Stalin’s Successors – The Dangers of Russia’s Monopoly of EU Energy Supplies

There’s a fuzzy perception of Russia today as being like a teenager “going through a bad patch.” Squabbling with its neighbours, inclined to throw its weight about,  not fully reconciled to the loss of the Soviet Empire, overkeen on the trappings of wealth, but nothing it won’t – given a bit of time – grow out of. Having observed the fall of communism with some relief,  many Western observers have been prepared to indulge the Kremlin’s post-Soviet antics, “throwing shapes” while it adjusted to a new reality.

The truth is very different. Russia, minus the Soviet empire, poses a considerable challenge, particularly to Europe’s energy supplies.This challenge which is not being recognised, nor getting the united EU response it so badly needs. To understand the nature of the threat one needs to look closely at Russian society today and the direction it is taking under its  Putin/Medvedev ,  Tweedledum/ Tweedledee leadership.

In 2006, Russia’s then president, Vladimir Putin, said that demography is “Russia’s most acute problem today”.  With a current fertility rate of 1.33, (it  needs to exceed 2 per couple to replace existing numbers)  Russia’s population went into decline in 1965-70. Life expectancy, already low, is declining further because of a significant health crisis, while at the same time and almost uniquely, the population profile is ageing at a rapid rate.  The percentage of  population aged 65 or over was 12.3% in 2000 and it is estimated will be 23% in 2050.  More importantly, the Russian working age population (those aged between 15 and 64) will decline by 34% in the period 2000-2050.  Finally Russia’s population is currently declining by approximately 800,000 people per annum.

One demographic expert has said that these demographic challenges “may be fairly characterised as severe, dramatic, and even critical”.  He went on to say “the spectre of a swelling population of elderly pensioners dependent for support on an unhealthy and diminishing population of low-income workers suggests some particularly unattractive trade-offs between welfare and growth.  Will Russia’s resources be allocated to capital accumulation or to consumption for the unproductive elderly?  Given Russia’s population structure, the question cannot be finessed”.  (Nicholas Eberstadt: “Growing Old the Hard Way”).

These developments will continue to have a significant impact on Russian military spending, a fact many have missed.  Russia’s military expenditures have increased every year since 1998.  However, a high percentage of that increase has been to pay for military pensions.  Russia spends more on military pensions than on either weapons procurement or military research and development (R & D).  From 2001-2006 spending on military pensions rose by 30.6 billion roubles to 130.5 billion roubles.  This increase was nearly 15% of the growth in defence-related expenditure in the period and almost 38 billion roubles more than the increase in weapons purchases. Russia currently dedicates more than 12% of its defence-related expenditure to military pensions.  This is significantly greater than the US which spends roughly 8%,. Thus  Russia has relatively (and absolutely) less funds to spend on military R&D and weapons despite its recent acquired wealth from its oil and gas resources.

Overall Russian personnel costs as a percentage of the military budget are 44.9% while weapons purchases as a percentage of the military budget are 16.7%.  The ratio of such personnel costs to military costs at 2.69 in Russia, is exceeded in the developing world and India and China only by those of France and Germany.  Comparable ratios for the US and China are 1.29 and 0.96.

Looked at from this perspective, Russia’s wealth (reserves currently estimated at around $600 billion) will not compensate for its demographic weaknesses; and those weaknesses will start to become starkly evident over the next decade.

During his annual presidential address to the Russian Federal Assembly in April 2005, Vladimir Putin declared that “The collapse of the Soviet Union [was] the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”.  This was in stark contrast to the position of his two predecessors as president. Gorbachev and Yeltsin. – They both  saw the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet empire as a victory for the Russian people on the road to democracy.  The then president and now prime minister  Putin was clearly setting out his preoccupation with restoring Moscow’s status as a global power on the model of the Soviet empire.

Ever more worryingly, “for many Russians, the defining memory today is of the trauma and humiliation of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its aftermath.  Most of them do not attribute the collapse to the innate structural weaknesses of the system, but to the intrigues of foreigners and the machinations of domestic traitors”.  [Misreading Russia; Review Essay by Roderic Braithwaite, Survival, August – September 2008, IISS].

