The Next Theater in the Ukraine Crisis Could be in…Louisiana?

LNG Terminal at Sabine Pass, Wikimedia Commons

By Jacob Goldstein, Columnist

Despite the imposition of joint US and EU sanctions on Russia, Vladimir Putin continues to undermine the sovereignty of the Ukrainian state.[1] Moscow is overtly backing separatists in Ukraine, despite a cease-fire established in February.[2] NATO’s deputy secretary general recently stated that it is clear that “Russian soldiers are fighting and dying in large numbers in eastern Ukraine” in support of pro-Russian rebels.[3] The US has responded by sending 300 military trainers to Ukraine and is considering whether to arm the Ukrainian military.[4] [5] While the deployment of US troops to Ukraine is obviously a significant development, perhaps the tool with the greatest potential to influence the situation is still in the pipeline. A large measure of Russia’s influence over and importance to Europe stems from its vast natural gas reserves. However, the US will begin exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) later this year. The US should encourage LNG exports to European states to reduce their reliance on Russian energy. This development will give European states the ability to oppose Russian actions in Ukraine without being dependent on natural gas flows that could stop at any moment. In addition, exporting US LNG to Europe would shrink the market for Russian gas, depriving Moscow of revenue that it relies on to finance military operations.

Russia possesses significant leverage over European states because it is the main natural gas supplier to the continent. In 2013, Russia supplied Europe with 5.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 30 percent of Europe’s total consumption.[6] Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Sweden import 100 percent of their natural gas from Russia.[7] German chancellor Angela Merkel is one of the key players organizing a European response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but she is hamstrung by Germany’s dependence on Russian energy.[8] Nearly 40 percent of Germany’s natural gas consumption, 8.7 percent of their overall primary energy use, comes from Russia.[9] The EU has likely been hesitant to impose additional sanctions on Russia for similar reasons.[10] An economy focused on energy exports can be a double-edged sword, however, because oil and gas accounts for more than 50 percent of Moscow’s budget revenues.

The state-owned firm Gazprom dominates the natural gas sector in Russia, and Moscow is not shy about using it to advance its geopolitical interests. In 2006, Gazprom halted the flow of natural gas through Ukraine, the main conduit for Russian natural gas into Europe, sparking winter fuel shortages.[11] More recently, Gazprom threatened to do the same to deprive the Ukrainian government of the funds it receives due to the gas traveling through its pipelines.[12] The most striking example of Russia’s use of its energy resources as a tool of national power came in 2010 when it signed the Kharkiv Accords with Ukraine, trading a 30 percent reduction in the price of natural gas supplied to Ukraine in exchange for control of the Black Sea port Sebastopol until 2042.[13]

By the end of 2015, the US will have the ability to reshape the balance of energy power in Europe because it will be able to export LNG globally. LNG is a super-cooled liquid form of natural gas that is easily transported in specialized tanker ships.[14] The first US LNG export facility, Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass terminal on the coast of Louisiana, is set to come online this year.[15] The Sabine Pass terminal will have the capacity to process two billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.[16] While this project alone will not eliminate Europe’s need for Russian gas completely, the project will help establish the US as a major energy supplier. According to the Energy Information Agency’s projections, US natural gas net exports will increase to 5.8 trillion cubic feet by 2040 driven by growth in shale gas production.[17] Not only will the US have the supply to provide to Europe, it will have the capacity to export it, as well. While the Sabine Pass terminal is currently the only LNG export terminal under construction, other energy companies have proposed a number of similar projects. In fact, if the Department of Energy approved all of the US LNG export terminals that it is considering for approval, the US would be the largest LNG exporter in the world.[18]

Europe currently has 20 LNG regasification terminals with enough combined capacity to meet around a third of annual demand.[19] The US has previously tried to reduce European reliance on Russian natural gas by promoting a so-called “Southern Strategy” involving gas pipelines through the Caspian region.[20] However, Europe’s continued reliance on Russian natural gas indicates this policy has not significantly improved European energy security. LNG gives the US government the ability to provide energy to its European allies, while at the same time influencing Moscow’s finances more directly than sanctions. With its economy in serious trouble already, a move to reduce Russia’s control over a key export market will put additional pressure on the leadership to withdraw from Ukraine.[21] Therefore, the US should take actions to promote the development of LNG capacity, including approving the proposed export projects and subsidizing LNG that is exported to Europe.

