What can the West do to dissuade the Kremlin from pursuing its expansionist designs?
Today, Russia needs Western markets, not Western aid. Yet it exhibits the worst of monopolistic behavior.
One path of engagement is for the European Union to work with Russia on energy in much the same way the EU engages other perceived monopolistic entities, Microsoft being a landmark example. European competition policy, which has successfully engaged companies both inside and outside the EU, could also help turn Gazprom into a reasonable competitor. One must ask how it is that Apple’s iPod and iTunes are challenged by EU regulators yet Gazprom is not?
In such a policy approach, the EU should consider breaking Gazprom’s monopoly on pipeline infrastructure as well as licensing independent gas producers. Independent producers already account for 20 percent of domestic gas sales in Russia and are boosting their output.
Further gains would require market incentives. Europe can help by explicitly linking its acceptance of Russia’s WTO membership to Russia’s ratification of the Energy Charter and its attendant Transit Protocol, which would guarantee access to Russian pipelines for Gazprom’s competitors.
In this way, Europeans would shore the risks of any possible energy blockade equally among themselves, rather than allowing separate deals that leave others vulnerable to energy blackmail. Such a policy would need to incorporate a consensus that no country could reach a deal with Gazprom that undercuts EU plans to help
construct pipelines from Central Asia that bypass Russia.
The EU’s collective engagement would be a model for the developing democracies on its borders, including Ukraine, and provide constructive model for Russian commercial behavior.
Russia should be welcomed in institutions and agreements that foster cooperation. But Russia’s reform will be impeded, not helped, if the West turns a blind eye to its expansionist pretensions - be they economic or political. The independence of the republics that broke away from the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, must not be tacitly downgraded by the West’s acquiescence to Russia’s desire for hegemony.