Europeans weigh costs of cutting Russian energy over Ukraine
MILAN >> Across Europe, rising energy prices are testing the resolve of ordinary consumers and business owners caught between the continent's dependence on cheap Russian energy and its revulsion over President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
Governments are trying to replace energy supplies from Russia, mindful that their regular payments are funding a war that has seen thousands of civilian deaths and widespread destruction. They also face a nerve-wracking showdown with Moscow over its demands for payments in rubles, and the possibility that Russia will block supplies, as it did to Bulgaria and Poland last week.
European Union countries import 40% of gas and 25% of oil from Russia, and the current EU timetable doesn't foresee energy independence from Moscow for five years.
As atrocities unfold, the EU is looking to sharpen sanctions.
The EU's executive commission Wednesday proposed phasing out imports of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of 2022. It must be approved by all 27 member countries, which will be a battle because some are more dependent on Russian oil than others.
Help for poor in Milan
Struggling residents of one of Italy's lowest-income neighborhoods on Milan's periphery line up twice a week to ask for help making ends meet. Increasingly, they come clutching utility bills.
Since energy prices began spiking, a kindly threewoman panel that adjudicates the requests at Santa Lucia parish in Quarto Oggiaro have another resource to help the needy: an energy packet funded by the A2A energy company that offers up to 300 euros a year to families who can't pay their higher utility bills. About 100 families have qualified since September.
Alessandra Travaglini, 54, hit the maximum even before the war as her utility bill doubled to over 120 euros. She has been out of work as an in-home caregiver for two months and hopes the parish can give her even more help.
There's not much room for cutting back on energy use.
“I don't cook a lot. I run the washing machine only in the evening or on weekends. I take short showers, I use the oven maybe once a month, and I iron once, maybe twice, a week,” Travaglini said. “I am scared. “
She worries that if Italy cuts off Russian energy or if Moscow halts supplies, her life will get even harder.
“I think they have to buy it from Russia, for now,” she said. “But for me, Italy has adopted the wrong strategy, because we have become enemies. I think that if Mr. Putin pushes the button, we will be the first targets” in any nuclear attack.
Belt-tightening in Budapest
Kritztian Kobela-Piko, a gas fitter and plumber in the Hungarian capital of Budapest, sees his profession intimately connected with his country's relationship to Russian energy. And with the capital just a couple of hundred miles from Ukraine, the war is hardly a distant reality.
The 41-year-old independent contractor installs gas boilers, using materials that have become exponentially more expensive. He said he sympathizes with the war's victims and would be willing to make personal sacrifices if it meant Ukrainians could better defend themselves.
“At most, I will have to tighten my belt a little,” Kobela-Piko said. “But these sacrifices are nothing compared to the situation of people living in Ukraine. I think that this sacrifice is the minimum, something I would do any time out of solidarity.”
Hungary, a former member of the Soviet bloc, gets 85% of its gas and more than 60% of its oil from Russia.