Just as Europe is in the midst of a particularly cold winter, Russia’s quasi-governmental gas giant Gazprom has turned off the gas taps to Ukraine, a major transit corridor for Russian gas into Europe. Gas shortages are being reported in several countries, including Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and the Czech Republic.
Europe gets more than 40 per cent of its gas from Russia, although many European countries such as Poland are 100 percent reliant on Moscow for supplies. This isn’t the first time that Gazprom has engaged in energy-intimidation – it turned off the gas taps to Ukraine in January 2006 and heavily reduced supplies in March 2008.
Russia has tended to be a reliable energy supplier to Western Europe, choosing instead to specifically target former Soviet states such as Ukraine as it seeks to carve out a Russian-dominated sphere of influence in its near abroad. However, Western Europe has now been brought into this dispute as Austria and Hungary feel the fall out from this latest round of gas cuts.
Europe can no longer afford to stand idly by and hope that Moscow will continue to play fair with them in the future. This is all the more pressing considering that Europe’s energy-dependence on Moscow is growing. Europe can not allow itself to be boxed into a corner when dealing with Moscow on important foreign policy questions such as NATO enlargement, because it is scared of Russia turning off the energy taps.
Europe must now diversify its supply routes and seek reliable alternate sources of energy such as nuclear power. It must also coordinate a policy toward Russia which confronts, rather than accommodates, an increasingly aggressive Moscow.