Friday, 18 April 2014

Putin Uses Gas Exports as a Political Weapon. Let's Turn That Weapon Against Him

For those of you following the events surrounding Russia's growing takeover of Ukraine, you've probably heard about Europe's dependence on Russian gas and how Russian dictator Vladimir Putin takes advantage of it.  What you might not know, however, is that this dependence works both ways.  The Russian economy is heavily dependent on gas exports, so not having customers to export their gas to would severely damage the Russian economy and Putin's regime, which relies significantly on support from rich oligarchs, many of whom are involved in the Russian gas industry.  Putting an end to Russian gas exports would cost these oligarchs a fortune and so if they were threatened with the possibility that Europe would no longer depend on them for their gas supplies, they would likely press Putin to end his megalomaniac conquests.  In fact, they may even be able to force him from power should they feel that keeping Putin in the Kremlin is no longer in their interests.  So ironically, the gas exports that Putin uses as political leverage to continue his conquests can also be used against him.  But in order for this to happen, Europe must expunge itself from dependence on Russian gas, and the only way to do this is for the continent to find other suppliers.

One potential supplier is Azerbaijan, a former Soviet state that seeks to take advantage of its own vast oil and gas reserves.  The Azerbaijanis plan is to build a pipeline that would run from their country, through the former Soviet republic of Georgia, then through Turkey all the way to southern Europe.  This pipeline would bypass Russian territory and give Europe a new alternative to importing gas from Putin's Russia.  Click here for an article about this proposed pipeline.

Further to the south may lie another alternative in a country that up until recently few people would think of as a major gas exporter: Israel.  Within the last decade, the search for oil and gas off the Mediterranean coast of the Jewish state has turned up huge reserves of natural gas; enough for Israel to become a major exporter.  Indeed, there has been talk of building an undersea pipeline from Israel to Turkey.  A recent article in the Israeli press discusses this possibility, along with the prospect of Russian opposition.  Click here for the full article.

So there are potential alternatives to Europe's current dependence on Russian gas.  But of course, pipelines take time to build and before any shovels get put in the ground, there needs to be political will on the part of the leaders of countries that have an interest in seeing these pipelines realized.  I certainly hope that this political will materializes soon, because the sooner the politicians in the West decide that they no longer want to depend on Russian tyrant Putin for their gas supplies, the sooner the pipelines can be built and the gas can start flowing.  There's no time to waste as Putin continues to use Russia's gas reserves as a blackmailing chip to further his conquests.     

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