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Feeding the Russian Bear By: Gregory Gethard
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, December 12, 2008

Imagine a world where Vladimir Putin may force Germany into toeing Moscow’s line or face losing its ability to power the world’s third largest economy. This dreadful predicament is not hard to picture. Germany, for years, has been completely dependent upon Russia for its energy needs. Currently, almost half of Germany’s natural gas comes from Russia’s vast reserves. And now Putin has forced his hand once again.

Currently under construction is the Nord Stream pipeline, which will deliver Russian energy directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea. Thus, Russia will have a direct link into controlling Germany’s energy policy.

Russia has already used its energy resources to punish its foes. The pipes have periodically stopped flowing when Ukraine becomes too uppity with its larger neighbor. The Baltic nations have regularly paid more money for its energy supply than Belarus, a traditional friend to Moscow.

And now, with a direct link into Germany’s homes and businesses, it’s conceivable that Russia could one day cut the gas to Berlin if, say, Andrea Merkel were to become a tad too outspoken about America’s proposed missile shield in Poland? Or what if NATO decides to intervene against Russia’s escapades in the Caucusses?

Need further proof of how important Nord Stream is to Russia’s foreign policy aims? The pipeline currently faces a delay due to financing and environmental concerns. But Putin certainly knows how to play the cards he has been dealt. And here’s how he’s playing this poker hand: "Europe must decide whether it needs this pipeline or not. If you don't we will build liquefaction plants and send gas to world markets, including to European markets. But it will be simply more expensive for you. You are free to make the calculations yourself," Putin recently remarked to Finland’s Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen.

No matter what, Putin wins. If Germany caves to Moscow’s pressure, then Russia’s advances on Europe will press ever forward. But if the project stalls, Russia will bring in more foreign currency into its coffers.

The energy sector has fueled more than just Russia’s energy. Putin and company have used the revenues from its sale of natural gas and oil to amass a stabilization fund valued at roughly $150 billion. This money can be used to weather any economic storm which may harm the fragile Russian economy.

But it could also be used in other ways. Maybe Moscow would like to relive the days of the USSR and buy influence throughout the third world? Even more worrisome, Russia can use these funds to bolster its armed forces, perhaps sending even more navy ships to sail off the coast of Venezuela.

So, who’s to blame for this situation? It’s certainly true that Europe’s leadership has turned a blind eye to Russia’s advances all in the name of procuring cheap natural gas. But the answer goes far deeper than that. Much of the blame for Germany’s predicament lies at the feet of country’s far-left, particularly among the Greens who pushed their naive environmental agenda above common sense energy independence policies.

For decades, Germany was one of the world’s largest users of nuclear energy. 19 nuclear plants were constructed in the country, producing about 30% of Germany’s electricity. But in 2000, the far-left saw one of their dreams come true. By the year 2030, ever nuclear plant in Germany will be decommissioned, a move done to halt perceived safety risks posed by nuke plants.

However, there is much evidence out there that suggests nuclear power poses next to no safety threat. According to the World Nuclear Association:

Apart from Chernobyl, no nuclear workers or members of the public have ever died as a result of exposure to radiation due to a commercial nuclear reactor incident. Most of the serious radiological injuries and deaths that occur each year (2-4 deaths and many more exposures above regulatory limits) are the result of large uncontrolled radiation sources, such as abandoned medical or industrial equipment. (There have also been a number of accidents in experimental reactors and in one military plutonium-producing pile - at Windscale, UK, in 1957, but none of these resulted in loss of life outside the actual plant, or long-term environmental contamination.)

And a strong case in favor of nuclear power is right next door to Germany. 80% of France’s electricity is generated by nuclear power plants. And if the French, of all people, think nuclear power is safe, then why shouldn’t the rest of the world?

(America, too, has a nuclear energy debate on its hands. No plants have been built since Three Mile Island in the late 70s. And while there’s a push to build more nuke plants in the US, it does not appear likely. One of the major holdups keeping the country from nuclear power realizing its fullest potential is the ongoing debate over where to deposit nuclear waste. Current plans say that all nuke waste will be deposited in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. But with Harry Reid, deadest against this policy, running the Senate, there is no chance this will ever move forward.)

What do the Greens want? Their aim is to increase the usage of renewable energy, naturally. But, just as it is around the globe, the ability to power a large portion of a technologically-advanced nation’s energy needs by using renewables is completely impossible. As of 2006, a scant 5.8% of Germany’s energy is produced by alternative sources. There is no way to determine exactly, when, the Greens dream of a world powered by wind, solar and rainbows will come to fruition. Perhaps, one day, it will. But as of now, alternative energy is just a pipe dream.

Thus, the abolishment of nuclear energy in Germany has had unintended consequences. Nuclear energy produces far less carbon dioxide than natural gas and coal. By banning nukes, Germany has to use more dirty sources of energy, the exact opposite of the supposed Green movement’s aims.

And, perhaps more importantly, it also plays into Putin’s hands. German demand for natural gas will rise as its nuclear plants are decommissioned. That means Germany will grow even more dependent upon Russia for its energy needs.

Germany had better be careful. There’s a great big bear to its east that is growing hungrier by the day. And the German left is more than eager to feed it.

Gregory Gethard is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.

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