By Ksenia Kozyrina
*This blog post is part of the Jean Monnet Chair of European Media Governance and Integration series
The political and public concerns about the reliability of the Russian gas supplies have been at the top of the debate about the European Union’s energy security in the last decades. Together with mitigating climate change and guaranteeing the affordability of energy for EU customers, achievement of the security of supplies is one of the EU’s top priorities (Schubert, Pollak & Kreutler, 2016).
Even though some EU member-states are more dependent on energy supplies than others, in total more than a half of the EU energy needs are to be imported (Langsdorf, 2011). And among all energy sources, gas is, without doubt, one of the most important sources of energy for the EU. It is supplied mostly by pipelines, and Russia, in turn, delivers around a third of the EU’s total gas supplies (Reuters, 2017). The anxiety about potential supply disruptions has been rising especially after gas conflicts with Ukraine in 2006 and 2009 (Morbee & Proost, 2010) as well as after the Crimean crisis in 2014.
However, it is not only the EU that has certain concerns about future partnership with Russia, but also Moscow has been unhappy with the recent developments, such as adoption of the Third Energy Package in 2009 (Brutschin, 2013). Undoubtedly, the crisis in Ukraine has also played a specific role for Russia’s gas export strategy (Klein and Westphal, 2016; Westphal, 2012). These impediments have pushed both partners (the EU and Russia) to start moving towards other markets despite their complementary interests in the gas sector (Gusev and Westphal, 2015). Thus, Russia, for example, has pivoted more east and began to seek cooperation with China and other Asian countries in order to diversify its energy portfolio (Klein and Westphal, 2016; Locatelli, Abbas and Rossiaud, 2015; Henderson and Mitrova, 2016; Keun-Wook, 2013; Dickel and Westphal, 2012).
One of the questions now is what strategy the EU is planning to implement and how it will affect its future relations with Russia. Despite the fact that the EU is trying to diversify its supplies and Russia is looking for other routes for export, the level of interdependence is still too high for both sides. Notwithstanding all the problems, historically Russia has proved to be a reliable partner. Dr. Elkhan Nuriyev, a Humboldt Senior Fellow at SWP, describes “Russia as a “good, if not the best” energy supplier for Europe, since alternatives were either unreliable or too costly”” (DGAP, 2015). Additionally, according to Dr. Kirsten Westphal of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) “since cheap Russian gas suited the market very well, incentives to diversify energy supplies were limited” and there have been “no feasible alternatives to energy imports from Russia” (DGAP, 2015).
The current deadlocks in the EU position on its energy relations with Russia can be partly explained by the prevalence of national interests of the EU member states (Brutschin, 2013). All member states have different policies with Russia and some of them are bound by bilateral agreements, long-term contracts and projects (Brutschin, 2013). Moreover, the energy companies play an important role in the EU policy-making in the energy sector. What the EU needs to do is to define a strategy for creating a common energy market internally and try “to convince energy companies that such an integration would also be in their interest” (DGAP, 2015). Nuriyev has another suggestion, which is to create “an international institutional framework for energy; this would integrate interests of both energy suppliers and importers establish a level playing field, and lower risks for all actors” (DGAP, 2015). Blaming Russia for ineffectiveness of the EU energy policies oversimplifies the issue, and, in fact “it is not so much the EU’s dependence on Russian gas that explains its failure to respond to challenges, as its lack of cohesion [of the European Union]” (Grätz, 2009, p. 73; Brutschin, 2013). And most importantly, both the EU and Russia need to come to terms with the fact that they both (the EU and Russia) pursue interests different from their own (DGAP, 2015), which, should, by no means, become a cornerstone for future cooperation.
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