October Brussels Briefing – 15/10/2008

If the EU is to develop an external foreign policy for dealing with energy, then the first hurdle we have to overcome is Russia.

The Russia of Putin and Medvedev follows a mainly 19th century political strategy. It is trying to recreate its imperial past by continuing on a path first set by Ivan the Terrible and followed by all his successors, of gradual imperial accretion. The Warsaw pact was a high point and 1991-2008 merely a setback and now with the situation in Georgia, the direction is forward once more. Energy is not the objective, simply one of the tools. The style is clearly 19th century – great power politics unrestricted. In pursuit of its policy Russia seeks alliances with any oil or gas producing nations that are enemies of the West, like Iran and Venezuela.
The Russian invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in August provided the EU with a clear indication of just how far Putin is prepared to go. Whether or not the Russians had ever planned to occupy Georgia, the EU reaction provided them with some key insights. I think it was more likely that their objective was firstly to test the reaction of Europe and the US to the use of violence and secondly, to move closer to the BTC (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) pipeline to make the point that they can cut it at will, and thirdly to put the Baltic and Caspian states on notice that the Russians are coming back.

They have proved with comfort that the EU and even the USA presently have no stomach for a hot war to stabilise the borders of Russia. In the process they now sit astride the BTC pipeline and have firmly rattled the Balts and Caspians. Mission accomplished.

The subsequent agreements signed by Sarkozy and Medvedev may have stopped the killing and led to the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgian territory. But we are now sitting on a tinderbox, where Russia has recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and stood by while these two territories were effectively ethnically cleansed of Georgians. Russia is also actively distributing passports to citizens of the Crimea, in Ukraine, where it wants to secure its long-term interests in the Black Sea Port of Sebastopol. It is worth remembering that half of all Ukrainians in the east are actually of Russian extraction. I see Crimea declaring secession from Ukraine some time in the next five years, followed by a rigged referendum – it would not have to be all that rigged – for the return of Ukraine to “federation” with Russia in the five years following, when Putin is once again President.

Putin’s domination of Russian politics and his determination to impose his geopolitical will by the political use of Russia’s energy resources, has set the scene for a new power struggle. Europe could be heading this winter, quite literally, for a freezing Cold War. The EU relies on Russia for 45% of our oil and gas. Some of the Eastern Bloc accession states are in an even more vulnerable position. Hungary gets 90% of its gas from Russia. The Hungarian economy could be shut down in mid-winter at the flick of a switch. Russia, meanwhile, earns around $500 billion a year from the sale of oil and gas to Europe. To put it in context, this is more than the entire annual military budget of the US! At least until the recent global financial crisis, Russia was getting richer as the West was getting poorer. On the other hand, Russia also relies on Europe for this income, so its ability to use energy as a political blackmail tool comes at a cost.

George W. Bush famously said that he looked into the eyes of Putin and saw an honest man. John McCain said “I looked into his eyes and saw a K, a G and a B!” But there is no doubt that Vladimir Putin looks back nostalgically to the days of the Soviet Empire. He would dearly like to rebuild Russia as a global player. It is quite clear that Vladimir Putin intends to claim a sphere of influence over the independent sovereign states that once fell under the Soviet yoke. He will not tolerate the idea of those states joining NATO, never mind becoming members of the EU.

Politics can get complicated sometimes, as you’ll find most countries fighting over power, resources and money. Sources of contention between nations are usually oil, religion and lucrative industries such as Arms industry and the gambling industry. According to the casino online Australia – Political conflicts between nations are the number one cause for increases in illegal activities and crime.

His belligerence is backed by threats to cut off energy supplies, as he seeks to bring these countries to heel. The EU response has been weakly to call for sanctions. But even this was deemed to go too far. In the end it was decided to suspend negotiations with Russia on a partnership and cooperation agreement. So Russia invades a neighbour and Europe responds by ending negotiations on a partnership agreement! You couldn’t make it up! Why is it that the EU response to aggression always leads down the road to appeasement?

So Europe has potential flashpoints on its borders, in Georgia, Ukraine, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Republica Srpska, Macedonia, Cyprus, the Baltics, Kaliningrad and along the Southern shores of the Mediterranean. Our security in these areas can best be served not by tinkering with the grand concept of a European Army, but through our traditional alliance with NATO. Instead of re-emphasising our support for NATO, we continually seek ways to develop a Common Foreign and Security Policy that would effectively undermine NATO and undermine our long-standing trans-Atlantic alliance.

Russia’s histrionic response to the placing of US ABMs in the Czech Republic is an interesting sign of what really alarms them. They are not alarmed at the missiles themselves which involve a relatively trivial amount of force, as part of the great encircling route of missiles that stretch from Iran to the USA. What alarms the Russians is the principle of forward defence in action.

We must stop being weak in the face if Russian aggression. We need to stand up to Putin and we need dramatically to reduce our dependence on imported oil and gas. Only in this way will we ensure the safety of our immediate European neighbours and the stability of our own energy supplies.

It was Napoleon who said “The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemy’s.” In this uncertain world it is our duty to make sense out of the chaos and to ensure that we control it rather than allow it to engulf us.