Conference e-mail

The Aleksanteri Institute

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

Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Soviet Energy and its Legacies

Chair: Saara Matala (Aalto University, Finland)
Discussant: Niklas Jensen-Eriksen (University of Helsinki, Finland)
Felix Frey (ETH Zürich, Switzerland): Hydropower Peninsula. Regional Autarky and the Development of the Kola Energy System, 1928-1965
Suvi Kansikas (University of Helsinki, Finland): An Inefficient Energy Weapon. The Soviet Union in the CMEA, 1960s–1980s
Falk Flade (Europa-Universität Viadrina, Germany): Energy Markets in CMEA and EEU – Mutually Advantageous or a Tool of Soviet/Russian Hegemony?

Energy played a central role in the socialist industrialization processes, and therefore the extraction, infrastructure, transportation and trade of energy carriers were on the high level of Soviet and Eastern European policy-makers' agenda. Energy was a tool for control and building interdependency, but also a source of friction and centrifugal tendencies. The panel will address the problems inherent in Soviet bloc energy politics, energy markets and energy infrastructure, some of which carry political, structural and economic relevance for current Russia. The papers will highlight some of those long-term consequences such as the role of energy in Moscow's regional and alliance politics.

The panel features three case-studies on Soviet/Russian energy policy: The first paper looks at the Kola Peninsula, a fossil-fuel poor region, which built a self-sufficient system on hydropower resources starting in the 1930s. It offers a party officials’ and planners’ view into decision-making on the allocation of energy sources, and shows that Soviet regional energy policy was built on the goal of regional autarky in energy sources. The second paper deals with Soviet bloc trade as a process of creating mutual interdependence and strengthening the coherence of the bloc. In the CMEA system, energy was an important motor of cooperation, but not an easy weapon of control for the energy-rich bloc leader, because the USSR bore responsibility for safeguarding the entire socialist bloc. The third paper analyses features of Moscow’s energy policy, such as subsidized energy prices, unclear pricing rules, bilateralism, or the asymmetric distribution of power, that were intrinsically part of the Soviet-era CMEA energy trade, and which can be discerned also in the Eurasian Economic Union, established in 2015. In a comparison of the EEU and CMEA, the paper discusses how institutional structure and decisive stakeholders in energy policy affect the goal of establishing a common energy market.

All three papers highlight the level of continuity of Soviet-era structures such as production and trade preferences and policy orientation into contemporary Russian energy policy, and point to structural legacies that are key to understanding Russia’s choices for the future.