Dependence on Russian gas worries some – but not all – European countries
Gazprom rattled the European Union by cutting – then restoring –Ukraine's gas supply this week.
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Mr. Rahr criticized Russia's political situation and expressed hope that it could change under newly elected President Dmitri Medvedev, the former chairman of Gazprom.Skip to next paragraph
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But unlike the United States, which chides Russians over constraints on democracy, Germans reluctantly accept Russia as it has shaped up under President Vladimir Putin. They view antidemocratic practices as the price of stability following the turmoil of former President Boris Yeltsin's final years. Berlin is willing to work with Moscow, even if payments to Gazprom bolster the Russian political machine.
"It may not be the world that we wanted to create," Rahr says of Russia, "but it's a reality. What we need is an interest-driven policy, a realpolitik."
As many Germans point out, Russia never cut supplies to Germany during the cold war. "Russia has vast gas reserves and has been a reliable partner for many years," says Nord Stream spokeswoman Maud Amelie Hanitzsch.
Central European countries see matters differently. Poland and the Czech Republic – both bypassed by Nord Stream, whose route follows the more expensive option of traveling under the Baltic Sea – warn that Russia is becoming increasingly aggressive and is retaking its cold war-era posture as Central Europe has strengthened its ties with the United States.
"The Russians don't like that someone is putting their nose in their sphere of influence," a high-ranking Czech diplomat says, referring to the planned US-Czech missile shield. This diplomat stresses that Prague views the Russians as partners. But, he adds, "We were very saddened by some Russian rhetoric … rhetoric about pointing nuclear arms at us, rhetoric about a new arms race."
US officials echo this view, but in stronger language. As deputy assistant secretary of State Matt Bryza said recently: "We don't want our European allies in a position to choose between Gazprom and freezing."
But the general sentiment in Washington toward dealing with Russia and Gazprom was perhaps best summed up at a recent talk in Washington by James Woolsey, who served as CIA director under former President Bill Clinton. "If you meet a really smart, articulate 45-year-old guy at the Noga Hilton bar in Geneva, and he says he's with Gazprom and he'd like to talk to you about a joint venture in some part of the world, he might be what he says he is," Mr. Woolsey said. "He might be a Russian intelligence officer under commercial cover. He might be a senior member of some Russian organized-crime family. And the really interesting thing is that there's a pretty good chance that he's all three, and that none of those institutions have any problem with that at all."