Pipeline diplomacy: How gas became a geostrategic bargaining chip

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PPeople living in Beirut, Paris or London fear the coming winter as much as the gas to heat or light their homes is either missing or too expensive.

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Many drivers explain the lack of energy. The earliest economic recovery from the fallout of COVID-19 could lead to higher demand versus lower supply. China’s new government-backed thrust in fighting climate change is another. And, of course, decades of political corruption and incompetence, as the devastation of Lebanon demonstrates.

One thing that Europeans and Lebanese alike are keeping their eyes on in hopes of getting out: pipeline diplomacy. Russia’s Vladimir Putin sees a window of opportunity to exploit the supply-demand disparity and its geopolitical unpredictability, analysts say.


The crisis established, in practical terms, how natural gas can be deployed as a geopolitical weapon, but it has a unique characteristic: ineffective, substandard, and risks that could backfire.

“Gas acts as a geopolitical weapon only in a very heterogeneous trade relationship, where one side clearly has the upper hand. Arguably this never happened in EU-Russian gas relations. Europe is a major The customer is there, and Russia didn’t have many options for exports elsewhere,” said Professor Andreas Goldthau, Franz Haniel Chair for Public Policy at the University of Erfurt.

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While geopolitical hiccups didn’t originally spark the energy storm, a diplomatic halt could provide a retreat from its harsh consequences.

During the 2009 pricing dispute with Ukraine, Russia’s gas giant Gazprom cut all supplies to Europe, affecting its southeastern countries and other parts of the European Union. In the wake of the 2014 crisis over the annexation of Crimea, Russia turned the tap again, while accusing Ukraine of failing to pay its debts to Gazprom.

Russia has a history in using energy supplies as a means to buy friends and divide and rule with EU customers

Andreas Goldthau, Franz Haniel Chair for Public Policy at the University of Erfurt

“Russia has a history of using energy supply and pricing as a means to buy friends and divide and govern with individual EU customers. Now that a strong, common European energy policy regime is in place So, it’s become very difficult,” Goldthaw explained.

“If Russia is using its gas exports as a political weapon, it is not very effective,” said Maria Pastukhova, senior policy adviser at independent climate change think tank E3G.

In 2007, the European Union proposed a third energy package reform, aimed at improving the functioning of the EU’s internal energy market. The policy, which went into effect in 2009, the same year Moscow tightened the energy screws, targeted the integration of the EU’s energy market to boost competition.

Since then, tensions over Russian gas have precluded any talks between the two sides.

“The separation between Russia and the European Union has only intensified, with the EU introducing additional measures to tighten gas market rules, and adopting a Green Deal vision that will allow gas imports to take effect over the next ten years.” 40 per cent and will reduce it by more than 90 per cent by 2050,” he added.

But it will require some time to get real results. Now, Europe still imports 90 percent of its gas. Russia supplies about 40 percent of its total.

Meanwhile, in the UK, where many energy companies have collapsed as a result of rising prices, 80 percent of homes are heated using gas. According to Reuters, storage capacity in the UK currently equates to around four to five days of winter gas demand, down from the first 15 days.

Last week, Putin announced that Moscow was ready to increase its supplies to Europe and address the crisis. But Gazprom’s decision to pump gas into Russia’s national stockpile may have paraded the spirit of Putin’s unique psychological games with European leaders.

“While Gazprom has repeatedly stated – in May and August 2021 – that it was going to export 183 bcma of gas to Europe in 2021 and was following this forecast, Europe clearly expected more from Russia. And he was surprised when Gazprom decided to prioritize. Filling its own storage in Russia on the offer of additional gas to Europe, said Katja Yafimava, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

Russia’s message about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is a well-planned attempt to use the rise in gas prices to the advantage of Gazprom and the Kremlin.

Maria Pastukhova, E3G . Senior Policy Advisor of

However, critics accused the Kremlin of artificially lowering supplies to raise gas prices and pressured European and German authorities to turn over the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline operation.

Russian officials have publicly stated that the “expeditious completion of certification” for Nord Stream 2 will help “pacify the current situation”.

“The message of the Kremlin about the need to accelerate the certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is an ill-planned attempt to use the increase in gas prices to the advantage of Gazprom and the Kremlin,” said Pastukhova Granthshala.

“It neither changes the EU’s general stance towards Russia (if it then becomes the worst) nor helps maintain Gazprom’s image as a reliable supplier,” he observed.

Experts say that apart from Qatar’s liquefied natural gas, Europe’s other option would be the recent massive gas discovery in the eastern Mediterranean. But the region, despite its proximity to the beleaguered continent, is fraught with conflicts, competition and historical strife, involving countries such as Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Turkey.

Over the past decade, geo-strategic competition over gas discoveries has led to a regional system built on tit-for-tat mutual feedback, where Egypt’s frustration against Turkey’s stint in Libya was countered by gas in the Mediterranean. This could have translated into forming an alliance to block Turkish excavations.

Other obstacles in the way of Russia becoming a viable solution to Europe’s over-reliance are expensive connectivity, technological threats and high domestic demand.

“East Made Gas Supply will primarily serve domestic markets in Israel, Egypt and the wider region. In addition, Turkey has skin in the game and will likely hinder the accelerated development of gas fields on the territory of Cyprus,” Goldthau said.

But the disputed East Made gas supply could prove to be a lifeline for Lebanon, where an energy crisis has prompted a complete power blackout amid a dire economic crisis.

Lebanon’s energy crisis has brought old enemies closer together in a way that could create new regional dynamics.

This month, officials in the region announced they had finalized a plan that could provide hope to millions of Lebanese citizens suffering from the heat of the crisis.

According to the plan, which is backed by the US, Egypt will supply gas to power power stations in Lebanon through a pipeline that runs through Jordan and Syria. Jordan will also export electricity, which is mainly generated from gas imported from Israel.

But Lebanon’s problem lies in its use of older power stations that operate with diesel, highlighting the imminent need for oil fuels over natural gas.

“It’s anyone’s guess whether Lebanon will move out of diesel-based power generation and move on to a more modern system. Gas will be a big improvement because it’s going to be somewhere,” said Jim Crane, a Middle East energy analyst at Rice University’s Baker Institute. Much cleaner and cheaper.” Granthshala.

Iran and Hezbollah’s hold will not be weakened due to gas – far more complicated and complicated

Steven Wright, Associate Professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar

Since September, two Iranian oil tankers have docked in the Syrian port of Baniyas. Fuel has been moved with trucks to Lebanon’s borders, in a move that Iran-backed Hezbollah portrayed as a major victory against US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.

The US continues to rely on a new plan to thwart Iran’s dominance in Lebanon and Syria and offer solutions accepted by its Arab allies.

But the controversial arrangement could provide Israel’s gas and electricity to light the headquarters of its arch enemy Hezbollah and provide Syria’s bloodthirsty dictator Bashar al-Assad on his way out of international isolation.

Nonetheless, using the gas supply to end decades of Iranian dominance in the region could prove misleading to the Biden administration’s plan.

“Iran and Hezbollah’s hold will not be weakened by the gas – it is far more entangled and complex and will not fade anytime soon,” said Steven Wright, associate professor at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Qatar.

And, despite the alleged quick approval of the plan, Assad’s ambitions of resettlement by providing a larger role in solving Lebanon’s crisis could soon fail.

“This plan will not be enough to free Assad in the eyes of the international community. After all, Syria was the main player in creating instability in Lebanon in the first place through Hezbollah, which is a surrogate of Syria and Iran. At best, we will see practicality being used with Syria, but redemption is not on the cards,” Wright said.


Credit: www.independent.co.uk /

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