David R. Marples: The Russian Federation has linked energy supplies both to political loyalty and to dividing Europe

David R. Marples: The Russian Federation has linked energy supplies both to political loyalty and to dividing Europe


Exclusive interview of David R. Marples is Distinguished University Professor, Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta, Canada


How can Brexit affect Canada’s relations with the EU?

- I don't think Brexit will have much impact on our relations with the EU. The vast majority of Canadian trade, both imports and exports, is with the United States (over 75%). Britain is also a major partner, along with China. The EU countries have relatively low levels of trade with Canada. I think it's unlikely that Britain could divert exports formerly sent to the EU to Canada to any significant degree. Politically, Canada has close ties both to the UK and the EU and all are members of the NATO alliance. Thus, overall, I don't think Brexit will have much impact here.


What do you think about the activity of China in Canada?

At present, we have a small rift with China over the arrest of the director of the Huawei company, Meng Wanzhou, in January at the request of the United States. She has been placed under house arrest in Vancouver and may be extradited to the United States in the near future.. Several Canadians have been detained in China though not all are linked to the arrest. We have growing relations with China and a significant migrant population from that country in Ontario and British Columbia. Vancouver in particular is a popular destination thanks to the influx prior to the return of Hong Kong from the UK to China in 1997. Many Chinese students study at Canadian universities. My own university has about 8,000 Chinese students out of a total student population of around 40,000. There have been some allegations that the Chinese government is using some of these students for political purposes--some have taken political stances on questions such as Tibet or Falun Gong. But I think there is a clear distinction to be made between the authoritarian Chinese government and the Chinese student population that is seeking a better education. I am a strong believer that the influence of Canada on visiting Chinese is as powerful as any government efforts by China to sway public opinion in Canada.


How big is the interest of Ottawa in the region of Central Asia?

-Canada does not have a major interest currently in Central Asia. Still, it has growing commercial links with Kazakhstan, which is regarded as a priority emerging market. Kazakhstan and Canada have similar natural resources: Kazakhstan has overtaken us as the world's prime producer of uranium, and we are both oil-rich countries. Canada is also assisting with the development of agriculture in that country, focusing on dairy production and agricultural machinery. We have close links with the University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan. Otherwise, our interest is small compared to the ties with, for example, Ukraine. 



How do You see the future of NATO?

-This is a difficult question. The expansion of NATO after 1999 is a controversial issue and the question about future membership of countries such as Georgia and Ukraine is widely debated. I believe at present, from the Canadian perspective, there is little interest in further expansion of NATO to include either of these countries, not so much because of Russian reaction, but because they have territorial disputes and are unstable, both politically and economically. The other big issue is the attitude to NATO of US president Donald J. Trump. His demand for higher payments from countries like Germany seems to me quite reasonable. His habit of befriending dictators such as Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, suggests that he is not paying much attention to the solidity of the NATO alliance at a time when Russia is acting more aggressively and a unified approach is required. We have excellent relations overall with the United States, but the respective leaders (Trump and Justin Trudeau) have significant differences in a number of areas. I think in the long term the United States will remain loyal to the alliance it has led since 1949. Moreover, NATO's problems are exaggerated by social media. It remains the most powerful military entity worldwide.


What is the main problem of energy security for the West today?

-In the short term, I think the answer is the supply of non-renewable sources of energy from Russia to Europe and from the Middle East to the West. In the longer term, the need to develop more sustainable energy resources and alternatives to oil and gas is likely to be key. The Russian Federation has linked energy supplies both to political loyalty and to dividing Europe: witness the wide variations of prices of Russian oil and gas depending on the partner--in the recent past Ukraine and Georgia paid 2-3 times more per barrel than did Belarus. In Belarus currently, Russia has ended the provision of cheap energy supplies pending a more clearly defined structure of the Russia-Belarus Union. To some extent, the problem had been anticipated, and over-reliance on Russian gas was cited as a factor in the construction of the nuclear power station at Astraviec (albeit using Russian materials and based on a Russian loan). But even when operational, the nuclear power plant will not alleviate the need for Russian oil and gas. It is part of the same pattern used elsewhere. Despite the authoritarian nature of the Putin leadership in Moscow, I do not see this behaviour as permanent. Russia has need for increased trade with the European Union, and its trade with Ukraine remains important. The Middle East's supplies of oil to the United States have been a critical factor in the past, but I see them as less so now, as USA is no longer dependent on oil imports from that part of the world.The only country of importance today for USA as far as oil imports are concerned is Saudi Arabia, but it imports less than 20% of its oil from the Middle East today. 



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