US News and World Report quotes Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center Director John Herbst and Africa Center Director J. Peter Pham on what the Gazprom antitrust case means for Russian President Vladimir Putin:
Putin will likely denounce the case against the company as Western aggression against Russia, but it will further weaken his public image domestically, where the standard of living has suffered under the punitive sanctions, says John Herbst, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. There is not much Putin can do to retaliate against the case “since his economy is on the ropes,” but it is also unlikely to force Putin to stand down in Ukraine, says Herbst, who is currently director of the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.
“I don’t expect in the next six months that we will see a serious effort to implement the Minsk Agreement,” he says of repeated attempts to negotiate a cease-fire in Ukraine. “Putin has not been deterred by sanctions. His goal is to destabilize the government in Ukraine. The trick is that he can’t both increase aggression in Ukraine and persuade Europe to ease sanctions.”
If the European Commission proved wrongdoing in its case against Gazprom, the company could be fined up to 10 percent of its annual revenue. But forcing the company to loosen its limits on fuel sales would be far more damaging to the company and to Russia’s ability to blackmail Europe with fuel supplies, says Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.
“The European Energy Charter has been in place since 2004 but has largely been unenforced,” he explains of EU rules that could derail Gazprom’s ability to restrict the reselling of its fuel between European nations.
Europe is likely emboldened to challenge Gazprom because the company is in “a moment of financial vulnerability” and Putin’s aggression in Ukraine has increased political will for Europe to oppose Russia, he says. Similarly, any resolution is going to be driven not just by legal concerns but by geopolitical and geoeconomic concerns, he says.