The US is concerned that Russian manipulation of energy prices could see cracks appear in the unified front currently shown by European nations following the February invasion of Ukraine.
Repeated messaging from Washington in recent weeks reiterating the need for unity demonstrates a growing unease that Moscow’s weaponization of oil and gas could successfully force disagreement amongst nations opposed to what Vladimir Putin describes as a “special military operation”, as they opt to put self-interest first.
Crearing division and wearing down western resolve have been key tactics for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Western intelligence officials say.
“Putin’s bet is that he’s going to be tougher than the Ukrainians and the Europeans and the Americans, that he can wear down the Ukrainians, strangle their economy, [and that] the Europeans, facing what’s going to be a difficult winter with high energy prices, are going to lose resolve,” CIA Director William Burns said on Thursday.
Europe is already feeling the effects, with energy bills rocketing and leaders warning that energy rationing may be necessary in winter depending on how low temperatures drop. “The electricity market is no longer a functioning market because there is one actor, Putin, who is systematically trying to destroy it and to manipulate it,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said in a speech earlier this month.
EU energy ministers have also clashed over a plan being considered to cap the price of Russian gas. Countries, including Hungary, Austria and Slovakia, are reluctant to impose such a cap over fears that Putin may completely halt Russian gas flows to those countries in retaliation.