Last month, when Gerhard Schroeder, the former German chancellor, accepted a seat on the board of a consortium led by Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly -- a consortium that will build a Russian-German pipeline that Schroeder approved during his final days in office -- we learned that Russian gas money has already been used to garner political influence. This week's events are further proof that the Russian government is willing to use its gas pipelines for political purposes as well. Today, Ukraine -- next year, why not Germany?
Europe can still avert future blackmail. European governments could invest in alternative infrastructure, such as marine terminals for receiving and storing liquefied natural gas -- more of which would make gas easier to trade internationally -- or a pipeline from the Caspian Sea, under the Black Sea and through Ukraine. Theoretically, the Europeans could also fight back diplomatically, in concert with the United States. Take that presidency of the G-8, for example: Is everybody still absolutely sure that Russia should remain a G-8 member? Is everybody absolutely positive that they want Putin to act as the G-8 president?
But before Western leaders can even contemplate asking such impolitic questions, they'll have to recognize Putin's new year's celebration as the warning signal it was. Manipulation of television stations, harassment of human rights activists, imprisonment of the president's political rivals -- none of that has so far excluded Russia from the club of civilized nations. Like the war in Chechnya, Russia's bitter dispute with Ukraine over gas prices was, until now, largely dismissed as a regional spat. That has to change. Perhaps if the Russians want to talk about "energy security" in 2006, we should take them up on it.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
The Energy Lever and Ukraine - IV
Anne Applebaum, on playing politics with pipelines: