Ambassadors from Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic sent a letter to House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and asked the U.S. to increase natural gas exports to Europe. Russia’s state-owned energy company, Gazprom, threatened to cut off gas to Ukraine because of their $1.89 billion debt.
The letter from the four nations, known as the Visegrad Group, asks for Congress to support speedier approval of natural gas exports. It notes that the “presence of US natural gas would be much welcome in Central and Eastern Europe.”
The ambassadors say the unrest in Ukraine has revived Cold War memories, and energy security threatens the region’s residents daily.
“Gas-to-gas competition in our region is a vital aspect of national security and a key US interest in the region,” the ambassadors wrote in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
In 2006 and 2009, Gazprom shut off gas to Europe over a dispute in prices. While they claim this recent threat is the result of unpaid debts, it could be to punish Ukraine’s new government, which overthrew Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych on February 22.
According to the International Energy Agency, in 2007 these countries relied heavily on Russia for gas imports. They did fix the pipelines, which would flow gas to Ukraine if Gazprom shuts it off, but it would leave their level down. There is a natural gas boom in the U.S., but the Energy Department has only approved six export licenses.
Boehner addressed this issue in a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal:
Russia has been playing a much more intricate game than the United States in recent years. The resulting imbalance has created a growing threat to global stability, as evidenced last week by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine. The ability to turn the tables and put the Russian leader in check lies right beneath our feet, in the form of vast supplies of natural energy.
America not only has a right to develop and market its natural resources. In the face of rising danger, it has an obligation to do so.
In 1981, the CIA told President Reagan the U.S. needed to warn Europe not to build a pipeline from then-Soviet Russia and rely on it for their energy. The CIA’s main concern was that Russia would hold Europe hostage.