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Russia plays key role in deepening conflict within European Union

Some experts caution Westerners regarding Russia's motives
Some experts caution Westerners regarding Russia's motives
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As the world's population continues to watch Russia’s slow annexation of Ukraine –from where the majority of Europe’s natural gas is obtained–Moscow has seemingly undertaken a strategy to expand its control of European energy access.

Currently, 30 percent of Europe's natural gas supply is controlled by Russia. However, in an attempt to place a stranglehold on Western Europe, Moscow has silently been helping in the production and exploration of natural gas in Egypt, Nigeria, Mozambique, and Algeria. The latter has been a close partner with Russia for several years and is the European Union's third largest supplier of natural gas. In addition, over 90 percent of Algeria's military purchases between 2003 and 2012 came from Russia. These purchases totaled over $49 billion. The relationship has resulted in Moscow gaining an edge over America and France by seeking to help Algeria develop its lucrative reserves of shale oil.

In February 2014, Algeria invited Russia’s Gazprom to participate in a large natural gas exploration project. Moscow’s endeavors to control Europe’s natural gas access are not new. The Russian city's advances in that direction over the past ten years have lead some economic experts to believe that by 2015, Russia could control another ten percent of the natural gas supply in Europe.

Because southern European countries such as Spain and Italy rely on energy from Northern Africa, they, along with essentially all EU countries, may find Russia in control of a substantial portion of their access to natural gas sources. Assis Malaquias, of the African Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, told U.S. News that “Western Europe should be very concerned.” Because of Europe's dependence on Russia for gas, North Africa as a gas source becomes especially important. Approximately half of Europe's gas supply is under the control of Moscow, meaning European options to impose sanctions are severely limited. This is also true of the United States, since access across the Russian continent is necessary for America to supply U.S. Troops in Afghanistan through the NDN.

However, as a gas and oil-exporting nation, Russia does not need northern Africa's energy resources. Nevertheless, Moscow is utilizing its energy card to advance its influence in the region, working slowly toward the goal of controlling Europe's alternative supplies, and using Africa to obtain strategic minerals such as diamonds, chrome, manganese, and platinum. In addition, Moscow is making serious efforts to bring its natural gas to central Europe and the Balkans through the South Stream Pipeline–SSP–which ultimately bypasses the Ukraine. It is not surprising that this new development has significantly raised concern in the EU.

Moscow has obviously embraced the divide and conquer approach in order to encourage EU members to sign on, much to the chagrin of Brussels. Some EU countries, as well as certain non-EU countries have participated, including Greece, Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Bulgaria.

The EU has always opposed the SSP, claiming that it violates European legislation that splits energy transmission and production. The European Commission has told EU member states who have participated in the project to renegotiate their terms with Russia. Bulgaria and other countries have resisted this suggestion, stating they require the energy. In June 2014, Bulgaria will begin constructing its portion of the pipeline. The result is deepening conflict within the EU, as countries are prioritizing their own interests, rather than those of the EU. These facts have raised questions concerning Russia’s overall motive with regard to seeking to control Europe’s energy sources.