be in a long queue to get just 30 litres of petrol for a car and 100 litres for a truck, respectively. There were also some reports of violence at a few petrol pumps forcing their owners to close them down. In Germany, the traffic lights are being shut during the night to save energy. In the UK, restaurants are closing down due to the imposition of power restrictions. In Spain, there is a blanket ban on the use of air-conditioners. And its violation has been made an offence.
The present crisis can be traced to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. It is stated to be the root cause of the war. It was followed by the US-led sanctions against Russia, but no serious international efforts were made to resolve the discord. Earlier, Ukrainian president Yanukovych had left the country with Russian help thus paving the way for the new elections, thus enabling Zelenskyy, to become the president in 2019. He is also stated to have annoyed Russians by seeking a membership of NATO.
Ukraine is yet to be inducted in NATO and the European Union (EU), but president Zelenskyy has succeeded in enlisting full support of the western powers since the war broke out in February this year. US President Joe Biden and his NATO allies, mostly members of the EU, have imposed stiff sanctions against the sale of Russian oil and gas in the international markets. But instead of weakening Russia’s economic power, the measure has strengthened the rouble. On the other hand, it has also led to the near collapse of the European economy leading to an unprecedented unrest in the continent.
In recent weeks, the protests against NATO and the European Union (EU) have intensified. In France, Germany and many other countries demonstrators are marching through the streets demanding that their respective countries must radically change their stance on NATO and the EU. In Brussels, more than 10,000 people dressed in green, blue and red, the colours of the three main unions, were seen demanding immediate relief for people reeling under rising food prices and startling energy bills.
It, perhaps, is the biggest tragedy the continent is facing during the post World War-II years. It is bigger than the Christian-Muslim clashes of Balkans, when Muslim women of Bosnia were humiliated and violated by the Serbian Christian goons. During the past eight months, history is being repeated in Europe, where the Ukrainian refugees, especially children and women, are being subjected to all sorts of humiliation for survival. Instead of ending the conflict, US-led western powers are provoking the Russians to further enhance the war zone, without realizing that the war may trigger off nuclear catastrophe, even if the tactical atom bombs were used.
Disenchantment with the war
The war this time has erupted with Europe as a venue of the big powers’ rivalry or an experimental laboratory for testing the latest weapons. The war zone is neither Asia nor Africa, but Europe, the land of the formidable powers of the colonial era such as Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands and other smaller countries. After WW-2, they are facing a turmoil of this scale for the first time during the past 77 years.
During the past three centuries of the colonial era, these powers had looted the immense wealth of Africa, Asia, Australia and Americas. The wealth they accumulated cannot be measured even in trillions of the USD, and how they had evolved a business model is quite mesmerizing. The Europeans armed with papal bull had successfully subjugated the people across the continents, enslaved them, and unleashed small-pox to decimate millions of people in the Americas. During the 20th century they had fought perilous wars in WW-I and WW-2 among themselves for establishing their respective hegemony on the earth. However, the wars weakened these colonial powers, thus paving the way for the political independence of a large number of countries in Asia and Africa.
In a bid to sustain their erstwhile colonial lifestyle, these wealthiest countries decided to shield their acquired wealth through various institutions. One of them is the EU and a formidable defence shield, NATO. However, the Russia-Ukraine War has exposed the myth of EU unity, and the disenchantment with NATO is getting more and more pronounced.
There appears to be a belated realization in Europe that the recent American move to hold a secret meeting of the UN Security Council against Russia might trigger conflicts across the world. The conflicts may not hurt the USA, which is quite far away from the war zone. Joe Biden’s aggressive mood against Russia has disenchanted the common people in Europe about the role of the US-led NATO as a formidable security alliance. They believe that Europe is directly facing the repercussions of this war due to the aggressive postures of the EU and NATO. They also suspect that the war, perhaps, has been deliberately engineered to trap Russia in a conflict.
With bitter harsh winter setting in, the ‘romance of war’ cleverly sold by the NATO and EU is now withering away. Europeans have been hit hard by the war as they face acute energy shortages, economic hardships accompanied by the closing down of their industrial units and an influx of never ending flow of refugees from Ukraine. The economies of these wealthiest nations are staring at near collapse impacting their fragile political systems. The British Prime Minister Liz Truss has already resigned and the new Italian PM may embark upon an independent political line. Initially the new Italian premier, Giorgia Meloni has criticised the former PM Berlusconi for sending sweets and wine to Putin, but there is a strong possibility that she may not toe the NATO and EU’s policy of confrontation, as the street protests become more and more vocal.
