John Lichfield: Forget the gas – Europe needs to get tough with Russia

World Focus: Russia

The Russian government may be brutal and incompetent domestically, but it has learnt to play the game of European politics with subtlety and skill. Not that the western Europeans are particularly hard to play against. They can be relied upon to score own goals.

France yesterday became the latest EU country to be drawn into Moscow's plans to build two new pipelines, avoiding Ukraine and Poland, which will make western European cooking stoves and central heating boilers dependent on Russian gas for decades to come. During Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's two-day visit to Paris, the French electricity giant EDF signed a contract to help the Russian state enterprise Gazprom to build the new "South Stream" pipeline under the Black Sea to Greece, Serbia, Hungary and western Europe.

Italy is already involved in that project. Germany is helping with Russia's North Stream pipeline under the Baltic, which is expected shortly to attract investment from another French energy giant, GDF-Suez. Officially, all EU governments are keen on the rival Nabucco pipeline, linking Europe directly to the gasfields of the former Soviet republics in central Asia, but it has barely advanced.

President Nicolas Sarkozy came to power two and a half years ago promising to take a tougher line with Russia than his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who had shamelessly sucked up to Vladimir Putin. Mr Sarkozy pledged to take account of the "authoritarian drift" in Moscow and Russian "crimes" in Chechnya. As a result, the state-run press in Moscow greeted Mr Sarkozy's election with insults and dismay. He was, Izvestia said, the "son of a Hungarian aristocrat and the grandson of a Salonikan Jew", under the influence of forces which "pathologically detested" Russia.

Half way thought his mandate, Mr Sarkozy – like Mr Chirac, Gerhard Schröder and Silvio Berlusconi before him – appears to have fallen under Mr Putin' spell. Not only is France helping with the two Gazprom pipeline projects (in return for guarantees of future Russian gas supplies) it is also likely to become the first Western government to sell a large piece of defence hardware to post-Communist Moscow.

The hi-tech French navy helicopter ship Mistral is currently moored in St Petersburg harbour on a "courtesy" visit, flaunting its €500m (£450m) charms to the Russian navy. Moscow wants to rebuild the once-powerful Soviet navy and is keen to have a "Mistralski" of its own. Details of a likely deal were discussed on the margins of Mr Putin's successful, two-day business trip to Paris, which ended last night.

The Russian former oil oligarch, Mikhail Kodorkovski, imprisoned four years ago before his company was swallowed into state-run Gazprom, gave a written interview to Le Monde this week. He warned Western countries they should not regard the crushing of legal and human rights in Russia – including the regular imprisonment and murder of opponents of the regime – as "peripheral problems".

He said: "It is very important that the international community should regard events in Russia as a problem for all of us."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: Product Development Manager

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas