As the Obama administration escalates economic sanctions on Russia and weighs military support to Ukraine, it has revved up a less noticed but far broader campaign to wean Central and Eastern Europe off a deep reliance on Russian energy.
It's a Cold War reprise, but not for military supremacy, and the points on the map aren't troop deployments, tank battalions and missile silos. Rather, pipelines, ports and power plants are the weapons of what could prove a generation-defining conflict between the U.S. and Russia over how Europe heats and electrifies its homes.
Success, U.S. officials say, would mean finally "liberating" former Soviet states and satellites from decades of economic bullying by Moscow.
To that end, Washington is helping set up new natural gas pipelines and terminals in a region that depends on Russia for more than 70 percent of its energy needs. It is pushing American companies' bids for nuclear plants and fracking exploration in Europe.
Yet as the U.S. makes headway, the Kremlin is fighting back, warning neighboring governments about the consequences of looking westward for fuel. Russia is trying to outmaneuver the U.S. on nuclear bids, buy up pipeline infrastructure across Europe and control not only how its vast energy reserves move westward, but what European governments can do with those supplies afterward.
"It's a chess match," said Amos Hochstein, the State Department's special envoy for international energy affairs, as he pored over a map of Europe dotted with existing and proposed pipeline routes.
Although the U.S. has pressed its European partners for decades to find new oil, gas, coal and nuclear sources, the crisis in Ukraine has upped the ante. Russia's takeover of Crimea last year and continued support for rebels in a brutal civil war in Ukraine has changed Europe's mindset about relying so heavily on Russian energy.
Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Bulgaria to push for a new gas spur and to promote an American company's bid to build a new nuclear plant. Bulgaria relies on Russia for 85 percent of its gas and all of its nuclear power. The prices, among the highest for NATO countries, are a concern within the alliance, which prides itself on winning the Cold War.
"The battle was won," Kerry told staffers at the U.S. Embassy in Sofia. "And here we are today in 2015, and Russia is still trying to impose on people its will."
In November, Vice President Joe Biden visited Romania, another vulnerable country, and Turkey, Europe's bridge to resource-rich Central Asia, to press the case.
Victoria Nuland, America's top diplomat for Europe, and energy envoy Hochstein have spent much of the past few months working with Europe on a coordinated energy strategy. Their message: Failure now will only invite more Russian pressure.
While episodes of Russia shutting off the energy spigots to its neighbors have raised alarms, persistent infighting among European governments and energy companies has hampered diversification efforts across the continent.
Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
Big countries, especially, have found it easier to make private deals with President Vladimir Putin's government. And that has done little for Europe's most vulnerable economies, whose infrastructure is designed only to take in supplies from Siberia.
But, increasingly, there now is action in addition to diversity talk.
With U.S. support, Lithuania and soon Poland will be importing liquefied natural gas from Norway, Qatar and potentially the United States. New pipelines will enable Central and Eastern European countries to send fuel from west to east and north to south.
And in a couple of years, a southern corridor should be taking fuel from the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, and into Europe, bypassing Russia.
Those advances combined with other moving parts — a liquefied gas plant off the Croatian coast, a Bulgaria-Romania network connection, links into Serbia and Hungary, and greater energy integration as far afield as Spain and France — will mean Europeans can increasingly trade energy among themselves, pooling their fuel sources and weakening Russia's grip.
Hochstein said the U.S. would like to see a 20 percent slice cut out of Russia's current share of the Eastern European gas market by 2020, considering that a major step forward.
While Western Europe provides the funding, the U.S. is giving technology and political support.
In a speech last week at the Brookings Institution, Nuland hailed Poland, Hungary and Slovakia for starting flows of gas in reverse to help Ukraine stave off an energy crisis. Moldova established a gas interconnector with Romania.
"In the area of energy security, we're not just talking the talk," Nuland said. The strategy aims "to create competition. ... It's about ensuring energy can't be used as a weapon."
