Even after the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Eastern Europe still remained under the sphere of influence of Russia, although these newly independent countries were no longer officially controlled by Moscow. The West tried to peel off Russian-oriented countries in Eastern Europe, enlarging NATO by admitting former Soviet-bloc countries. But as the 1990s gave way to the 2000s, oil prices rose and so did the influence and power of Russia. Vladimir Putin’s Russia in the 21st century attempted to regain lost ground in Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet satellites have never been able to really break free of Russian control.
One of the central problems is energy. Eastern Europe is wholly dependent on Russia for natural gas and oil supplies. Ukraine has suffered more than most, but many other former Soviet satellites are also at the mercy of Russia because of their energy dependence.
The EU antitrust case against Gazprom illuminates this dependence. The EU Commission alleges that Gazprom charged different prices to different countries, depending on their willingness to do Moscow’s bidding. The EU antitrust case could start to break the stranglehold that Russia has over its neighbors if Gazprom is forced into a settlement with European regulators.
However, what will truly start to cut into Russian influence is new sources of supply in Eastern Europe itself. With several prospects in the Black Sea gaining attention, such a development…