Incisive article in the Wall Street Journal today on how Russia is using energy supply as part of its strategic renaissance. An excerpt:
Despite Russia’s repeated use of energy as a political weapon in Eastern Europe, Western Europeans keep repeating the mantra that Russia has been a reliable supplier to “Europe.” They also choose to ignore that natural-gas giant Gazprom serves as the Kremlin’s leading foreign-policy arm. The company is primarily state-owned, and many members of Gazprom’s leadership are current or former government officials. The Kremlin’s present occupant, Dmitry Medvedev, until recently was the chairman of Gazprom. His replacement there is former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov.
The Russian plan is rather simple: Punish countries that refuse to come under its influence by building new gas pipelines that bypass them, while rewarding countries and political leaders that cooperate with Russia with lucrative energy deals. Maintaining a monopoly over the transport of Caspian gas to Europe is essential for Moscow to ensure that all those countries that have submitted to a Russian “partnership” will acquiesce to the return of the former Soviet space to the Kremlin’s control.
It is vital to understand that Russia has designs on Eastern Europe and is using its energy supply to buy off Western Europe. The future looks bad if this is the case.
Yet there is a question here that needs answering first. Natural gas, while cheap to burn and an efficient form of energy, is not the only source of electricity Western Europe has. Germany and Britain both possess abundant coal. France has based its energy profile on nuclear. Both could provide Russia-free energy across Western Europe, yet both are reviled by environmentalists. Wind power and renewables, beloved by environmentalists, are simply not up to the job.
It therefore seems that when faced with a choice between empowering Russia and annoying environmentalists, Western Europeans are less afraid of the former.
Let’s also remember that the Kyoto Protocol is designed to see large amounts of Western European money transferred to Russia as European nations purchase credits for emissions reductions banked by Russia following the collapse of communism. European nations can’t reduce emissions on their own, for the aforementioned reasons, so they need to buy credit from elsewhere. This was the central reason behind Russia’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. To put it bluntly, the Kyoto Protocol is subsidizing Putin’s military retrenchment. If supposed oil wealth funding madrassas is a problem, then this certainly is as well.
This is, needless to say, a terrible situation to be in. When environmentalism gets its way, Putin gets his. If Putin’s energy weapon is to be neutralized, Western European governments need to face down the environmental lobbies in their countries, and allow digging for coal and new nuclear build. Political calculus, however, suggests otherwise. And Putin knows this.
Cross-posted from The Really Inconvenient Blog.