In the wake of the MH17 plane crash, Russia is under renewed pressure to pull back its support for rebel separatists in the Ukraine. Yesterday David Cameron warned of further sanctions. “If Putin does not change his approach to Ukraine in this then Europe and the West must fundamentally change our approach to Russia.”
The trouble is, much of Europe is dependent on Russian energy. Freezing assets and travel bans may provide some token sanctions, but as long as Russia controls Europe’s energy, there is little that can be done. It is safer to risk inaction over Ukraine than to jeopardise energy supplies. Russia has shown its willingness to turn off the pipelines before, although it tends to do that to its Eastern clients rather than the more lucrative Western nations.
This graph shows gas exports, but it’s worth bearing coal in mind too. 40% of Britain’s electricity is from coal, and half our coal imports are from Russia. We rely on Russian coal to keep the lights on. If you are angry about Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine, that dependency could well be the biggest obstacle to Britain being tougher with Putin’s regime.
If we are to ‘fundamentally change our approach to Russia’, as Cameron suggests, then weaning ourselves off Russian energy ought to be the place to start.