Put Energy at Top of Obama's Europe Agenda
Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas is one of Putin’s main points of leverage over Europe as Western leaders consider economic and diplomatic sanctions.
Fortunately, America and its European allies together can take a series of strategic actions that can loosen Russia’s grip on EU gas supplies over time, while advancing transatlantic economic and environmental goals. Comprehensive measures by the Western powers now would also send a strong message to Russia—and to others who are watching U.S. actions closely—that the United States and Europe are ready and determined to act firmly, and for as long as it takes, to respond to Russian provocations, and to increase Europe’s energy resiliency as a strategic priority.
To that end, the United States and Europe should announce an energy plan to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy as a top goal of President Obama’s meetings with European leaders this week.
Moscow’s dominant energy position has been a major element in its relations with its European neighbors for decades and, especially, since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Russian heavy handedness has often backfired, most famously, after Moscow’s ill-considered energy cutoffs in 2006 and 2009, which served to wake Europe up to the need to reduce its dependency on Moscow. Nonetheless, roughly 80 percent of Russian gas imported to Europe still flows through Ukraine, and Moscow continues to exploit this near monopoly position. Just last week, Russia indicated it plans to nearly double the cost of gas to Ukraine, when present contracts expire.
Paul Bledsoe is senior fellow on energy and climate at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and was Communications Director of the White House Climate Change Task Force under President Clinton.
Lee Feinstein is a former principal deputy director of policy planning and former US ambassador to Poland. Richard Burt is a former assistant secretary for Europe and former US Ambassador to Germany.