gazprom vladivostok.previewTHE LONG GAME WITH RUSSIA AFTER UKRAINE

by Harry C. Blaney III


We are in danger of missing an opportunity and ignoring the harsh reality of recent events involving Russia, Ukraine, and the signals that Putin is sending not only to his captive citizens but also to the West. However, one danger and source of misunderstanding of the current situation, as Pogo once said, is “us.” There had been too much ideological posturing and too little fundamental analysis– on both sides of the Atlantic “Pond” of self-serving financial and corporate interests with a myopic focus on their greedy self-interest, lobbying for profits, rather than the security of Europe and the West, in general.

This view is reflected recently in the Chatham House essay by Ilya Zaslavskiy, the Robert Bosch Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program. He said:

“Europe must stop hoping that Russia will adjust its strategy according to an economic rationale. EU leaders have to realize that, after Crimea, Putin’s business is no longer business. Dealing with a potentially consistent aggressor will entail not only political will but also considerable economic costs to EU members if democratic values and institutions are to be upheld.

“Across Europe, national corporations – such as banks, energy companies, and major law firms – are strongly lobbying against any further second and third-tier sanctions against Moscow as short-term profits would be undermined. UK utilities still want cheap Russian gas; the first imports could begin by October this year, as companies move to substitute falling indigenous output with external gas. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who bears no illusions about the nature of Putin’s regime, has said that more sanctions would be imposed only if the situation worsens, with Germany’s main trade body warning that more than 6,000 German businesses with €76 billion of turnover are interlinked with Russia.

“Despite two major gas transit crises instigated by Gazprom in Ukraine in 2006 and 2009, the EU has been slow in reducing the dependency of eastern European countries on Russian gas supply. As a recent analysis by Russian newspaper Kommersant shows, in 2013 Bulgaria and Slovakia remained over 90 per cent dependent in their imports on Gazprom’s flows via Ukraine while most of their neighbours are over 60 per cent dependent. Although the European Commission has assisted with a limited development of interconnectors and storages that would help reduce dependence, these states feel this is not enough. This vulnerability allowed Gazprom to prevail in bilateral negotiations with each state at the expense of pan-European market liberalizing policies…

“With Russia now assuming a more assertive stance, European politicians need to switch from thinking about short-term economic gain to what is needed to protect democracy and national security.”

What this analysis and those of others show is clear European inattention to the need for a more secure source of energy and the need to speed the use of local clean energy sources, like wind and solar. Even the basic, immediately doable action of building sufficient storage has been largely neglected, probably due to the pressure of the energy industry that had an interest in Russian gas supplies and new pipelines. Governments were also neglectful even when the problem has been known for a long time.

The British press on my leaving London had almost completely ignored these harsh realities, and indeed Ukraine and Russia almost fell off of the headlines and serious articles. The media coverage, especially by the conservative Tabloids (sometimes called the “Yellow Press”), reflected a degree of irresponsibility for not focusing on actions created by many accounts a “sea change” in the strategic landscape.

It was reported that the EU was holding meetings this week on the energy question. If Germany and other countries veto any really significant commitment to massive amounts (we’re taking about hundreds of billions, if not a trillion, Euros) of new resources being put into securing new energy that Russia can’t control, it will be a signal of the end of any serious efforts at implementing real sanctions and the total capitulation to Putin, including acceptance of his invasion of Crimea and to his other threats. The result will likely be his assessment that the West remains weak, and he will continue for decades to control the politics and actions over Western and Middle Europe for the foreseeable future.

The bottom line is that the inability to act on the one long-term real threat to Putin and his lever of energy dominance means that Europe no longer has control over its own security or economy. Energy security is the linchpin of not only gaining the upper hand in dealing with Russia, but also of influencing Russian opinion that Putin’s military actions have been reckless and, more importantly, cost Russia its steady funding of the state and its citizens. Soon we will know the answer to whether European leaders have the strategic vision to take action.

We welcome your comments!


  1. Robert Lamoree April 5, 2014 / 10:28 AM

    No matter the circumstance, politicians on every level rarely tell their citizenry that they have to bite the bullet. God forbid the pols would want to raise taxes to cover the debt, or spend tax dollars to develop new energy sources, or even to help improve a neighboring country’s economy. We live in a world where charity and common sense are dwarfed by self centered powers, and the Crimea/Ukraine/Putin dilemma provides an all too obvious example.

    It is easy to say Putin is evil and the answer (short of war) to this problem is for Europe to develop new sources of energy and isolate Putin. But why not look at the broader picture of cause and effect, and start from there? The question, of course, is ‘exactly what is the broader picture, and even if it is definable, doesn’t it only complicates how to respond to the immediate crisis?’

    The broader picture has to be seen from different perspectives. Germany and the U.S. do not necessarily see matters in the same light, but that is the point . . . every perspective must be considered. In this brief commentary I could not begin to list all of the considerations (even if I knew them), But just for argument sake, instead of bashing Putin and Russia, why not think more positively (peacefully, if you will), and devise a Marshall Plan for Ukraine. Encourage development, promote stability, raise the standard of living, promote democracy . . . make Russians envious of less, or non-authoritarian leadership. The implications of a viable healthy Ukraine are many, and most of them positive. But what would it do visa vis Putin? Frankly, it’s hard to say. But to think the Crimea would rather return to a healthier, wealthier Ukraine is unlikely. I’d think a healthier, wealthier Ukraine would be all right with that, but who knows.

    For better or worse, Putin rules Russia, and Russians appear to approve of him ruling. Confrontation, strength vs. strength may seem the better way to engage him, but I believe indirect actions such as strengthening Ukraine, making him not only want to sell energy, but putting him in a position where he really needs to sell it . . . those type actions (actions vs. responses) make more sense than continued threats and direct confrontation.

    Retaliation begets retaliation begets retaliation . . . And what does that get us?

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