New Castle News

Editorials

April 10, 2014

Our Opinion: Western Europe must embrace energy options

NEW CASTLE — Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to demonstrate that he poses a problem for the West.

And like many problems, Putin is one that may be best addressed by bypassing it.

The crisis in Ukraine shows no signs of abating, and Putin remains defiant, continuing to claim Russian dominion over Crimea — courtesy of a quickly called referendum. Now, there are reports of Russian troop movements near its border with Ukraine and actions designed to stir up ethnic Russians in the eastern portion of that country.

A growing concern is that Russia may either invade Ukraine or seek to annex eastern Ukraine.

Ahead of pending talks between Russia and Western nations over the situation in Ukraine, Putin has threatened to demand payment in advance for Russian natural gas shipped to Ukraine. That would be an economic burden that struggling country could ill afford. The move also would stir up the sort of unrest the world could expect Russia to take advantage of.

The threat of prepaid natural gas is a nonmilitary move designed to demonstrate Russia’s power in the region, and no doubt give European nations pause about taking too hard of a line. They too depend heavily on Russian natural gas supplies.

Russia knows it can use gas as a weapon, but it’s a weapon that carries a risk of its own. Any move that restricts Russia’s natural gas sales serves as a double-edged sword. Yes, a disruption of gas sales would hurt western Europe, but it would harm Russia’s economy as well.

Those gas sales serve as a major source of Russian wealth during a time its economy is not faring all that well. And the dispute over Ukraine is adding to Russian economic woes, as so-far relatively mild sanctions take a toll. Ultimately, any move Russia makes to punish western Europe via natural gas will result in self-inflicted wounds.

Yet Europe is in the same predicament. It can’t cut off trade with Russia without damaging its own energy supply line. This is why significant economic sanctions aimed at punishing Russia aren’t likely to transpire.

At least in the short run. For the future, however, nations in western Europe need to see Putin’s Russia for what it is — a bully that can’t be trusted. And the situation adds up to one more call to the West for energy independence.

By pursuing shale gas and oil drilling, and developing new alternate energy strategies, America and its allies can achieve that goal — albeit over time. That may not deter Putin in the short term, but if the West commits to energy independence, Putin and his supporters may rethink their aggressive foreign ambitions.

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