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The Wall Street Journal: Look Who’s Coming to Dinner

 President Putin

EXTRACT: Shell’s $20 billion oil and gas project in Sakhalin looks likely to fall victim to the Kremlin’s strategy to reassert central control over energy.

THE ARTICLE

October 20, 2006

In the Finnish lakeside city of Lahti tonight, the European Union’s coveted “soft power” comes face to face with Vladimir Putin. It looks to be a sobering encounter. No matter how good the wine or emollient the words or grand the pageantry, the Russian president is in no mood to play nice.
 
It’s about time that Europe faced up to a few realities of global politics, and Mr. Putin is an ideal teacher. In recent months, the Kremlin has changed its opinion of the EU from bureaucratic irrelevance to a serious threat to Russian interests. Europe, the idea and place, has proved all too attractive to former Moscow vassals, providing a lot of the emotional fuel for democratic turnovers in Ukraine and Georgia and guiding much of Central Europe into the West through its enlargement process.

Flush with oil money — and hence confidence — the Kremlin wants to nip this in the bud. A signal of its intentions came last winter when natural gas supplies to Ukraine, and further downstream in Western Europe, were peremptorily cut. This month Moscow turned the screws on feisty Georgia, sealing the borders and hounding ethnic Georgians out of Russia. Such belligerence sends a message westward: Stay out.

According to Europe’s post-modernist fantasy, balance-of-power calculations or realpolitik of this sort are vestiges of a dark past — or, worse, something indulged mostly by America. Europe prefers softly-softly diplomacy, asking Russia to open its energy markets to competition and pussyfooting about the demise of free speech and democracy there. Here are a few examples of how that approach is working: Shell’s $20 billion oil and gas project in Sakhalin looks likely to fall victim to the Kremlin’s strategy to reassert central control over energy. On the democracy front the most outspoken journalistic critic of the Putin regime, Anna Politkovskaya, was gunned down in cold blood this month.

Europe may finally be “getting” it, thanks in part to the new EU members, who hold fewer romantic notions about their large eastern neighbor. Earlier in the week, the bloc issued a surprisingly muscular démarche to Moscow to keep its hands off Georgia. Europe’s reliance on Russian energy has prompted some serious thought to alternative suppliers. Mr. Putin will no doubt try to split Europe, and the trans-Atlantic alliance, by courting Berlin or Paris.

European Gaullists believed that a common EU foreign policy would be forged in opposition to America. How fanciful this notion seems today as the Union is engaged in a real-life encounter with Mr. Putin that’s turning out to be a test of the bloc’s ability to stand up for itself.

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