In a very rare interview about his family background, Putin expressed particular affection for his grandfather who had served in Lenin’s and Stalin’s security entourage. Imagine the outcry if a German leader expressed similar sentiments regarding Hitler’s security entourage!  Putin has also been involved in public celebrations in honour of the founder of the Soviet Secret Police,  and has officially opposed Ukraine’s decision to label the mass starvation of Ukrainians, induced by Stalin’s agricultural collectivisation, as genocide.  He has also made clear his deep resentment of Baltic and Polish commemorations of Soviet mass killings.  These actions and the fact that he has surrounded himself with  Siloviki [ literally “hard men” – KGB  graduates], suggests that his resentment over the collapse of the Soviet Union and his desire to reverse it is a key underlying objective.

Although it is almost forgotten in the West, President Putin went out of his way to avoid negotiations with the Chechens, instead launching a war which killed in excess of 100,000 people.  This operation consolidated and rehabilitated the Soviet security apparatus and created the powerbase for political domination in the Kremlin of theSiloviki .It also channelled Russian nationalism towards extreme xenophobia.  For these reasons both ex-presidents Yeltsin and Gorbachev fundamentally opposed Putin’s approach in Chechnya and the political fallout from it within Russia.  Putin’s rise to power has also been accompanied by an extraordinary and suspicious growth in his wealth.  In November 2007 Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, calculated Putin’s wealth at not less than $41 billion.  Much of his wealth is said to consist of shares in state-controlled energy enterprises including 4.5% of Gazprom and 37% of Surgutneftegaz.

Corruption
The deeply corrupting influence of the close alliance of political power and personal wealth operating in Russia today is frequently not understood.  The current president Medyedev was not only the long-term head of Putin’s presidential administration but at the same time served as chairman of the board of Gazprom, one of the wealthiest energy companies in the world and part of the Russian elite control grouping.  This group and the state economy are effectively one both in theory and in practice.  Clearly a truly democratic system would threaten that unique power and the wealth of those behind it.  The standard approach to divert the population’s attention from this unacceptable state of affairs is firstly xenophobic nationalism which has been only too evident since the conflict in Chechnya.  The second approach in these circumstances and one copied directly from Soviet practice is that of strengthening the central state, disempowering the regions, and deliberately demonising domestic and self-created foreign enemies.  Both these approaches feed on and reinforce each other.

Soviet-style ambitions

How then to recover Soviet-style great power status particularly in the light of the current severe demographic challenges?

Despite what many think,  the economy is not the answer.  A negative feature of the power tactics set out above and the concentration of that power behind state capitalism is that Russia’s economic development is very dependent on oil and gas.  Unfortunately, as many countries have learned, reliance on such natural resources usually creates the “Dutch Disease”, higher inflation and the crowding out of other productive areas of the economy.  This usually has negative implications not only for economic development, but also for political participation and corruption.  Today the Russian economy is approximately 20 years behind the West in industrial technology and is even behind the industrial technological development of countries such as China.  While Russia’s GDP is eleventh in the world currently (just bigger than Spain), its GDP per capita is 79th with Botswana ahead of it and the Lebanon behind it.  On global competitiveness, Russia ranks 58th  with Croatia ahead of it and Panama behind it.  On business competitiveness it is 71st  while in perceived corruption it is one of the worst, ranked at 143rd preceeded by Syria and Pakistan and followed by Angola and Nigeria.  In the Human Development Index it is 67th preceded by Bosnia and followed by Albania, while its life expectancy is 119th, clearly a disaster for a supposedly developed state.

It is clear that the general Russian economy cannot deliver Soviet-style great power status.  It is also clear that an ideology of fear-based xenophobic nationalism has limited “export potential”.  Because of the demographic weaknesses, even with a massively increased defence spend, the Russian armed forces will not be in a position for a long time to defeat a well-trained, well-armed resolute opponent.  Contrary to the perception of many, the conflict with Georgia showed Russian forces to be much less capable than expected.  Georgian equipment of all types was much better than Russian equipment (which was why it was looted), Russian air and ground forces were literally “flying blind”, and  lost many aircraft, while Georgian troops had night vision goggles which the Russians lacked.  Only the collapse of Georgian morale saved Russia from severe embarrassment.  Russia has learned lessons as has its potential targets.  A determined adversary with reasonable arms and modern technology, with the defensive advantage, can deter an aggressive Russia for some time.  Great power status will not come from force of arms.

The conclusion, and one Putin undoubtedly has reached , is that the only leverage that can help Russia achieve its desired great power status is the oil and gas resources in Russia and those that it can exercise control over.  In this approach and in its supporting attitudes and tactics, therefore, Russia is an “aggressor”, with a clear much repeated desire to roll back all the changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union that weakened its status, particularly those in its periphery, and to change the current international order which it sees as illegitimate and contrary to its interests.  The Russian elite are fundamentally prepared to “rock the boat” until they regain the superpower status they lost with the fall of the USSR.

