TIME europe

Watch Fighters Literally Go Medieval on Each Other in This New Documentary

Fighters down swords and shields in medieval copmetition

If Game of Thrones has you hankering to see a real-life sword-fight or jousting match, consider a trip to the Battle of the Nations. The annual European event involves fighters in actual armor, using real weapons (that have been blunted for safety) competing across a variety of events. A new documentary from distributor Journeyman Pictures chronicles the 2014 event, which took place in Trogir, Croatia. The video features both fighters and fans donning actual medieval garb, competing in both one-on-one bouts and large-scale pitched “battles.”

The Battle of Nations begins in May this year in Prague, Czech Republic.

TIME Behind the Photos

How Photographers Are Trying to Put a Face on Europe’s Migrant Crisis

"I wanted to show that behind each migrant there’s a person”

European leaders are grappling with what’s being called one of the worst migrant and refugee crises in two generations. On Thursday, in a hastily formed summit in Brussels called after an estimated 800 people died in a capsizing off Libya while en route to Europe, leaders pledged new support to cap the rising death toll in the Mediterranean. But aid organizations and humanitarian officials said Europe is still “lagging far behind” of what’s realistically needed to ease the tragedy.

The crisis along the Mediterranean’s coastlines, from Libya to Morocco and Greece to Italy, is not new. Photographers have worked over the last decade to raise awareness as conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have displaced millions. Last June, one image crystallized the scale of this movement. Shot by Italian photographer Massimo Sestini aboard a helicopter taking part in Mare Nostrum, an Italian-led search and rescue operation largely funded by the European Union and abandoned late last year, it showed one boat with hundreds of people looking up, waving their arms. “You could see their desperation,” Sestini said last year. “And, concurrently, their happiness at being saved.”

The photograph, which TIME named one of the top 10 images of 2014, went on to win a World Press Photo award, but it told only one part of a much larger story.

“The only way to really tell the story is to spend time with them in their home countries, see how they live, learn why they leave and then just go with them on their way,” says Daniel Etter, a German photographer, who has documented migrants in northern Africa and across Europe. He called that “almost impossible” to do. Security risks, travel obstacles and financial barriers get in the way, leaving most photographers unable to build the kind of all-encompassing narrative that could help people understand the true nature of the crisis.

Some photographers have attempted to piece together the stories of migrants who risk their lives on these journeys. Alixandra Fazzina, a photographer with Noor, followed Somali migrants’ arduous trip across the Gulf of Aden in search of a better future in her book A Million Shillings, published in 2010. One in 20 who attempted the crossing lost their lives, their bodies washing up on Yemen’s shore.

She wanted to go deeper, she says, than the “small paragraph you find in a newspaper detailing the number of people that have died… I wanted to find out why they were making the journey. I wanted to find out why these people were willing to put their lives into the hands of smugglers and traffickers? Why would somebody do that?”

Olivier Jobard, a French photographer who followed a Cameroonian man’s trek to France, seeks similar answers. “What’s bothering me when we’re talking about immigration is that we often associate these people with ghosts and shadows,” he says. “They are not human in our minds.”

Italian photographer Alessandro Penso, who has been following migrants around Europe, focusing on hotspots like Greece, Italy and Malta, says he seeks moments of spontaneity to expose the humanity of his subjects.”There are simple gestures and habits in daily life that, as banal as they can seem to our eyes, hide the simple truth that we are all humans and vulnerable.”

Humanizing the people making these dangerous and harrowing journeys is important, Penso and his colleagues argue, especially when photography can lead to misconceptions. Cases in point are the widely published photographs of “hordes” of people scaling border fences in Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the edge of northern Morocco. “[When] people see these images,” says Santi Palacios, an Associated Press photographer who has taken such pictures, “they [think] we’ve been invaded.”

The people portrayed in these images are often seen shirtless and shouting, Jobard says, deliberately assuming a provocative stance. “They actually choose to behave like ‘wild animals’ in these situations—to impress or to scare people because it’s a real battle to get in [Melilla]. Of course, that also does them disservice.”

Once they’ve made it over the fence, he says, the contrast is striking. “They dress up, they take care of their appearances.” Last year, he shadowed a man named Hassan Adam from the Ivory Coast, who spent hours on one of these fences, alone. His friends had made it across to Melilla, successfully avoiding the police forces, but Adam was handcuffed, beaten and sent back to Morocco. Jobard tracked him down, months later, after he had finally made it across. “I told his story,” he says. “I wanted to show that behind each migrant there’s a person.”

