Oil isn’t Russia’s only problem.
The energy exporter is losing its dominance over the European gas market.
In the past there were two factors that kept Russia as the major gas powerhouse: European policies and cold winters.
But both of those things have changed — and Russia is starting to explore non-Western countries.
Europe Is Making Bold Moves
Back in 2009 the EU passed the Third Energy Package, which said that Russia can’t both own and control pipelines on the EU territory. (Russia filed a lawsuit with the WTO against the EU over this in April 2014, after the first rounds of Western sanctions.)
Additionally, the EU has been putting taxpayers’ money into new inter-connectors, so now if Russia decides to cut of supplies, the affected countries can still get gas from somewhere else, according to the Economist.
This is a major move because in the past Russia punished countries by cutting off gas.
Ukraine’s gas was shut off for six months in 2014, as well as 2006 and 2009, and Latvia and Lithuania were punished by Moscow “for their alleged mistreatment of Russian minorities or for awarding refinery or construction contracts to European rather than Russian companies.”
The Economist also cites the following changes in Europe:
- Lithuania started importing liquefied natural gas from Norway.
- Ukraine is importing more gas from the west.
- The EU has brokered a deal on debts and prices between Ukraine and Russia, which will keep gas going to Ukraine at least for the first quarter of 2015.
To cap things off, in December lack of funds forced Russia to cancel the South Stream pipeline to supply gas to Europe without crossing Ukraine.
Russia’s Hegemonic Control Over Gas In The Past
Back in late November, Putin coolly noted that “winter is coming,” and thus he was “sure the market will come into balance again in the first quarter or toward the middle of next year.”
What he meant by that was that cold weather is great news for the Russian economy because Europeans would have to import more oil and natural gas.
“It is the power of colder weather that allows Russia, as the key supplier of energy to Europe, to apply leverage. That leverage can take the form of higher prices, restricted volumes, a combination of both, or negotiations that directly or indirectly affect these additional costs,” Cumberland Advisors Chair David Kotok wrote in August.
Russia provided one-third of the natural gas that European countries relied on both for heating their homes and running industries. Since Russia played such a huge role in the gas market, it was able to command high prices.
But the European winter is pretty mild this year, the Economist notes, so “even if Russia did try to interrupt supplies, the effect would be modest.”
Russia’s Future Game Plan Outside Of Europe
Russia has been publically exploring energy (and military) relationships with countries outside of Europe — most notably, China and India.
In May 2014, Russia’s Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) signed a historic 30-year contract to supply natural gas to China.
Near the end of 2014, Putin met with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi where they agreed to several energy deals, and Russia invited India to “work on projects” in the Arctic.
“Rosneft and Gazprom, our biggest companies, together with their Indian colleagues, are preparing projects for the development of Russian-Arctic [and] the expansion of liquefied gas,” Putin said.
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