Russia’s cold calculation, or why Russia is expecting a harsh winter


Originally published in Latvian on

Mārcis Balodis, researcher at the Centre for East European Policy Studies

For decades, Russia’s natural resources, particularly natural gas, were a potent weapon in its arsenal. Russia was able to supply Europe with this natural resource due to the systematic development of its infrastructure, which became increasingly appealing over time as European countries attempted to reduce their consumption of coal and oil. At the same time, this continuous flow of supply and pricing were used as a tool of influence by Russia to persuade or even force countries to cooperate in order to achieve compliance with Russian interests. However, Russia’s actions in Ukraine reached a tipping point in this approach, weakening Russia’s position, and the response was swift.

Who owes whom

Already in the spring of this year, in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the European Union announced the implementation of a new strategy – REPowerEU. As part of this, it is intended to cut the import of Russian-supplied natural gas by two-thirds this year and to completely stop it by 2030. Considering the political and financial importance of natural gas export – the European Union pays approximately 400 billion euros for gas to Russia each year[1], Russia has attempted to use a variety of intimidation tools. Russian natural gas exporter Gazprom announced in mid-August that the main export route, the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, would be shut down for three days at the end of August for maintenance. Unsurprisingly, it was announced at the end of August that deliveries via this route would be discontinued entirely, allegedly for technical reasons.[2] Furthermore, this was not the first time, since throughout the summer, Russia limited or completely halted the pipeline’s operation, citing technical shortcomings.[3] Already at this point, Russian officials were not afraid to issue unequivocal warnings. For example, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated in July that, while Russia is not interested in cutting off natural gas supplies, the situation may change if Europe continues on its reckless path of sanctions and restrictions.[4] Vladimir Putin also stated that any restrictions on Russian natural gas exports would result in price increases for European consumers.[5] Thus, Russian officials were able to threaten not only supply disruptions, but also to enhance social unrest in Europe. The mid-October explosions effectively ended this discussion, rendering Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, which had not yet been put into operation, physically unusable.[6]

However, this does not mean that Russia has forgotten about the role of natural gas in politics, and a new inertia has been observed in matters affecting natural resource imports since the beginning of autumn. In mid-October, Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller stated that Europe would most likely survive a warm winter without Russian gas, but natural gas reserves in March would reach only 5%. However, in the event of prolonged cold, entire cities could freeze. At the same time, he emphasised that the prosperity of the entire European Union, particularly Germany, is based on Russia’s cheap energy resources.[7] Simultaneously, V. Putin reminded the European Union that Russia is ready to supply natural resources and that the ball is in the court of the European Union.[8] Such statements imply that a return to pragmatic relations is entirely possible, and that Europe should be grateful to Russia for generously supplying us with resources. The emphasis on pragmatism is a dominant idea in Russian rhetoric, and it also explains other Russian efforts in the information space.

Causing unnecessary panic

SLLC Latvian State Roads reported that strange thefts had occurred in the Dobele and Tukums regions at the end of October, namely citing evidence of sawed or stolen boards from 15 bus stops.[9] This plot was quickly mirrored on pro-Kremlin websites, with a clear message that this is one of many trends in Europe at a time when Russian natural gas is no longer available.[10] Timber, on the other hand, is even more in demand in Germany, according to pro-Kremlin websites. In October, Bloomberg published an article about how, after WWII, Berliners went to the Tiergarten park in Berlin’s centre to cut down trees for firewood. Pro-Kremlin websites attempted to bring this historical fact into a modern context, claiming that Tiergarten park had been nearly clearcut and that local residents are desperately looking for firewood.[11] The disinformation wave also affected German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who stated in a discussion that the German government would assist its citizens with rising living costs; however, German support for Ukraine would continue regardless of what her German voters thought. The quote about supporting Ukraine despite popular opinion was taken out of context and circulated on the Internet, distorting the overall message.[12] In conjunction with this, since the beginning of autumn, several cases of disinformation have been identified, all of which lead to a common goal – to intimidate the public.

