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Reviewed by:
  • Red Gas: Russia and the Origins of European Energy Dependence by Per Högselius
  • Vincent Lagendijk (bio)
Red Gas: Russia and the Origins of European Energy Dependence. By Per Högselius. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Pp. xiv+280. $30.

In western Europe, many people are aware of Russian gas. Its main “brand”—Gazprom—adorns the soccer jerseys of teams in Russia, Germany, and Serbia and supports clubs in England and the Netherlands, as well as the European UEFA Champions League. Most are also aware how the European Union worries about its dependence on Russian gas, especially after recent and recurring Russia–Ukraine gas disruptions. These are, however, rather recent developments; less well-known is that, as early as the late 1960s, increasing numbers of consumers in Europe used Russian gas for heating their houses and cooking their food.

Per Högselius asks why and how western Europe became dependent on “red” gas from the Soviet Union during the cold war. Quite rightly, the author stresses that this gas trade goes against the grain of the more traditional view of the cold war, with its clear-cut division between socialism and capitalism. Högselius truly is the only person who could answer this question; not only does he have intimate and extensive experience with the history of transnational (energy) infrastructures in Europe, his linguistic skill-set allows him to combine English, German, Scandinavian, Ukrainian, and Russian sources.

Given the author’s unique strengths, as one might expect, one of the book’s great virtues is its broad and extensive empirical basis. Högselius uses archival materials from both sides of the Iron Curtain, presenting indepth Soviet, Austrian, German, and Ukrainian perspectives on the evolving east–west gas trade. He exposes the reader to a sometimes dazzling multitude of places, people, and events—from the Siberian plains to the North Sea.

Good sources alone do not make a good book, however; they must be framed and interpreted. Högselius succeeds here as well, choosing a transnational historical angle to structure and organize his data, flavored with a large technical system approach. The transnational aspect is well-chosen; the author focuses clearly on transborder flows and draws on many actors other than nation-state representatives by involving the interests of companies (gas and equipment suppliers) and regional actors (Bundesländer in the Federal Republic of Germany and Austria), as well as the different ministries/departments of the countries involved.

Through these actors, Högselius describes how both the Soviets and western Europeans took a cautious approach toward east–west gas trading. When the Soviets extended their gas system to Czechoslovakia in 1964, western Europe was geographically within reach; politically, however, such extension was more difficult. Not just between the countries involved, but [End Page 994] also within both the Soviet Union and western European countries, the pros and cons were weighed. When the Soviets did decide to export gas, Austria cautiously pioneered as an importer in 1968. This trickle turned into a torrent in subsequent years, supported by an approach of “economic rapprochement” from the Federal Republic of Germany and increased pipe capacity. Combined with the integration of European gas networks and problems with oil and nuclear energy in the 1970s and ’80s, gas imports from the Soviet Union rose to new heights. Högselius skillfully shows how vulnerability issues were addressed early on and how the Soviets also became dependent on the resultant flow of hard currency.

Red Gas comes with much praise from respected authors, which seems to leave little space for criticism. I nevertheless want to make two more critical remarks, one on the use of secondary material and another on the presentation of evidence. First, while the list of archives used is extensive, the list of secondary material is brief. As a consequence, and probably reflecting a conscious choice of the author, there is little historiographical depth regarding factors influencing the coming about of east–west gas trading. The CoCom boycott, the developments in 1968, and the overall energy situation in Europe—just to name a few—receive little attention.

In addition, Högselius seems to attribute as much importance to articles in gas industry–related...


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