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How to Reduce Putin's Leverage Over Europe

The crisis in Ukraine has made clear that, despite all the talk about “strategic autonomy,” the EU remains heavily dependent on US security guarantees. While this will not change any time soon, Europe can at least increase its capacity to deploy the few soft-power instruments it has.

BRUSSELS – With the United States leading the effort to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine, European Union officials are wringing their hands. Europe is not only absent from the table, they complain; its security is on the menu.

But the EU is not equipped to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It seeks to be a postmodern “soft” power, and Putin knows only hard power. And what soft-power instruments the EU has, it cannot attempt to use, because it still depends on Russian gas to keep Europeans’ lights – and heaters – on.

The recently completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline – carrying Russian gas directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea – has gained significant attention as a diplomatic bargaining chip. While some argue that the project has given Russia too much leverage over Europe, others hope that the threat of losing the pipeline, which is not yet operational, can deter Russia from invading Ukraine.