The protests and demonstrations have erupted in Europe seeking dismantling of NATO and EU. There has been a growing realization that neither Joe Biden nor EU president, Ursula von der Leyen, is interested in the resolution of the conflict by peaceful processes. It is being questioned why the EU has not audited the impact of the progressively imposed sanctions on Russia since 2014, following the annexation of Crimea.
The EU members are surprised that during the on-going war, their currency Euro has weakened while dollar and rouble have become stronger. The European countries have to subsidise their citizens with billions of Euros to enable them to maintain a semblance of their normal lives, because they have refused to buy Russian gas. They were shocked and for them it was quite intriguing that America promptly shipped liquefied natural gas (LNG) after the explosion that disrupted the Nordic-1 pipe line. However, the US used this as a huge business opportunity by charging a price four times higher than the price of the Russian gas. Similarly, Norway too has been fleecing its brother countries in the continent by refusing to conform to the price cap suggested by the EU.
Instead of focussing on the need for getting it repaired on war-footing, the western media is blaming Russia for the explosion that disrupted the Nordic-I. Russia is also being accused of disrupting the pipe line to get the Nordic-II pipeline commissioned immediately. On the other hand, the Russian side suspects that the disruption was done by some American proxies to enable America to sell its LNG at a much higher price.
Existential Challenge for EU
With the Russian-Ukraine war entering into a critical phase, the use of fifth-generation high-tech aircrafts and missiles are being frequently used. Instead of resorting to diplomacy for addressing the security and strategic issues, the war sentiment against Russia is being whipped up. Meanwhile, the Americans and Russians are testing their latest weapons in the war zone at the cost of the European people.
The spirit of the US-led ‘democratic alliance’ has suffered due to this European conflict. The western powers under the US are known for fanning conflicts, but the Ukraine-Russia conflict has brought the reality of war before the new generation of Europe born after WW-II. It has been knocking the continent since February 2022, when Russia was provoked to invade Ukraine.
Ukraine, meanwhile, has been its most favourite republic or province during the USSR years. The Russians always trusted and admired Ukrainians for their sacrifices against the Nazis during WW-II. Both sides being Christians, the Biblical narrative that angel Lucifer had tried to overthrow his Creator could not justify this war. The war may end one day, but it will always haunt the world leaders why the spirit of the UN Charter was being forgotten and what purpose did the war serve, but it may never dare to identify the villain, Lucifer.
The rigors of this prolonged Russia-Ukraine War is now being felt across Europe, with thousands of Ukrainians dead, or grievously injured with a large number rendered crippled for life. Many of them are fleeing and are being forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. It has not only adversely affected the social and political life of the region, but has also brought the European economy on the verge of a collapse. The unemployment has hit the continent hard, facing a bitter winter sheath of white snow in the coming months. Unless efforts to bring about peace are made on a war-footing, the EU nations will face turmoil on an unprecedented scale.
It is being questioned across Europe why America is not seeking an end to the conflict, when the sanctions have so far failed to browbeat Russians. The Russians are not showing any weakness in the war, but the US allies in Europe are facing the brunt of the conflict. While the ordinary Europeans are questioning the reason for the American reluctance to end the war, at the political level the major powers in Europe are unable to prevail upon Biden and his team for a diplomatic initiative.
The impact of the conflict is visible across the continent. Demonstrations for ending the war are taking place in almost every country of the EU. It appears that Joe Biden is still hopeful of “isolating” Russia or getting Putin toppled by engineering an internal coup in the Kremlin. The move to hold the secret UNSC meeting has further alienated Putin and has dimmed the prospects of resolution of this conflict through negotiations. The allegation levelled by Ukrainian president Zelenskyy that Iran is supplying drones to Russia has further angered Putin. The Russians have denied this allegation and might retaliate by intensifying the drone attacks hurting more vulnerable targets in Ukraine.
Interestingly, it appears that both China and Russia have successfully countered Biden’s geo-political strategy. Germany is reportedly moving its automobile major, Volkswagen, to China, and despite American advice to the contrary, it is seeking closer financial and technological tie-up with China. Similarly, Putin’s offer to supply gas to Europe in spite of the damage to the Russian gas pipeline, Nordic 1, is yet another effort to isolate America in NATO and EU. Earlier, the western media had accused Russia of deliberately damaging Nordic-1 for cutting off Russian gas to Europe, but very soon Europeans realized that the real beneficiary of this disruption is the USA.
