European leaders adopt a new “strategic compass”
Yesterday, Europe took a step closer to reducing its dependence on Russian energy resources, without agreeing to an immediate ban on them at a leaders’ summit to be held in Brussels two days ago. The European Union announced an ambitious plan with the United States to achieve independence from Russian energy resources within the next five years. US President Joe Biden, who participated in the European meeting, announced the joint plan with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the morning. Biden accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “using gas to manipulate his neighbors and gas revenues to fund his war” in Ukraine. Biden, who announced a few days ago a ban on importing Russian energy resources, indicated his “understanding” that European countries did not take a similar decision, adding that his country is an energy exporter, and this enabled it to take the decision to ban Russian energy materials, “but Europe is in a different position from us.”
At the same time, the US President stressed that the plan that was agreed upon in Brussels with European leaders will make Europe able to free itself from Russian energy in the coming years. “I know that giving up Russian gas will not be easy for Europe, but it is the right thing and it will put us in a stronger strategic position,” he said. He added that the United States will help Europe reduce its dependence on Russian energy in the coming years, to become completely independent from it. “These steps will increase the economic and political security of Europe,” he said.
The United States has been urging Europe for years to reduce its dependence on Russian gas and diversify its energy sources by buying more liquefied gas from it, but Europe, especially Germany, resisted that for years and did not change its position until after the war in Ukraine.
For her part, von der Leyen considered that Biden’s participation in the European summit “sends a strong message to the world that the transatlantic partnership is stronger than ever,” noting that Europe and the United States insist on standing together “in the face of Putin and his war,” which she said “is It would be a terrible strategic failure.” She pointed out that the European Union is working with the United States to “dry up Putin’s sources of funding for his war.”
In a joint statement, the two parties announced a plan to bring in additional quantities of American liquefied gas so that the amount of American gas imported annually, starting from this year, will reach 50 billion cubic meters of liquefied gas until 2030, provided that the United States increases its gas exports to Europe “as needed.” And with the goal of ending Europe’s dependence on Russian energy “by 2027.” The two parties agreed to form a joint US-European working cell on energy security to set cooperation frameworks and implement the agreed steps, to be headed by a representative from the White House and a representative of the presidency of the European Commission. In return, Europe pledged to speed up the construction of new liquefied gas storage plants, from which gas would be distributed to member states.
The US-European energy cooperation will not depend on importing US liquefied gas, but will go beyond it to cooperate in accelerating work on developing renewable energy manufacturing, which will theoretically allow Europe to become completely independent of Russian gas.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who headed to the European summit on its first day, Thursday, after Biden had left the meeting, criticized the West’s delay in imposing sanctions on Russia, and also criticized the failure to impose an immediate embargo on Russian energy. And he said in the video, whose tape was distributed yesterday, that “the sanctions came late”, and that “if they were imposed as a proactive step”, they would have been more effective. Days before the start of the military operation on February 24 last, Zelensky demanded the West to impose immediate, preemptive sanctions on Russia in a speech he delivered at the Munich Security Conference, which he attended personally, accusing the West of merely talking and not doing.
In his speech before the European Council, he seemed to criticize Hungarian President Viktor Orban personally, and ask him to choose the side with which he wants to stand. Orban is known for his close ties to the Kremlin, but despite this he did not object to the European sanctions imposed on Russia, but he is against the imposition of a ban on the import of Russian energy. Orban also refuses to provide weapons to Ukraine, as Western countries do, and refuses to allow those weapons to pass through his territory. In the tape that was distributed, Zelensky appears to say: “Lithuania stands with us. Latvia stands with us. Estonia stands with us. Poland stands with us. “France – Emmanuel – I am really confident that you will defend us, Germany … is a little late,” he continued. Hungary, I want to stop here and be honest. For the last time, you have to decide who you stand with.” Zelensky’s criticism of France and Germany for not supporting Ukraine’s rapid inclusion in the European Union, as well as Berlin’s refusal to impose an immediate ban on Russian energy. The Ukrainian president continued, addressing the Hungarian Prime Minister Orban and saying: “Listen, Viktor, do you know what is happening in Mariupol?”, referring to the Ukrainian city besieged by Russia. But Orban insisted on not supporting a Russian energy embargo and published a video of him yesterday in which he said that such sanctions “mean that Hungary’s economy will slow down and then stop,” adding that this is “unacceptable, and it is not in the interests of the Hungarians.”
It is not only Hungary who opposes sanctions on Russian energy, but also Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, which also fear catastrophic economic consequences for them and for Europe. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had confirmed his rejection of such sanctions two days ago, and said that the Russian energy ban would lead to an economic recession in Europe and the loss of thousands of jobs.
Biden had also discussed with European leaders, before leaving for Poland, the coordination and unification of the Western response to Russia. Penalties”. The discussion also dealt with other issues related to the war in Ukraine, including aid to refugees and monitoring of the global food security situation. Western leaders agreed to strengthen the transatlantic defense partnership, including a stronger European relationship with NATO, as stipulated by the new European “strategic compass” that Yesterday, European leaders adopted it.
Although this strategic compass is not the result of the war on Ukraine, but rather dates back two years, the developments in the past weeks have accelerated the pace of its adoption, and prompted countries to commit to greater security and defense spending, according to NATO recommendations to member states. Germany had announced, shortly after Russia began its military operation in Ukraine, to raise its military spending to reach 2 percent, after it had resisted that for years, citing its history.