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Resurgent Russia Sees Oil as a Weapon  


In the past two years, a resurgent Russia has taken steps that some analysts consider using oil as a weapon. The question that experts and government officials ask is how the West should respond. Some advocate a patient approach while others urge confrontation. As part of his series on the politics of oil, VOA's Brian Padden reports on the dilemma over Russia's oil wealth.

The Druzhba or Friendship oil pipeline keeps Russia economically connected to many of its former satellite Soviet states and western Europe. The pipeline supplies Germany with a large percentage of its natural gas. Ralf Borschinsky with Verbundnetz Gas AG, the company that operates the pipeline in Germany, says Russia is a good and reliable business partner.

"States broke down. Political systems changed but not our contracts. The gas went the way it had to all the time without any interruption," said Borschinsky.

That was not the experience of Ukraine and Belarus. Since 2006, Russia has temporarily cut off energy supplies to each of the countries at least once over price disputes and has threatened more action. Vladimir Milov, President of the Moscow Energy Policy Institute says Russia has been using energy to punish former Soviet states.

"The use of energy as a political weapon in recent years is a banal way to deal with dissenting countries Russia would like to keep in its orbit of foreign influence, but cannot," said Milov.

With Russia's growing economic power, Western governments have expressed concern about Russian government policies.

Alex Alexiev with The Center For Security Policy In Washington says the U.S. and Europe must stand up to what he calls Russian economic aggression.

"Business has to be reciprocal. The Russians increasingly limit the ability of western companies to function on a private enterprise basis in Russia but they want to have access to our markets on an unlimited essentially free market basis," he said. "That's not something we should allow."

Alexander Rahr with the German Council on Foreign Relations says Europe is looking to the energy rich Caspian Sea region for alternatives to Russian oil and gas.

"If we speak about European interests, about European energy security interests, the code word is diversification," said Rahr.

But Rahr says the West should also work with Russia to reduce the level of distrust and encourage democratic reform.

"In the long run, Russia is our friend, not an enemy because Russia needs us more than we need them. They need us to help contain China, which will become hostile. They need us for containing China, which will become hostile," he added. "They need the West to cooperate against terrorism and, of course, it needs us as a market for its energy products which is a very serious matter."

Moscow Energy Policy Institute President Vladimir Milov says Russia also needs global energy companies to help with production.

"We should tax them heavily to use of our fields, but we need them here. We absolutely do not need confrontation with them," said Milov.

Still the experts say whether the West becomes more confrontational or collaborative with Russia, the tone of the relationship seems to have changed, from friendship to adversary.

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