As winter takes hold in Europe, concerns over gas supply have heightened in Georgia and elsewhere. Protests in Tbilisi reflected fears that Russia might once again cuts its supplies, as it did last year in a dispute with Ukraine. “Gazputin” is what many Georgians are calling the Russian President after energy giant Gazprom hiked its prices. Tblisi has accused the Kremlin of using the resource as a political tool and it has put further strain on already poor relations.
The gas row with Ukraine had knock-on effects for several countries in the west. Gazprom said it was re-aligning prices in line with market values. For Ukraine it amounted to a four-fold increase which it refused to pay. The crisis lasted several weeks and sent alarm bells ringing in the EU about the vulnerability of future gas supplies.
Since then Europe has intensified the search for alternatives. One approach was to increase the number of routes through which Russian gas reaches Europe. Another was to turn to other suppliers, notably Algeria. A lot of faith is being place on the construction of a new pipeline that will carry gas directly to Germany. The project, due to be completed in 2008, would cut out the possibility of disputes between Russia and other countries interrupting EU supplies.
Currently the North Sea is the source of most of Europe’s gas. Almost a quarter comes from Russia and about a tenth from Algeria. While the pipeline to Germany is under construction, European leaders have been sounding out possible deals with Algeria. Spain and Italy have recently signed accords with the energy-rich North African state. Other potential providers, for example in the Caucuses region, are also being considered. All with the aim of ensuring Europe avoids future winters of discontent.