Recent diplomatic games between Moscow and the West that smack of spy novel excess are making it easier and easier for former Cold warriors to dust off their old talking points. But meanwhile, policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic are losing sight of today’s key foreign policy issue regarding Russia - energy security.
This is not to say that Russia’s recent moves should not be taken seriously. But, headlines must not cloud strategic imperatives. The EU is not only the world’s greatest energy consumer without substantial hydrocarbon reserves, but also the leading energy importer, dangerously over-dependent on Russia. Over a decade of U.S. and European diplomatic efforts and billions of euros in EU technical assistance programs working toward developing alternative routes for Euro-Atlantic energy have been undercut by:
- The Nordstream pipeline — a bilateral project that is to provide natural gas for Germany directly from Russia while bypassing Poland.
- Italy’s similar Southstream project.
- Austria and Hungary’s abandonment in May of the strategic Nabucco project from Turkey.
As long as Austria, Germany, Hungary and Italy continue to undermine the greater Atlantic community’s energy security, Moscow can afford to brush aside British extradition demands in the Litvinenko case and pay empty lip-service to U.S. President Bush on fishing trips off the Maine coast.
However, alternative routes are not a pipe-dream. The much-doubted Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline is now a reality, as is its sister project, the South Caucasus Pipeline, bringing natural gas from the Caspian to Erzurum in Turkey. This gas, independent of Russian and Iranian limitations, is essential in ameliorating Europe’s looming 81% dependence on Russian reserves.
Two projects are needed to extend the link to Europe: the Turkey-Greece Interconnector, and the Nabucco gas pipeline to Austria through Hungary. When viewed in the light of recent Russian behavior, these projects become strategic imperatives. They are not only invaluable in staving off the effects of future Russian supply cut-offs to Ukraine or Belarus but, unlike Germany’s Nordstream, benefit the entire Atlantic community, not just individual states.
Until the Atlantic community presents Moscow with a united position on the fundamental issue of energy security, Vladimir Putin and his successor will continue to divide and dictate amongst its members. It is in the collective interest of the community to redouble efforts to expand and strengthen energy routes from the Caspian and Central Asia, free of monopolist Russian control. Moscow’s recent confidence in international affairs is the manifestation of the Kremlin’s assertion that Russia is an ‘energy superpower’. The U.S. and Europe must concentrate more on the first of those two words to address the problems presented by the second.
Alexandros Petersen is a Visiting Fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic International Studies , Washington DC.
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