Russia and the West
July 31, 2008
The future of energy relations between Russia and the West can hardly be separated from the global energy environment. Recent nationalist trends in Russian politics make it very hard to imagine that Russia will abandon a tempting “energy egoism” path (egoism is traditionally central to the Russian nationalist vision of the world) as resource nationalism becomes the dominant policy trend among the group of energy-rich countries. The only event with the potential to change that attitude is the true re-democratization of Russia, followed by the transfer of power to a more internationally responsible and cooperative government. Such a scenario would give Russia and the West an opportunity to boost cross-border energy relationships by harmonizing energy policy approaches and removing barriers and to build a solid long-term energy partnership based on principles of open trade, open investment, rule of law, and de-politicization of energy relations.
According to Vladimir Milov, unless the foregoing scenario comes to pass (not particularly likely in the next five to ten years), the future of the relations between Russia and the West from an energy perspective can be grouped around three basic scenarios: (1) broader cooperation with involvement of new mechanisms specially developed to fit the realities of Russian resource nationalism (best case); (2) low-trust cooperation without real confrontation (business as usual); or (3) large-scale confrontation with Russia on energy-related subjects (worst case).
In the current environment of low trust, the wise strategy for the West would be to pursue positive ideas for energy relations with Russia. At the same time, the West should focus on a very specific set of practical, depoliticized, risk-control measures that range from protection against energy supply disruptions to specific projects targeted at diversification of energy supply sources.
This study is part of a series being published by the joint CSIS/IFRI project "Europe, Russia, and the United States: Finding a New Balance," which seeks to reframe the trilateral relationship for the relevant policymaking communities.