Russia, Germany and the Contest for Hegemony in European Natural Gas
MetadataShow full item record
Russia has supplied natural gas to Europe reliably for nearly four decades. But recent changes in Russian behaviour and policy, combined with EU-driven regulatory changes, have created a state of flux, and considerable concern in Europe. I address the question of possible Russian hegemony in European gas relations, and ask whether Moscow’s ambitions represent a security threat to Europe. Positioning these questions within the context of a European natural gas regime (NGR), I take a historical-comparitive approach, dividing the evolution of the NGR into three phases. Phase one moves from the origin of the cross-border trade in Europe in the 1960s to the 1991 Soviet dissolution; phase two explores the turbulent post-Soviet decade to 1999; and phase three addresses the era of Vladimir Putin from 2000 to 2010. For each phase, I assess hegemony by drawing on regime concepts offered by Alt et al, which I modify for application to the idiosyncratic realm of natural gas. The evidence suggests that Germany, not Russia, is more appropriately considered hegemonic, having acquired gas influence in the 1970s that it has not relinquished. However, there are also indications that a German-Russian ‘co-hegemony’ could be developing, characterized by disproportionate Russian influence in Central Europe, giving rise to possible tension between EU values, governance and responsibilities on one hand, and Russian influence associated with co-hegemony on the other. Despite this, I suggest that Russian aspirations constitute no imminent security threat to Europe – European gas actors are well entrenched, and Moscow faces strong disincentives to threaten its European buyers. ‘Co-hegemony’ could challenge the regime’s integrity, but evidence to date suggests that the EU and Gazprom prefer patience and compromise to brinkmanship, and that actor interest in maintaining the flow of gas suggests greater optimism than dread. ‘Security’ is therefore not as sound as it would be if Russia were an EU member or if it had ratified the Energy Charter Treaty, but emerging dynamics do not suggest imminent peril either. I conclude by discussing possible directions for future research.