These policies could substantially affect both Russia’s willingness to continue its revanchism in Ukraine and increase European states’ ability to oppose Putin by making them less reliant on Russian energy. US LNG will not solve the problem overnight. Europe will still rely to some degree on Russian energy no matter what actions the US takes, and it will need to increase its LNG import capacity. Nevertheless, the US should take advantage of opportunity to benefit itself, strengthen the energy security of its European allies, and put pressure on the Russian government all in one fell swoop.


 Jacob is an M.A. candidate in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University concentrating in international security. His areas of interest include energy security, radical Islamism, and regionally, sub-Saharan Africa. His interest in sub-Saharan Africa was spurred by his experience working with a savings and credit cooperative in Uganda. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in public policy and political science.


[1] Laurence Norman, “EU Projects Impact of Sanctions on Russian Economy,” The Wall Street Journal, October 29, 2014,

[2] Neil MacFarquhar, “Ukraine’s Latest Peace Plan Inspires Hope and Doubts,” International New York Times, February 12, 2015,

[3] BBC News, “Russian soldiers ‘dying in large numbers’ in Ukraine- Nato,” March 5, 2015,

[4] Carol J. Williams, “Russia denounces arrival of US military trainers in Ukraine,” Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2015,

[5] Deirdre Walsh, “Boehner, bipartisan lawmakers urge Obama to arm Ukraine,” CNN, March 5, 2015,

[6] US Energy Information Administration, “Today in Energy: 16% of natural gas consumed in Europe flows through Ukraine,” March 14, 2014,

[7] Michael Ratner, et al., “Europe’s Energy Security: Options and Challenges to Natural Gas Supply Diversification,” Congressional Research Service, August 20, 2013,, p. 10.

[8] Al Jazeera, “Merkel and Hollande discuss Ukraine crisis with Putin,” February 7, 2015,

[9] Michael Ratner, et al., “Europe’s Energy Security: Options and Challenges to Natural Gas Supply Diversification,” Congressional Research Service, August 20, 2013,, p. 10.

[10] Deutsche Welle, “EU not in a hurry to introduce further sanctions against Russia,” March 6, 2015,

[11] Elena Mazneva, “Russia Meets Ukraine in Brussels as Threat of Gas Cut-Off Looms,” Bloomberg Business, March 2, 2015,

[12] Ibid.

[13] Nathaniel Copsey and Natalia Shapovalova, “The Kharkiv Accords between Ukraine and Russia: Implications for EU-Ukraine relations,” Wider Europe,,%202010.pdf.

[14] University of Houston Law Center Institute for Energy, Law & Enterprise, “LNG Frequently Asked Questions,”

[15] Zain Shauk, “US Natural Gas Exports Will Fire Up in 2015,” Bloomberg Business, November 6, 2014,

[16] Cheniere Energy, Inc., “Sabine Pass Liquefaction Project,”

[17] US Energy Information Administration, “Annual Energy Outlook 2014,” April 2014,, MT-24.

[18] Michael Ratner, et al., “Europe’s Energy Security: Options and Challenges to Natural Gas Supply Diversification,” Congressional Research Service, August 20, 2013,, p. 27.

[19] Vera Eckert, “Europe LNG terminal capacity seen ample if Russian gas flows stop,” Reuters, September 30, 2014,

[20] Michael Ratner, et al., “Europe’s Energy Security: Options and Challenges to Natural Gas Supply Diversification,” Congressional Research Service, August 20, 2013,, p. 1.

[21] Natasha Doff, “Russia’s Second Junk Rating Sends Ruble Tumbling as Bonds Slide.” Bloomberg Business, February 23, 2015,

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