For all of those who made it over the fence, or past border patrols or across the Mediterranean, there are untold thousands who lost their lives in the search for a new or better one. In October, Italian photographer Francesco Zizola dived 59 meters to photograph the wreckage of a boat that had carried some 500 people, and now rests at the bottom of the Mediterranean. He sought to convey the vastness of the tragedy that had occurred one year before, when 360 people lost their lives.

“I wanted to show to everybody that our comfortable, bourgeois homes could turn—as if in a nightmare—into that cabin with the red curtain, which I photographed inside the sunken ship,” he says. “That cabin is the tomb of our collective conscience and a memento of our indifference.”

Alice Gabriner and Mikko Takkunen edited this photo essay. With reporting by Lucia De Stefani, a contributor to TIME LightBox.

Andrew Katz is a News Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @katz. Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent.

MONEY stocks

Why You Should Invest in Europe—Now

St. Petri's church, Bremen, Germany
JTB Photo—UIG via Getty Images St. Petri's church, Bremen, Germany

What the turning tide overseas means for your portfolio.

The last couple of years have proven to be rather miserable for international stocks.

From the beginning of 2013 to the end of 2014, equities around the world trailed the S&P 500 badly. One index that focuses just on European stocks lagged its U.S. counterpart by more than 13 percentage points annually.

This year, however, the rolls have reversed.

Despite ongoing fears over recessions and deflation in many parts of the world, total returns this year for both the MSCI EAFE index of developed-market stocks and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index have quadrupled the gains for the S&P 500.

What’s going on? And what should you do about it?

Viewed from one perspective, it may seem odd that European equities have performed so well. After all, Europe and Japan aren’t out of the economic woods just yet, and the U.S. has beaten its developed market peers in the last few years with regard to economic growth. Absolute levels, though, matter less than the trend.

“Remember that stock market performance does not closely track economic performance,” per Gregg Fisher of GersteinFisher. “Rather it is often more sensitive to the direction of economic change, shifting market sentiment and valuations.”

On that front, things are looking up abroad.

The massive $1.1 trillion bond-buying program undertaken by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has started to bear fruit. Gross domestic product grew by 0.3% in the last three months of 2014, boosted by Germany and Spain, as commercial banks are starting to increase lending.

The slide in the euro’s value against the dollar has also made European exports more competitive, while low energy prices globally have put more money in consumers’ pockets. While consumer prices fell again in March, the fourth consecutive drop, the decline was smaller than previous months, while the unemployment rate slightly improved.

Risks still remain (see: Greece leaving the euro), but a slight glimmer of optimism has returned the eurozone. And this is a good thing for globally minded investors, especially those looking to buy inexpensive fare.

“As Europe begins its recovery, its stock valuations appear attractive compared to U.S. equities,” per BlackRock’s Heidi Richardson. The price/earnings ratio for U.S. stocks trades at 17.7, compared to 13.8 for Euro-focused MONEY 50 fund Oakmark International OAKMARK INTERNATIONAL I OAKIX -0.79% .

Look to Oakmark or another MONEY 50 selection Fidelity Spartan International FIDELITY SPARTAN INTL INDEX INV FSIIX -1.22% to gain exposure to Europe. A good rule of thumb is to allocate about one-third of your stock portfolio to international equities.

With Draghi committed to quantitative easing until fall of next year, and stocks still available at value prices, now’s the time for investors to truly embrace diversification.

TIME europe

Police: 14 Migrants Killed by Train in Macedonia

14 migrants died after being hit by trains at night

(SKOPJE, Macedonia) — Fourteen migrants believed to be from Afghanistan and Somalia who were heading north toward the European Union were killed by an express train as they walked along tracks in central Macedonia at night, police said Friday.

The group had been walking along tracks in a narrow gorge near the central Macedonian town of Veles at around 10:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) Thursday night when they were hit by an express passenger train heading from the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki to the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Police spokesman Ivo Kotevski said the migrants were believed to have been part of a larger group of about 30-40 people. He said authorities had detained eight other migrants who were uninjured but remained in the area until police arrived. They were taken to Veles, where they were to be questioned by a prosecutor. The remaining survivors are believed to have fled.

Migrants and refugees using the overland route from Greece to central and Western Europe often use train tracks to guide them along their way and to evade police. Local media have reported five similar incidents along train tracks in Macedonia which left six migrants dead in November and December last year.

