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Europe diary: The gas man

19 October 2006

BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell on the EU's awkward relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the power Moscow projects through pipelines.

Vladimir Putin in Germany

"You know what happens when they get in the same room as Putin. They all drop their trousers and say 'I love you Vladimir'." This is the gloomy and cynical view from a senior EU insider, of the leaders of the European Union's 25 countries. Perhaps it's intended to chivvy rather than insult. But there is no doubt that the EU summit in Finland is a rather odd event. The 25 prime ministers and presidents talk about their policy towards the Russian president over lunch. And at dinner a few hours later their guest of honour is none other than Mr Putin himself.

The European Commission is worried this will mean that unity goes out the window as they all jostle to be the Russian president's best friend. It's not just that Russia is a powerful country and Europe's big neighbour. The leaders all believe in the European values of fraternal solidarity but Vlad has something they value more. Gas.

FROM SIBERIA

Which is why I'm attempting to do a piece to camera wearing a silly blue hard hat at an isolated plant owned by a company called Wingas near Germany's border with Poland. It's a bright sunny day in Mallnow and the metres of pipes sparkle in the late autumn sunshine. This place is a pivot for Europe. Much of the gas that Europe uses to cook its food and heat its homes comes through here after a long journey from Siberia. Continental Europe is heavily reliant on Russian gas and Britain could be going the same way.

Of course consumers worry about price but more important is availability
Alan Asher, Energywatch
And the Russian state-controlled giant, Gazprom, has a 40% stake in Wingas. That brings with it worries that Russia could use its gas to twist arms and get its own way, and that consumers could, quite literally, pay the price. At the moment 40% of Germany's gas comes from Russia. In Britain we have all become pretty complacent with a glut of North Sea oil. It was only a couple of years ago that we started importing any gas, but the government predicts that by 2020 up to 90% of it could be imported. Russia is the most obvious source for the bulk of it.

PIPEDREAMING

Alan Asher, the head of Britain's gas and electricity watchdog, Energywatch, tells me people are right to be worried. He says: "Russian gas is hardly likely to be cheaper (than gas in Britain now): if you control a major asset you are able to price that at a level that maximises returns. Russia is potentially not reliable: of course consumers worry about price but more important is availability. If you are relying on a source that is not reliable, all the work we do in Europe about competitiveness is for nothing."

The concerns operate on at least three levels.

Gas tap in Ukraine
Russia turned off the tap to Ukraine
The crudest is simply that in some future and unpredictable crisis Russia could turn off the gas and Europe would freeze. This hypothetical concern became more of a real worry at the beginning of this year when Russia did briefly cut supplies to Ukraine and Georgia. Russians and many western experts poo-poo this fear. They say Russia never used gas as a political weapon even during the Cold War, so it's hardly likely to do so now. The argument with the former Soviet Republics is not about them wanting to join the EU but learning to pay market prices when they have been subsided by Russia for so long. And the Russians need Europe to pay the bills as much as Europe needs their products. Most think it's not a realistic threat. But it's there at the back of everyone's mind, Russia niggling with its unpredictability.

The second worry is that in dealing with Russian gas you are dealing with Gazprom, a maverick state-controlled giant isolated from competition. At a time when the EU is trying to persuade reluctant countries to open up their energy markets to the fierce winds of competition and abandon the French idea of "national champions", Gazprom is a very vivid example that such allegedly old-fashioned out-of-date thinking can work dramatically well for the country concerned. Take a little bit of communist-era central control, a little bit of hyper-capitalist ruthlessness, a big dollop of political muscle and... hey presto you have unbeatable competition. The European Union aim is to get an agreement that Gazprom will give up control of its pipelines and let other companies share the routes. The technical term for this is, I believe, a "pipedream".

