- - Thursday, May 1, 2014

President Obama has announced sanctions against a handful of Russian officials and companies, but these efforts are not enough. The Russian expansionist virus that has already consumed Crimea is spreading fast into eastern Ukraine. Adjacent and nearby states such as the Baltics, Moldova, Finland, Poland, Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic worry that they might become the next targets. Much of Western Europe fears that the disease may indirectly scar them, and that there is no immediate antidote.

What do we know about Russian expansionism’s corrupting influence? It strikes vulnerable countries and regions of the world, as it did in Georgia in 2008. It instigates unrest in areas where resistance has broken down. It infects its targets with a sophisticated cyberwarfare capability that reaches globally and crosses borders effortlessly often without a trace. It unleashes secretive special forces in its targeted countries like it has already done in Ukraine.

Most importantly, it attacks those that have become dependent upon the former Soviet Union for energy.

Energy produced in — or delivered through — Russia is the source of dependency for many regional customers, which import nearly 100 percent of their natural gas from their former occupier. Western European countries such as Germany, Greece, Italy and Austria are less dependent, but Russian resources remain a large part of their energy lifeline.


The former mother country strategically fostered dependency over the years by restricting the ability of our allies to develop indigenous capabilities and alternative sources of supply. Russia has expanded this dependency to other parts of a susceptible Western Europe, which believed that a reset had taken place before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s return to power. The outbreak of the virus proves that no reset ever occurred.

Dependency creates real vulnerabilities and limits development of any truly effective and immediate solutions that could combat such an insidious adversary.

How should we respond?

In the short term, NATO and the United States can move more troops to endangered states such as Lithuania and conduct aggressive military exercises in other largely neglected countries. Sanctions that would make an impact should be considered, such as delisting Russia’s major energy companies on U.S. stock exchanges. There must be greater cybersecurity and intelligence collaboration between the United States and its allies to choke off infiltration of the intelligence infrastructure. While these solutions carry risk, they are a necessary medicine to quarantine and isolate the threat.

A calculated long-term vision must also be embraced if we are to support the free-market democracies that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union. These countries have become our friends despite — and in some cases, because of — their proximity to our mutual antagonist. Some are members of NATO and the European Union. Others aspire to such status and were on the path to achieving it until Russia thwarted their progress.

They all require lasting immunities. Measures such as Poland connecting to a Czech pipeline in 2011 to provide it with German fuel need to be further implemented. As the United States, Canada and Mexico continue to emerge as world leaders in production, a strategy that taps into these resources to assist our allies in Europe must be embraced. We can also better support countries dependent upon Russia by exporting our own abundance of natural gas.

Developing natural gas, coal, oil, nuclear and renewables in North America means that we will never be blackmailed again. It took the United States decades to become serious about confronting our dependence upon oil from the Middle East. Europe now faces a similar challenge in breaking free from Russia’s grip, but it lacks the same depth of natural resources. European leaders are wary of confronting Mr. Putin directly, but the United States has the leverage to help Europe better inoculate itself through diversification.

Independence is the best tool to advance market economies and democracy in the face of resurgent expansionism. It will also continue to unleash economic growth so desperately needed in the United States, as well as in Western and Eastern Europe.

Memories of the Cold War are resurfacing, and we must keep in mind that the most effective means of breaking dependence upon a totalitarian regime is through free markets, opportunity and representative governments. We must support our friends across the Atlantic in developing their own independent energy sectors as a large part of a permanent solution to preventing the Russian virus from spreading further.

J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, is the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Pete Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, is the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the Shillman senior fellow with the Investigative Project on Terrorism.