Conference e-mail

The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki

Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Marco Siddi (Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Finland)

EU-Russia Energy Relations: from a Neoliberal to a Neorealist Paradigm?

Energy trade has been an important and largely cooperative field of the EU-Russia relationship for decades. For most of this period, the flow of Russian energy towards Europe was broadly seen as a mutually advantageous commercial relationship, which could be conducive to alleviating tensions and stimulating dialogue in other areas. In this context, neoliberal theories of international relations, which highlighted the two sides’ interdependence, became entrenched as an explanatory framework for EU-Russia energy relations. This perspective largely corresponded to the European Commission’s view of the future of energy markets and trade, which assumed a conflict-free relationship with Russia and a market-oriented approach to energy issues. However, from the late 2000s, Russia’s increasingly assertive foreign policy stance, culminating in the annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of Ukraine in 2014, changed dramatically the political framework of the energy relationship. As a result, neorealist understandings of Russia’s energy policy (re)gained popularity and were given credence by Russia’s new infrastructural projects in Europe (Nord Stream-2, Turkish Stream), which many analysts have portrayed as geopolitically-driven. However, despite the political crisis, EU-Russia energy trade has continued without major disruptions; in fact, Russian gas exports to Europe have grown after 2014. This suggests that markets do not consider Russian energy imports as uncertain, nor as a potential ‘energy weapon’ at the disposal of the Kremlin – as neorealists tend to claim. This paper examines the evolution of the EU-Russia energy relationship and assesses the nature and extent of its geopolitical/neorealist turn. It argues that, despite the political crisis, the energy relationship continues to respond to a commercial logic. Russia’s use of a presumed energy weapon appears highly unlikely. Meanwhile, EU market and competition rules have strengthened the case for a neoliberal understanding of the relationship.