Angela Merkel was firmer than the last chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, who is now on the board of Gazprom
The third worry, from the point of view of the European Commission is that, not only at the Finnish summit but more generally, sycophantic toadying will replace common resolve. Germany's leader Angela Merkel met Mr Putin in Dresden recently to discuss what deals can be done. Certainly, she was firmer than the last chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, who is now on the board of Gazprom. While the Russian press reported that she humiliated the Russian president and refused to sign up to any deal that did not involve liberalisation of the Russian energy market, few within the EU think she was quite that tough.

REFINERY POLITICS

It might be interesting to hear the thoughts of the Lithuanian Government on this. In the spring they announced plans to sell the only crude oil refinery in the Baltic (Mazeikiu Nafta) to a Polish company, against the wishes of the Russian government who wanted a Russian firm to take it over.

At the end of the summer oil supplies were halted because of damage to the oil pipeline. The Lithuanian government described this as a "political accident".

In the last few days a huge fire caused about 45m euros' (£30m) worth of damage to the plant. The Lithuanian Prime Minister says the fire was probably caused by a "technical fault" rather than "external factors". But in Brussels eyebrows have been raised.

THE POLITKOVSKAYA EFFECT

Brown bear plays with stick
Cuddly, or worrying?
In such a climate, will European leaders dare raise freedom of the press and human rights? They always say they do. The Russian ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, smiles genially when I put this to him. "Do they?" he grins. He argues that Europe is conditioned to be scared by Russia. Not long ago the fear was of a strong Soviet Russia threatening invasion. It never happened. Then it was a weak Russia flooding Europe with starving refugees. It never happened. To him, energy is the latest trendy worry and it too will come to naught.

I ask him about the murder of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and the perception of many in the West that the Russian government was behind her killing.

He says: "Of course the killing produced a negative image in the world but that's no reason to believe anyone in the government was behind it: it's like shooting yourself in the foot. Two weeks before that killing took place there was a piece on the internet about preparing for a coup d'etat in Russia and step one was killing that journalist. One should look in another direction than the Kremlin beyond Russia's borders there are people who want to force a change in Russia and some of them are living in your country."

What do you think, should we be scared of the Bear?


Your comments:

The fundamental disconnect is how differently each side is ruled. On one hand, Europe is run by a sophisticated framework of laws which makes the entire system stable yet slow. On the other hand, Russia is run by fiat, where the response can appear almost ad hoc and random but is often fast. The conflict comes from the missed assumptions each has for the other. Democracy in Europe is seen as inefficient and ineffective by the Russians. Russia is seen as an enigma that is capricious yet powerful. Europe will never return to dictatorship. Russia will never transform into a democracy. The two spheres are different, but must coexist, due to a legacy of history and the reality of geography and distribution of natural resources. Both sides should rightfully be wary of the other.
Wojtek S, Seattle, WA

It is interesting to see the world's perception when Russia is using the economy to achieve political goals. It¿s exactly what the West used 20 years ago to destroy the Soviet Union. By presenting "wonders of capitalism" to Russia, the West has created a real "capitalism beast" that is using the same methods as Western Europe and the USA to get some countries to roll over and do as they're told. I wonder why is it "only business" when they do it, but when Russia or anybody else does so it is called "a danger to world peace".
Mike, Toronto

If you really want to beat Gazprom or any other organization with a monopolistic ambition, then the best way is to develop alternatives. The real enemny is our own laziness and reluctance to develop alternative energies. The biggest culprits in this regard are Ireland and the UK, with the North Atlantic Current blowing over both countries 80% of the year and governments in both countries doing their best to subsidise fossil fuel producers. WIND ENERGY. If the UK developed WIND ENERGY to even a quarter its potential, the UK wouldn't be one bit concerned about gas supplies. So I am asking you British people reading this to wake up to this and apply pressure on your local councils. (I am blue in the face bringing this issue up with Irish politicians, the majority of whom seem excessively concerned with pandering to the needs of the Irish state-owned electricity supplier.) Also explore Tidal Power. France developed one of these in the 1960s and has done nothing with the technology since. SAVE THE PLANET. DEVELOP RENEWABLE ENERGY. We will still need natural gas for chemical production. But if its consumption is reduced, then its price should also fall.
Allen, Tullamore, Ireland

