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Senate Seeks Ways to Help Europe as Russian Sanctions Cut Energy Supply

June 9, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Boat captain Emosi Dawai looks at the superyacht Amadea where it is docked at the Queens Wharf in Lautoka, Fiji, on April 13, 2022. On May 5, five U.S. federal agents boarded the massive Russian-owned superyacht that was berthed in Lautoka harbor in Fiji in a case that is highlighting the thorny legal ground the U.S. is finding itself on as it tries to seize assets of Russian oligarchs around the world. (Leon Lord/Fiji Sun via AP, File)

WASHINGTON — Next winter looks bleak for Europe without prompt assistance from the United States as war in Ukraine depletes energy sources, a State Department official told senators Thursday.

Until the war started almost four months ago, about 27% of Europe’s oil and 45% of its natural gas came from Russia.

A sixth round of sanctions the European Union announced last week means Russia’s western neighbors no longer want to import its fossil fuels.

“The United States is now the largest supplier of natural gas to Europe,” said Amos Hochstein, the State Department’s senior advisor for energy security.

He testified to a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee as its members try to figure out how the United States can step in to save Europe from energy and food insecurity that already is hurting its economy. They expect the needs to deepen as winter approaches.

“This is not easy,” Hochstein told them.

Central and Eastern European countries are most directly affected by the shutdown of most Russian gas pipeline flows, according to the political risk consultants Eurasia Group. Germany has been heavily reliant on Russian natural gas but has other alternatives in Europe.

The countries are united in their condemnation of Russia for invading Ukraine but are showing rifts in joining an embargo. Hungarian and Slovakian leaders say their economies would be hit too hard by a complete shut off of Russian oil and gas.

Energy prices are spiking in Europe to the same extent as the United States because of the political turmoil.

Hochstein said the sanctions are expected to result in a 10% to 12% decline in Russia’s economy this year but not because of an embargo on its oil and gas.

Global price increases mean Russia probably is getting more money from its fossil fuels now than before its invasion of Ukraine, Hochstein said. Its customers include China and India.

Russia’s revenue from its exports is particularly troubling for Ukraine and its western supporters, he said.

“We can see that Russia is leveraging its fossil fuels as a weapon” to fund its war effort, he said.

The United States can make up only part of Europe’s oil and gas deficit, Hochstein said. A better strategy is a shift toward renewable energy instead of fossil fuels.

Plans already are advancing toward more wind farms and solar energy plants. They are being slowed by permitting processes that can take years, Hochstein said.

Other efficiencies could come from wider use of heat pumps and electric heaters during the winter months instead of natural gas for home and industrial heating, he said.

Hochstein’s plea for the United States to help Europe met with agreement among members of the Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation.

“We must find ways to urgently support our friends and allies across the Atlantic,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., the subcommittee’s chairwoman.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said, “Hopefully Europe will understand how vulnerable they have become.”

He asked about the possibility of sending military flotillas to escort ships carrying Ukrainian imports and exports as its economy suffers a 40% decline since being attacked in February. The ships often carry food, grains, oil and natural gas.

Military escorts are exactly the kind of assistance Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seeking as he warned Thursday of massive hunger and starvation if the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports continues.

Zelenskyy spoke by video Thursday to the TIME100 Gala 2022 convention in New York. Time magazine named Zelenskyy as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2022.

He predicted Ukraine’s shortages would spread far beyond its borders soon. The blockade means Ukraine’s large shipments of wheat, corn, vegetable oil and other products would not reach countries where they have traditionally played a “stabilizing role in the global market,” Zelenskyy said.

Tom can be reached at tom@thewellnews.com and @TomRamstack

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