2008 August 30 Saturday
Russia Manipulates Europe With Energy Supplies

Zeyno Baran argues Russia is deepening divisions in Europe with energy and the Georgia invasion. I say she should go further and proclaim that Europe is Russia's bitch.

We saw the same fault line at the NATO summit in April that failed to offer a membership action plan (MAP) to either Georgia or Ukraine, further emboldening Mr. Putin to provoke the Georgians into an unwinnable war. It is simply not possible for the European Union to be united in what Russia considers to be its "sphere of influence" unless the Kremlin's gas leverage over the Continent is broken. Russia is Europe's single largest supplier of natural gas. As there is no global market for gas, the construction of costly pipelines effectively locks consumers into lengthy contracts with producers. This means that Moscow can (and does) easily manipulate dependence into political and economic leverage.

Germany, for example, imports almost 40% of its gas from Russia -- the most of any West European country -- and plans to increase this figure to over 60% by 2020. Six East European countries are entirely dependent on Russia for their natural gas imports. Yet they are also the most vocal about the EU's need to diversify away from Russia. That's because they know Russia can turn off the taps in a second -- as in Latvia in 2003, Lithuania in 2006 and the Czech Republic in 2008 -- with little reaction from Brussels. Russia managed to divide the EU by being a reliable supplier to Western Europe, while continuing to treat Eastern Europe as its "backyard."

The Eastern Europeans are far more outspoken and critical of Russia's Georgia invasion. They know that the current occupants of the Kremlin in Moscow wants them all back under Moscow's thumb.

But think about Russia's strategy. What can they hope to accomplish?

The Russian plan is rather simple: Punish countries that refuse to come under its influence by building new gas pipelines that bypass them, while rewarding countries and political leaders that cooperate with Russia with lucrative energy deals.

If the Eastern Europeans are smart they will make a huge push to break away from dependence on Russian oil and natural gas. Build nuclear power plants, wind farms, and put up solar panels. This will lessen their vulnerability to Russian machinations. But it will also reduce the economic damage to their economies when Russian oil and natural gas production start declining.

While debate about Western responses to Russia over Georgia focus on the short term the Western countries really should focus on a longer term response that involves developing non-fossil fuels energy sources. A push to do that would undermine Russian influence. Plus, it is necessary in the long run because Russian oil and natural gas production will be lower 10 years from now and even lower 20 years from now.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 August 30 12:48 PM  Russia

Me, Myself and I said at August 30, 2008 12:55 PM:

Heh, on the solar panels issue and wind farms, perhaps they will contribute as much to energy as they do here in the US? How many sunny days do they get in Eastern Europe anyway?

Randall Parker said at August 30, 2008 2:02 PM:

Me, Myself and I,

Europe's ability to do renewable energy sources is pretty poor. But they've got to try anyway. We've got to move beyond fossil fuels. Granted, PV electric in Europe will cost more per kwh than PV electric in the US given the lower solar radiation. But they have high population densities and can't get all their power from wind. They need nuclear and PV as well.

Stephen said at August 30, 2008 7:49 PM:

If Georgia had been a NATO member then right now we'd be digging fallout shelters as NATO troops faced off against Russian troops. You should be thanking the sane minds in Europe for not letting the US lay the ground work for starting yet another war.

Wolf-Dog said at August 31, 2008 3:03 AM:

The question is which presidential candidate in the United States is more likely to start a Bronx Project, for new energy research and development? McCain is not the one for sure, for he will favor the old oil interests, whereas Obama is more likely to keep his promise and spend big money on energy R & D. Therefore it was (is) in the interest of Russia to start some kind of military tension to get McCain elected. Similarly, since the Islamic enemies of America do not want the U.S. troops to leave the Guerrilla War Zone in the Middle East and Afghanistan (because this would bankrupt the U.S. the way it demolished the Soviet Union, and more importantly, the cost of war would also prevent funds from being available for energy R & D), it seems that Russia and the emerging Islamic Empire agree at least in one area. This means that we should not be surprised if various top American scientists working on energy R & D start to disappear or die under mysterious circumstances.

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