In January, amidst a particularly cold winter, Russia’s quasi-governmental gas giant Gazprom turned off the gas taps to Ukraine after the two sides failed to reach agreement in a pay dispute. Downstream users including Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and the Czech Republic were also put in the deep freeze. Gazprom has become synonymous with energy intimidation and Moscow has leveraged energy to specifically target former Soviet states such as Ukraine as it seeks to carve out a sphere of influence in its near abroad. However, the conundrum for Moscow in playing petro-politics is how to control the supply to countries in its near abroad and remain a reliable energy supplier to Western Europe at the same time, since the majority of Russian energy is currently pumped via pipelines which cross Russia’s immediate neighbors.
The Russian-German planned Nord Stream pipeline, which will pump energy supplies directly into Germany and bypass Eastern Europe, has ruffled feathers across Central and Eastern Europe. Poland’s Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski has compared the deal to the devastating 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which carved up large parts of Europe into others’ sphere of influences.
Germany is wrong to be engaging with Moscow on such divide-and-rule tactics. Europe gets more than 40 percent of its gas and almost a third of its oil from Russia, and so it should be looking to diversify its suppliers and its supply routes and create free-market competition, rather than feed its dependency on Moscow. Moscow undoubtedly has a lot to lose if Europe successfully develops alternate East-West routes that bypass Russia, such as the Nabucco pipeline. Yet this is exactly what Europe must do if it is to realize any semblance of energy security. Europe must also seek reliable alternate sources of energy such as nuclear power, increase its natural gas imports from sources such as North Africa and expand its network of the liquefied natural gas terminals to import energy from major suppliers such as Qatar and Nigeria.
Central and Eastern European nations are currently wondering if they’re out on their own against the mighty Russian bear. ‘Old’ Europe is cutting deals with Moscow on energy; in its haste to ‘reset’ relations with Russia, America casually abandoned the Third Site missile defense agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic. In an astonishing open letter to President Obama, 22 former leaders from Central and Eastern Europe including Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel expressed their misgivings over America’s simultaneous neglect of their region and growing Russian aggressiveness. These countries cannot be left out in the cold any longer. Europe’s over-reliance on Russian energy is a fundamental strategic weakness, and short-sighted policies which increase that dependence will ultimately weaken all of Europe. Neither has President Obama realized any benefit from his unnecessary give-away’s to Moscow.
As the world approaches the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall next month, it is time for Europe and America to demonstrate to Central and Eastern Europe that they are truly part of the Euro-Atlantic family – not half members, not less valued members, but fully-fledged, independent, self-determining allied partners whose interests will not be discarded for short-term political expediency.