To the extent that Gazprom represents a Russian tool for waging politics by other means, the emerging shift in European attitudes toward the company’s Nord Stream and South Stream pipeline projects signals that when it comes to energy security, the EU has adopted an “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach. Yesterday, during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Paris, French energy giant GDF Suez announced it would be taking a 9 percent stake in the Nord Stream project in order to secure increased Russian deliveries from 2015. And today, the EU’s energy commissioner said that the South Stream project could actually gain the EU Commission’s backing. It was the first explicit statement of the kind for a project in direct competition with the EU’s own Nabucco pipeline, which has long been shorthand for EU energy security.
What’s changed? There’s the fact that Nabucco continues to face pretty significant obstacles with regard to supply and feasability. But the triggering incident seems to be the 2008 gas war between Gazprom and Ukraine. The consensus judgment blames Ukraine for the dispute, meaning that European energy security no longer means diversifying supplies away from Gazprom, but rather diversify routes away from Ukraine (where 80 percent of Europe-bound Russian gas now transits).
For better or worse (and there will be both), this represents another step toward EU-Russia partnership. But for reasons that Nikolas Gvosdev’s recent WPR column illustrates well, the blame is not European illusions regarding Russia’s trustworthiness, but rather the West’s failed approach to stabilizing Ukraine and integrating it into the European orbit.