It seems to me that the EU (as well as the USA) needs to do a better job of seeking out alternative resources. Our reliance on oil and gas is dangerous. However I disagree with western fears of Russia and President Putin. I think Russia has been wrongly characterized in the West as a money-grubbing, backward, and undemocratic nation. While I don't agree with all of Putin's policies, I don't think he is as undemocratic as many in the West would like to paint him.
Garrett Clemmer, Reading, Pennsylvania, United States

As a Ukrainian who lived through last winter I believe I'm in a great position to say that Ukrainian leaders should accept their share of responsibility for instigating the gas scandal with Russia by threatening to raise gas transit fees in the first place. It might sound like too much of a truism, but Ukraine, as well as Georgia, Poland, and the rest of the new "democracies", need to ramp up their diplomatic skills first instead of readily saluting to their new bosses and acting like belligerent punks to a bigger neighbor who happens to at least partially subsidize their prosperity. The Russians, incidentally, suffered no less than the rest of Eastern Europe under Stalin (himself a Georgian) and during the Cold War. If it's ok for the West to pursue its economic interests no matter what the consequences for everyone else, including the Russians, do you still wonder why the Russians are so protectionist?
Anton, Seattle, USA/formerly Ukraine

Russia is huge and powerful, but does it mean that it is agressive? I don't think so. If you learn a bit more about my country, if you take a look from the inside, you'll find out that the word "different" is not a synonym of "evil". We've got ressources, the EU has the world's strongest economy. Why not to establish a partnership? We'll fuel the EU economy and you'll invest in Russia. Let's cooperate.
Andrey Smirnov, Paris, France

The more I watch the news (in France and on the BBC), the more I get the impression the Cold War never ended. In France, you will never hear any positive remark about Russia, every event that occurs in that country is systematically interpreted in an extreme way. The result of this is that today, ordinary people hate or at least fear Russia and they perceive that country as a fascist dictatorship capable of anything. This image contrasts with that of the BBC which gives its people two opposite images of Russia: a good and a bad one. Russia today has more ennemies in the world than it used to during the cold war (on my opinion), and in a world that seems to be getting smaller every day it is not in the interest of small countries to let the largest and richest country in the world reassert itself. As far as I am concerned, I do not think that Russia is as much a threat to the prosperity of the EU as other, greater threats such as terrorism, globalisation, or lack of consensus over global issues.
Dimitri, Paris, France

I always read in media that Putin is an Ex KGB agent. So what? We had a EX CIA officer as president not too long ago. He was no different that many other US president. He did what any president will do, PURSUE NATIONAL INTEREST. Russia will pursue its national interest, whether we have Putin or someone else.
Ashok Bhagat, Richmond, TX USA

First of all Russia is a developing democracy. It will take time for it to evolve into European style democracy, especially after 70 years of communism.Second, why should Russia give away its natural resources? Russian people also want to own houses, drive on well paved roads, get good education, eat well, etc. Finally,Russian needs European money just as bad as Europe needs Oil and Gas!
Dmitry Ostrovskiy, St. Louis USA

What do you think, should we be scared of the Bear? - Silly question. Yes, you will! But only brown bears in Siberia or in Alaska, if you are a hunter or a tourist. Russia is not the Bear! It is a big country, where lives more than 140 millions people and they are not bears, they are people like you. Don't be afraid of Russians they are not biting! Try to understand them, but don't try to point them what way they ought to go! They don't like this!
Vladimir Aksyonov, Donetsk, Ukraine

