I’m not certain that the decision-makers in the Kremlin have fully taken into account all of the consequences of their handling of the gas dispute with Ukraine.
In 2006, Russia takes over the chairmanship of the G8, and President Putin has already announced that energy security will be one of the key issues at the June summit in St Petersburg.
This is part of presenting Russia as a reliable supplier of energy to Europe, the US and Japan inte the decades ahead, and of attracting foreign investment into these state-controlled sectors of the Russian economy.
But if Gazprom really cuts supplies to Ukraine tomorrow, they will also cut part of the credibility of these efforts. There will not be a chancellery in the West that would not think twice before making their country overly and only dependent on energy supplies from Russia in the years ahead.
Many analysts already fear that the dispute provides a foretaste of how Russia will use its massive oil and gas reserves as a foreign policy tool in future disputes with the West.
“Energy co-operation has replaced military might as the mainstay of Russia’s international credibility,” Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank in Moscow, said. “It is using its importance as an energy partner to pursue its geopolitical and foreign policy agenda.”
Gas politics has suddenly become the new geopolitics.
The conflict with the Ukraine has deep implications for the future of Europe.
The Kremlin certainly knows that it has strong cards in its immediate dispute with Kiev. But the stronger it plays these cards, the more it weakens its more long-term cards versus the entire West.