Since this site’s inception, we have harped on many themes, but one of our favorites is the importance of energy security as a necessary predicate to both freer markets and freer peoples. Cheaper energy makes innovation, commerce, communication, travel, and all of the other necessary components of a free society possible. It ensures free peoples internationally by reducing their dependency on autocratic petrostates.
Like, for example, Russia.
Russia has been able to achieve what it has over the last month through a combination of factors: one of the largest (if not necessarily best) militaries on the continent and the best in the region; paralyzed responses from the West (torn between wanting to discourage Russia and intermittently supportive of ethnic separatism); but most importantly, Gazprom.
Russia in many ways owns Europe (and especially Germany’s former and many current politicians, as Gazprom employs and will employ so many for lucrative sums). Its natural gas provision has no real peer at this time, and it is about to place a stranglehold on Ukraine. Even with natural gas stocks high and plans to reimport gas to Ukraine underway, the undercurrent of fear at the loss of Russian gas supplies remains palpable.
(Russian oil wealth is often discussed in this vein, but wrongly: If Russia stops selling oil to Europe, it will still have to sell oil elsewhere, and oil transport is a century-old technology that makes the oil and its price fungible the world over. Natural gas delivery, by contrast, is location- and pressure-specific, and without more liquefied natural gas technology and transport terminals, it simply cannot be moved from place to place in the same way.)
Perhaps the best example of this lies in the fact that in the lists of sanctions being leveled on Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, no one has dared suggest sanctioning Gazprom or its officers.
The time has come to embrace realism. The European Union for too long has treated Azerbaijan and its Armenian-occupied territories as allies of necessity; it is time to accept them as necessary and equal partners in a project to reclaim Europe’s sovereignty from Russia. Baku is a counterweight to Russian gas strength and must be embraced as such. Every source of natural gas to offset Gazprom’s might — American, Azerbaijani, Canadian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian — must be brought to bear, and quickly. Gazprom fuels Russian military and political power; broken of that, Russia will be merely Venezuela with less political stability.
The time to seize the future is now, before Russia is able to completely absorb its new territory and plan for more. Time will not stand still.
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