I beg to differ on "unpredictability" of Vladimir Putin actions. ALL of his actions are very predictable. Every step he is taking is directed to make Russia stronger, more prosperous country. That is exactly what Russian people elected him to do. Sometimes it could be in the interest of EU member states, more often it is not, but it wasn't EU citizens who elected him, and he remembers it well.
Eli Ichetoff, New Haven, USA

I feel we should be wary , of Russia, rather than fearful..The strong and powerful example that the EU can aim for in it`s negotiations should be one of fair dealings,respect for human rights,and belief in democratic principles.It will take generations to change the mind set of the Russian people..we do ,at the moment need the gas from Russia..but we should stand firm ,and show our true colours !Economics seem to govern all political decisions..the press hype up every situation..please let`s get this one right ?
Margaret Grace Lawrence, Santa Eulalia ,Ibiza , Spain

This is a perfect example of black PR. Any intelligent person knows that America and its European cheerleaders want a weak Russia, basically a playground for their oil and gas companies. It is about time you realised that the nineties are well over ¿ Russia is back in the game, strong and rich. You will never get her resources for next to nothing. Also, your lamentations about democracy made me laugh ¿ start with the EU (eg, 400,000+ ¿aliens¿ in Latvia and Estonia; CIA prisons in Poland and other EU countries; twins ruling Poland ¿ now this is what I call nepotism; sex trafficking in the UK and other EU countries, etc.)
Elena Anikeeva, London

Russia is a big, rich country which in a short 15 years has made big strides converting to democracy and the market. Many countries may object to the Russian state controlling its (worlds biggest) gas supplies. Why? If Gazprom puts the price up it's acting like a capitalist, please xplain why this is wrong. The west is afraid of and against Russia for the same reason that a lot of the Russian population are against the west. Both sides have been filled with propaganda against each other for seventy years. Get Real. Russia is a strong country with a lot of resources, and the west will have to be friendly with it.
mike, Tuapse Russia

Russia has no other power than what we give it. Stop drooling after its only product, and get your own energy act , saving if necessary , in order. The KGB/FSB rule and the consciousness that endorses it are not, and never will be, Europe.
H. Marjatta Zenkowicz, Finland

Europe should have gone GREEN. They have had 50 years to do this and they did not. Now it is time to pay the piper--the oily one. I feel not a bit of sorrow for any in the EU, if Russia cuts them all off. ON an odd note it should be understood that the EU 25 hold the real power but as irony wills out, they are too dumb to know it.
cliff taylor, London, UK

I know very well Russia. I have lived many year there, I have loved it and hated it and in the end I have realizaed how important is to keep a balance and a cold mind with such a passionate nation. It is a land of contradictions and extremes and that means that establishing political or economical relations with her is only up to very clever people. Europe shouldn´t forget about historical facts and the lack of Russian democratic tradition to understand better the "monster" and deal with her, but shouldn´t let the past condition entirely our future. Fearing the enemy always results in making the monster bigger...so maybe we could teach them a bit of our "democracy expertise" for our own interest not forgetting that the real complex nature of Russia is something that will never die...
Eva, London, UK

There's no much point in raising a question about being scared or not. The truth is, countries that do not possess enough ctitical resources need to either cooperate with countries like Russia or/and (parallely) look for substitutes - the search that should have been started long ago.
Ig, Siegburg

Whether Russia uses gas as a political tool or not it would be stupid not to safeguard the UK's self-sufficiency with regard to energy.
Ed, Hull, UK

Of course we should not be scared. If I don't pay my British Gas bill, I'll get cut off; unfortunately, that is the commercial reality. Why should ex-Soviet countries expect Russia to subsidise their gas? Why should Ukraine pay $45 or $90 for something we pay $245? Natural resources are becoming scarce and hence more expensive. Russia has them in abundance and we need them. We need their gas and oil, they need our money. I can see only an opportunity for a good business partnership.
Alex, London, UK

