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Russia halts gas flows to Europe as Ukraine war intensifies

Gas prices are soaring in Europe after Russia indefinitely closed a major pipeline in retaliation for Western sanctions, as NATO gets more involved in the war.

(CN) — Moscow is upping the stakes in the Ukraine war by indefinitely closing off the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline into Germany, a move that puts even more economic and political pressure on the European Union, where gas prices are soaring.

On Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Western sanctions had hindered work to repair the pipeline, which is a principal artery for Russian gas, and that forced its closure. The EU is now bracing for a winter of possible gas rationing and deep economic turmoil.

“Western sanctions have rendered the maintenance system for gas pumping units inoperable, the Nord Stream turbine is not being repaired,” Peskov said.

European leaders accuse Russia of weaponizing its gas supplies and seeking to “blackmail” them into lifting sanctions, which the EU is refusing to do as long as Moscow doesn't retreat from Ukraine. Before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the EU got about 40% of its gas from Russia and some EU countries rely almost exclusively on Russia for gas.

Although the EU was a major market for Russia, the global surge in energy prices has allowed Russia to continue bringing in massive profits despite Western sanctions as it sells its gas and oil to India, China and other developing nations that have refused to condemn Russia for its invasion and chosen not to impose sanctions.

Russia's retaliatory move over Nord Stream came shortly after the Group of Seven nations on Friday proposed capping the price for Russian crude oil.

In the EU, gas prices are 10 times higher than average and surged by more than 33% on Monday following the Nord Stream announcement.

The weekend also saw large demonstrations in several European capitals where protesters expressed anger over soaring prices. Protests and frustration over inflation are growing, posing a major challenge to European leaders, the majority of whom remain steadfast in their commitment to help Ukraine win.

As the economic war between Russia and the West intensifies, the fighting in Ukraine is getting fiercer too and seeing increased involvement by the United States and its NATO allies on behalf of Ukraine. Russia, meanwhile, is turning to its allies and has allegedly begun buying huge stockpiles of munitions from North Korea and war drones from Iran.

In recent days, a number of reports indicate that NATO is becoming more brazen in its support for Ukraine, which has launched a critical counteroffensive against Russian forces in a bid to recapture Black Sea territories it's lost.

The Hill reported over the weekend that the U.S. has begun arming Ukraine “with weapons that can do serious damage to Russian forces, and, unlike early in the war, U.S. officials don’t appear worried about Moscow’s reaction.”

The Pentagon is sending Ukraine ScanEagle surveillance drones, heavily armored MaxxPro mine-resistant vehicles and guided anti-tank missile systems, the article said. The U.S. is also providing AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles and more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems. In addition, multiple reports indicate that Ukraine may soon receive Excalibur precision-guided artillery munitions, weapons that can travel up to about 43 miles.

William Taylor, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told The Hill that U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration have “recognized that they can provide larger, more capable, longer-distance, heavier weapons to the Ukrainians and the Russians have not reacted.”

“The Russians have kind of bluffed and blustered, but they haven’t been provoked. And there was concern [over this] in the administration early on – there still is to some degree – but the fear of provoking the Russians has gone down,” Taylor added.

A Ukrainian soldier takes a selfie as an artillery system fires in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Kostiantyn Liberov)

At the end of August, the Biden administration also announced that it plans to set up a military assistance mission in Ukraine and make it a new separate command with its own general, such as was done for other American military campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. This move indicates the White House is planning for a long war in Ukraine.

American officials have also become quite open about U.S. tactics and aid to Ukraine. For example, General Richard Clarke, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command until his recent retirement, boasted to the Washington Post about a U.S. program to train Ukraine on how to conduct a “partisan campaign” to fight an occupying army.

Since the overthrow of a pro-Russian Ukrainian president during the violent Maidan Revolution in 2014, American Special Operations officials have helped Ukraine build up its own special operations forces, Clarke said.

“With our assistance, they built the capacity, so they grew and they grew in numbers, but more importantly, they built capability,” in both combat assaults and information operations, Clarke told the newspaper.

He said Ukrainian special forces created and trained “resistance companies” recruited from the local population to target Russians.

“If you’re a Russian soldier today, your head must be on a swivel because you don’t know where the threat is,” he said. “They can’t look at any Ukrainian and know if that person is an enemy.”

“This guerrilla war has produced a grim body count among pro-Russian officials in the occupied areas,” the Post said. “In the past few weeks, pro-Russian officials have been killed or injured by car bombs, roadside bombs, poison and shotguns.”

Meanwhile, British media is reporting that the United Kingdom will expand a military training program in Britain for Ukrainians. Since June, about 4,700 Ukrainians have gone through military courses set up at bases in Britain and now Britain says it wants to train tens of thousands of more Ukrainian citizens. Military instructors from eight other countries, including New Zealand, Sweden and the Netherlands, are also involved.

Ben Wallace, the British defense secretary, told Sky News that the training program “developed rapidly, and we are now extending it to five weeks to provide the best possible preparation for Ukrainian soldiers who will soon be in active combat operations.”

He added: “We must do everything we can to help them defend their homes against this illegal and unprovoked Russian invasion, and will continue to do so for as long as it takes. We stand with Ukraine.”

Ukrainians are taught how to handle weapons, perform battlefield first aid and conduct fieldcraft and patrol tactics. The extra two weeks will provide the new soldiers with more advanced training, such as trench and urban warfare, vehicle-mounted operations, and battlefield exercises in simulated combat environments, Sky News reported.

Details have also emerged about Western intelligence agencies providing Ukrainian forces with detailed information about Russian troop movements and actions. British strike and reconnaissance special forces personnel reportedly have been on the ground in Ukraine to help Kyiv strike at Russian targets far behind the front lines.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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