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Europe's Dangerous Dependence on Russian Gas

Natural Gas Pipeline, Germany
(PRAGUE/WASHINGTON, D.C.) A senior European energy official told RFE/RL that Europe "may need a few more energy crises" like January's Russia-Ukraine dispute in order to recognize its over-reliance on Russian natural gas. Speaking to a Washington, DC audience via videolink from Prague, Vaclav Bartuska, the Czech Ambassador-at-Large for Energy Security, called on the EU to take urgent steps toward energy independence.

"We don't use the power that we have. We are the biggest market in the world -- half a billion people," said Bartuska, who mediated the Januray "gas war". "Europe should be calling the shots, not the [Russian] suppliers."
Bartuska spoke from RFE/RL's Prague headquarters
[audio clip]

Bartuska said the EU spends 40 times more on projects "where politicians can have ribbon-cutting ceremonies -- such as airports and bridges -- than it does on vital energy infrastructure." And although he said Russia deserves much of the blame for the crisis in January, Bartuska said Ukraine acted irresponsibly as well. [audio clip]

"Right now, there is precious little support for Ukraine in the EU. Without better transparency and basic accounting rules, no European investors will pour money into the country -- I hope Ukraine's leaders will see that the future of their country is at stake," he said. [audio clip]

However, former RFE/RL Senior Energy Analyst Roman Kupchinsky said the recent European Union agreement to help Ukraine modernize its gas infrastructure is a "colossal achievement" for those who wish to see Ukraine more deeply integrated into Europe. [audio clip]

From Washington, Kupchinsky added that Europe should be wary of its reliance on the Kremlin for energy: "Gazprom stopped being a gas company when Putin was elected -- it has become a geopolitical vehicle for Russia." [audio clip]

Also in Washington, CSIS analyst and former U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Keith Smith said "the Russians have been clever with their strategy to divide and conquer Europe. They realize that Central and Eastern European nations are vulnerable and highly dependent on them for energy because of geography and history." [audio clip]