"The West Is Freezing:" Russia Wants Others to Suffer Without Its Gas

December 20, 2022
Russian propaganda has been creating a fake reality where the West is "freezing" without Russian energy.

Threats of "freezing" and a narrative about "Ukraine and the West depending on Russian oil and gas" have been a staple of Russian propaganda for many years. It has even been used in mass culture and in jokes in order to convince Russians that they are part of a big, strong country which graciously supplies practically the whole world with oil and gas and keeps other countries from freezing. This narrative became more visible in 2014, when after the annexation of Crimea, the beginning of the war in Donbas, and debates sanctioning Russia, Russian propaganda began portraying the West as "dependent on Russia" and "weakened by anti-Russian sanctions." For its part, Russia was portrayed as a "powerful state" that "will even win after sanctions." These two narratives comported with arguments  about how Europe is going to "run out of gas and freeze in winter" and Russian policies of "import substitution" that aimed to show that Russia doesn`t even need " Western" goods. Big public shows of destroying sanctioned products were crucial for strengthening the narrative about "useless Western sanctions." After 24 February 2022 and the adoption of new sanctions packages, Russia has resurrected this narrative and begun to transform it into an argument that it is Europe that will suffer from sanctions. It has also targeted Europeans in order to decrease support for Ukraine. It has consisted of various aspects: price increases, a supposed lack of oil and gas in European countries, and the burden on the economy by Ukrainian refugees. However, the "Europe will freeze" narrative has been  one of the most visible.

Russian media has begun sharing this narrative using different channels. For example, in September, Russian media began to share a video showing how different European cities are freezing in winter after Gazprom cut off the gas supplies. In its turn, the Chairman of Gazprom's Management Committee  Alexey Miller stated that "entire European cities could be frozen in the winter," but , the situation can be saved by stored Russian gas. This narrative has also been promoted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who claimed that Europeans "are enormously high bills for electricity and gas and are starving." He even repeated another propaganda narrative about Europeans "who are stocking up on wood" because of the lack of Russian gas, and summed up that "the West is responsible for it." Indeed, putting the responsibility on the West for the beginning and consequences of the war in Ukraine has already become one of Russian propaganda's major narratives.

Another key point here is the narrative that "European economy and industry were stable because of cheap Russian gas." This also comports with previous ideas about the "powerful Russian economy" and the West that is "starving from sanctions." Moreover, it has become a basis for new narratives. Firstly, Russian propagandists share messages that the USA "wants to use the European Union and gain dominance in the world." It not only shows the West as a "victim of anti-Russian policies," but also as dependent on the USA, which is forcing the European Union to adopt new sanctions against Russia. Secondly, appealing to emotions and public fears has always been an essential part of Russian propaganda. Therefore, talking about the situation in the West in context of sanctions, Russian propagandists often use news about protests by workers over high prices caused by sanctions and "Ukraine," or shows people from different European countries who "are starving" because of high prices or a lack of gas. In addition to appealing to emotions and showing a picture of a "freezing" Europe,  Russian propaganda also uses this narrative to show Russia as a "merciful country that takes care of people, in contrast to the West." To strengthen this position, Russian propaganda shows stories of people from different EU countries coming to "overwinter" in Russia. Despite the lack of evidence for this phenomenon,  the message has become quite popular in Russian propaganda. Another point here is to cultivate the view that Europe is "losing" because of its sanctions and support for Ukraine. To re-enforce this narrative, Russian propaganda makes dire claims and predictions about daily life in Europe. "Europe is facing electricity shortages," "European cities are cutting back on Christmas decorations because of high prices," "France will face electricity shutdowns in airports, schools. and kindergartens" - these are all assertions made by Russian propaganda to convince its audiences that  "putting sanctions on Russia only affects the West." Lastly, when scaremongering about future problems with gas, electricity, oil, and high prices in the European Union, Russian propaganda often returns to the idea of "Russia that doesn't need anything Western and will even come out ahead from sanctions." In addition to calling for the appropriation of Western companies that left the Russian market in 2022 amd for the boycott of "Western" goods, Russian propaganda also claims that the West was able to develop only because of Russia's generosity with its resources. This represents a deepening of argument about the West being dependent upon cheap Russian oil and gas. However, this message is closely linked to Russian propganda's general anti-Western rhetoric about the West as "an enemy of Russia that has been using it this whole time." The narrative about the West that is "suffering" from sanctions re-enforces the general anti-Western narrative inside Russia. It is also used to target European audiences through pro-Russian channels and opinion leaders in order to decrease support for Ukraine. However, all these appeals to "powerful Russian economy that has been feeding the European one," stories about "refugees from the European Union," and videos about freezing European cities are used just to divert public attention from the economic situation inside Russia and convince Russians of the illusion of their "victory against the West."

Analyst and Journalist at UkraineWorld