Russia sanctions backfire on Western public 

July 31, 2022 - 17:57

With the exception of Hungary, energy ministers from the 27 European Union member states have backed a 15 percent reduction in gas usage this week amid fears of supply cuts from Russia.

The reduction has been labeled as voluntary but is said to be compulsory if there is a complete supply cut of Russian gas in what is looking like a tough winter ahead on the continent.

Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief admitted that the EU remains dependent on energy supplies from Moscow, but claims that would change in the coming months. EU member states are still buying gas from Russia, he said, "but we have reduced to half the amount of imports, we cannot do miracles." 

That reduction came in the form of sanctions against Russian energy but critics argue there are other measures NATO and the EU can take in their strategy on the fighting in Ukraine by changing their approach towards a ceasefire. 

The isolation of Russia both economically and diplomatically was the American-led Western publicly stated policy to ending the conflict. The United States has spearheaded the imposition of punitive measures against Russia and Russians. Washington’s sanctions on Moscow are regularly expanded and are more extensive than what the EU has imposed. 

Yet even the White House has broken down on its resolve to isolate Russia. On Friday, July 29, there was a phone call between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Lavrov “strongly suggested” to Blinken “returning to a professional dialogue in the mode of quiet diplomacy” in
Washington’s reported attempts to release American detainees. 

Washington has strongly struggled if not failed to isolate Moscow globally. Russian President Vladimir Putin has met world leaders including (NATO member) Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Meanwhile, Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, has been seen around the world shaking hands and meeting leaders including U.S. allies. 

The examples in several EU countries below have a similar pattern where the public (households and businesses) are the main targets of the European Union’s energy cut agreement. Experts say this is despite the fact that most Europeans are so much aware of the exact facts that led to the crisis in Ukraine. Governments are also not providing subsidies to make up for the energy cuts by European households. 

Southern European countries don’t even use that much or hardly any Russian gas but are still subject to the EU’s restrictive measures. 

In France, shops that switch on their air conditioning systems have been instructed to shut their doors or face a 750 euro fine. Shops must also switch off any illuminated signs “as soon as the store closes” and “systematically reduce lighting intensity” by reducing lighting levels inside the stores. 

The country has also banned illuminated advertising between 01 am and 06 am everywhere except in airports and railway stations. Public properties have been told to set their thermostats higher in the summer and lower in the winter. The public are also expected to switch off wifi routers and televisions when they are away and turn off the lights in rooms they are not using.

Cities across Germany are switching off the spotlights on public monuments, turning off fountains, and imposing cold showers in municipal sports halls, as the country races to reduce its energy consumption in the face of an energy crisis. On Wednesday, Hanover became the first major city to announce energy rationing measures. Municipal buildings in the Lower Saxony state capital will only be heated from 1 October-31 March, at no more than 20 degrees celsius room temperature while the usage of mobile air-conditioning units and fan heaters have been banned.

Elsewhere, Greece is highly dependent on Russian gas, with 40 percent of its supplies coming from the country. In June it unveiled an “operation thermostat” with the aim of reducing energy consumption by 10 percent this year and 30 percent by 2030. Measures include air conditioners is set at no less than 27 degrees Celsius in the summer and window shields being installed in public buildings. 

Employees have also been told to ensure that computers are switched off after working hours. As part of a major energy upgrade of state-owned facilities, the government has announced a €640 million program to renew windows and heating and cooling systems in buildings.

Authorities in Ireland have urged people to reduce their speed in order to cut the use of petrol and to consume less energy at home. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has called on households to turn the thermostat down to 20 degree celsius in living areas, and 15 to 18 degrees in hallways and bedrooms. It also advises people to adjust their dishwasher and washing machine usage. The utility Electric Ireland has additional tips. “Don’t fill the kettle. If you’re stopping work for a coffee break, only boil the kettle with as much water as you need.”

Early in July, Italy was working on an emergency plan, which called, among other things, for the lights to be switched off around monuments. 

Before Mario Draghi resigned as Italy’s prime minister last week, his government was also preparing strong measures including the early closure of commercial activities at 7 pm. Neither plan has been introduced yet, but since May public buildings, excluding hospitals, have been told to prevent air-conditioning units from running below 19 degrees celsius in summer and above 27 degrees Celsius in winter.

Spain, unlike many other EU countries, has also agreed to a 7-8 percent reduction in gas use is not dependent on Russian energy supplies. On Thursday, the country’s environment minister said the public needed to be “as intelligent as possible” when it came to energy consumption.

On Friday, Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, didn’t wear his tie and urged others to follow suit to save energy on air conditioning. “As you can see, I’m not wearing a tie,” he told reporters. “I’ve asked ministers and public and private sector bosses not to wear ties unless it’s necessary. That way we can save energy, which is so necessary for our country.”

One EU country that refused to go along with the cutbacks is Hungary, which has already secured an opt-out from the EU’s embargo on Russian oil. 

Budapest has reluctantly backed EU sanctions against Russia but has blamed the measures for increasing prices for Hungarian drivers and households. The Hungarian government has also been very vocal in it’s objection to the Western approach toward Moscow.

Spain’s minister for ecological transition, Teresa Ribera, did not question the necessity for the EU to act and take measures in solidarity with other EU members but said the initial “voluntary” plan was “not necessarily the most effective approach.”

This is while France’s minister for energy transition, Agnes Pannier-Runacher, has warned the health of the whole European economy was at stake saying “our industrial chains are completely interdependent: if the chemical industry in Germany coughs, the whole of European industry could come to a halt.”

It’s not just the health of the European economy that is at stake. Both the United States and the United Kingdom are facing record inflation levels and a rising cost of living crisis with the former technically entering a recession that is hitting American households, consumers and motorists very hard. 

Experts say the Western economies were already suffering before fighting broke out in Ukraine but have been exacerbated by the crisis in Eastern Europe which analysts blame the U.S.-led NATO military alliance for instigating.

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