Berlin's Russia ChallengeIssue: Mar-Apr 2007
RUSSIA HAS found an innovative way to ring in the New Year with its European partners: threatening to cut off energy supplies. At the beginning of 2006, it was gas exports through Ukraine; in January 2007, it was oil supplies through Belarus. Although President Lukashenko backed down and oil again flowed to Europe, the actions of pipeline monopoly Transneft-and President Putin's failure to inform Germany about the impending cutoff-presented German Chancellor Angela Merkel with an unwelcome start to Germany's EU presidency. The Russians insisted that they were only moving to world prices and a subsequent meeting in Sochi produced assurances from Russia that it would reduce its dependence on transit countries to guarantee security of supplies and admonitions from Merkel for better energy communication "in order to avoid tensions, misunderstandings and disappointments"; but tensions were still palpable.