The rise of oil prices always comes in useful and is very welcome in election year, but the end of buyers’ domination on the European gas market is of even greater potential significance.
Perhaps the oddest twist to these energy tales involves the much-trumpeted strategic partnership between the UK’s BP and Russian Rosneft that was master-minded by Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and blessed by Putin.
Each of these energy intrigues has its visible turns and hidden drivers but there is hardly any synergy in their interplay that resembles a Brownian motion rather than an orchestrated progress. The proposition on cultivating energy partnership with post-Orange Ukraine is undermined by the South Stream project, and the ambition for “conquering” the Arctic by advancing off-shore joint projects with Total and BP is deflated by further delays with furthering the nearly-completed plan for developing the giant Shtokman gas-field in the Barents Sea. It is not the rising operational costs or sharpening conflicts of parochial interests that makes the Russian energy business so confusing, but the quality of Putin’s “manual management.” Putin runs the interwoven plans and projects as a series of “special operations” playing the partners against one another and mixing mercantilism with personal animosities. What is clearly missing is a sense of direction, and the issue here is not that the ruling duumvirate cannot make up its dual mind about re-dividing the authority through the fast-approaching elections – but that Putin has made up his mind about re-claiming the supreme authority, which signifies a political cul-de-sac.