It’s not often I agree with Chris Patten but he talked a lot of sense on last evening’s World Tonight (Radio 4). The former EU foreign affairs commissioner and former Tory Chairman was reacting to ‘GasGate‘ (as I shall call it) and Russia’s apparent attempts to punish Ukraine’s Orange Revolutionaries for rejecting its preferred presidential candidate.
The man who has been Chairman, Governor, Commissioner and is now Chancellor and Lord argued that the EU (and the west in general) had been too soft on Russia for too long. The EU has attempted to bring Russia into the family of western democracies by treating it with kid gloves, inducements and membership of the G8 (even though its economy doesn’t warrant it). Rather than accepting these encouragements to become more democratic Mr Putin has become increasingly authoritarian and, says Patten, bullied its neighbours. As an illustration of policy pusillanimity we have recently witnessed Gerhard Schroeder behave in an ethically dubious way by taking a €1m pa job from Russia’s Gazprom for involvement in a project he rushed through in the dying days of his Chancellorship of Germany.
Lord Patten recommended tougher treatment of Russia. He said that it was "extraordinary" that Putin had been allowed to assume the chairmanship of the G8 even though it was going "backwards on democracy". He urged the other G8 leaders to tell Russia – privately or otherwise – that its recent behaviour was unacceptable. He also urged the EU to be warmer to Ukraine’s aspiration to Union membership.
Chris Patten said that the west had done nothing about Russian misbehaviour in Moldova and Georgia because it was afraid of upsetting a major supplier of its energy needs. The west should remember, he said, that Russia’s narrow economy hugely depended upon Europe’s custom and it needed to be more assertive.
Energy policy is likely to be an increasingly important theme in coming years. World competition for oil, for example, has seen an increasingly thirsty China form strategically close links with Venezuela, Sudan, Iran and other ugly regimes. The Wall Street Journal noted only yesterday how Big Oil companies only account for 16% of the world’s current production. The real powers in the world are "the Saudi state oil company, the Iranian state oil company, the Venezuelan state oil company, etc".
If Mr Cameron is looking for a big issue to face up to, they don’t get much bigger than the looming energy crises.