ENERGY by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Russian oil card a threat to European integration
, August 16, 2014
The English poet John Donne famously wrote: “No man is an island entire of itself; Every man is a part of the continent.”
Although Donne became a clergyman in the Church of England, he had been born into a recusant Roman Catholic family during Elizabethan times and had a keen sense of how we are all linked, whether we like it or not.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Much of Europe today is joined together in the European Union. It imports one third of its energy needs from Russia.
President Putin’s petro-state depends for revenue on Russian exports flowing west. Energy is the primary weapon in Putin’s ultimate goal: to undermine the European Union.
Why is this Putin’s goal? First, 20 or more squabbling nation-states are much easier to manipulate than a united Europe; and, secondly, Putin has set the wheels rolling to establish a Eurasian political entity that will stretch from Lisbon in the West to Vladivostok in the east, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
In a globalised world, it is unlikely that Europe can ever return to being a collection of individual nation-states. The alternative is some form of integration, be it the existing European Union or a new Eurasian entity.
Russia’s annexation of parts of Ukraine is the first throw of the dice. So far, from Moscow’s point of view, the dismemberment of Ukraine is proceeding well. Crimea has been detached; this and other exercises in “democracy” have resulted in ludicrous electoral majorities of 97 per cent. As one Ukrainian remarked, “Only those who want to vote ‘yes’ are permitted to cast a ballot.”
The role of Britain is somewhat problematic. With Scotland set to vote in September on whether to gain independence, Great Britain itself may be on the verge of disintegration.
The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) is gaining ground. Britain’s armed forces have been cut back to levels not seen in a century. Were UKIP to withdraw Britain from the EU, it would seem logical to strengthen its armed forces, which in former times have allowed the country to punch above it weight.
Britain’s traditional foreign policy has been to help maintain the balance of power in Europe. Simple withdrawal, and becoming a solitary archipelago off the north-western coast of the European continent, would considerably diminish Britain’s economic and political leverage.
For a proud people like the British, to acquiesce in the domination of Europe by their traditional enemies, the French and the Germans, must be a bitter pill to swallow, although it’s a pill they have managed to keep down so far. Bitter as it may be, it is surely preferable to a new “Concert of Europe” in which the conductor is Russia’s Putin.
Russia, in terms of oil and gas, and also weapons, may be a muscle man, but its economy apart from that is weak and anaemic. Russia needs Western money and Western technology. It also needs the “software” of European civilisation — its predictability, the rule of law and a culture of civility.
Russian plutocrats need Luxembourg’s front companies to launder their money, British schools to educate their children in the mores of the upper classes, and French beaches to thaw out from the ferocious Russian winters.
While Europe needs Russia’s oil and gas, the economic traffic goes both ways. As John Donne said “No man is an island.” Russia is reaping the fruits of the European project.
With few economic levers apart from oil and gas, Russia is desperate to maintain its advantages. While it chips away at the borders of the political entities spun off from the disintegrated Soviet Union, Russia seeks to leverage its advantage in gas and oil.
Georgia first lost territory to Russia, after which it effectively became a Russian client-state. Now it is Ukraine’s turn.
It’s difficult to determine what impact the downing of the Malaysian jetliner over eastern Ukraine has had on Russian intentions; but Putin’s regime has spared no effort to convince his country’s citizens that Russia could not possibly be held culpable.
Europe does have an avenue to escape from Russia’s oil and gas stranglehold. It is shale gas, of which it has significant quantities — enough to permanently reduce its high dependence on energy imports.
In London recently, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (a former prime minister of Denmark) declared that ensuring Europe’s energy security was of the “utmost importance” and accused Moscow of “blackmail” in its dealings with the EU.
He said: “I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of [its] sophisticated information and disinformation operations, [is] engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations — environmental organisations working against shale gas — to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas” (Financial Times, UK, June 19, 2014).
With the 28 nations of the European Union bloc importing around one-third of their oil and gas needs from Russia, tapping into their abundant reserves of shale gas, could redress the geostrategic imbalance.
Russia needs the West’s money. Should that dry up, it would put the Eurasia project on hold.