Russia Makes an Energy Power Play

European governments are paying close attention to negotiations in Abuja, Nigeria, where Russian officials are trying to access the host country’s sizable natural gas reserves, a development that would tighten Moscow’s grip on Western Europe’s energy supplies.

Russia already provides about a quarter of the continent’s natural gas demand, and its energy market share is poised to increase as the European Union begins to phase out coal power in order to fight global warming. The prospect of energy dependence has elicited concern from many Western European government officials, feelings that were heightened after Moscow cut off energy supplies to Ukraine in December, 2005, in order to enforce a precipitous price hike in natural gas.

European leaders have been slow to heed calls for a diversification of the continent’s energy sources. Meanwhile, Russia’s state-owned energy giant, Gazprom, has been consolidating control over the regional supply. In May, 2007, Russian and Central Asian leaders came to agreement about the transport of natural gas from the Caspian Sea on terms favorable to Moscow. Algeria, the second largest provider of natural gas to Europe, has talked with Gazprom about better coordination, which has stoked fears of a possible natural gas cartel, like OPEC. And now, Russia is making moves on Nigeria’s promising reserves.