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We Need to Focus on Russia

While Western Europe welcomed VP Biden and Secretary Clinton's announcement for a new and more open engagement of Russia, Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation thinks that America should not push the reset button yet.

Dr. Cohen is concerned about Russia's Revisionist Foreign Policy. He argues that Obama administration "must raise the profile of Russian, Eurasian, and Caspian affairs on the U.S. foreign policy agenda," because "Russia is and will remain one of the most significant foreign policy challenges."

Russia strives to dominate Europe, particularly Eastern and Central Europe, including Germany, through its quasi-monopolistic gas supply and its significant share of the oil market and of other strategic resources. (...) Russian energy giant Gazprom has been on a shopping spree, acquiring European energy assets. Europe is projected to be dependent on Russia for over 60 percent of its gas consumption by 2030, with some countries already 100 percent dependent on Gazprom. Russia has shown a willingness to use this dependency and its energy influence as a tool of foreign policy, shutting down or threatening to shut down the flow of gas to countries perceived to be acting against Moscow's interest, as in the cases of Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

German policy makers are considerably less concerned about dependence on Russia gas and argue that Russia needs trade with us at least as much. Perhaps they are naive. Or the Heritage expert still has a Cold War mindset. Or it is a mix of both.

I mistrust the Russian government and I am concerned about Russia's foreign policy, but believe that a new engagement (pushing the reset button) will serve us better than Cold War rhetoric. We need to work with Russia on common challenges (nuclear disarmament, sanctions on Iran, proliferation in general, Afghanistan, transport routes to Afghanistan etc) and should avoid for now unnecessary confrontations over missile defense and further NATO enlargement for Georgia and Ukraine, which are not ready yet anyway and who would not contribute to our collective defense.

In my humble opinion, Obama is on the right track. Europeans, however, still have to do their homework: We need to reduce our energy dependence on Russia and we need to a joint EU position on Russia, i.e. need to find consensus among Western and Eastern EU members. Russia will only respect a strong and united EU.

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Solipson on :

Pretty good article, if a little predictable. What I am always amazed about is the absolute refusal of statesside scholars and journalists to even contemplate delving into the complexities of Europe (and I include Russia in here). Plus the occasionally funny remarks, this time about Obama enticing the Europeans to diversify their energy needs, especially with renewable energy sources :-) I don't really trust the Russian government a lot as well, but in the end they are pretty predictable. Which sometimes is much better than the other way round. They are, well Russians. And they don't aspire to dominate Europe with their fearful energy weapon. Even if they would try , they would not stand a chance in succeeding with it. What is always stressed is that we are pretty capitive gas customers of Gazprom. True enough. But what people tend to forget is that they are a pretty captive supplier as well. They just cannot go and sell their gas to somebody else. It is transported via pipelines. Fixed assets. Not removable. This means if they stop or threaten to stop the flow, it would hurt us short term, but it would hurt them much more. No revenue, no weapons, no influence. No, this is not the Middle East, where the weapon of choice is a real commodity. Just imagine for a moment they would stop the flow and they wouldn't care in the world, that they will loose their biggest customer. What would happen? For 90 days nothing at all, because that's how long the reserves would last. The prices would go through the roof and LNG vessel owners would make a killing. Plus PNG technology will get it's breakthrough. "[url=http://www.touchoilandgas.com/pressurised-natural-alternative-natural-a62-1.html]Pressurised Natural Gas Vessels[/url]" In short this technology solves any threats against European energy security. Now what then? Empty pipelines and an empty Russian wallet. No, will not happen. The Russians are a lot, but not stupid. That's why I am not concerned about Russia's energy threat.

John in Michigan, USA on :

The Cold War rhetoric maybe goes a little to far at times, but it isn't entirely inappropriate. The argument that Russia's pipelines makes it unable/unlikely to act irrationally, is the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) debate all over again. The only difference is, instead of deterring Russia with the threat of nuclear destruction, Europe proposes to deter Russia with the threat of economic destruction. Which works, if Russian leadership is able to be deterred in the same way it was during the Cold War. Is it? One of the achievements (a relative term) of the USSR was the (re)emergence of a system of collective leadership. This replaced what had become a cult of personality under Stalin. Many argue that collective leadership that made the USSR behave in a way that was (in retrospect) deterrable -- no longer would the USSR risk grand, disastrous experiments based on the whims of one man. But today's Russia seems to have rejected collective leadership and is returning to the cult of personality model under Putin and his figurehead. Stalin is again praised in the national conversation. Granted, Putin has a way to go before he becomes as popular as Stalin, but that seems to be the direction things are headed. It would be much easier to believe in Russia's ability to be deterred if Putin showed signs that he is preparing the Russian oligarchy to be governed by committee, rather than by one man. --- In other Russia news, the [url=http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/016/286uzncs.asp]collapse of the Russian defense industry continues[/url]. There is an amusing account of how the Russia delegation to one of the world's most important arms sales conventions dissed the royal family, then turned up late and hung over in an Arab country (albeit one of the ones that tolerates some alcohol). Nice. A weak Russian defense industry suggests that Russia will be less able to act in a militarily aggressive manner. On the other hand, it could mean that they become desperate, and decide they have no choice but to play the war card, before they fall even more behind.

John in Michigan, USA on :

"goes a little to far at times" should be "goes a little too far at times". I hang my head in shame.

Solipson on :

Hilarious article, a must read. Leaves the question with what the Russians want to excert influence. If it is not trade or weapons, what then?

Marie Claude on :

they still can rely on Smirnoff exports

John in Michigan, USA on :

Heh. Stolichnaya was mainly produced in the Ukraine and in other former Soviet Republics that are not (for the moment...) part of Russia. Smirnoff is now British. Finally got you to say something nice about Albion?

Marie Claude on :

I think I'm going to love them more since they are in trouble ;-D one shouldn't punch an fallen enemi

John in Michigan, USA on :

Unless that enemy is named Bush...

Marie Claude on :

nono, I loved the bushisms at the end ;-p

Solipson on :

Here's an article in the NYT about the globalisation of gas markets, with major new gas liquefying and cooling plants coming on line in the next couple of months. There's even talk about the first global natural gas glut in history. "[url=http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/21/business/energy-environment/21gas.html?_r=1]Globalised Gas Markets[/url]" Functioning markets = diminished supplier power.

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