The news: The European Union is now under increasing pressure to pass strict sanctions against Russia in response to Thursday's downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which killed all 298 onboard.
Prior to the attack, the U.S. had already issued tougher sanctions on Russia in response to their involvement with Ukrainian rebels. The sanctions specifically targeted energy companies, major banks, defense companies and separatists that were fueling the pro-Russia rebel movement in eastern Ukraine.
But at the heart of European hesitation to ice out Putin is Russia's pivotal role as an energy supplier to the majority of the continent. Europe risks enduring a cold winter if they act too brashly. With an important commodity at stake, the EU is interested making in a more delicate response, at least for the time being.
Russian foreign relations: Europe gets an estimated 30% of its natural gas from Russie, more than half of which enters European countries through Ukraine. The EU could feasibly compensate gas flows if Russia interrupted Ukraine's current flow, but that's contingent upon total cooperation of all European nations and Gazprom, the Russian energy giant.
If Russia decides to change European gas flow, Ukraine would be most at risk of shortages, potentially not having enough gas for 8% to 15% of the normal demand, especially in winter when temperatures drop and heating becomes a necessity.
But… U.S. analysts believe it is highly unlikely that Russia would ever halt or disrupt service with Europe, because Russia is so dependent on the money that comes from the flow.
Additionally, Russia would not threaten their biggest trading partner. Russia and the EU have a $412 billion trading relationship, which is more valuable to Russia than to the EU, whose top trading partner is the U.S., according to Vox.
Europe's reliance on Russia is temporary. By 2020, the U.S. could become a major energy exporter, supplying Europe with about half of the gas that Russia supplies now, according to the Obama administration. If the EU and the U.S. can agree upon an "energy policy," then Europe could rely on the U.S. as one of their main energy suppliers. That endangers Russia's grip over the EU, but it also means that Europe would only have to manage the next few years under Russian dominance.
The EU's dependence on Russia is affecting their decisions in the wake of the MH17 disaster. Even though Europe relies heavily on Russia for gas, and likely will suffer if Russia cuts gas ties completely, Russia has a lot more to lose than the EU in the long term.