Russia has been the main supplier of gas to most of Europe, which as a whole, imports two thirds of its gas consumption and half of it comes from Russia. Previously, with no alternative to pipeline supply for natural gas, countries like Poland, Finland, Germany, Ukraine, are partially or fully dependent on Russia for keeping their houses warm in winter. This suits Russia quite well for reasons beyond the usual trade agreements. Being the fuel super power for Europe means it can influence Europe and its policies and twist their arm, when needed. Being on side of Russia, came with a favour of a better fuel deal and annoying Moscow may mean a very long and harsh winter for some. Russia has benefitted from this in geographical terms. The western border of Russia is a treacherous ground for her, a mixture of friends and foes, that she manages delicately. Moscow’s relationship with Baltic states has been a hit and miss. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, can be pressurised with fuel prices but things may not be so amenable across the Baltic Sea, where Norway, Sweden and Denmark, are more pro west and surround the Skagerrak Straits, making Russia’s exit through the Baltic into the North Sea, a highly monitored activity.
This makes Crimea, vital to Russia, with Sevastopol being her only warm water port (although rapid development is being carried out at other fronts like Novorossiysk. So when pressure was put on Russia earlier this decade, by pulling Ukraine westwards, another country lining its western border, Ukraine and the west, felt the wrath of the bear, furious and ferocious, she annexed Crimea. After a few cries west silenced, may be thanking their lucky stars that Ukraine was not a NATO member, otherwise they would have to react, forced by article 5 of the treaty. By promoting internal conflict in Ukraine, with the help of large number of ethnic Russians living there and culmination in full military operation, not only it annexed Crimea but proved that Ukraine poses no threat and America is far away. Round 1 Russia.
This shines light on the remainder of Russia’s western border, Northern European plain. Russia has been invaded twice in last century through there. This plain though thousands of miles across at other places, in Poland it narrows down to just 300 miles, bordered by Baltic to the north and by the Carpathian Mountains to south. Strategically controlling this area makes sense but previous attempts at it predominately militarily, in times of old USSR, lead to an over stretch, and we all know the ending of that story. So now Moscow relies on politics and fuel to control this region, things had been going relatively smooth so far. This when seen in the light of lack of American allies in the Pacific, and Moscow and European Russia, being a world away from the eastern border, because of the massive size of Russia, makes Russia feel impenetrable
Enter American Shale gas with its LNG (liquified natural gas) in 2016/17. It is gas, extracted by fracking, converted into liquid and then shipped at a price of dollars only and no (obvious) political strings attached (as yet). Ports to receive and convert this back into usable gas are being built across Europe at rapid pace. This is also establishing America as a fuel giant, that can dictate prices while offering liberation from Russian influence, hence threatening Russia both financially and politically. Secretary to the Department of energy Rick Perry came out with a stinging statement that moving U.S. energy supplies into Eastern Europe is one of the most powerful ways to contain Russian influence. On the other hand Gazprom, the state controlled Russian gas giant, which alone supplies more than a third of Europe’s gas demands, is claiming that it will achieve record levels of exports this year.
In the midst of these political jabs, the recent incident of nerve gas attack on ex-soviet spy, on British soil, and allegations of Russian involvement, West is rolling up its sleeves. I am in no way predicting a brawl between Russia and western powers, but threatening with a punch works better at an arms length, than a mile away. Things have changed since Crimea and players are different in this one. This incident, although of less severity than annexation of foreign land, involves a NATO member. Impact was seen in today’s news with the biggest expulsion of Russian diplomats from 20 countries, 18 belonging to European Union, with more to follow from other members including Germany, Poland and non members like Ukraine as well. While Europe may be coming out of Russian influence, influence of Moscow on the White House may play a key role in this one. In this game of cards, let’s see who holds the trump.