It is hard for Europe to dump Russia despite its desires to do so.
Vienna gave a warm welcome to Russia President Vladimir Putin on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Austria becoming the first western country that agreed to oil from Russia.
What makes this visit important is the fact that multiple sanctions were imposed on Russia by the European Union following the actions of Russia in Ukraine in 2014. The Europe had also condemned the incident of the suspected poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in the UK.
“It is unusual for any European leader to receive President Putin for a state visit in the capital given the current tensions between Russia and Europe,” said Kristine Berzina, senior fellow at The German Marshall Fund of the United States.
But when it comes to gas, there is perhaps little space for hostilities between the two parties because millions of homes in Europe would be without heat if no gas from Russia is supplied to Europe.
According to the European Commission, about 69% of its natural gas is imported by the European Union. And about 37% of the total gas that is imported is exported by Russia, almost 33% from Norway, and 11% from Algeria, according to latest figures.
There has been a record rise of Russian gas exports into Europe over the last two years despite the European Union pledging to reduce to its dependency on Russian gas following the Ukraine crisis.
In the first quarter of 2018, the amount of gas imported into Austria from Russia was almost double that of for the same period a year ago.
“There are many reasons for this, namely the decline of production in the Netherlands, the fact that some [liquified natural gas] developments have been delayed, and also the fact that Russian gas is very competitive in terms of price,” said James Henderson, director of the Natural Gas Research Programme at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.
“In reality, Russian gas is the best option,” he added.
There are a number of EU members states – especially those that are geographically near Russia, are still almost completely dependent on import of the fuel from Russia.
On earlier occasions, Ukraine’s dependency on Russian gas has bene used by the later as a leverage for exerting pressure on the country. there is a concern among come EU leaders that the same strategy could be used by Russia against them to retaliate the sanctions.
“But this has not really happened,” said Marco Siddi, senior research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
“Sixty-seven percent of Russia’s tax revenues comes from energy exports, Russia needs this trade even more that the European Union,” he added
It has been years that the work and plans for a new gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine have been underway but there is a deep divide within Europe about the project.
The European Union’s dependence on Russian energy would only be increased by the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, say opponents. However, there are some like Germany who claim that this project would provide Europe with more energy security.
“The political weight that is given to the gas relationship differs from country to country,” said Berzina. “I would argue in Austria, and in Germany … the economic ties around energy are given outsized political weight.”
(Adapted from Money.CNN.com)