In the last few days, after the Russian troops flooded into Crimean peninsula, this question has been raised that why the EU is practically doing nothing. Some analysts who are still stuck in the cold war era said that it is because of Russia’s nuclear weapons; but the truth is that the European countries are so dependent on Russian energy (especially natural gas) that they are hesitant to do anything against Moscow.
Many Europeans still remember the gas crisis that happened a few years ago when in 2009 Russia stopped exporting natural gas to Europe. Even at that time Ukraine was at the center of the crisis. The governments in Moscow and Kiev had not been able to reach an agreement on the gas price and the Russian side decided to turn the taps off.
What makes this problem bigger is the fact that the European countries import most of their natural gas from Russia. Meanwhile, some of them, namely Germany, are shutting down their nuclear plants which makes them more dependent on the natural gas they import from Russia. One can see how much Europeans are worried by reading the statement Gunther Oettinger published. The EU energy commissioner said, last week, that European countries are not worried about a gas dispute with Russia, but in fact, even saying this means that they really are worried, especially when you know that Russian Gazprom had issued a warning a day before.
In the last few years, there have been many rumors about building another gas line from another country to Europe. Azerbaijan and Iran are the best candidates for such a pipeline; but the problem with Azerbaijan is that Elham Alief is a friend of Vladimir Putin and the Baku’s government is a strategic ally of Russia, however it has good relationship with west too. Iran’s gas could replace Russia’s gas very well if it was not for the sanctions.
Iran has the second largest resources of natural gas in the world, but because of the international embargoes against its nuclear program, Tehran cannot export its gas or oil. Another reason that could make Iran’s gas the best choice for Europe is the fact that it can be exported to Europe both by a pipeline and as LNG from the Persian Gulf.
There is one more option for Europeans too: Israel. Israel has approximately 400 billion cubic meters of gas reserves and is close to Europe. It is also a reliable partner for European countries; but it has its own problems. As a lecturer at Technion university says, Israel would prefer exporting its natural gas to Asia rather than Europe due to higher prices Asian countries are willing to pay. Even if Israel exported gas to Europe, it could not eliminate the continents dependence on Russia.
So in a short, now that Catherine Ashton is in Tehran and the negotiations between the so-called 5+1 and the Islamic republic over Iran’s disputed nuclear program have reached an absolutely crucial point, west can play with a new card. They can offer Iran purchasing its natural gas in exchange for halting its nuclear program. Whether or not the Iranian side accepts such a proposal, can also show how important the nuclear program is for Ayatollahs and how far they are prepared to go to keep their centrifuges turning.