One of the most important levers through which Russia can exert pressure on Western European states is by controlling the flow of fossil fuels. As illustrated below, oil and gas pipelines originating in Russia are critical energy lifelines for the rest of Europe:
When Russia turns off the taps – as it sometimes does to put pressure on states like Ukraine – people can find themselves shivering in the cold. This could become even more problematic if pipelines like Nord Stream which circumvent Eastern Europe are completed. Then, Russia will be able to cut off states like Georgia, Ukraine, and Poland without denying fuels to France and Germany.
At the moment, it seems that European states are becoming ever-more dependent on Russia for energy. Partly, that has been the consequence of relying more on gas for electrical power. A recently leaked German report on peak oil highlights the geopolitical dangers associated with dependence on Russian oil and gas. At present, Russia supplies about 35% of German oil imports, along with 37% of natural gas.
In the medium- to long-term, Europe has an opportunity to achieve two major objectives by switching to zero-carbon forms of electricity generation and transport. They can reduce the severity of environmental problems: especially climate change, but also air pollution. At the same time, they can reduce the power that Russia holds over them, and increase their freedom to make policy on Eastern Europe in a more principled way.
One promising alternative is the massive deployment of concentrating solar power stations around the Mediterranean and North Africa, with high voltage direct current transmission lines to bring the electricity to Europe.