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EU Can Unite on South Stream, If Not Sanctions

Published: July 25, 2014 (Issue # 1821)




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Strong suspicions of Russian involvement in the tragic shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines aircraft have led EU countries to consider new sanctions against Moscow.

Tough sanctions would involve targeting Russia's natural gas exports. But any new measures will fall short of this. Europe's dependence on Russian gas, and the pipeline projects that accompany it, handicaps the EU's response in the Ukraine crisis.

But if hard sanctions are not possible, the EU should at least make a choice in favor of energy independence from Russia. As a new European Commission forms in Brussels, EU leaders should appoint an energy commissioner with a strong backbone. The new commissioner should also be willing to confront one of the most effective Russian instruments for dividing Europe: the South Stream pipeline.

The EU has long known that it needs to improve its energy security, and events in Ukraine have placed it at the top of the European agenda. Russian gas accounts for nearly 30 percent of Europe's gas consumption, about half of which is transported through Ukraine.

Gazprom's recent decision to cut gas shipments to its neighbor and switch to a system of advance payments clearly put European gas supplies at risk, a danger President Vladimir Putin warned of in his April letter to European leaders. His message came after the EU decided to impose sanctions on a number of Russian individuals and companies, raising the possibility that Putin's warning was, in fact, an implicit threat that he can hurt Europe's economy as well.

The European Commission and some EU governments have therefore rightly concluded that European dependence on Russian gas leaves it exposed to political pressure from Moscow. So, on May 28, the European Commission published an energy security strategy. The strategy contains a set of measures to reduce Europe's overreliance on Russian gas and increase European "energy resilience" by liberalizing its gas market and diversifying its imports. But it is struggling to put this plan into practice.

The June 24 agreement between Austria's OMV and Gazprom to build part of the South Stream pipeline sent the wrong signal to Russia. Alongside a similar commitment from the Hungarian government in early July, it demonstrated that several EU countries valued their economic agendas over a united front on the Ukraine crisis. The ill-timed deal does not bode well for a coherent European approach to energy issues and foreign policy.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Tuesday, Oct. 21


The Environment, Health and Safety Committee of AmCham convenes this morning at 9 a.m. in the organization’s office.


Take the opportunity to pick the brains of Dmitry V. Krivenok, the deputy director of the Economic Development Agency of the Leningrad region, and Mikhail D. Sergeev, the head of the Investment Projects Department, during the meeting with them this morning hosted by SPIBA. RSVP for the event by emailing office@spiba.ru before Oct. 17 if you wish to attend.


Improve your English at Interactive English, the British Book Center’s series of lessons on vocabulary and grammar in an informal atmosphere. Starting at 6 p.m., each month draws attention to different topics in English, with the topic for this month’s lessons being “visual arts.”



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