We, as member states should not be scared of Russia. We, as the EU however,should be, because Putin can exploit differences to divide an conquer. We must accept the reality of Russia's return to great power and influence, realizing the only leverage we have over her internal and external affairs is in our interdependence in the dynamic of supply and demand. Until a unified EU policy comes about, if ever - pursuing national interests is the only logical approach.
Chris, Brussels, Belgium

Let me make one thing clear as a Russian, and a patriot I very much dislike Vladimir Putin and am ashamed of the current foreign policies of my country - the current "bullying" of Georgia can only be compared to Czechoslovakia invasion of 1968. But as an economist, as a trader, I must insist that it is quite simply not fair to critisise Russian energy policy. Russia has been subsidising all of the ex-soviet bloc for years. Now they want nothing to do with Moscow, they claim they want free market economy, but the expect, that the west will subsidise them instead. So, when Gazprom increases it's rates to a fair market level, it is perceived as a terrible slavic monster that's terrorising and taking hostage it's poor neighbours?
Dmitry, Moscow, Russia

Russia has to be treated as an equal to EU - and not as an aspiring member which can be blackmailed, and molded into whatever Brussels deems necessary. Moreover, its decisive influence in its sphere of interest (the former republics without the Baltics) must be respected. If EU does this, they will have a dependable and loyal partner. But trying to treat Russia, like Slovakia for example, will no doubt lead to complications and conflicts.
Vojin, Moscow, Russia

During the nineties I dealt with Russian people for six years without any problems. They appreciate courage of convictions, patience and honesty. Be brave and always remember every Russian is a good player of the game of chess, think in the same way!
Paul Edwards, Kotka, Finland

I think you Should be scared of Bear. And Please listen to your new member states from eastern Europe, they have greater experience and know how Russia pursues her goals. Last year events in Georgia and Ukraine should be alarming for EU. Russia srives to dominate and if EU does not stand firm now, consequences might be grave not only for EU but rest of the world
Nino, Tbilisi

As More Europe will be afraid of Russia, more Russia will punish Europe for that. Then Europe will decide to say something, it will be too late, there willbe no Europe..
Zaza, Tallinn, Estonia

Putin is no idiot. He knows that the Soviet Union is dead. He is just playing the new game. We are worried because he is good at it. I am mildly curious why you dropped the standard Getty image of Putin and picked one where he looks like he is either about to cry or go on the rampage with a chainsaw.
A Sweeting, Leicester, UK

We should be worried when any supplier seeks to monopolise a market. Given Russia's desire to find a way to become as powerful as the old Soviet regime in the worlds eyes it would very short sighted indeed to ignore the power game being played over energy supplies ( sorry about the pun). Any country that allows one supplier to provide 40% or more of its needs is asking for serious trouble
Robert Elcome, Bristol England

Eastern Europe's experience during the Cold War proves that Russian influence is anything but benign, and nothing the Putin regime has done or said indicates a change. The man is a KGB agent -imagine the reaction if a Gestapo officer had become president of Germany in the postwar period. Russia has no democratic traditions and an awful human rights record, and if Europe lets Gazprom gain a foothold in its energy system, God help us all.
Philip Birzulis, Riga, Latvia

"Russia never used gas as a political weapon"? Don't make me laugh. A steep price hike for Ukraine and sabotage of the pipeline to Georgia in the middle of winter, threat of similar hike for Belarus unless it cedes control of its pipelines to Moscow and returns to "Motherland", and, most rececently, highly suspicious fire in the only Lithuanian refinery on the eve of its sale to Polish company - speak for themselves. EU is for a very rude awakening at the moment most convenient for Russia.
Mirek Kondracki, US/Poland

When our enemies (Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) criticise us so much, I know we're doing the right thing. In fact, if they were saying something good about Russia, I would be suspicious. But when I read their bitter comments full of useless emotions, I understand that everything¿s OK. Thank you for reassuring me.
Vladimir, Netherlands

