One of The Heritage Foundation’s recommendations for how the United States should respond to Russian aggression against Ukraine is lifting restrictions on exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) to all the countries with whom the U.S. regularly trades. NATO partners in the Baltics would especially benefit.
Currently, the Baltic nations import 100 percent of their natural gas from Russia. This dependence leaves them susceptible to the whims of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has no qualms about shutting down pipelines or tweaking prices when it suits his purposes. And under the Kremlin’s rationale of protecting ethnic Russians, the Baltic states are targets. Roughly a quarter of Estonia and Latvia’s people describe themselves as Russian. Furthermore, according to the most recent State Department Human Rights Report, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania contain approximately 380,000 stateless persons from the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Heritage’s Daniel Kochis has pointed out that the Baltic nations have proved themselves as friends of the U.S. with their assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are steadfast supporters of NATO, and the U.S. should return the favor.
Under the Natural Gas Act of 1938, the Department of Energy (DOE)—not natural gas companies—decides where LNG can be exported. Only countries with free trade agreements with the U.S. are automatically approved. The DOE is presently sitting on over 20 export applications.
Opponents of exporting LNG to Europe state that it would not ease the tensions in Ukraine, because it would take too long build the prerequisite infrastructure: Even with six export terminals already approved, U.S. LNG will not reach Europe until 2016. This argument fails to appreciate that the crisis Ukraine is facing will not be over anytime soon.
Also, as White House principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said, “[T]here is no indication currently that there’s much risk of a natural gas shortage in the region,” as Ukraine’s gas reserves remain high. This is in part because Ukraine, worried that Russia’s state-run Gazprom could hike prices, has boosted its gas purchases.
Liberalizing energy markets can be an intermediate and long-term solution. Exporting LNG would not convince Putin to pull out of Crimea, but it would reduce the leverage Moscow holds over U.S. allies and possibly prevent future aggression.
Now is the time to prevent the next international crisis and signal to Russia and other countries that energy will soon no longer be used as leverage for economic and political gain. The exportation process should start now, not when NATO allies are in peril. The U.S. cannot leave its friends in the hands of a dangerous neighbor.
Amanda Hall is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.