In addition, Russia’s huge land mass, huge stock of nuclear weapons and its energy super-state status leads the political elite to believe that Russia is a leading world power entitled to its own exclusive sphere of influence between the West and the East. Russia wants  the former Soviet Union – including the reluctant Georgia and Ukraine – back under its wing, albeit in less of a “bear hug” than before.

Russian oft-repeated fear of encirclement is largely  generated by its own policies of first creating enemies to divert the masses and keep control,  and also because it is trying to exclude China, the EU, and the US from the energy resources of the non-Russian portions of the former Soviet Union – particularly in the Caspian Sea and Central Asia.

Russian belligerence towards Georgia, which has existed for some years, is for specific historic reasons and because of the strategically important role of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline which gives the EU access to the Caspian Sea and Central Asia, outside Russian control.

Internal opposition

Opposition does exist in Russia to the policies of the wealthy state capitalists and Siloviki, Putin’s KGB supporters. In a poll in January 2008, 71% of Russians under the age of 30 believed that democracy was the best political system for their country compared to only 50% of those over the age of 50. And 80% of Russians currently doubt that the country is governed by the will of the people.  As one Russian political scientist, Lilia Shevtsova has put it: “Russia’s basic problem does not lie in the citizenry, it lies in Russia’s ruling class.  And here we run up against the peculiarity of Russia’s development:  the ruling class in this country is far less progressive than the people …  The people have never been offered a convincing liberal democratic alternative”.

However what is termed the Putin generation, aged 16 to 29, have some worrying beliefs which emerged in a detailed survey in 2007 for the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The study found that this generation widely accepts that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century and is nostalgic about the Soviet era and ambivalent towards Stalin.  A majority thought  that Stalin did “more good than bad”.  Unfortunately the deliberate rewriting of Soviet history in a positive light eliminates historical memory and facilitates Russia’s development as a hyper-sovereign authoritarian state.  That is a crucial building block of the new society in Russia.

As mentioned earlier, the second building block is the “manufacturing”  of enemies within and outside Russia by the Kremlin, Putin and many who support him.  (This is done by stirring up anxiety about “dangerous foreign influences” such as NGOs, the EU, US, etc). Thus “enemies” encircle Russia.  The idea that NATO, a defensive alliance that cannot provide enough troops, helicopters or equipment, to its own troops to prevail in Afghanistan,  and that has very limited offensive potential such as air transport, is encircling Russia is ludicrous when thought through.

Similarly the fact that the US at this time has not got enough troops for Afghanistan or Iraq, or to help deter Russia in Georgia,  and yet is seen as “encircling” Russia is equally preposterous.  Many have willingly and easily swallowed Russian propaganda without even a brief analysis which would expose such a shallow analysis. Yet  we are to believe that   foreign governments fund NGOs to meddle in Russia’s affairs!

This second building block is also resonating with the Putin generation.  The Kremlin-supported Youth Group, Nashi, (“Ours”) actually promotes the belief that foreign enemies pose a threat to Russia.

In the MIT survey the countries seen as an enemy of Russia were in order of enmity, Georgia, the USA, Iran, the Ukraine, China, Belarus and Germany.  The USA was seen as the biggest rival to Russia with China next and the Ukraine third.  In the same survey,  one third believed that foreigners introduced Aids into Russia in order to weaken it and only 30% agreed that “Russia should strive to become a European country rather than pursue its own path”.

Sergei Kovalev, the eminent Soviet-era dissident has summarised what is happening in Russia – “Putin now stands for an entire set of politics” and a “web of political concepts generated in the bowels of the KGB”,  he wrote  in theNew York Review of Books . It is very clear that the US, EU and/or Georgian actions or statements did not generate Russian resentment and its desire to reacquire Soviet great power status – this was all “home grown”.

Putin’s Plan 
It is very clear that what is occurring is very much part of “Putin’s Plan”.  This phrase was introduced into the political vocabulary by the chairman of the United Russia Party, Boris Gryzlov, in a speech in May 2007.  He emphasised that the concept had been “in effect since 2000”.  He explained that “Putin’s Plan is simply the political course of the current president …  Putin is the leader in charge of national strategy and this is why we have dubbed his ideas “Putin’s Plan””.