Within the U.S., there is debate over whether America can be doing more.
The fracking revolution at home has propelled the United States past Russia as the world's top gas producer, yet U.S. exports to Eastern Europe are minimal. The region's lack of infrastructure, investment and transparency are partly responsible; another part is American unease with selling more liquefied natural gas overseas.
Still, officials say the U.S. gas boom is already affecting Russia's export power by lowering global prices and freeing sources of fuel that otherwise would have been gobbled up by the American market.
Last week, Gazprom announced a 60 percent dive in its latest quarterly profits.
Russia, however, isn't standing idly by.
As American officials have traveled around Europe, working with governments on new projects, Russian representatives have been quick to follow.
A September visit by Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller prompted Hungary to suspend reverse gas flows to Ukraine for more than three months. Elsewhere, Russia has responded to increased European pipeline activity by trying to buy up the pieces.
A year ago, Hungary announced an $11.3 billion deal with Russia to construct two new reactors at a Soviet-built nuclear plant; the deal involved almost no discussion and no international tender, shutting out Westinghouse, which had been interested in the deal.
Putin accepted defeat in December for a multibillion-dollar plan to build a pipeline under the Black Sea and into Europe after mounting EU opposition. But he vowed to increase supplies to Turkey across existing infrastructure and possibly build a new link that would take gas into Greece and beyond.
U.S. President Joe Biden proposed a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a telephone call on Tuesday in which he stressed the U.S. commitment to Ukraine's territorial integrity and voiced concern about a Russian military build-up in Crimea and on Ukraine's borders,...( ) Read all
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is enforcing rights under its financing and security documents with regards to Danube Logistics Holding BV’s shareholding in Danube Logistics SRL (Danube Logistics), the operator of Giurgiulesti International Free Port in the...( ) Read all
EBA Moldova is following with great concern the latest developments regarding Danube Logistics SRL, the owner and operator of Giurgiulesti International Free Port, the only port of the Republic of Moldova.( ) Read all
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) intends to fight a legal decision to impose external administration over the assets of Danube Logistics SRL, the operator of Giurgiulesti International Free Port in Moldova.( ) Read all
One August day in the mid-1960s, my parents boarded a bus in the village of Hartopul Mare in the center of Moldova to travel to the capital Chisinau, determined to get a better education and better jobs in the Soviet planned economy. It was a 90-minute trip in a vehicle packed with about 50...( ) Read all
On Thursday 3 December, the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova voted on a number of legislative proposals, including on limitations of Presidential powers, tabled in a hasty and non-transparent manner.( ) Read all
Seven people died from methanol (wood alcohol) poisoning after drinking hand sanitizer at a party in Russia. Nine people, with ages ranging from 27 to 69 years old, were partying when they opted to drink hand sanitizer after running out of alcoholic beverages, according to local Russian...( ) Read all
On 25 August 2020 the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Belarus (thereinafter – the CCRB) adopted a document entitled the “Constitutional Legal Position on the Protection of the Constitutional Order” (Kонституционно-правовaя позиция по...( ) Read all
Leaked documents shed a light on Deutsche Bank's central role in facilitating financial transactions deemed suspicious. Many of these could have enabled the circumvention of sanctions on Iran and Russia.( ) Read all
On 12 May 2020 the Chișinău Appeals Court barred Danube Logistics SRL from transferring funds to its Dutch shareholder Danube Logistics Holding BV. Danube Logistics SRL is the operator of Giurgiulești International Free Port located on the maritime section of the Danube.( ) Read all
On the building that once housed the local headquarters of the Soviet secret police in the Russian city of Tver, where 80 years ago thousands of Polish prisoners of war were murdered, plaques commemorating the victims of Stalinist crimes were today removed.( ) Read all
That is the message the country's Constitutional Court sent to the European Union on Tuesday as it delivered a landmark ruling on the legality of the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programs, a decision many observers say challenges both the independence of the ECB and the...( ) Read all