The future of EU-Russia energy relations

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

“EU-Russia energy relations should be straightforward, mutually beneficial and fast-growing, but they are not,” writes Katinka Barysch, deputy director of the Centre for European Reform (CER), in a report featuring contributions from various authors.

Barysch says that while “some say that Russia uses energy as a political weapon and cannot be trusted as a supplier,” others “worry less about Russia’s willingness to sell energy abroad than its ability to do so”.

For Barysch, the main issue is the role of energy in EU-Russia relations, with some commentators arguing that it “defines the relationship”.

While older member states like Germany and Italy, which buy a lot of Russian gas, will be “cautious about criticising Moscow,” new EU countries think that Russia’s ‘energy weapon’ is “one more reason for the EU to ‘get tough’ on Russia,” argues Barysch. “Energy ties cause the divisions that have paralysed the EU’s policy on Russia”.

She concedes that other observers take a “more positive view” by pointing out that “energy dependence is mutual,” stating that the EU is by far “the biggest and most lucrative market for Russian energy sales”. 

Dmitri Trenin, deputy director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, argues against the widespread assumption that the Kremlin is using energy as a political weapon by saying that Gazprom [Russia’s major oil and gas company] is only attempting to “maximise its profits and market share”. He adds that the greater the degree of mutual dependence between the EU and Russia, the “less likely it will lead to politically motivated threats”.

On the other hand, Christian Cleutinx and Jeffrey Piper, both co-ordinators of the bilateral energy dialogue launched at the EU-Russia summit, believe that Russia “does not invest sufficiently in the exploration of new fields and therefore may be unable to meet growing European demand”.

But Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Duma’s foreign affairs committee, accuses Europeans of “scaremongering” and claims that the bilateral energy dialogue is “not based on equality, but is designed to minimise the risks that many Europeans see emanating from Russia”.

Overall, Barysch concludes that the authors’ contributions “express the hope that negotiations about the new agreement may offer an opportunity to construct a reliable, mutually agreed legal framework for EU-Russia energy relations”.

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