As it became clear that the economic sanctions against Russia are going to backlash against the United States and the European Union, the West started to study other ways to «punish» Russia, including bringing down market energy rates. Obama promised to start gas deliveries from the US straight to Europe. Many saw it as the start of energy war against Russia.
On March 26, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee held hearing on «The Geopolitical Potential of the U.S. Energy Boom» to study the ways how the energy production growth in the United States could be used against Russia. The congressmen want to do away with energy export restrictions to diminish the Russian presence in Eastern Europe which is viewed as a geopolitical threat. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs, said Europe’s dependence on Russia’s energy supplies paralyzed the US Ukraine’s policy. The US influence and the authority of US President have diminished globally. According to Royce, the way to rectify the situation is to weaken Russia by pushing it away from traditional markets and bringing energy prices down… «Simply put, increasing U.S. energy production would boost both our economic and national security. Reducing our reliance on energy imports from the OPEC cartel would make the U.S. less vulnerable to political and security-related disruptions of our energy supply. And increasing our energy exports would advance our geopolitical interests, including by undermining the coercive leverage of Russia and others», he said.
The Ukraine’s crisis is viewed as an event which gives an impetus to working out a new US strategy while the Crimea’s reunification with Russia is used as a pretext to declare energy war. As far back as 2007 the US Congress approved the Energy Independence and Security Act, known as the Act of Congress concerning energy policy of the United States, which envisioned taking measures aimed at reducing the dependence of Ukraine and Georgia on Russia’s oil and gas. The paper included different scenarios of taking actions against Moscow up to economic blockade and embargo on Russian oil and gas imports to Europe. The US needed a pretext, something they have been looking for all these years. As is known, since the declaration of Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the US have spent over $5 billion to get Ukraine out of Russia’s sphere of influence. They don’t care about the fate of Ukrainian people. But they know that 40000 km long pipeline goes through the Ukraine’s territory. It could be cut off keeping Europe away from energy supplies.
The issue of reducing Europe’s dependence on outside energy deliveries has been in focus for many years, still over half of the European demand falls on imports. Gas will account for 25% of European energy demand until 2050; by 2030 Europe will have spent about 500 billion euros to pay for imported energy. Russia is the leading European energy supplier since 2011 leaving behind Norway, Algeria and other states. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria depend 100% on Russia’s gas supplies. No matter Germany has been trying for many years to reduce the dependence, it still has to import 28% of its gas from Russia as of last year. It cannot find a way to abruptly reduce the imports. There are few alternatives, mainly boiling down to the United States, Qatar and Iran.
The US export to Europe is a far-fetched prospect, it cannot take place in a foreseeable period of time. The US shale gas boom does not influence Europe much. True, the shale gas production has allowed the United States to diminish the demand for coal which is exported to Europe. According to estimations, by 2015 Germany will have closed gas electric plants with total capacity of 10 gigawatts while commissioning coal stations with total capacity of 7 gigawatts. It means Europe has to deviate from its own standards and the efforts applied during many years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will go down the drain.
Importing American gas implies serious financial losses. At present there is no infrastructure for sea routes imports. For instance, Germany has no infrastructure which would allow it to receive liquefied gas from overseas. Will Germans spend $5 billion on terminals to match the goals stated in the US energy strategy? Even if the decision is taken, the first sea supplies will start to arrive no earlier than in 5-6 years. If US companies get licenses, the capacity will reach 60-70 billion cubic meters by 2020. In 2013 the total demand in Europe was ten times more and Russia’s supplies accounted for around 30% of it. The 10 percent coming from the USA will not solve the problem. Increasing export quotes means raising the prices inside the country to reduce the American economy’s ability to compete. The United States stands no chance against Gasprom. New pipelines could be built stretching from Iran to Europe. But there is a stand-off between Iran and Washington supported by its EU allies. The sanctions which ban investments into the Iran’s gas industry have been in force for many years. The EU has imposed embargo on Iranian natural gas supplies. It includes imports, acquisition, and transportation, financing and insurance. It is senseless to talk about using Iran as a gas supplier till the embargo is in force. Even if it is abolished, it still won’t be as easy as it may seem to be. There is no any reason to view Iran as an ally in the energy war that the US is going to unleash against Russia.
The West’s attempts to woo Iran pursue the goal of pushing it to make bigger concessions on nuclear issue, stop supporting Bashar Assad and yield to pressure concerning other issues related to the situation in the region.
Iran understands that. Tehran will not sacrifice its good neighborly relations with Moscow in exchange for the West’s promises. Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh told Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, during her recent visit to Iran, that there are three conditions for gas export to Europe: the cancellation of all economic sanctions, providing funds for building the pipeline, the right of Tehran to make arrangements with Russia on price policy. Unlike the US, Moscow can cooperate with Tehran and come to understanding on the whole range of issues.
Qatar accounts for a quarter of liquefied gas supplies to Europe, but its importance is often exaggerated. True, it reduces the competiveness, of Russian gas to some extent. But in the longer run Qatar does not see Europe as a priority. This very year it is to reduce the supplies to the European continent in favor of Asia and Latin America. It needs more gas to comply with obligations. To boost exports Qatar needs a pipeline going through Syria and Iraq. These states are in turmoil, it’s hard to imagine how the construction could take place under the present conditions, and no foreign investments could be attracted for the implementation of the project. The US will have to postpone the plans to drag Qatar into the prolonged energy war against Russia.