Energy Security as the Key to Defeating Russia

The Christian Science Monitor is finally beginning to realize what much of the world already has: there is an energy security revolution afoot in Eastern Europe, led by Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and a handful of other former Soviet republics. The Monitor might take some well-deserved hits for being late to this particular party, but in its defense, it’s a bit ahead of much of the Western press, who are stuck in 2009.

The Monitor‘s story is fixated on Ukraine, which is a compelling story in its own right:

Twenty-two years after breaking free from the USSR, Ukraine is now attempting to do the unthinkable and permanently shake Russia’s hold on the country. The plan? Looking westward to the European Union and building an energy hub that might just revolutionize the region’s geopolitical status quo. …

The vision is a liberalized, EU-style “energy hub” according to Ukrainian Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky, investing in the exploitation of natural resources at home and partnering with Western companies instead of relying on Naftogaz. It’s an ambitious goal, and yet a monumental first step was taken last January with the signing of a $10 billion gas deal with Royal Dutch Shell. The energy giant will commence exploration this year of the Yuzivska fields of Eastern Ukraine, which are estimated to hold at least 1.2 trillion cubic meters (42 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas. …

The government has rightly recognized a rapprochement with the EU as the best strategy forwards for Ukraine. As it has been noted in other Eastern European counties, EU integration can act as a powerful means to wrest control of the state from vested interests and bring the rule of law to an acceptable standard.

The entire piece is worth reading. It is compelling to speak of Ukraine because it is poised to take a giant step toward European integration with an Association Agreement in November, and because Ukraine’s ability to break free of Russia is a giant step toward ending the dream of a renewed Russian empire.

But it is hardly the whole story. The greater story is one in which the Eastern European nations that so badly want to choose a Western destiny rather than having an Eastern one forced on them are not merely finding ways out from under Russia’s greatest source of power — its energy reserves — but are breaking that power at the same time.

Energy security is a necessary precondition for peace. Since the dawn of the twentieth century, every major war has lived and died on the drive for the fuel of economic and military power. Russia’s influence in Europe is based not first on its large but aging and dwindling population, but on its energy reserves and its ability to exploit them.

But a Ukraine that has learned to repurchase natural gas from Europe; that has developed its own reserves; and that can be a conduit for Russian gas without meaningful pressure from Moscow is a very dangerous force to Gazprom. Azerbaijan’s ability to bypass Gazprom and become a competitor is merely another knife at the gas giant’s throat. And as the remaining members of the former Soviet bloc — and Europe as a whole — discover that Gazprom is not the only game in town, Vladimir Putin’s reach will no longer exceed his grasp.

A scant two years ago, this would have seemed a pipe dream. By 2020, the reality is likely to be a denuded Russia and an ascendant Eastern Europe — thanks to the ingenuity and willpower of Moscow’s former slaves.