EU Commissioner Competition Gazprom EU Commissioner/Wikton Dabkowski/Flickr

Europe Versus Gazprom

For years, Vladimir Putin has wielded Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas as a foreign-policy weapon, without fear of the EU calling his bluff – until now. The EU's antitrust case against the state-controlled gas conglomerate Gazprom is a clear signal that Putin’s brutishness is no longer as intimidating as it once was.

NEW YORK – For years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has wielded Europe’s dependence on his country’s natural gas as a foreign-policy weapon, without fear of the European Union calling his bluff – until now. With the EU launching an antitrust case against the state-controlled gas conglomerate Gazprom, Europe has sent a clear signal that Putin’s brutishness is no longer as intimidating as it once was.

The message from the European Commissioner on Competition – that market rules apply to everyone – is one that Putin has dismissed for years. Reliance on economic and legal means to achieve his political goals has long been a hallmark of his rule. More than a decade ago, the Kremlin expropriated Yukos Oil, which at the time produced 20% of Russia’s output, and jailed its founder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, for ten years on trumped-up tax evasion charges after he dared to oppose Putin.

All major players in Russia’s energy-centric economy quickly fell into line politically, enabling Putin to use the country’s oil and gas exports as a geopolitical cudgel. EU countries that he could not intimidate militarily, owing to NATO, were wooed with discounts – or punished with price hikes.

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