In a bid to give relief to his citizens during the post Covid-19 months, Biden could print trillions of USD without causing much inflation, but now the US allies are facing existential crisis due to this war. For energy, they are paying four times more to Americans this winter than they would have paid for the Russian gas. Since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in February this year, the American companies have benefited immensely as they have earned huge profits by supplying petroleum products to Europe. The US exported nearly three quarters of all its liquefied natural gas to Europe during the first four months of 2022, with daily shipments to the region more than tripling from last year’s average. It means, Americans are pushing or fanning the war for profiteering from their own allies!
Another key supplier of natural gas, Norway has rejected the suggestion to cap the gas prices. It is highly unlikely that the American companies would agree to the price cap suggestion of Ursula von der Leyen either.
While the blowing up of a strategically important bridge in Crimea has recently been reported as a success of the Ukrainian army, Russia has responded by enforcing strict martial law in all the Russian-speaking areas under its control.
During the past eight months since the war broke out, Russia has successfully thwarted the American sanctions. The rouble has become stronger, and the European economy is at the verge of collapse. Europe is in peril. Any success of Ukrainian forces in the war front invites harsher punishment to the country, which was once a part of the USSR. If Ukrainian forces have successfully destroyed a key-strategic bridge in Crimea, Putin has countered this aggression by imposing martial law in Crimea.
The Russian forces are now using fifth generation weapons, including aircrafts and missiles. Russia had annexed Crimea in 2014. During the current war, Putin has taken back some key Russian-speaking areas in Ukraine, where the Russian speaking population was being attacked. Putin has taken the territories, especially Crimea, following the reports that Ukraine is keen to join NATO and EU. It was given to the people of Ukraine for their courage and sacrifices in defeating the Nazi aggression during the World War-II.
Ukraine had decided to become an independent nation following the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the initial years, the relations between Russia and Ukraine were quite brotherly. However, their ties suffered following the reports that Ukraine is seeking a NATO membership. It intrigued Russia, which had been denied its membership. On the other hand, its former republics or provinces and the allies of the Warsaw Pact were being inducted into NATO.
After the collapse of the USSR, the Warsaw Pact was dismantled and thus the cold war ended. The US-led western powers should have also dismantled NATO, but they did not reciprocate. Apart from inducting the East European nations, the Russians were alarmed, when they learnt about the emergence of neo-Nazis in Ukraine’s Russian majority areas attacking Russians to leave the region. It further alerted Russians, when they found they were functioning like the jihadists inducted into Jammu-Kashmir by Pakistan. These proxies were being called ‘the non-state players’, but the Ukraine’s pro-American lobby was using them against Russia. They were reportedly operating to “cleanse” the cities of Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhia dominated by Russian speaking people by triggering violence against them. The Russians also realized that America wanted to weaken their hold in the Eastern Europe and in Eurasia, and these neo-Nazis were just American proxies.
Europe on the Edge
Ukraine being the frontline state is facing unprecedented devastation and deaths, but the rest of Europe is also on the edge. It is in the grip of an energy crisis, and faces shortage of food grains and phenomenal price-rise that too under the shadow of a nuclear catastrophe.
The protests against NATO and EU have hit the entire continent with harsh European winter quietly setting in. The situation is feared to worsen in December onwards. The average temperature is expected to vary between -1 to -3 degree Celsius during the winter months.
There is a general impression among Europeans that like the legendary Pied Piper of Hamelin, Biden, who has the final say in NATO and commands unquestioned influence in the European Union, is deliberately leading the innocent brave people of Ukraine to their final annihilation. His agenda is to get Putin deposed, who is now being considered the main impediment in the expansion of the western influence in Eurasia.
Similarly, Ursula von der Leyen is also being questioned for following a ‘mindless strategy’ in her anti-Russian policy, which has proved counterproductive so far. For example, there are few takers of her suggestions regarding the capping of the gas prices or preventing European companies from insuring the Russian ships. It is being doubted whether refusal to insure the ships will really deter the Russians to discontinue their supplies worldwide.
The recent oil agreement between Russia and Turkey, a NATO member, has reconfirmed America’s declining influence on its allies. Russia has decided to set up a massive oil distribution centre at a Turkish town, a part of Europe, near the Black Sea. It will ensure supply of Russian gas to Europe without any hindrance. With the Russian fleet present in the area, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to disrupt the new oil supply line.
It is being announced that the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has accepted the Russian offer and decided to set up a gas distribution centre as early as possible.
The timing of this announcement has an element of surprise in that as soon as China officially declined that it would not be possible for it to supply liquefied natural gas or LNG to Europe and Asia, the CNG prices went up.