This plan began to see the light of day in Putin’s dissertation – Strategic Planning of the Reproduction of the Mineral Resource Base of a Region under the Conditions of the Formation of Market Relations:  The Case of St Petersburg and Leningrad Region. [Dissertation, St Petersburg State Mining Institute, St Petersburg 1997].  This dissertation prepared after his long career with the KGB was based on a work – Strategic Planning and Policy by William King and David Cleland of the University of Pittsburg, and dealt with the strategic planning for unpredictable changing environments.  The dissertation was updated on the eve of his assumption of the office as acting president on January 1, 2000 when he issued his mission statement – Russia on the Threshold of the Millennium. Putin pledged to give Russians what they longed for most of all; “stability, certainty and the possibility of planning for the future – their own and that of their children – not one month at a time, but for years and decades”.

As pointed out in the article “Putin’s Plan”, by Clifford Gaddy and Andrew C. Kuchins [The Washington Quarterly – Spring 2008]:   “He identified the long-term objective of restoring Russia’s status as a great power and the wellbeing of its people and also for the first time set up a time-specific goal of bringing Russia’s per capita GDP to the level of Portugal by the year 2015.  (In his 2003 address to the Federal Assembly, Putin would revise that goal to be a doubling of Russian GDP by 2010) …

One of the major themes of Putin’s  millennium statement was the need for unity and cohesion in Russian society if the nation’s destiny was to be fulfilled and the objectives met.  In Putin’s scheme, parties and electoral politics play a specific role in this regard.  Political parties must serve the objective of unity and stability, something they cannot do if they primarily present competing policies and platforms.  Rather, the purpose of political parties becomes to mould a diverse electorate into a unified body of support for his policy.

Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov said as much when he told NTV on August 31, 2007, that Russia has formed “a corporate state”:  “We have a state corporation and we are electing the top management of our state corporation”.  [This refers to Putin’s arranging of Medvedev’s succession to him].

Putin’s conviction that a nation can make meaningful plans for the future only to the extent that it has control over its own fate bears on his repeated references to and particular definition of the notion of sovereignty.  For him and most of the Russian elites, sovereignty means being able to shape one’s own destiny independently.  It is often expressed in negative terms:  let no-one else determine Russia’s fate.  Putin and his colleagues believe that Russia essentially lost its sovereignty in the late 1980s and 1990s under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.

The Kremlin viewed Western-supported non-governmental organisations in Georgia, Ukraine, and Russia itself as threats to regional stability and thus to the very sovereignty of the Russian Federation …

Today’s Russia regards many elements of the international system that evolved during that period of weakness [the 1980s and 1990s] as illegitimate.  This is most evident on a range of security issues including Kosovo, the role of NATO, missile defence, the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, and others where the US (in particular with the usual accusation of unilateralism) and the West are viewed as having taken “undue advantage of Russia”.

Noting that because of financial and economic interdependence so graphically illustrated by  the credit and financial crises recently, Russia cannot be fully sovereign in a globalised economy, “The Soviet Union survived World War II, but it could not survive a collapse of world oil prices …  [emphasis added], according to theWashington Quarterly.

Increasingly, however, Russia has come to realise that a purely defensive, and inward-oriented approach is not enough.  “Russia is increasingly linked to the international economy, and if growth is to continue, that trend cannot be reversed”.

It is clear that in Russia today key corporations particularly in the energy sector are controlled by the state; there is a desire for unrestricted sovereignty for Russia as far as possible in an inter-dependent world; that energy resources are an instrument of political force than can empower Russia or utterly disempower it, and a desire for the re-emergence of “sphere of interest” politics.  These factors together with its complex attitude – almost like the German reaction to the Versailles Treaty – to how the Soviet Union collapsed and its desire to re-establish Soviet great power status, makes current Russian policy akin to 19th century imperial Germany, and the Germany of the 1920s and the 1930s.

There  are worrying parallels with the stratagem  Hitler used to enforce his interest in many neighbouring states – the “protection” of German citizens abroad. Just as Hitler did, President Medevev has indicated that the protection of the lives and dignity of Russian citizens abroad is an “unquestionable priority”.  He also talked of Russia’s right to “historically special relations with its spheres of privileged interests”,  on 1 September 2008.  Russia has introduced legislation to allow it to protect Russians in its “near abroad” and has granted citizenship in recent years, and passports, to those who want them, including many Abkhazians and South Ossetians, the Georgian breakaway regions.

