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Stephen M. Walt

Russia vs. Ukraine: who’s being fuelish?

Events elsewhere have kept me from paying much attention to the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute, but the realist in me has a couple of thoughts. It’s obvious that Moscow is using Ukraine’s dependence on Russian natural gas as a diplomatic weapon — no surprise there — but it’s equally clear that Moscow’s leverage is reduced by ...

Events elsewhere have kept me from paying much attention to the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute, but the realist in me has a couple of thoughts. It’s obvious that Moscow is using Ukraine’s dependence on Russian natural gas as a diplomatic weapon — no surprise there — but it’s equally clear that Moscow’s leverage is reduced by the EU’s reliance on gas flowing through Ukrainian pipelines. Whenever Moscow tries to squeeze Kiev, Europe hollers and jumps in, and then the Russians have to lighten up in order to avoid a major fight with the Europeans (an important trading partner). But this problem will ease as soon as EU-Russian pipelines bypassing Ukraine are completed and Russia’s ability to pressure Ukraine will perforce increase. As long as the rest of the EU is toasty warm in winter, they aren’t going to care much about conditions in Kiev. So if I were Ukrainian, I’d think long and hard about where this one was headed.

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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