Putin outsmarts Biden with ace up sleeve to deliver ‘chokehold’ before Ukraine invasion

Biden and Putin in talks amid fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine

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Russia will reportedly increase the volumes of gas supplies to the bloc in accordance with requests, according to its ambassador to Hungary, Yevgeny Stanislavov. It comes after the leaders met to discuss a range of issues, from the gas crisis to the reported build-up of Russian troops at the Ukraine-Russia border. Mr Stanislavov said: “Gazprom has increased supplies to Europe by 10 percent this year, whereas the total increase in supplies of the Russian gas to the continent equals 15 percent, including liquified natural gas.

“There has been not a single rejection.”

It comes as tension with the West escalated after Mr Putin reportedly slashed the volumes of gas transiting into Europe, while also sparking panic as fears of an imminent invasion of Ukraine appears to be on the cards.

Mr Putin was accused of tightening gas supplies in Europe in the hope to speed up certification of his new Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will transit gas from Russia into Germany, bypassing Poland and Ukraine.

The move exposed Mr Putin’s tight grip on the European energy market and led to accusations that the Russian President uses gas as a “geopolitical weapon” rather than a commodity.

But now that Mr Putin has reportedly agreed to boost gas supplies to Europe, some say the pipeline can be used as leverage against Russia as Mr Biden threatens to scrap Nord Stream 2.

But Olexander Scherba, a chief advisor at Ukraine gas giant Naftogaz and former diplomat is not so convinced.

He told Express.co.uk: “The pipeline connecting Russia and the West running through Ukraine was a major factor stopping Putin from undertaking any full-blown aggression so far.

“If this pipeline for some reason becomes unnecessary or expandable, it is one reason less for Putin to be reasonable.

“But also, Putin knows for sure if he attacks then Nord Stream 2 will be shut down, but if it is operational Putin can get Ukraine in an energy chokehold.

“It would be like saving someone from a shooting squad but then right away giving someone to a strangler.

“One has to be cautious about being overly optimistic about the pressure being applied to Putin so far, maybe it is not enough.”

Brandon Weichert, a geopolitical analyst and author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, also believes that using the pipeline as leverage may not be the wisest tactic.

He told Express.co.uk:” Yes. The West can use the pipeline as leverage. But to what end? Ultimately, Germany and the rest of Europe need that gas flowing as soon as possible.

“Beyond that, though, sanctioning the pipeline might actually put the Putin regime in a use-it-or-lose-it mentality when it comes to taking what they want in Ukraine.

“Beyond a temporary halt of the pipeline, though, my personal opinion is that the Germans will not permanently scrap the pipeline.”

While Mr Biden has called for abandoning the project altogether, Germany’s new chancellor Olaf Sholz has also warned of “consequences” if Russia decides to invade Ukraine.

When asked by Welt television whether Nord Stream 2 could be used as leverage, Mr Sholz said: “We have a very clear view – we want everyone to respect the integrity of borders.

“Everyone understands that there will be consequences if that doesn’t happen, but the thing is to do everything to make sure they remain unbreached.”

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Professor Tracey German, from Kings College London, does not think that the pipeline can be used as leverage at all.

She told Express.co.uk: “Not sure I fully agree with US national security adviser Jake Sullivan who said the fact that gas was not yet flowing through Nord Stream 2 created leverage for the West over Putin.”

Prof German said that it is more the other way round, with Gazprom and Russia in fact having leverage over Europe.

We have seen following the latest announcement that Russia will boost supplies, if it also has the power to cut that off again, arguably what it reveals is that Europe needs Russia’s gas and is in no position to use gas as “leverage” over Russia.

Prof German said: “Gazprom and Russia still have considerable leverage over Europe.

“Russia is happy to exploit vulnerabilities, such as over-reliance on it as a supplier of natural gas, to achieve its own objectives, but it did not necessarily create these vulnerabilities.

“Europe has long been aware of the dangers of over-reliance on a single supplier such as Russia, but, despite a series of wake-up calls that prompted the EU to re-assess both its energy and foreign policies in an attempt to further diversify their sources to ensure the security of supply and prevent over-reliance on any one fuel or any one country.

“Russia has developed new pipelines such as TurkStream and now NordStream 2, which undermine this aim of importing non-Russian sources of gas.

“In 2020 Russian gas giant Gazprom exported 174.9 Billion cubic metres of gas to Europe, down from the record highs of around 200 Bcm in 2018 and 2019 – despite diplomatic tensions and the EU’s long-running objective to reduce its dependence on Russia.”

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