Russia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, came to be described by some as Upper Volta with nuclear weapons.  That facetious description needs to be revised and treated  much more seriously today.  A more accurate description of Russia today would be “Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons” and I suggest, a  highly aggressive pre-World War II desire for power, unrestricted sovereignty and its own spheres of influence, without having the manpower  to achieve it  by force of arms.

Russia’s energy weapon

How this great power status will be achieved is clearly almost wholly dependent on how Russia uses the oil and gas reserves it owns and those it can control.  The best explanation of this weapon is set out in an article entitled  EU Energy Security:  Time to End Russian Leverage.

“Russian power and influence is no longer measured in ballistic missile accuracy or bomber production but in miles of pipeline constructed and barrels of oil per day exported, and for Europe, this energy invasion has already begun. [Zeyno Baran, the Centre for Eurasion Policy at the Hudson Institute, The Washington Quarterly, Autumn 2007].

“Questions regarding the security and sustainability of energy supply have mostly been left to individual EU member states and to the invisible hand of the market.  Many European leaders preferred not to discuss the geopolitics of energy, instead delegating this portfolio to their economic ministries.  Moreover, there is little unity among member states’ energy policies.  Russia, the European Union’s primary oil and gas provider, has deliberately taken advantage of this lack of cohesion to gain favourable energy deals and heighten European dependence on Russian supplies.  Moscow is pursuing a divide-and -conquer strategy of amassing bilateral deals with EU states.  This disunity has also allowed Moscow to pre-emptively block European attempts to construct transport routes for Caspian and Central Asian oil and gas that do not involve Russia.

“Given Russia’s high level of political involvement in energy issues, the EU needs a corresponding degree of intensity.  Specifically, Europe must realise the very real foreign and security policy ramifications that the supply of energy has.  Enhancing cooperation on energy security within the EU is essential to withstand Russian pressure.

“The lack of reliable and sustainable European access to energy represents a clear threat to the continent’s security.  Under Putin, the Kremlin has pursued a strategy whereby Europe’s substantial dependence on Russian energy is leveraged to obtain economic and political gains.  If this situation continues, the EU will find itself in further danger, as its dependence leaves it beholden to Russian interests.  There simply is no readily available alternative to the supplies the EU receives from Russia, particularly natural gas.  Unlike oil, gas is extremely difficult and costly to ship by tanker; pipelines are the preferred method of transportation.  Thus, if a supplier refuses to provide gas or charges an unreasonable price, the consumer cannot quickly or easily turn to another source.”

The EU is vulnerable, relying on Russia for more than 30% of its oil imports and 50% of its natural gas. Seven east European countries receive 90% of their crude oil from Russia and six take all all their natural gas from it. In 2006, Russia cut off Ukraine’s gas supplies on the day it assumed leadership of the Group of Eight, disrupting supplies to EU countries and reminding the European Union of its own vulnerability. Latvia and Lithuania have had their oil supplies disrupted by Russia when it didn’t get its way over acquiring pipelines and other assets to which it felt entitled.

There are well-founded  concerns about Gazprom, Russia’s mammomoth natural gas distributor and the largest energy company in the world – in which Putin is a shareholder. It controls the Russian gas pipeline network and consequently handles most Russian and Central Asian exports, It is majority state-owned and has deep ties to the Russian government.  Many of the company’s executive management and board members also occupy or previously occupied key positions within the Kremlin.

“For many years, Gazprom has owned significant portions of energy companies throughout the former Soviet Union.  It is the largest or second largest shareholder in the gas utilities of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  Recently, Gazprom has been expanding its influence even further into the domestic gas distribution networks of Western Europe.  In the past two years, Gazprom has signed deals with ENI (Italy), Gasunie (The Netherlands), BASF (Germany), E.ON Ruhrgas (Germany) and GAZ de France.  Desperate for access to energy and the profits it brings, European companies are played off against each other to secure more advantageous conditions for Russia.  If one company does not want to agree to Moscow’s terms, a competitor will gladly accept them, leaving the first company with nothing.” [Zeyno Baran, the Centre for Eurasion Policy at the Hudson Institute, Washington Quarterly, Autumn 2007.]

In refusing to act in a concerted way in its dealings with Gazprom and its political masters, EU leaders are also cowed in their criticisms of Moscow on transparency, responsible governance, and human rights. The EU – quailing before the energy might of the new Russian oligarchy – is muted in its support for key allies in Europe and Asia. Russia has bullied Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine, all lenergy producers or pipeline transit countries, and the EU has not responded as it is required under its  Common Foreign and Security Policy.