Tens of thousands of migrants and refugees attempt to reach the more prosperous central and western European countries by heading from Turkey to nearby Greek islands, then either try to sneak onto Italy-bound ferries, or head overland through Macedonia.

Although short, the sea journey from the Turkish coast is perilous, with smugglers overloading unseaworthy boats and often abandoning vessels after entering Greek waters so as to evade arrest. On Monday, a wooden yacht packed with about 90 migrants ran aground on the shore of the Greek island of Rhodes, leaving three people dead, including a young boy.

TIME europe

U.N. Refugee Chief: Europe’s Response to Mediterranean Crisis Is ‘Lagging Far Behind’

Ship with large number of undocumented migrants runs aground at Rhodes
Loukas Mastis—EPA Illegal migrants arriving at Zefyros beach at Rhodes island, Greece, April 20, 2015.

António Guterres is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He is a former Prime Minister of Portugal.

"We can’t deter people fleeing for their lives. They will come. The choice we have is how well we manage their arrival, and how humanely"

The intensifying tragedy on the Mediterranean Sea poses the sternest test to Western humanitarian values in two generations. If we aren’t careful, we risk letting our most fundamental principles slip away, with consequences that could reverberate for decades.

More than 1,700 souls have already been lost at sea this year, fleeing for a safer world. This month alone, twice as many people drowned as during all of 2013. Last week, we witnessed the deadliest shipwreck my organization has recorded in the Mediterranean to date. And the spring has only just begun.

It’s time for Europeans to abandon the delusion that we can isolate ourselves from this crisis. Our region is living through the greatest humanitarian disaster since World War II, but our response is lagging far behind. It’s time to shift gears.

The first thing we must do is be more honest about what is happening. That includes recognizing that this is more than a migrant issue: Many of the people on these boats are refugees, fleeing from conflict and persecution. This means we have an unambiguous legal obligation to protect them. Seeking asylum is not only a universal human right—it’s also a political principle that has guided nations for thousands of years and is at the very foundation of the values upon which modern Europe was built.

Some people argue that letting in refugees and other foreigners poses a threat to our society’s way of life. But it is not by keeping people out that Europeans will protect their identity. On the contrary, it is by giving refugees protection and a future that we preserve what really makes us who we are. To do that, we need to steer a new course.

The conclusions of Thursday’s emergency summit in Brussels show that Europe recognizes the need for collective action to respond to the enormous tragedy that is unfolding on its borders. The E.U. must immediately restart a comprehensive search and rescue operation, along the lines of Mare Nostrum, to save people in distress at sea. The reinforcement of joint naval operations Triton and Poseidon is welcome, and we hope that many more will be rescued as a result.

But we know from experience that border surveillance alone is not an answer to a crisis that involves refugees. This stems from a simple truth: we can’t deter people fleeing for their lives. They will come. The choice we have is how well we manage their arrival, and how humanely.

Western nations must also commit to creating more legal alternatives for refugees to find protection, such as expanded resettlement and humanitarian admission schemes, enhanced family reunification, private sponsorship arrangements, and work and study visas. Without realistic alternative channels for people to reach safety, the much-needed increase in international efforts to crack down on smugglers and traffickers is unlikely to be effective.

Some of the latest E.U. responsibility-sharing proposals, such as better support for the countries receiving the most arrivals, emergency relocation of refugees between member states, and a pilot project for increased resettlement, are a starting point. But much more must be done. We need to distribute responsibility more widely within Europe, because a system in which two E.U. countries—Germany and Sweden—take the majority of all refugees, is simply not sustainable.

We can no longer meet our obligations simply by financing programs in other countries. The communities sheltering refugees in the Middle East and Africa are already overwhelmed. In Lebanon, for example, more than a quarter of the population are now refugees.

It’s clear the crisis in the Mediterranean will not end as long as the root causes pushing people to flee go unaddressed. This means a genuine commitment to solving the conflicts raging around the world, and to preventing new ones. It also requires us to rethink the way we plan and deliver development aid, and ensuring human mobility is a part of the development paradigm. Rather than simply dumping the problem on poorer transit countries such as those in North Africa, Europe must help those governments to protect refugees and others more effectively.

If Western nations continue to respond primarily by shutting their doors, we will keep driving thousands of desperate people into the hands of a growing criminal underworld, making us all less secure.

