European-Russian Energy Relations: from Dependence to Interdependence

From Firenze University Press Book

University of Florence
5 min readNov 29, 2021


Karina Galytska

In the modern era, the development of national societies, politics and international diplomacy is strongly linked to the economy sector: energy is, de facto, what puts in action the mechanisms of this complex apparatus that we call World. From the discovery of fire made by cave men, to the modern use of fossil fuels and advances in nuclear physics — energy played a central role in human development and economic growth. It is indeed a multifaceted concept, which represents a pivotal concern in International Affairs: the oil wars in the Middle East, the construction of intercontinental pipelines, the rise and fall of oil prices, economic and political sanctions regime and energy shortages — can be easily associated with few of the key moments of international diplomacy. We are testimony, today, of the current political and economic situation of destress (both on global and national level), which impacts significantly on world’s energy sector and, at the same time, it is also caused and alimented by it.

World energy demand is persistently growing and, due to the shortage and geographical distribution of natural resources, dependency rates of national governments are rising: this economic and political bound to third parties shapes the diplomatic relations within the International Community. Because energy supports diverse and several (if not almost every) human activities, the current energy crisis gains relevance and complexity; most people, however, do not understand fully the range of this situation of distress, there is more to an augmented price at the gas station. For policy makers and national representatives, instead, energy security and dependence represent a crucial issue deeply interconnected with National Security, therefore a daily concern. Conventional energy sources represent the major cause of environmental stress due to CO2 emissions, which drive a wide range of environmental changes counting global climate change, acid deposition and air pollution.

Coal mining destroys areas of natural habitat, hydropower carries significant ecological and social costs and oil and natural gas extraction impacts on our sensitive ecosystem and are not made to last (United States Environmental Protection Agency — EPA s.d.). The dramatic environmental consequences of high-energy consumption deserves a deeper and more accurate investigation because there is no ‘planet B’ in this reality: unless a scientific breakthrough will allow humanity to survive on other planets soon, the Earth is our only home and we must safeguard and take care of it. The main objective of this work, though, is oriented towards a different but related perspective. Neglecting by choice the environmental issues, the purpose of this short analysis is firstly to understand what does energy security really mean, why is it important for Modern States and which are the consequences of high rates of energy dependence; secondly, to analyze the past and current status of energy relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation.

Due to the lack of sufficient (able to meet the demand) energy sources within the territory of the Union and the abundance of them in Russia, the trade seems to be a win-win situation; however the constant need of primary energy might exacerbate the consequences of EU energy dependence, or convert it in a more balanced form of dependence. The main subjects of this analytical work, indeed, are going to be the European Union and the Russian Federation, as they represent two main (but very different) powers on the International Arena. The core of this research is going to be devoted to the analysis of the past and current Euro-Russian energy relations; the aim is to demonstrate how outdated is the concept of unilateral energy dependence in the contemporary relationship between the European Union (consumer) and the Russian Federation (supplier). Each State indeed tackles the energetic issue in its own way according to national demand of energy, production (if there is) and choice of domestic energy mix. In the case of energy-exporter countries, there is no energy dependence problem, which appears when there is not (or not sufficient) domestic production and the consumed energy arrives from third States.

This relationship, established between the importer and exporter, has remarkable implications for national agendas, especially for the energy import depending country. Considering the economic and political relevance of the European Union in the International System, it might seem unusual that the dependence rate of the EU is one of the highest in the world. According to the Eurostat statistics, indeed, among all energy products the EU in the first half of 2017 imported almost 69% of oil and 20% of natural gas (Eurostat, Statistic Explained, 2018). Th e Russian Federation was undeniably Europes largest supplier of gas in the last past years, and second in petroleum oils.

Th e main purpose of this study is indeed an analysis of the delicate situation regarding the European Union in terms of energy dependence from Russian energy supplies. Starting from a brief overview of the current levels of global energy consumption and a scan of conceivable future trends, the research is going to focus mainly on the evolution of the concept of energy security and energy dependence in order to understand the actual energy relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation. Considering the evolution of common EU Policies and the Dialogue with Moscow in the Energy fi eld, the aim of this analysis is to outline which ties bound Europe and Russia and subsequently, the “nature” of their energy relationship — dependence or interdependence.

The primary question, upon which this analytical research is based, is whether it is still actual to talk about European energy dependence on Russian primary energy supply. The main argument of my hypothesis is that currently the Euro-Russian energy relations are more complex and multifaceted than before, therefore there is no more space for unilateral dependence. The concept of mutual dependence, or Interdependence, better exemplifies the core reason of the current energy trade between the Russian Federation and the European Union; the existence of an already built and ramified pipeline network ensure Moscow stable profits from stable export energy flows making inconvenient a (possible) trade disruption. Even if, the security processes imply further research of more diversity and sustainability in energy supplies and despite the current high percentage of Russian primary energy in the EU fuel mix, in a relatively long-term, the Euro-Russian cooperation seems to be resilient. The contemporary world is going beyond the binary dependence relationship, the interdependence connecting the actors of the International System creates a new reality where the inclusiveness of Energy Security concept spreads to several different areas. Efforts in diversification are crucial, however mutual benefits still rule the Euro-Russian energy relations.

DOI: 10.36253/978–88–5518–415-1

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