Defusing Russia’s Energy Weapon
COPENHAGEN – As winter approaches, many people in Central and Eastern Europe remember the chill caused last winter by Russia’s deliberate cut-off of gas supplies. That shutdown was a harsh reminder that gas is now the Kremlin’s primary political instrument as it seeks to re-establish its privileged sphere of interest in what it thinks of as Russia’s “near-abroad.” If Russia is allowed to continue imposing Moscow rules on Europe’s energy supplies, the result will be costly – not only for Europe, but for Russia as well.
So it is past time that the European Union stopped treating energy as a bilateral issue, with some of the larger member states trying to protect their own narrow interests at the expense of the common European good. The EU urgently needs to build a common energy policy and a single market for natural gas. Until both are established, there is a grave risk that Russia will use new blockades to continue the kind of divide-and-rule policy that the world has witnessed since Vladimir Putin came to power.
The planned Nord Stream gas pipeline on the bottom of the Baltic Sea is a good example of the problems that everyone in Europe is facing. The pipeline has been established as a Russian-German-Dutch consortium, but it is the Russian energy giant Gazprom that is in the driver’s seat with 51% of the shares. Nord Stream will enable Russia to deliver natural gas directly to Germany without using the existing land-based connections.