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Natural gas pipeline.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/

What We're Watching: Russia cuts off gas, EU cuts off Hungary, Erdogan wants to cut Saudi deal

Is Russia’s gas strategy backfiring?

European natural gas prices soared on Wednesday after Russia turned off the gas taps to Bulgaria and Poland. Both countries, which are members of the EU and NATO, had refused to meet Vladimir Putin's recent demand that any countries deemed "unfriendly" to Moscow must pay for Russian gas in rubles. So far, Hungary is the only EU member state willing to do that, but it accounts for just a tiny portion of overall Russian gas sales to Europe. The bigger problem is whether private companies will defy their governments by agreeing to pay in rubles — and at least four have reportedly agreed to do so. For now, larger European countries like Germany have promised they'll share their gas supplies with Bulgaria and Poland so long as the Russian pipes remain closed. If that solidarity holds, and if the EU continues with plans to dramatically reduce its reliance on Russian gas, Moscow's gas leverage over the Europeans might not be as strong as Putin thought. That said, he may be betting that European consumers — read: voters — won't be willing to put up with higher prices indefinitely, particularly once winter rolls around again. Natural gas stories tend to play out over long periods of time — this one will be no exception.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.

Reuters

What We're Watching: Zelensky snubs Berlin, IMF warns of debt shock, Indonesia passes sexual assault bill

The latest from Ukraine

In a stunning rebuke, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday refused to host German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was planning a solidarity tour to Kyiv along with the presidents of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Zelensky’s snub comes just days after he rolled out the red carpet for British PM Boris Johnson and strolled around the Ukrainian capital with him. Part of this is about Steinmeier specifically: during his two stints as German foreign minister – including in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea – he showed great deference to Moscow. What’s more, he’s good buddies with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who is famously cozy with the Kremlin himself. But Zelensky is also peeved at the Germans more broadly for failing to kick their Russian gas habit and sever economic ties with Moscow. Critics have also condemned Berlin for not sending Kyiv enough weapons. Still, was Zelensky’s decision to shame Europe’s largest economy a wise move? After all, he will still need Germany on board to further isolate Vladimir Putin – economically and militarily. That’s all the more true since Putin said Tuesday that peace talks with Kyiv have reached “a dead end,” vowing that his troops would continue to pursue their “noble” aims in Ukraine.

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Putin greets Orbán during their meeting at the Kremlin in 2018.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: Hungary hearts Russian gas, Israeli government in trouble, Ukrainian exodus

Hungry for Russian gas, Budapest will pay in rubles

Fresh off his decisive election victory last weekend, Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán broke with the rest of the EU on a key point of pressure against Moscow on Wednesday, saying he’s ready to pay for Russian natural gas in rubles if the Kremlin asks him to. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently threatened to cut off gas entirely to the EU — which relies on Russia for 40 percent of its supplies — unless member states pay for the stuff using Russian currency. Although the Brussels says no way, it’s ultimately up to each individual country to decide what it wants to do. Orbán, among the most Russia-friendly leaders in the EU, also runs a country that depends entirely on Kremlin-exported gas. Still, while Budapest may be going rogue against the rest of the EU on this, it wouldn’t make much of a financial difference for Moscow: Hungary accounts for just 3% of Russia’s gas exports to the continent. Meanwhile, stricter US sanctions — which include Russia’s largest bank since Wednesday — are pushing the country closer to a technical default on its sovereign debt.

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Ari Winkleman

The Graphic Truth: Kicking the Russian gas habit

Lithuania made headlines in recent days, announcing that it’s ending all imports of Russian natural gas. Indeed, this shift has been seven years in the making. Spooked by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Lithuania – which at the time got almost 100% of its natural gas imports from Russia – began diversifying its energy procurement methods. Fast forward to 2022, and it's ditching Moscow entirely. The other Baltic states are on a similar trajectory. What efforts have other top EU importers of Russian natural gas made to reduce reliance on Moscow during that same time? We take a look here.

A natural gas pipe in from of EU and Russian flags.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Europe’s Russian gas dilemma

The EU is preparing fresh sanctions against Russia in response to Ukraine’s accusation of Russian war crimes in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. The new sanctions will likely build on previous ones, but this time Brussels could (finally) target Russian oil and coal.

In light of these gruesome revelations, EU leaders are now coming under even more pressure to ban Russian natural gas imports. The entire bloc will not agree to that, at least not in the short term. But individual EU member states might.

Lithuania — which seven years ago relied almost exclusively on Russian gas to keep the lights on — announced on Sunday that it has completely weaned itself off Russian imports. Will other EU countries follow suit? It depends, given that some are more dependent on Russian gas than others or are landlocked, which makes it harder to get alternative supplies.

Here are a few arguments for and against.

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Mariupol residents evacuate from the embattled city to Russia.

Mikhail Tereshchenko/TASS via Reuters Connect

What We’re Watching: Mariupol filtration camps, Egyptian bread prices, Europe kicks Russian energy habit

Connecting Russia’s bloody dots in Ukraine

For now, the very worst Ukraine war-related horrors the outside world is hearing about are coming from Mariupol, a port city of 430,000 on the Sea of Azov that has the misfortune to lie between the Russian-controlled territories of the Donbas in Ukraine’s east and Crimea on its southern Black Sea coast. The Russian military is determined to connect the two regions at the expense of all trapped in their path. For now, Mariupol is the one major Ukrainian city where Russian soldiers have entered in large numbers and where deadly firefights empty city streets.

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Climate & the Ukraine Distraction | Global Stage | GZERO World

Ukraine is a diversion from climate crisis, says John Kerry

The escalating crisis in Ukraine deserves the world’s focus right now, former US Secretary of State John Kerry told Ian Bremmer at the Munich Security Conference. “But the key is to remember here that Ukraine, one way or another, we’re going to resolve it ultimately over X number of years,” he said. “But the climate crisis remains existential, just as it was before the Ukraine crisis came up.”

Kerry, who now serves as President Joe Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, also warned that the biggest concern for Russia’s economy right now is not it’s expensive military operation in Ukraine, but rather the country’s melting permafrost, crumbling urban infrastructure, and how they extract their natural gas. “Russia has a profound climate problem,” Kerry added.

Ukraine: Biggest Foreign Policy Test for the Biden Administration | US Politics :60 | GZERO Media

Ukraine: Biggest foreign policy test for the Biden administration

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, shares his perspective on Biden's strategy on the Ukraine crisis.

How has Biden's response to the Ukraine crisis been so far?

Well, Ukraine is emerging as a major foreign policy test for the Biden administration who came into office seeming to want to set the Russia issue aside so they could focus on US policy in Asia. The Biden administration wants a diplomatic response because diplomacy is probably all they have. In public opinion polling, Americans say they do not want to get involved militarily in Ukraine, even if Russian invades, but near majority of Americans say they're not following the issue closely either, which means many of them could probably be convinced one way or the other. The White House efforts to deterrence have included a clever play to foil Russia's invasion plans by releasing intelligence about misinformation President Putin was planning on releasing as a pretext for invasion.

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