Will Europe go dark for Ukraine

2 mins read

As the attack on Ukraine becomes entrenched, European politicians are finding it harder to sing from the greatest hits song sheet of sanctions against Russia.

Going for the oligarchs was the easy option, as was making life difficult for Russian banks and the money flow, but stopping the energy stream to Europe is causing friction.

Even Nicosia, a stickler for EU solidarity on Ukraine, has started to wiggle in its seat at the end of the decision table.

The sixth crunching package of sanctions for Russian aggression is causing a stir, with the Hungarians putting a spanner in the works.

Europeans are beginning to realise that if they make Moscow suffer for its foolishness, they will also take a pounding.

Supporting Ukraine without getting your hands dirty is one thing; getting deep into the trenches and facing the enemy with fearless abandon is another.

The government argues the whole point of disrupting Putin’s war machine is for the Kremlin to shiver from the financial blowback.

Dragging the European economy and its single market down a rabbit hole of recession and power cuts is viewed as insane self-harm.

Europe started to reap the benefits of a post-COVID boom in consumerism and economic rebound that caused supply chain bottlenecks.

COVID is playing havoc with China’s economy, which has a knock-on effect in a globalised marketplace.

Then the war on Europe’s doorstep pitted the world’s major gas supplier with one of the largest wheat exporters.

Russia has deliberately blockaded Ukrainian wheat exports, and now Brussels wants to stop the flow of crude into the bloc.

With EU unanimity under threat, the diplomats seek a face-saving compromise that will not backfire on a seemingly united front.

Banning all imports of Russian crude and refined fuels could be put aside in the spirit of compromise that countries like Hungary can accept.

Any sign of weakness or hesitation on this side of the front line will be exploited by Moscow and damage EU credibility.

It would embarrass European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who proposed the total ban of all imports of Russian oil earlier this month.

In trying to escalate pressure on Russia, the EU’s armoured offensive is bogged down in the mud of politics and self-preservation.

Just when they were going in for the kill, the EU’s economic offensive was in a strategic retreat.

Policymakers are well aware that weaning itself off Russian energy supplies is the only gambit that can make the Russians wobble.

But landlocked countries such as Hungary and Slovakia rely heavily on pipeline supplies of Russian oil, so there must be huge funds to sweeten the deal.

Dropping the oil embargo as part of the swinging package would weaken the European Union’s leverage and its ability to manoeuvre on the moral high ground safely

Changes are expected to the proposals to make the package more palatable to those who have more to lose.

Collective good

If there is one lesson Brussels has learned in its turbulent lifetime, it is how to present painful compromise as a victory for the collective good.

Diluting the energy embargo will tarnish von der Leyen’s leadership — switching off oil and gas has been a prime demand of Ukraine to help them repel the invader.

Cyprus is not reliant on Russian oil or gas, but it is aware of the hardships it will cause a European economy grinding to a halt as a cost-of-living crisis challenges growth.

An energy-starved Europe plunged into darkness would cripple consumer confidence, damage productivity and create fertile ground for unemployment.

Such a perfect storm would swamp Cyprus.

Moreover, inflation will spiral out of control, eating into people’s purchasing power and plunging them into poverty.

They will also be paying unprecedented amounts on their energy bills that have already destroyed household incomes.

Pledging solidarity with Ukraine was always going to come at a cost; short of sending troops on the ground, there are financial hardships to endure.

These are the sacrifices required when at war, as the Ukrainians know only too well.

Europe has avoided joining the battle for Ukraine, but as the Russian army continues to bombard civilians and demolish a sovereign country watching from the sidelines becomes increasingly uncomfortable.

We would all prefer to imagine that the war is without consequence, but we cannot ignore its scar on humanity.