In the wake of the last crisis of this magnitude, following World War II, world leaders agreed upon a landmark system to share the responsibility of protecting those forced to flee their homes. The 1951 Refugee Convention was not born out of starry-eyed idealism. After years of conflict, and as a new Cold War descended, it was a deeply pragmatic document.

What leaders understood then was that, even in the worst of circumstances, security comes from managing a crisis, not hiding from it. That only solidarity and a genuinely collective response can stop suffering on a massive scale.

We need to heed their lesson. The moment has arrived for us all to step up to the plate, not just those on the front lines. We need to put our values into practice. Because values which we relinquish when the going gets tough are no values at all.

It is for times like these that we created the humanitarian system. We must not abandon it at precisely the moment when it is needed most.

Read next: One Migrant’s Harrowing Journey From Senegal to Italy

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME europe

These 5 Facts Explain Europe’s Deadly Migrants Crisis

Ship with large number of undocumented migrants runs aground at Rhodes
Loukas Mastis—EPA Illegal migrants arriving at Zefyros beach at Rhodes island, Greece, April 20, 2015.

Over 1,500 migrants have died trying to reach Europe—and the numbers are only likely to increase unless the EU takes real action

On April 19, more than 600 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean when their boat capsized on its way from Africa to Italy. On April 12, about 400 people died in a separate shipwreck. So far in 2015, 1,600 migrants have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean, and authorities fear that the number will surge as the weather warms. These five stats explain the rising tide of migration problems for Europe and for the desperate migrants of Africa and the Middle East.

1. Political Refugees Fleeing to Europe

EU member states received 216,300 applications for asylum last year. A large number of these asylum seekers are fleeing from Syria (civil war), Eritrea (dictatorship) and Mali (another civil war). Many of them are officially recognized as “refugees” by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a status that affords certain legal protections. But navigating the red tape takes time. Rather than waiting for a reluctant host country to take them in, many of these refugees entrust their fates to smugglers. As we’ve seen time and again, this can lead to tragic results.


2. Trouble on the Rise

75% of migrant deaths worldwide occur in the Mediterranean Sea. Europe has already seen a 43% increase in migrants through the first two months of 2015, and peak migration season (typically May through September) hasn’t yet begun. In 2014, the top countries of origin of people attempting to enter Europe by sea were Syria (67,000), Eritrea (34,000), Afghanistan (13,000) and Mali (10,000). Currently, an estimated 600,000 people are waiting in Libya to emigrate, according to Vox. These people represent three years worth of migration to Europe at the present rate.

(Guardian, BBC, Economist, VOX)

3. The Insufficient European Response

Even for those migrants who safely reach European shores, their troubles are far from over. The EU requires that asylum petitions be processed by the country in which migrants first arrive. As a result, southern countries such as Malta, Italy and Greece have found themselves overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of incoming migrants, while richer northern countries receive relatively few. Until last year, Italy had a program in place to find and rescue migrant ships, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Italy had to spend $9.7 million a month to fund the program, and so turned to the rest of Europe for help. The United Kingdom and others made it clear that they would not offer support for rescue operations, for fear doing so would encourage more people to attempt to make the dangerous sea crossing. This past fall, the EU’s border patrol agency Frontex took over responsibility from Italian authorities—with a budget that is about a seventh of what Italy was spending on its own.

(FiveThirtyEight, VOX, Economist)

4. Turkey Stands Apart

While Italy and the rest of the EU struggle, neighboring Turkey has been busy hosting 1.6 million displaced Syrians within its borders, or about half the people who have fled that country since the fighting began there nearly four years ago. Taking in refugees is not cheap; the total cost to Turkey is estimated to be $4.5 billion and rising. Turkey has introduced new regulations to give the Syrians a more robust legal status in the country, which includes access to basic services like health care and education. But Istanbul has stopped short of granting these migrants official refugee status, which would provide them with additional social services.

(New York Times, World Bulletin)

5. Rise in Xenophobia

The cost of taking in migrants is not measured only in dollars or euros. As Europe’s economy has struggled to rebound, anti-immigrant attitudes have risen across the continent. In a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2014, a median of 55% of Europeans surveyed wanted to limit immigration. The percentages were much higher in struggling countries like Greece (86%) and Italy (80%). The rise in xenophobia has propelled new far-right parties to the political forefront, and older parties like Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France are looking to play a much larger role in their countries’ politics in years to come. As long as high-unemployment persists in the Euro region, rising xenophobia in EU countries will be an important driver in shaping EU migrant policy.

