EU-Russia Energy Relations: From a Liberal to a Realist Paradigm?

In: Russian Politics

Energy trade has been an important and largely cooperative field of the EU-Russia relationship for nearly five decades. After the Cold War, liberal theories of international relations, which highlighted the two sides’ interdependence, became entrenched as an explanatory framework for EU-Russia energy relations. From the late 2000s, Russia’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, culminating in the annexation of Crimea in 2014, changed dramatically the political framework of the energy relationship. As a result, realist understandings of Russia’s energy policy (re)gained popularity. However, despite the political crisis, EU-Russia energy trade has continued without major disruptions; indeed, Russian gas exports to Europe have grown after 2014. This article examines the evolution of the EU-Russia energy relationship and argues that it continues to respond to a commercial logic. Russia’s use of an ‘energy weapon’ appears highly unlikely. Meanwhile, eu market and competition rules have strengthened the case for a liberal understanding of the relationship.