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Is Vladimir Putin really “responsible” for the surge in electricity prices?

The French's inflated electricity bills, the fault of the master of the Kremlin? Next Thursday, February 1, the French will suffer a new increase in prices: bills will increase from 8.

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Is Vladimir Putin really “responsible” for the surge in electricity prices?

The French's inflated electricity bills, the fault of the master of the Kremlin? Next Thursday, February 1, the French will suffer a new increase in prices: bills will increase from 8.6% to 9.8%, depending on the contracts signed, announced Bruno Le Maire last weekend on the set of 8 p.m. on TF1, ratifying the gradual end of the “tariff shield”. In total, in the space of two years, the regulated electricity price will have increased by 43 to 44%. But the Minister of the Economy and Finance - now also given prerogatives linked to energy - refuses to take sole responsibility for this increase.

“Allow me to remind you in passing that, if electricity prices have soared, it is because Vladimir Putin, Madame Le Pen's friend, attacked Ukraine and caused electricity prices to soar. electricity and gas,” insisted the powerful tenant of Bercy on TF1. “They are directly responsible,” he added, targeting the Russian president and the leader of the National Rally (RN) deputies. But is the war in Ukraine really the only cause of the soaring bills that the French have been suffering for two years?

Contacted, the office of the number two in the government clarifies his thoughts: the war in Ukraine is “the main reason for the energy shock that Europe has experienced”, it is indicated. Main, because it is not the exclusive cause. “Bruno Le Maire’s statement is largely true, the energy crisis was largely caused by the war in Ukraine,” comments Nicolas Goldberg, energy expert at Colombus Consulting. Russia was at the time one of the largest producers and exporters of natural gas in the world. “But the minister forgets a structuring element when he does not mention the state of the French nuclear fleet,” adds Nicolas Goldberg, in tune with all specialists in energy issues.

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Because in 2022, EDF experienced a real annus horribilis, after the discovery in the fall of 2021 of a “stress corrosion” problem on several of its nuclear reactors, leading to the temporary closure of many of them. At the worst of the crisis, in the summer of 2022, 32 of France's 56 nuclear reactors were shut down to be repaired. “This created a risk for the security of electricity supply in France, and therefore played a huge role in the rise in French markets,” adds Nicolas Goldberg. Faced with the unavailability of nuclear power, France was therefore forced, in the midst of the war in Ukraine, to increase its electricity production from gas, further driving up energy prices. EDF finally recovered from this serious crisis in 2023, since the energy company's nuclear electricity production in France reached 320 terawatt hours (TWh), an increase of 14.8% compared to 2022. But the evil was already done.

Furthermore, even before Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, energy prices in Europe were already on an upward slope. And where Bruno Le Maire is not wrong, it was that Vladimir Putin was probably already in action. “There was an increase in the price of fossil gas in the summer of 2021, which affected all of Europe, when Gazprom decided to reduce its gas exports to the EU,” recalls Thomas Pellerin-Carlin, researcher in European energy and climate policy. “Putin used the gas weapon even before the war,” corroborates Thierry Bros, professor at Sciences Po Paris and specialist in energy issues. “It was perhaps already in anticipation of Putin's desire to invade Ukraine, to weaken the European economies and political situation by increasing the prices of gas and therefore electricity,” suspects Thomas Pellerin -Pug.

Because, by virtue of the functioning of the European electricity market - which was recently the subject of a European agreement with a view to reform -, the wholesale price of electricity on the Old Continent is directly linked to the production cost of the last production plant called to meet demand. In periods of high tension on the network, it is most often a gas power plant. If the functioning of this market was strongly criticized at the time of the energy crisis, “it enabled the continuous supply of electricity and ensured that trade could continue to take place whatever happened”, underlines Phuc-Vinh Nguyen, researcher in French and European energy policies at the Jacques Delors Institute.

The role of China's post-pandemic economic recovery in the rise in energy prices is discussed by experts. Jacques Percebois, professor emeritus at the University of Montpellier, thus considers that “the increase in electricity prices in 2022 is mainly due at the beginning to the pressure of Chinese demand coming out of Covid, which caused the prices of electricity to rise. gas and by extension those of electricity. For his part, Phuc-Vinh Nguyen affirms that the Chinese recovery “was less strong than expected”, and therefore did not play a role in the increase in energy prices. Finally, it is also appropriate to say a word about the accusations of speculation on energy prices made by the government in the fall of 2022. “There was some speculation, yes, but it did not come from nowhere, it was caused by a risk materialized by the war in Ukraine,” estimates Nicolas Goldberg. For economist Patrice Geoffron, professor at Paris-Dauphine University, “this factor is very difficult to establish very precisely.” “It is obvious, however, that major disruptions like those we experienced are conducive to manipulation,” he says.

In summary, Bruno Le Maire's assertion is correct since the war in Ukraine launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin is indeed the number one cause of the explosion in electricity and gas prices that we have seen since. two years. But she is not the only one. The massive problems with the French nuclear fleet in 2022 have also pushed prices up. And even before Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, wholesale energy prices had begun to rise, driven by Gazprom's sharp reduction in gas supplies. The post-Covid recovery in China may also have played a role, according to some experts.

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