Russian-European energy cooperation: partnership and pragmatism
Energy sector cooperation is enabling Russia and Germany to establish a long-term partnership. Economic cooperation of this kind should be pragmatic. When offering energy resources or any concessions or preferences to any country, we need to have a clear idea of what we stand to gain in exchange.
The recent Big Three (Putin-Merkel-Chirac) meeting in Paris appears to have produced some rather substantial shifts in the direction of forming a new coalition of European powers. It can hardly be described as a Moscow-Berlin-Paris axis, let alone an alliance comparable to NATO or the European Union. The agreements reached at the meeting are insufficient for the situation to be viewed with that degree of optimism. Nevertheless, these three leaders are meeting regularly, the continental powers have common interests, our countries have a history of cooperation going back to the 18th or 19th centuries, and we are prepared to pursue an economic format of cooperation. All this indicates a new quality in relations between the three states.
Large-scale infrastructure projects always mean something more than simply economic contacts. Gas pipelines, oil pipelines, energy distribution networks – these are the blood vessels of economies. In effect, this is the framework on which the real unification of the European continent is taking place. Clearly, with the prospect of mineral resources (especially fossil fuels) production declining in future, they are becoming increasingly special. And their value – material and financial, geopolitical and strategic – is growing.
Gazprom’s control over gas distribution networks in Britain is of far greater significance than half the Soviet Union’s tank divisions, since it means that the Russian Federation is sure to have some influence on British economic policy.
Building the North European Gas Pipeline directly to Germany, bypassing Eastern Europe, and promising Germany some gas from the Shtokman field – all this means that Russia is gaining not only substantial economic benefits, but also a long-term strategic partner in the form of Germany. Contrary to many predictions, Gerhard Schroeder’s replacement as Chancellor by Angela Merkel hasn’t been followed by any significant changes in Russian-German relations; this alone is a clear demonstration that the energy component in our dialogue is enabling us to establish a long-term partnership.
In my view, economic cooperation of this kind should be extremely pragmatic. When offering energy resources or any concessions or preferences to any country, we need to have a clear idea of what we stand to gain in exchange.
The benefits of the North European Gas Pipeline are self-evident: we will rid ourselves of countless problems in gas transit to Europe. These problems stem from a geopolitical configuration in which small European countries have been able to influence our decisions in this area. The ambitions and economic interests of these countries have hampered Russia’s efforts to supply gas on terms which are favorable for Russia. Hence, the North European Gas Pipeline is an indisputably beneficial route, from every point of view. It enhances our geostrategic positions and gives us economic advantages.