‘Energy Diplomacy’

Russia wants at all cost to become a great power again. The task is not an easy one, but it is ready to put all of its energy into the effort. At the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin has understood that his country’s immense resources are one of the rare trump cards he still has available to exert heavy influence on the international stage. It just remains to keep it in play, mobilise the necessary funds and see to it that the post Cold War new world order does not undermine Russia’s national interests. A University of Liège professor and a journalist, Nina Bachkatov has been studying the political developments of this vast country for 30 years. At a time of major international energy contracts, and when the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum is beginning to rival that of DAVOS, her latest book – L’énergie diplomate (1) – gives us the keys to the major challenges the Russian empire is faced with.

COVER-Energie-diplomateThe importance of the energy sector in the Russian economy and global supplies can be rendered in a few figures. Russia possesses close to 12% of the world’s energy production, which makes it the planet’s second largest producer. It is also one of the largest consumers of energy, with 7% of the total global consumption, placing it in third place behind the United States and China.

Russia is also the second largest producer of crude oil, just behind Saudi Arabia. It holds the largest proven reserves of natural gas and its production, exported principally to Europe, represents over a fifth of global production. It also owns 17% of the planet’s coal reserves and it exports vast quantities of electricity to its neighbours, the West and the South. It is also planning to increase the share of nuclear power in its electricity production from 16% to 30% by 2020 by building 26 power stations of 1150 Megawatts each.

A big producer, a big consumer, Russia is also a big polluter, responsible for 6.4% of the world’s CO2 emissions, in third place behind the United States and China. It is worth remembering, finally, that the energy sector, which employs close to 2 million people, accounts for around a quarter of Russia’s GDP, a third of its industrial production, over half of the federal budgetary earnings and 45% of hard currency cash flow.

Let us stop this numerical overview there. It makes one’s head spin and is more than enough to make one understand the crucial role played by energy in this immense country where, in many of its regions, it is cold eight months out of twelve. But also, and above all, in a country which wants at all cost to regain its great power status – ‘without which,’ as states Nina Bachkatov from the very beginning, ‘it feels vulnerable.’ It is thus a colossal effort into which Russia is putting all of its…energy.

Since the collapse of the USSR, Russian leaders, with Vladimir Putin in prime position, have searched to place the country’s enormous energy potential at the service of their geopolitical ambitions. That is the central thesis of Energy Diplomacy, Nina Bachkatov’s most recent book, which stems from her Doctorate in Politics, defended in 2011.

‘Russia,’ she explains, ‘has used and continues to use, its energy policy as a new form of exercising power, a pragmatic tool, an opportunistic tool, which enables it to emerge little by little from its position as a country in transition, which very rapidly appeared to it as a straightjacket imposed by the West in order to control its development.’

(1) L’énergie diplomate. Enjeux et effets de la diplomatie énergétique de la Fédération de Russie, Nina Bachkatov, Bruylant, 2012

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