The real threat to national security

One of the most infuriating things aspects of the Blair hooey about the ’45 minute’ threat to Britain posed by Saddam Hussein was the way it diverted attention from real and substantive threats to the country’s national security. Like the stranglehold that Putin’s Russia now exerts on our energy supplies.

This week’s Economist has a sobering piece about it.

RUSSIA’S president, Vladimir Putin, must be feeling smug. His strategy of using the country’s vast natural resources to restore the greatness lost after the break-up of the Soviet Union seems to be paying off. If power is measured by the fear instilled in others—as many Russians believe—he is certainly winning.

The Soviet Union relied on its military machine for geopolitical power: its oil and gas were just a way to pay for it. In today’s Russia, energy is itself the tool of influence. To use it the Kremlin needs three things: control over Russian energy reserves and production, control over the pipelines snaking across its territory and that of its neighbours, and long-term contracts with European customers that are hard to break. All three are in place. For all the talk of a common strategy towards Russia, the EU is divided and stuck for an answer.

Gazprom, Russia’s energy giant, cherished by Mr Putin as a “powerful lever of economic and political influence in the world”, has long-term supply contracts with most European countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Austria. It also has direct access to these countries’ domestic markets. The EU reckons that half its gas imports now come from Russia. Newer EU members, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic, are almost entirely dependent on Russian gas. Moreover, a pipeline network that it inherited from the Soviet Union gives Russia control over gas imported from Central Asia.

The EU has few ideas for how to deal with its chief energy supplier. “We know we should do something about Russia, but we don’t know what,” one Brussels official says. “In the EU we negotiate on the rules, whereas Russia wants to do deals.” The deals are coming thick and fast. Last month, Russia secured one to build an oil pipeline from Bulgaria to Greece that will bypass the Bosporus. Symbolically, it will be the first Russian-controlled pipeline on EU territory. The pipeline will carry Russian and Central Asian oil straight to the EU, avoiding Turkey.

Oil can at least be bought from elsewhere. The bigger worry is about the EU’s dependence on Russian gas. The flow of natural gas depends on the routes and control of pipelines, as European consumers were reminded when Russia switched off the gas supply to Ukraine just over a year ago and Ukraine started to steal Russian gas that was destined for the EU. Russia’s pipeline routes encircle the EU from the north and south…