I think some comments here, by presumptive Russians, shows that there is every reason to be wary about this country and its current regime. If some Russians feel surrounded by fierce and dangerous "enemies" such as Estonia and Georgia, and think they are entitled to a "zone of influence" beyond their borders, why shouldn't we be wary? Manifestedly, there is zero understanding for small nations' right to self-determination, especially when they are neighbours of Russia. Let's wait until the day Russians stop seeing their neighbours as pawns in a great power chess game, stop thinking that winning elections is about who is the best cheater, and otherwise move their mindset past the 19th century. That day, we may even welcome them in the EU, but I fear it is a distant day.
Jon Maloy, Montreal,Canada

People like you will be the cause for the western countries downfall. What is it that you are trying to say? Realize that UK is worse than third world power and stop living in your past empire. UK is nothing without the big hand of USA. You should be ashamed of yourself because you bring shame to your country and people by writing something like this which is totally biased and factless. Russia is just following the same methods that any capitalist country does. No wonder people from your country are welcome in half the countries in the world.
raj, India

"You know what happens when they get in the same room as Putin. They all ... say 'I love you Vladimir'", because all the Russian petrodollars are in the Western banks. Ordinary Russians have only pollution.
Vladimir, Sapporo, Japan

Whatever the perceived threat to our fossil fuel supplies may be, there is solid evidence of a greater concern which we should be directing more effort into dealing with - namely carbon dioxide emissions. The wisest move surely would be to magnify our efforts to conserve and generate 'green energy', thereby decreasing the danger of global meltdown (followed by ice age) while at the same time ensuring a sustainable supply of energy which doesn't depend on international politicing.
Nigel hargreaves, Norwich, UK

There is obviously a potential danger in overdependence but I am inclined to the view that Russia has problems of its own and needs the money that come from gas as badly as we need the gas. So long as that balance continues, I doubt if we have anything to fear about continuity of supply. The same may not be true in those countries to which Russia has a less positive attitude. It is also true that, while we should not be too fearful about continuity, pricing in a monopolistic environment could become a problem. I wonder if consideration has been given to piping from the vast Kazakh field under the Caspian, avoiding Russian territory and, via Azerbaijan and Armenia into Georgia and the Ukraine. This would mean that the Russians could not cut them off at a stroke. It could be piped on into the EU via Hungary or, from next year, Rumania. This would de facto create effective competition and would address many concerns currently felt both in the region and in the EU.
Paul D, New Milton, UK. - currently in Budapest

Our (Mazeikiu nafta) example should worry all the EU. As you can see, Russia can be very unpredictable. And if your opinion and wishes is different from Russia wishes, you should change it first - because there is no chanse for you to win. I think year after yaer EU will become more and more dependent on Russia supplies (not to tell that it is now too). So there is no other way for prices as to get up. And it will get up very much. If you don't believe it you will see it...
Dalius Rudokas, Mazeikiai,Lithuania

If Europe is so scared about Russia monopolizing the Gas supplies to Europe, They should inturn look for alternate sources. Russia has a natural resource and they are fully authorized to charge a price for it which is at par with global prices. Why make it a big issue? Has the west not monopolised the global markets of Technology & Defence for decades? Stop cribbing and pay the genuine price. Putin is a strong headed man and will not sccumb to EU pressure.
Satjeet Sangha, Dubai, UAE

Russia has always been a serious player and the collapse of the Berlin Wall created the wrong impression that it had become powerless. Its leaders will act to win back the influence it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, that probably means couter-acting the influence of the US in Europe, and NATO expansion and aggresive actions by the George Bush administration have not helped, and winning back economic if not military 'hegemony' in as large a part of Europe as possible. In addition, it will act in Asia and the Middle East in particular, as well as in the rest of the world to counteract US led NATO moves. Question: is a nuclear armed North Korea and a nuclear competent Iran in or against Russian and indeed Chinese interests? Remember Yugoslavia and the impending loss of Kosovo by the Serbians, a land of historic importance and indeed relevance as a people to them.
Jimi Morgan, Stevenage, England