“Most disturbing of all is that this dependence even leads the EU to turn a blind eye when Moscow utilises these tactics against fellow EU members.  The July 2006 shutdown of the Lithuanian pipeline, for example, drew little protest outside Poland and the Baltic states.  Russia claimed that this cut-off was a result of technical difficulties yet refused all offers from third parties to examine the damaged pipe or assist repairs in any way.  Although this incident is suspicious enough on its own, it becomes a clear case of political manipulation given Russia’s status as a repeat offender” [The Washington Quarterly].

And domestic and commercial fuel costs are inflated by the chronic inefficiency of the Russian producers and distributors. Europe’s taxpayers and businesses are paying for extravagant projects like the Russian undersea Nord Stream pipeline costing at least three times an alternative overland route through Lithuania and Poland. But Nord Stream gives Russia more direct control over supplies to western Europe, which is much like asking a prisoner to pay the jailer’s wages.

The EU needs to see beyond Russia  in dealing with the post-Soviet states.  The EU can offer them co-operation and joint energy projects, as the USA has done. Two pipelines, one for oil and gas were installed from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku across Georgia to Turkey.  The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline carries oil and the South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP) gas. As a result Gazprom can no longer bully Azerbaijan as before.

However  Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are still almost completely dependent on Russian-controlled export pipelines, leaving them vulnerable not only to political manipulation but also to economic extortion.  Until late 2006, Russia purchased natural gas from Central Asian republics at a price of about $45 to $65 per thousand cubic metres (tcm).  They then sold that gas (and/or Russian produced gas) to Western European countries for around $230 per tcm. Part of this disparity arises because of the horrific inefficiency of Gazprom.  The rest is simply a rent that Moscow is able to extract because of its near-monopoly power, according to Zeyno Bahran.

Moscow won’t give in without a fight. And the EU’s squeamishness about doing deals with poorly-governed countries like Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan leaves openings that Russia and China are quick to exploit.

Belatedly the EU and the USA are supporting gas pipelines directly to Europe, one from Turkey to Greece and Italy(TGI), and another known as Nabucco from Turkey across Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary  to Austria.  Access to Azerbaijani gas supplies is particularly important. Given adequate investment in the Shah Deniz gasfield, supplies from Azerbaijan could reach Europe reasonably quickly. Moscow meantime is trying to make  bilateral deals with France, Germany and Italy among leading EU countries to minimise the effects of this competition, and is promoting the South Stream pipeline as an alternative to the Nabucco pipeline to Austria.  In the Putin scheme of things, Hungary – under Russian patronage –would become the energy capital of much of Europe. The Russian approach is unified and direct, the EU response is fractured and slow. Russia’s view of the state of world power is worryingly succinct. “America down, Europe out.”

EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs, knows  the dangers this poses. but   signing member states up for a common European energy policy is difficult, despite the commitments made in the  , EU Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). It  states that the EU should promote democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights within its borders and abroad.  Yet, the dependence on Russian energy supplies undermines Europe’s efforts to foster the ideas of good governance, market transparency, and democracy both in Russia and in Russia’s neighbours.   And the much-trumpeted  “green” measures to reduce dependence on fossil fuels – while valuable in themselves – will not deliver the energy security Europe needs in the short to medium term. They may in fact be a distraction from an immediate strategic threat.

There is no alternative to wresting back from Russia the considerable stranglehold it already exerts on EU energy supplies. What need to restore balance to the relationship  and to eliminate the effective Russian monopoly over much of Europe’s energy supplies.

The area around the Caspian Sea will soon become a major source of oil and gas. Are we going to continue to look the other way while  Russia builds a controlling monopoly position over EU energy, levying a supplier inefficiency tax on our energy supplies, a burden on every household and business, with the long term aim of restoring the international power it wielded under Stalin?

Richard Whelan, Dublin, Ireland, December 8, 2008.

Further reading:

Zeyno Baran, the Centre for Eurasion Policy at the Hudson Institute,
The Washington Quarterly, Autumn 2007.
European Commision  Second Strategic Energy Review
http://ec.europa.eu/energy/strategies/2008/2008_11_ser2_en.htm

Shorter version of this Article – The Irish Times – 7 January 2009

Tagged , , ,

Leave a Reply