Op Ed

Russian Energy Supremacy Threatens NATO.

by Probir Kumar Sarkar

Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has been perceived as a broken, weak, and chaotic nation that can no longer pose a threat to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Overcoming its major disadvantages, however, the country under the leadership of Vladimir Putin has swiftly developed the capacity for unilateral economic sanctions against the European Union and NATO member states in the form of gas pricing and supply disruption.

From his first term of presidency in 1999, Putin put Russia on the path of resurgence, understanding the constraints and overreaching that led to the fall of the Soviet Union. He streamlined fragmented political, economic, and security apparatuses, launching a comprehensive series of reforms that re-centralized power over the Russian regions. Once Putin stood firmly in office, the Kremlin set its sights on Russia’s immediate neighbors, the former satellite states, and then on to the European Union and NATO member nations.

In Europe, natural gas is becoming a more potent instrument of coercion than oil. Last year Germany declared its plan to shut down nuclear power generation by 2022. By most estimates, Germany will need to import an increasing amount of Russian natural gas to make up for the loss of over 10 gigawatts of generation capacity, and Russia’s state-controlled gas giant, Gasprom, has already agreed to form a strategic partnership with the country.

Russia’s role as the main natural gas exporter to the European Union inevitably influenced Moscow’s foreign-policy. Under Putin’s leadership, Russia held on to the ambitiousness of its former self and has thus become a major exporter of natural gas, leveraging its greatest asset. Nearly two-fifths of world’s natural gas reserves are in Russia and its former satellites.

Germany is depending on that natural gas while it searches for an alternative, and Russia is badly in need of technology which Germany can readily fulfill. Germany’s ability to use the EU for its economic ends has not dissipated, but the member states can no longer satiate its growth. The Germans look for an alternative strategy, and a new relationship with Russia is such a strategy and one considered to readily fit Germany in the process.

While the developed economies of the 19th century were fueled by coal and in the 20th century by oil, the 21st century comes with great promise for natural gas. The world’s energy markets are experiencing a rapid transition to natural gas that will no doubt redefine the way we look at the scarcity of natural gas in the contemporary security environment.

Natural gas is currently the world’s third leading energy source in terms of consumption and production, and is expected to replace coal as the number one fuel for generating electricity in the next several years. Global consumption of natural gas will double in the next two decades. If this rate of growth continues, natural gas will become the world’s most important primary energy source by 2050, surpassing oil.

Natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel per unit of energy: its efficient combustion translates into a considerable drop in carbon emissions. From the economic perspective, natural gas is cheaper than oil. Moreover, the price of natural gas will continue to go down once an economic equilibrium is reached.

As with oil, Europe has access to very limited domestic reserves of natural gas. Several European countries, including Finland, Estonia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Greece, rely almost entirely on Russian natural gas. Thus, the concern in Europe has been that Russia’s monopoly of natural gas from the Caucasus will impact Europe’s energy security.

Putin was once quoted as saying, “Russia enjoys vast energy and mineral resources which serve as a basis to develop its economy as an instrument to implement domestic and foreign policy. The role of the country on international energy markets determines, in many ways, its geopolitical influence.”

The Kremlin understands the new dynamics between it and NATO. Well aware that Russia does not have the means to confront its former opponent militarily, Putin is acquiring a far-reaching grip with the help of what is soon to be the most valuable natural resource in the world. He will thus be gathering an influence of vast geopolitical consequence.

Mr. Sarkar is a senior international journalist who studied U.S. Foreign Policy and International Security at Cambridge. He is the Executive Editor at The Global Intelligence.

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