Living in Estonia for the last 10 years, I have come to know Russians well. Russian history has created a unique culture inexperienced in the values or realities of the democratic process. On the negative side, the Russian national psyche is based on a belief that all governmental authorities are corrupt and legal system created for the benefit of the authorities. Success is therefore assured by a Machiavellian process of grabbing power by any means with the laws and contracts becoming unimportant decorations to be changed as needed. Without a robust rule of law and a healthy democratic process what are you left with... A powerful Fascist state with total control of Europes energy supplies!!! On the positive side Russians are individually wonderful and warm hearted people. History has taught them that life is unkind, so they drink too much and live for today in a manner which makes there friendship irresistable.
Martin Dungay, Tallinn Estonia

In my opinion the comments expressed in this article are very true. I think that Europe (whether the EU as a bloc or its members as separate countries) is scared of Russia and behaves in a way that can damage its image of a leading world union of democratic states. There are principles of democracy that need to be followed no matter what other concerns might be. This is especially true for the EU. And when its leaders "drop their trousers and say 'I love you Vladimir'" turning blind eye on human rights violations in Russia, imperialistic policies of Russia towards its neighbors, xenophobic attitude to ethnic Georgians in Russia who are kicked out of the Russian Federation just because they are Georgians (is it not Nazism?!) and behave like a cow in front of a bear, this is simply shameful! An innocent man detained by Russian authorities and held till he was to be deported died in the Moscow airport because he was kept in inhuman conditions and given no care when he repeatedly asked for it. What is it? Rudest violation of human rights, and what the EU's answer is? - "I love you Vladimir"?! And my last comment on the last question posed in the article, "Should we be scared of the Bear?". I think this question is for the EU countries. Look at Georgia, a small country of 4 million with numerous problems among them 2 territorial conflicts is not afraid to arrest and deport Russian spies, why is the world's biggest economic union, the EU of 450 million, trembling in front of Russia?! Simply shameful and wrong...
Mikheil Kobaladze, Tbilisi, Georgia

Its the Paper Tiger we should could an eye on. China's expansion into world markets with an almost infinite supply of cheap labour is making it number one where profit makers are concerned. Europe and especially Germany has problems to compete in such a market place with such high labour and energy costs. The bonding of Germany to Russia means cheaper energy imports and secure exports of technological equipment needed by Russia to exploit her resources. The high cost of oil has now made it profitably worth while for America to invest in the trillions of barrels of tar sands that exist in the USA and Canada. Once in production this home supply will weaken the Middle East dominance in the oil market. More so if Europe has its own supply from Russia. China will be there, standing on the Arab door step, ready to buy as much as it can. If Europe and Russia can't work together and develop an industrial partnership then its China's business acumen that will dominating world markets by 2020.
Martin Bradfield, Germany

Air, Water and Energy are essentials we all take for granted but miss sorely when they come under threat. Much like health and even time itself. But more often these days our energy consumption is becoming more like an addiction than mere necessity. Power supplies have become our drug dealers of choice these days and we are not showing any signs of weening ourselves of this seductive fix. Our electrical goods, PCs even our methods of transportation rely, on the whole, on more and more fossil fuels being converted into electrical current. Even the 'Hydrogen State', touted again by Mr. Bush in the US recenty, as a solution to our fossil fuel dependency, ultimately relies on this same source of energy. If we cannot reduce our hunger for energy we will inevitably have to compromise our principals on where the energy comes from. We have no choice. Fossil fuel infrastructure is complex, hard to build and time-consuming to set up and maintain, so our current Russian-dependency was decided years ago when the North Sea oil fields started to decline. If we are to avoid being a slave to Gazprom we must crack the hardest problem of our age which is how to reduce our energy consumption by being more efficient with what we have available to us.
Mike GT, Twickenham



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