Meanwhile, a report from Norway says that Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere has rejected the idea of any price cap, as suggested at an emergency meeting of the EU energy ministers held in Brussels in October. They had asked the European Commission to propose broad gas price caps. Norway has been supplying huge quantities of petroleum products meeting almost 25 per cent of the EU and United Kingdom gas demand.
Both the UK and EU are largely dependent upon Norway, which is not an EU member. It has become the EU’s largest supplier of gas after Russia’s export cutbacks giving the Nordic nation a record income from its petroleum industry as prices continue to soar.
Is EU losing its clout?
With food and energy costs spiking across the continent, the Europeans are apprehensive of the forthcoming harsh winter. The dwindling Russian gas supply is going to hit the common man hard in Europe. Europeans are shocked that neither the USA nor the EU is making any serious effort to end the war. Meanwhile, reports are emerging that Russia is using its fifth generation stealth fighter, Su-57, against Ukraine. It is claimed to have recently been sighted over the city of Zhytomyr.
Amidst these developments on the war front, it is a legitimate question to be asked whether European nations are on ‘decline’. Europe’s major colonial powers, Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, Germany and others who ruled the earth for the past three centuries are facing existential challenges.
Buckling under the US pressure to not to buy Russian gas, countries such as Germany, Italy, France and Spain have been forced to suspend their respective industrial production units rendering thousands of workers jobless. The non-availability of the Russian gas is also forcing people not to use the domestic heating system during the coming winter months. It is going to be a nightmare for most of the people in the region.
Across Britain, country-wide demonstrations against the price rise and the gas cut leading to unemployment have erupted amidst the ongoing political upheaval and economic crisis. It has already led to the resignation of PM Truss. The agitation indicates that the people are keen that the conflict ends as soon as possible. They are not happy with the British decision to supply state-of-the art weapons to Ukraine to be used against Russia, which they believe has fuelled the conflict. The Bank of England has projected the inflation to accelerate to 13 percent during September-December 2022.
Similarly, protests are taking place in other European nations known for their fabulous wealth. Both France and Germany have indicated that they would not be participating in the war and those who are still under the spell of Biden’s war doctrine are facing strong protests against NATO and EU in their respective countries, thus weakening the fragile unity of the erstwhile colonial powers. It is being repeatedly asked in the mainline news channels as well as on social media platforms whether the US-led sanctions against Russia could make any adverse impact on the Russian economy. In fact, the Russian currency, the rouble, has become stronger during the past eight months. Both the USA and Russia are not suffering from the conflict, and the main victims are the Europeans. The European governments are unable to explain that when there are no sanctions on the transportation of the agriculture products, why have the prices of essential goods have sky-rocketed during the past one month?
The resentment against the USA and the EU leadership is becoming more and more pronounced with each passing day. Few European nations are ready to subscribe to Biden’s ‘pro-democracy’ assertions that the European nations should be ready to ‘sacrifice’ to stop the “imperialist Russia”. The European powers, thus, face a decline in their strategic value worldwide.
Another dimension of this war is that whether the Neo-Nazis are changing sides and they are supporting Russia. Before annexing Crimea in 2014, Russia had accused Ukraine of nurturing ‘neo-Nazis’ to attack the Russian-speaking people in the country. However, recently, a German intelligence report has claimed that two neo-Nazi groups are fighting alongside Moscow in Ukraine, despite the Kremlin’s claim to be ‘denazifying’ its south-western neighbour, Ukraine. In this era of ‘misinformation’, it is difficult to believe such reports. Apart from this claim, a few western countries’ media platforms have unleashed a propaganda war that involves sharing old pictures from past conflicts to ‘demonise’ Russia and lavishing praise on Ukrainian leadership for standing its ground against the invasion.
Continent-wide recession fears loom
The Ukraine war has led to a “giant leap” in food prices, according to the UN. It has cut off supplies from the world’s biggest exporter of sunflower oil which means the costs of alternatives have also climbed.
Ukraine is also a major producer of cereals such as maize and wheat, whose prices too have also risen sharply.
The UN said “war in the Black Sea region sent shocks through markets for staple grains and vegetable oils”. The UN Food Prices Index tracks the world’s most-traded food commodities measuring the average prices of cereal, vegetable oil, dairy, meat and sugar. It has already crossed 13 per cent and is the highest recorded during the past 60 years. It has fuelled a cost-of-living crisis that has sparked warnings of social unrest across Europe.
Meanwhile, reports indicate that the Czech inflation is expected to touch 20 per cent during this winter. The governments across the continent are unable to prepare a feasible strategy to tackle this challenge, when the erosion of household income might cause a Europe-wide recession.