Speakers at an energy conference in Washington Tuesday say that while Europe would like to diversify its sources of energy, the continent is likely to remain reliant on the countries of the former Soviet Union for much of its oil and gas needs.
Participants at the Global Resource Dialogue seminar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies say Russia's brief cutoff of gas exports to Ukraine in January was a shock to western Europe. The use of gas as a tool used against Ukraine also affected Europe, as the same pipelines are used to bring Russian gas to countries as far west as Germany and France.
Last January, Russia, unhappy with Kiev's shift to a western oriented foreign policy, threatened to quadruple gas prices for Ukraine and triggered supply disruption. Robert Cutler, an energy specialist at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada says Moscow's action called into question its reputation as a reliable supplier. "The current presidential administration did something that no Soviet leadership ever did during the cold war. They cut off gas," he said.
Cutler and other speakers say the Russian leadership miscalculated in assuming that Europe would agree with Russia that Ukraine caused the disruption by refusing to pay western prices for Russian gas. "Even the fact that this [action] was taken against Ukraine was felt by western Europe. It was a little heavy handed for some political leaders in Moscow to try to blame Ukraine for any shortfalls in Europe. That was taken very badly," he said.
Russia is hoping that a proposed gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea from Russia to western Europe, bypassing Ukraine and Belarus, will restore its reputation as a reliable supplier. Western Europe, with declining energy resources, is trying to diversify its imports but that is proving to be difficult. Alternative suppliers are located at greater distances than Russia or have limited supplies for export.