The Energy Sector reemerged as a theater of intense political antagonisms in the early 2000s. Since then, Putin’s Russia has revived its economy and regained national self-confidence by using energy resources as a cornerstone of its national power.[1] For many scholars, after the demise of the USSR, Russia’s energy sector has become the catalyst for the country to inaugurate a new era of kingpin global actorness.[2]

In strict economic terms, “hydrocarbons play a large role in the Russian economy, as revenue from oil and natural gas production and exports accounts for more than half of Russia’s federal budget revenue”.[3] This dependence seems to be analogous to Putin’s domestic strength as well.[4] Being in power for almost two decades, Putin’s leadership and his personal views about Russia’s place in world politics, has determined nation’s course.[5]

Scarcely surprising, the energy sector turns out to have become Russia’s “muscles” in the 21st century. It is because of these muscles that today’s Russia feels more confident to take action in the international field. Oil and gas pipelines, potential new resource fields, uninterrupted and seamless access to markets, profitability, production control are no longer just part of national infrastructure or mere factors of economic policy and management. They have been evolved into indispensable elements of Russia’s national interest and power.

Putin has built the Russian national power on three basic pillars: a strong and compelling leadership, availability of natural resources and energy exports. This pattern is, the same time, the main lens through which Russia gauges developments in international system. By this assumption should anyone, or any element of the international system, attempt to meditate on Putin’s Russia.

The aforementioned composition of Russia’s national power, was logically projected to the International System, affecting relations, actions and decisions. And this was a conscious choice by the country’s side, trying not only to reestablish itself as a strong actor in the system, but also to claim and regain a high place in it, in terms of power, influence and respect from the others.

A series of conflicts like the Russo-Georgian War in 2008,[6] the 2006 and 2009 Russia–Ukraine gas dispute,[7] the annexation of Crimea in 2014,[8] are undoubtedly connected to the larger view of Putin’s Russia aspiration to emerge as an “energy superpower”,[9] resuscitating by this way its status as a great (or super) power in the international system in political terms.

After many decades of efforts to keep this reality under diplomatic and political realm, the strongest pole of the system, USA, seem to change course.[10] The late Obama’s Administration with the ending of the 40-year ban on U.S. crude oil exports,[11] and the new President Trump’s declaration about “energy dominance”,[12] signify this change. The technology of hydraulic fracturing led USA to the shale oil and gas revolution,[13] topping the country as an oil producer in April 2014.[14] The technological achievement denotes many more implications than a simple economic, scientific or market fact. It becomes a decisive component of US national power.

If we consider that Energy is a factor that can operate in its absence too and provoke events, in terms of large importing countries like China, then we can see China’s recent efforts to support solar energy and its plans to invest $367 billion in renewable energy, as an also clear actorness move in the Energy Field.[15] It is more than obvious that the “big guys”, the Titans are taking positions on the international chessboard, balancing and/or competing on the Energy Field. This issue is not dryly economic, industrial or technological. It is deeply political and happening under terms of power in the International System. Political theory should address this subject as a transformation of the global power politics agenda in its entirety.


[1] H Balzer, ‘The Putin Thesis and Russian Energy Policy’, in Post-Soviet Affairs, vol. 21, 2005, 210–225.
[2] D Trenin, ‘Russia Redefines Itself and Its Relations with the West’, in The Washington Quarterly, vol. 30, 2007, 95–105.
[3] EIA, ‘Russia is world’s largest producer of crude oil and lease condensate – Today in Energy – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)’, 2015.
Accessed 28 November 2017.
[4] JED Kissi Dawn, ‘Russia’s economic reform remains elusive as oil stays weak’, 2017.
Accessed 28 November 2017.
[5] P Engel, ‘How Vladimir Putin became one of the most feared leaders in the world’, in, 2017.
Accessed 28 November 2017.
[6] SE Cornell, ‘Pipeline Power: The War in Georgia and the Future of the Caucasian Energy Corridor’, in Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, vol. 10, 2009, 131–139.
[7] M Bilgin, ‘Geopolitics of European natural gas demand: Supplies from Russia, Caspian and the Middle East’, in Energy Policy, vol. 37, 2009, 4482–4492.
[8] J Biersack & S O’Lear, ‘The geopolitics of Russia’s annexation of Crimea: narratives, identity, silences, and energy’, in Eurasian Geography and Economics, vol. 55, 2014, 247–269.
[9] P Rutland, ‘Russia as an Energy Superpower’, in New Political Economy, vol. 13, 2008, 203–210.
[10] CJ Cleveland & RK Kaufmann, ‘Oil supply and oil politics: Déjà Vu all over again’, in Energy Policy, vol. 31, 2003, 485–489.
[11] E Humiston, ‘Obama’s Surprise Economic Legacy: Energy Exports > IPI Issues > Institute for Policy Innovation’, in, 2016.
Accessed 29 November 2017.
[12] T DiChristopher, ‘Trump wants America to be “energy dominant.” Here’s what that means’, in, 2017.
Accessed 29 November 2017.
[13] J Mauldin, ‘Shale Oil: Another Layer of US Power’, in, 2017.
Accessed 29 November 2017.
[14] EIA, ‘U.S. oil production growth in 2014 was largest in more than 100 years – Today in Energy – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)’, in, 2015.
Accessed 29 November 2017.
[15] SP and M Rivers, ‘China is crushing the U.S. in renewable energy’, in CNNMoney, 2017.
Accessed 29 November 2017.

Vasileios Balafas

PhD Canidate
Department of Political Science and International Relations
University of Peloponnese Assistant Research Fellow

Centre of International and European Political Economy & Governance – CIEPEG UoP

First Published at “In Depth Volume 14, Issue 6, December 2017″