In 1945, Europe became bifurcated along two ideological camps; communism and capitalism. As the iron curtain-shrouded Europe, the geopolitical divide was defined. Nowhere was this ideological demarcation more explicit than the Berlin Wall; a city divided by two superpowers.
European politics were defined for almost half a century along this divide. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the state of European geopolitics appeared to be in flux but that trepidation was short-lived. With the premise of a “European Union”, the continent for once appeared to be evolving towards an economic structure similar to the US. As the global economy began to thrive, it needed oil and gas to fuel the prosperity, Europe was no exception. Russia once again found an influential bargaining chip; its energy supplies.
Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)
Natural gas is a hydrocarbon energy source principally comprised of methane. It is a fossil fuel used primarily for heating, cooking, and electricity. To make it economically feasible and readily available for mass transport, the gas is liquefied. By liquefying natural gas, a dramatic reduction in volume is achieved. Thus, LNG becomes cost efficient to traverse over long distances especially in areas where pipelines do not exist.
The Russian LNG Radius
Russia has been a vast country always yearning for access to warm water ports and protection of its vast western frontier from mainland Europe. Russia always feared that its hinterland has been vulnerable to invasion by large armies from Europe. In the 20th century, Russia’s anxieties materialized into two world wars that resulted in large deaths and destruction of its country. West of the Ural Mountains, Russia’s flat plains lay wide open for any to easily enter. Undergoing such death and destruction, Russia (or at the time the Soviet Union) decided to create a buffer zone on its western border by occupying the Eastern Europe nations from Estonia down to Ukraine. But with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia had become exposed on its western border once again.
As the Cold War became a relic of history, the European economic machine began to propel forward. The energy needed to lubricate the titans of European industry was oil and gas. Russia found a new method of defense for its border through the carbon obsession of the European nations. As such, Russia began to flow natural gas into the European economic vein. What began as a symbiotic relationship turned into a European addiction. The European obsession became a nightmare when Russia turned the spigot off resulting into the European gas crisis. This reliance on Russian energy exposed the vulnerabilities of the European economies. Thanks to its natural resources, Russia has been able to create spheres of influence throughout the European continent. The Russian LNG radius reflects the level of dependency. The further away a nation is from Russia, the less they are dependent on its energy sources. Even Great Britain with a sizable gas industry, still relies on gas supplies from Russia. The figure below illustrates this periphery of dependence.
As the US becomes the world’s largest producer of hydrocarbon energy, it finds itself less and less reliant on foreign sources. With its new found means, America is able to not only export its LNG but use it to transform European geopolitics. This year, the US began to allow American natural gas producers to export LNG internationally for the first time. This ability granted the US a new stature as a major energy exporter. The ability to export LNG provides Europe with an alternative to Russian LNG, hence breaking the Russian yoke that has chained Europe thus far. This influence was witnessed in the Ukrainian civil conflict. Certain European nations have wavered or been reticent to fully express their opinions due to their reliance on Russian gas. Such dependency creates pseudo-vassal states based on a Russian periphery system. Even though in certain cases it may be cheaper to import Russian LNG over American LNG, Europe still prefers to pay the higher premium to ensure the dependency periphery is broken. Thanks to American innovation in the oil and gas industry, the US is able to free itself from foreign imports and balance Russian influence in Europe. As a result, the US has made LNG exports an imperative aspect of its Russian geopolitical calculus.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia was able to appease its apprehension about its border insecurities through the creation of a carbon fuel peripheral system. The closer a nation is to Russia, the more reliant the nation is on its natural gas distribution system. However with innovation in fracking and other technological breakthroughs, the US has established itself as an energy powerhouse. Using this resource, the US has decided to break the European continent from its inveterate addiction to Russian LNG. As the first shipment of LNG ships abroad from the US, European geopolitics are in its initial stages of a radical transformation.