Analysing international policy processes and Lithuania’s role in them
Review Oct 31, 2023

More than a year with the war, sanctions and crisis: The change of Eastern Partnership countries’ energy dependence on Russia in 2022–2023

Photo source: Quinten de Graaf / Unsplash
  • 2022 was a critical year of energy changes for Europe following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It also affected the countries of the Eastern Partnership, including Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, in different ways.
  • In 2022, Ukraine completely separated itself from Russia in terms of energy. The shift away from Russia had an effect of a shock rather than a well-planned, smooth transition.
  • Nuclear energy is one of the most important types of energy for Ukraine’s energy sector, but the country had been heavily dependent on Russian nuclear fuel. After the war broke out, Ukraine fully switched to the import of Western fuel, and is currently planning to launch a full cycle of its production domestically.
  • Before the war, Ukraine imported most of its coal from Russia, especially after Russian-backed separatists invaded important coal mining areas in the Donbass in 2014.
  • Moldova is one of the most energy-poor countries in Europe, so the country experienced energy blackmail to remain dependent on Russia both before and after the start of the war in Ukraine. For this purpose, Russia is using the divisions in Moldovan society and the rise in prices of energy resources.
  • Moldova lacks financial capacity and a reliable status in markets for borrowing, which hinders the development of the energy infrastructure needed to separate itself from Russia. The situation would be improved by membership in the EU, but until then it is critical to cooperate with neighbours in developing joint energy projects.
  • It is equally important that Moldova continues on the path of making its energy sector more transparent. Russia’s influence in the country through Gazprom-owned energy companies is significant. Transparency-enhancing measures must be a priority for Moldova, and this would also be supported by the EU.
  • Georgia is not dependent on Russia in terms of energy, as the lion’s share of the electricity is generated by its domestic hydroelectric power plants. Most of the natural gas is imported from Azerbaijan, while the imports of oil products are diversified.
  • Even with little dependence, Georgia does not take steps to separate itself from Russia in terms of energy due to the favourable attitude of the country’s government towards Russia. That is why Georgia has not joined the sanctions against the Russian energy sector. The EU must put pressure on Georgia to make the country realize that it should support the sanctions against the Kremlin in order to become a member of the Community and urge Georgia not to develop new energy infrastructure with Russia.

2022 was a year of critical changes in the energy sector in Europe. Europe has long relied on Russian energy resources. This was often based on the convenience that the interdependence that was to emerge from intensive trade would allow Russia to become a player abiding by international rules. This belief collapsed when the West began to impose sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions, in one way or another, affect almost the entire Russian energy sector, from oil and natural gas to nuclear power. This collapse of the standard trade pattern forced Europe to look for alternative ways of importing energy resources: for example, to source liquefied natural gas (LNG) and oil from the United States, thus shifting away from its dependence on Gazprom and Russian oil imports. Russia was also forced to look for alternative export routes for its resources, with India and China becoming significant buyers of oil and China and Turkey buying considerable amounts of gas. Undoubtedly, changes in supply routes are an economically difficult process for both sides. In Europe, this manifested itself in rapidly rising gas and electricity prices (with a less remarkable rise in the prices of oil and petroleum products, as these resources are easier to replace on the global market). In Russia, the production volumes of the resources decreased first, and when the export markets contracted and resource prices dropped significantly, the income from them also began to decrease.

These events undoubtedly affected the countries which are not members of the EU or NATO but are seeking connections with the West and participate in the Eastern Partnership programme. Undoubtedly, Ukraine, which is experiencing Russian aggression, felt the biggest impact, but the issues of energy dependence on Russia are also felt in Moldova and Georgia. This publication will not cover the other two Eastern Partnership countries – Armenia and Azerbaijan. These two states stand out for their geopolitical specifics and the progress of integration with the West. For example, out of the Eastern Partnership countries, applications to join the EU were submitted only by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, and the latter state is the only one which was not granted the status of an official candidate.

Although Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia differ significantly by their economic and political situations, they also have many common features: during the period of their independence, all the three countries experienced Russian aggression and energy pressure in one form or another, especially in the supply of natural gas. The evaluation of the development of the energy sector in each of these countries or its direction reveals the differences between them.

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Saulius Rimutis graduated from Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU IIRPS) with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 2021 and from VU IIRPS with a Master’s degree in International Relations and Diplomacy in 2023. Saulius has experience in the energy sector working for the National Energy Regulatory Council. He is currently pursuing his career in a state-owned energy company as a strategic planning analyst. His main areas of interest are national security, energy and warfare.