(New York Times, Pew Research Center)

TIME europe

E.U. Leaders Face Calls to Take Swift Action on Migrants

Italian Navy Brings 545 Migrants Ashore In Salerno
Ivan Romano—Getty Images Migrants wait to disembark from the Italian Navy vessel Chimera in the harbor of Salerno on April 22, 2015

E.U. leaders will examine a plan to respond to the Mediterranean crisis, after more than 10,000 migrants were plucked from seas between Italy and Libya in a week

(BRUSSELS) — European Union leaders gathering for an extraordinary summit are facing calls from all sides to take emergency action to save lives in the Mediterranean, where hundreds of migrants are missing and feared drowned in recent days.

The leaders will examine a plan to respond to the crisis, after more than 10,000 migrants were plucked from seas between Italy and Libya in a week, and are widely expected to approve swift action.

EU President Donald Tusk urged the leaders from the 28 nations “to agree on very practical measures,” including “strengthening search-and-rescue possibilities, by fighting the smugglers and by discouraging their victims from putting their life at risk, while reinforcing solidarity.”

EU officials say the leaders will commit to doubling the size of the European border agency effort in the Mediterranean, but those operations are designed for monitoring migrant movements, not necessarily saving lives.

A senior EU official said they are also expected to give the green light for a pilot project to resettle around 5,000 refugees. The official, who is involved in preparing Thursday’s summit in Brussels, is not permitted to speak publicly.

That resettlement plan would amount to about half of those who have arrived in just the last week and a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands likely to arrive this year.

Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders want a multinational rescue effort launched to help the thousands fleeing conflict and poverty from places like Syria, Eritrea and Somalia.

“The stakes are very high. The number of hours, literally, that it takes to take action will make the difference between life and death,” Iverna McGowan, Acting Director of Amnesty’s European Institutions Office told The Associated Press.

According to the UN’s refugee agency, 219,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean last year, and at least 3,500 died trying. Perhaps 1,000 have already died this month alone.

Critics blame the increased deaths on the phasing-out of Italy’s big rescue operation in 2013-14, Mare Nostrum, which worked close to the coast of Libya — the biggest migrant transit route.

A smaller EU mission dubbed Triton was left to fill the vacuum, but it has no mandate for rescue work, although it does respond to distress calls under international obligations and has saved thousands of lives since its launch late last year.

Some lawmakers are concerned that the leaders may stump up rescue assets while the media spotlight is on their summit, but that commitments to solidarity could quickly fade away, as they have in the past.

“I fear that what will happen … is that they will try to water down a few of the points and the actual reason why they are meeting — to urgently seek solutions to what is happening today — will not be the focus of the deal,” Roberta Metsola, the leading EU parliament lawmaker on migration, told the AP.

Currently, five of the 28 member states — Italy, Greece, Malta, Germany and Sweden — are handling almost 70 percent of the migrants coming in.

A key part of the action plan is to crack down on the people-smugglers operating off Libya and destroy their boats, to stop people sneaking into Europe.

The EU’s executive commission has floated the idea of a civil-military mission to do the job, but it faces many legal hurdles and has proved controversial ahead of the summit.

“I will ask for military action, because you cannot go to the Libyan coast with border guards,” said German EU lawmaker Monika Hohlmeier.

In contrast, Doctors Without Borders said that “fighting smuggling without offering alternatives will create more suffering. If there are no meaningful alternatives offered to people to reach Europe safely, people will take even more dangerous routes.”

TIME europe

Pope Francis, U.N. Chief to Meet Next Week on Migrant Crisis

Pope Francis attends the weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on April 22, 2015.
Vandeville Eric—Sipa USA/AP Pope Francis attends the weekly general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on April 22, 2015

The U.N. Secretary-General will meet with Pope Francis next week to discuss the growing migrant crisis

(UNITED NATIONS) — The U.N. secretary-general is urging European leaders to act swiftly to address the growing migrant crisis during their emergency summit Thursday, and he says he will discuss the issue in his audience with Pope Francis next week.

Ban Ki-moon’s letter to European Council president Donald Tusk urges European Union leaders to consider the U.N. refugee chief’s proposals for a stronger EU search and rescue operation and more legal migration channels.

