Putin’s Energy Warfare Is Testing Central Europe’s Resolve

Tens of thousands of people filled Prague’s iconic Wenceslas Square on Sept. 28 to demand help from the government amid an energy crisis that has sent household bills skyrocketing beyond the pale for many. Their fears are being exploited by extremist fringe political forces that called for an end to the Czech Republic’s support for Ukraine and for talks with Russia to resume gas deliveries.

Senior Czech officials, such as Parliament Speaker Marketa Pekarova Adamova, who suggested that people facing high energy bills turn their heat down and put on a sweater this winter, are warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using his leverage over Europe’s energy supply to create panic and test the resolve of the population.

The protests are a sign that, in Central Europe, the Kremlin’s strategy is working.

Moscow has been waging an energy war against Europe for months, allegedly in response to the West’s sanctions regime. Putin suggested that he could halt all supplies to leave Europe to “freeze” through the winter. “We will not supply anything at all if it contradicts our interests,” he said.

It’s a palpable pressure point—and one that the Kremlin is likely to try to press on harder as Kyiv calls for allies to accelerate arms deliveries in a bid to extend its military advances. So far, the Kremlin’s energy war has failed to get Western countries to walk back their support for Ukraine, and Central and Eastern European states are among Ukraine’s staunchest supporters.

But the Czech Republic and Slovakia are on the front lines of the energy war, and the risk of domestic political instability is growing as prices and fears of winter shortages soar. Despite remaining firm for now, there is a risk that this could weaken their support for Ukraine.

Provoking political instability in the West is one of the Kremlin’s favorite interests. U.S. reports claim Moscow has pumped $300 million into the effort since 2014. Alongside disinformation campaigns and election interference, Putin now has a new tactic for sowing political discord: energy warfare.

As a means of causing political turmoil, energy warfare is working. It has helped send inflation skyrocketing across Europe. Governments are scrambling to secure alternative supplies, and the worst-case scenario—that Russia will shut off the gas taps completely during the winter heating season—threatens severe disruption.

Central and Eastern Europe are the most vulnerable of Europe’s regions to Putin’s tactics due to their lower economic development and high dependence on Russian energy. Last year, Russian gas accounted for 55 percent of Czech gas consumption, 68 percent of Slovak gas consumption, and 79 percent of Bulgarian gas consumption.

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