More than two months into Russia's war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin on Wednesday trained his sights on Europe's reliance on Russian energy. Moscow cut off supplies of natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria, two of the many European countries that rely on Russian energy. It comes a day after the U.S. and European allies agreed to step up military aid to Ukraine. Nick Schifrin reports.
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Amna Nawaz: More than two months into Russia's war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin today trained his sights on another front, Europe's reliance on Russian energy.
Moscow cut off supplies of natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria, two of the many European countries that rely on Russian fuel and gas. The move comes a day after the U.S. and European allies agreed to step up military aid to Ukraine as it holds off a furious Russian offensive in the south and east of the country.
And that's where Nick Schifrin again begins our coverage.
Nick Schifrin: In the occupied city of Kherson, fearless Ukrainians erupt in protests against the city's Russian-appointed mayor, their pleas met with tear gas. Ukrainian demonstrators run from Russian soldiers.
Even against peaceful protesters, Russia punishes its critics. And Russia today tried to punish Ukraine's partners Poland and Bulgaria by cutting off their natural gas supply. For years, Russia has been an energy superpower, providing more than 40 percent of Europe's natural gas through multiple pipelines that run through Belarus into Poland, through Ukraine, toward Germany, and through the Black Sea on to Italy.
Historically, half of Poland's natural gas was imported from Russia, but Warsaw and other countries nearest Russia have been preparing for this day for years.
Daniel Yergin, Author, "The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations": The countries on the eastern flank of NATO, the Baltics, Poland, these countries, have been moving to insulate themselves from Russian energy pressure or blackmail.
Nick Schifrin: Daniel Yergin is vice chairman of S&P Global, whose latest book is "The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations."
Daniel Yergin: It is an effort by the Russians to put pressure. They still believe that they can disrupt Europe through — by playing the energy card. And the Europeans are saying, that's not going to happen.
Nick Schifrin: Poland is building a new pipeline to import Norwegian natural gas. And Poland and the Baltics have built receiving stations that can accept North American liquefied natural gas.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called today's announcement unsuccessful blackmail.
Ursula von der Leyen, President, European Commission: Today, the Kremlin failed once again in his attempt to sow division among member states. The era of Russian fossil fuel in Europe is coming to an end.
Nick Schifrin: Until recently, the main holdout has been Germany, Europe's largest importer of Russian natural gas, where the natural gas pipelines are Russian, and Gazprom owns facilities throughout the country.
Some of Germany's oil refineries are also owned by Russia. And, until recently, more than 80 percent of all the gasoline and planes and cars in Berlin has been Russian. But the Ukraine invasion lit a fire under Germany's government.
Daniel Yergin: Germany has decided, in just a matter of a few weeks, as they watch this horror show going on in Ukraine, that Russian energy is not a reliable supply. It's an unwanted supply. Even a few weeks ago, they would say, maybe we can do it by the end of the year. Now the economics minister is saying, we could actually do it in a matter of days.
That's pretty remarkable.
Nick Schifrin: At today's prices, Putin's Russia still sells $250 billion of fossil fuels every year.
But Europe's reducing its dependence on Russian energy is the beginning of a long-term shift.
Daniel Yergin: Up until the invasion of Ukraine, we would have described Russia quite correctly as an energy superpower. Its days as an energy superpower, the ability to use its energy for political clout and the revenues it's counted on, those days are ending.
Nick Schifrin: But the war in Ukraine is not ending. And, today, President Vladimir Putin reiterated that his goals go beyond the self-declared Russian territory in Eastern Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin, Russian President (through translator): All the tasks of the special military operation will be unconditionally fulfilled to guarantee peace and security, in a historical perspective, for the residents of the People's Republic of Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia and Crimea, and the entirety of our country.
Nick Schifrin: Today, Russia said it launched strikes on western weapons in Ukraine and yesterday destroyed a key bridge on Odessa's outskirts.
In Mariupol, Russians and their separatists allies control the city center and today showed off their bloody handiwork, the theater hit by a Russian bomb last month, killing hundreds of civilians.
But there are also explosions inside Russia. An ammunition depot near the border and two other sites deeper inside the country flared up in fireballs, but it's unclear why.
But even as the war rages, the U.S. and Russia managed to agree to a prisoner exchange. Russian state TV showed former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed boarding a plane back home. He was sentenced to nine years in jail in 2019 for ripping a logo off a Russian police officer's uniform. U.S. officials tell "PBS NewsHour" he's been sick after being exposed to tuberculosis in prison.
He was traded for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot convicted in the U.S. court of drug trafficking, who landed back in Russia today.
President Biden called his release, which required a pardon, a difficult decision. Senior administration officials say the diplomacy with Russia was restricted to the swap and unrelated to the unrelenting war, this video today of a Ukrainian hospital bombed by Russia while full of patients.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.
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