There is no doubt that giving up Russian natural gas is a difficult step that will require patience and adaptation into the future. However, Russia’s frequent mention of the disadvantages of such a step clearly shows that it is a disadvantageous step for Russia. Regular gas supplies not only replenished Russia’s wallet, but also placed it in an advantageous strategic position. Russia could demand concessions to its positions in exchange for access to resources, relying on the support of national societies, owing to the importance of relatively cheap natural resources in economic growth. The decision to abandon Russian natural gas limits Russia’s freedom of action and instruments of influence. The constant reference to the panic of local residents’ and the allegedly short-sighted approach of politicians is made in the name of one goal – to return to pragmatism. It was pragmatism that benefited Russia – European countries will choose to live with Russia and its foreign policy consequences in order not to jeopardise resource supplies.

Russian-style intimidation

That is why society as a whole was chosen as one of its target audiences. It is in the Kremlin’s interests to persuade or, if that is not possible, to intimidate the public into believing that without Russia, Europe faces acute problems not only in the short term, but also in the long term. According to this logic, society should demand that its politicians reconsider their current stance toward Russia and return to mutually beneficial relations. The problem is that in such a scenario, Russia would have a clear advantage, and Europe would continue to financially and politically support an aggressive regime. The Kremlin hopes that an intimidated public will turn to political activism in their own countries to change the overall stance. True, in the long run, it serves the Kremlin’s interests to exploit such public sentiment in order to elect politicians who are conciliatory and favourable to Russia, and for whom principles and values come second. Furthermore, it is in Russia’s best interest to elect populists who are willing to give in to popular desires without connecting these to the state’s interests. As a result, Russia’s overall strategy is focused on influencing the public and discrediting the ruling politicians in the hope of achieving a policy change that would return powerful tools of influence to Russian hands, threatening our ability to counter Russia’s destructive influence.

A powerful argument for supporting Ukraine, as well as for our own stability, is not only political will, but also public support. With public support, as well as the understanding of the need to ensure security in the long term, Russia’s position is gradually deteriorating. Naturally, Russia’s strategy aims to sway public opinion, which would lead to a reconsideration of our values in favour of Russia. Therefore, it is crucial to keep in mind why such actions are necessary. Russia is an aggressive country that has launched an imperialist war against Ukraine in the hope of becoming one of the world’s dominant powers. Containing Russia entails not only limiting the flow of money that allows Russia to carry out its aggression, but also the instruments of influence that have been used against us. The best counter-argument for Russia is our own resilience and conviction that the path we have begun on must be continued.

This publication has been financed by the European Media and Information Fund (EMIF) that is managed by the “Calouste Gulbekian Foundation”:  The sole responsibility for the content lies with the author(s) and the content may not necessarily reflect the positions of EMIF or the foundation.

[1] Jonah Fisher, “EU reveals its plans to stop using Russian gas”, BBC, skat. 02.11.2022.,

[2] Deutsche Welle, “Russia indefinitely suspends Europe’s gas flow”, skat. 01.11.2022.,

[3] Al Jazeera, “What is Nord Stream 1 and why is it crucial to Europe?”, skat. 01.11.2022.,

[4] Turpat

[5] Al Jazeera, “Russia’s Putin warns Europe gas deliveries could keep dwindling”, skat. 01.11.2022.,

[6] Merlyn Thomas, “Nord Stream blast ‘blew away 50 metres of pipe’”, BBC, skat. 01.11.2022.,

[7] Михаил Родионов, “«Есть очень пессимистические прогнозы». Как Европа будет жить без российского газа”,, skat. 01.11.2022.,

[8] Turpat

[9] LSM, “Dobeles un Tukuma novadā šonedēļ izdemolētas 15 autobusu pieturvietas”, skat. 01.11.2022.,

[10] Александр Гришин, “Европа может «облысеть» грядущей зимой. Народ переходит на дрова, начали спиливать и скамейки”, Komsoloskaya Pravda, skat. 01.11.2022.,

[11] Tom Norton, “Fact Check: Did Fuel Crisis Force Berliners to Chop Trees in Tiergarten?”, News Week, skat. 01.11.2022.,

[12] Janosch Delcker, “Russian disinformation looms large over German winter”, Deutsche Welle, skat. 01.11.2022.,