“We all have a moral imperative to act swiftly,” Ban says in the letter obtained by The Associated Press. He says the “ruthless smuggling” of desperate people will continue along Europe’s southern borders will continue without political solutions to crises in the Middle East and Africa.

Ban told reporters he and Francis will discuss how to work together on it.

TIME europe

Here’s Why Europe is Taking on Russia’s Gazprom

EU charges Gazprom
Wiktor Dabkowski—picture-alliance/DPA/AP Margrethe Vestager, EU commissioner for Competition announce the Statement of Objection against Gazprom activities in 8 countries during the press conference at European Commission headquarters in Brussels, April 22, 2015.

After accusing Google of abusing its dominant position, the E.U. now has Gazprom in its sights

Europe’s top antitrust regulator wants you to know she isn’t afraid. Only a week after accusing Google Inc. of abusive behavior, she’s now taking aim at another mean 800-pound-gorilla of an altogether different kind.

Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager formally sent a “statement of objections” to Russian gas giant OAO Gazprom Wednesday, saying it had used unfair pricing policies to stop competition in five countries in central and eastern Europe.

The case promises to be a defining moment in Europe’s evolving relations with Russia, a new source of friction to add to the problems of mutual sanctions related to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Vestager tried to play down the political dimensions of the case at her press conference Wednesday, pointing out that the Commission has often undertaken similar action to crack down on similar abuse by state-owned companies in member states like France and Italy.

But there’s no glossing over the fundamental ideological gap between the two sides: Russia, and before it the Soviet Union, believes that in gas, security of supply is paramount, and than a monopoly is the best way of delivering that security. The E.U., whose member states used to agree with that policy back in the Cold War, has for the last 30 years insisted that consumers are best served by competition instead.

The case boils down to one old gripe and one new one: the old one is the ‘destination clauses’ in Gazprom’s contracts that forbid companies in one country from reselling its gas in another member state. This combines with Gazprom’s traditional price formula, which is linked to the price of oil with a time-lag. This often leaves Gazprom’s prices out of sync with spot prices. The mismatch can work against the Russians as well as for them, but the Commission argues that the formula “unduly favors” Gazprom.

“Gazprom has been able to charge higher prices in some countries, knowing that gas wouldn’t flow in from other countries,” Vestager explained.

The Commission’s newer gripe is that Gazprom has been using its position as a dominant supplier of gas in eastern Europe, a legacy of the USSR’s position as gas supplier to its Comecon satellites. Gazprom’s market share in eastern Europe can be anything between 51% and 100%). Vestager said the company had bullied those countries into not building infrastructure that would let them accept competing gas. That particular row led to Gazprom cancelling in December the construction of “South Stream”, a new pipeline under the Black Sea that would have fed south-eastern and central Europe for years.

The stakes are enormous: the E.U.’s gas supply (24% of total supply) depends on Gazprom, and the degree of dependence increases the further east you go. If Gazprom carries out a threat to stop piping gas to Europe through Ukraine in 2018, the Balkans will struggle to find alternative sources.

But Russia’s budget also depends on Gazprom–20% of all budget revenue comes from the company, and most of that comes from its legally-enshrined export monopoly of piped gas. In a year when Russia’s economy is set to shrink by nearly 4%, the need for those gas dollars is especially pressing.

For those reasons, the two sides have soft-pedaled the issue for 20 years. Although the Commission has had all the information it needed for over a year, it has held off until now from launching the case, for fear (many suspect) of fanning the flames of the Ukrainian crisis. Even now, Vestager’s case, focusing on the Baltic States, Poland and Bulgaria, is only a slimmed down version of what it could have been.

Gazprom stopped short of saying that the case against it was politicized Wednesday, but did say it was “unfounded”. By the same token, Vestager avoided accusing Russia of using Gazprom’s preferential pricing as a foreign policy lever, although it’s what everyone in Europe thinks.

The irony of the case is that the failure of Russia, the E.U. and the two key transit countries of Belarus and Ukraine to settle their differences amicably has led to billions of dollars being wasted on surplus infrastructure. Neither the Russian pipelines under the Baltic and Black Seas, built out of spite for the transit countries, nor the LNG terminals being built in Poland and Lithuania to spite Gazprom, should have any place in an efficient market.

Gazprom has 12 weeks to respond to the E.U.’s statement. If the charges stick, then it could face a fine of up to 10% of its global revenue, although few expect anything that extreme, due to the political sensitivity of the case.

This story originally appeared at fortune.com

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