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|