Monday, May 11, 2009

Cold Winters

The EU recently signed an agreement with several countries to speed up the construction of the Nabucco gas pipe that will circumvent Ukraine and Russia. The goal is to both meet demand in the EU and reduce Russia's capabilities to cut off gas to shivering European countries in the dead of the Winter as it did this past season

Although meeting demand is an obvious imperative, the strategic goal of deleveraging Russia would require much more than Nabucco. According to the article, the pipeline will supply -- at best -- 5% of Europe's needs. This is compared to Russia's 20% slice of the EU's gas supply pie. So even if all 5% displaced Russian gas, Russian will remain in a strong position.

Furthermore, Nabucco won't be complete until 2014. Any advantage it might provide Europe is far-off at this point.

Seeing as global warming isn't working quite fast enough to reduce the EU's Winter gas demand by 20% in the next five years, the European Union would be wise to alter its strategy toward Russia. Together with the US, the EU needs to take away Russia's legitimate excuses. Namely, the implicit containment strategy of NATO and a missile shield in Eastern Europe. 

Obama's move to link the missile shield to Iran is smart. But in accepting new NATO members, Russia ought to be brought back into negotiations over new members through the NATO-Russia Council. (The first meeting since the Georgian war commences next week.)

Until Russia ceases to feel threatened by the West, it will continue to assert its privileged position as Gas King... and Europeans will suffer more cold winters. 

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