If you want to understand how Russia regained its international clout after the collapse of the Soviet Union, all you need are these statistics:
Russia supplies 31% of Europe’s natural gas.
Russia supplies 42% of Germany’s natural gas.
Numbers like these prompted Marshall Goldman, professor emeritus in the Wellesley College Department of Economics to write his 2008 book Petrostate: Putin, Power, and the New Russia.
In his Wellesley College lecture Russia – The Saudi Arabia of the North: Implications for the West (iTunes), Goldman talks about what Europe’s dependence on Russian gas means, and how Russia’s oil and gas exports contribute to Russia’s growing power in international affairs.
Vladimir Putin was able to rescue Russia from the chaos of the Yeltsin years, Goldman says, because oil prices rose precipitously coincidentally right at the time that Putin became president. Putin then went on to recapture the ownership much of Russia’s fossil fuel infrastructure from the Yeltsin-era oligarchs.
It’s a sobering thought: Not only does our thirst for fossil fuels empower the Saudis and the Iranians; it also empowers the Russians.