When Gazprom, Russia’s natural gas monopoly, cut off supplies to Ukraine and Georgia in January 2006, the move was widely seen as a clear warning of the Kremlin’s willingness to use its energy resources to exert political influence over Europe. Twelve months later, Russia drummed home the significance of that act by shutting off oil supplies to Belarus for three days, causing a ripple effect on shipments to Western Europe.
Despite these supply-side threats, there have been few signs of an effective European Union-wide policy that would reduce dependence on Russian energy. The European Commission’s energy proposals, issued in January, are a step in the right direction. But they will have little direct effect on Russia’s energy relations with Europe, because they do not oblige Russia to adopt more competitive and transparent energy transport and investment policies.
On the contrary, European countries continue to forge bilateral deals with Russia, with little consideration for common EU interests. The West European EU members have shown scant concern over Russian pressure tactics against the new members in Central and Eastern Europe, calling into question the extent of EU solidarity regarding energy supplies. Since the Kremlin interrupted energy supplies to the Baltic states in 1990 in a futile attempt to stifle their independence movements, it has continued to use pipeline politics against countries such as Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania – all new EU members. For them, and for new democracies like Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, Russian energy dominance and its political consequences remain a serious threat.
Russia has profited from Europe’s disarray by moving to cement greater long-term European dependence on its energy, particularly natural gas by continuing its divide-and-rule tactics toward European governments. Since January 2006, Moscow has negotiated separate deals with energy companies from Germany, France, Italy, Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia, and Denmark that could undercut Europe’s efforts to build additional pipelines aimed at bypassing Russia’s near monopoly of supplies from Central Asia.