"The EU should review its perception of what Russian outward-looking economic policies stand for," argues Maria Ordzhonikidze, secretary-general of the EU-Russia Centre.
Historically, Russia's gas monopoly has always been in "perpetual conflict with [European] transit countries for its commodities," the author states. However, she laments that the EU seems yet again "to have been unprepared for what was a predictable sequel to an old conflict".
Ordzhonikidze claims the Russian elite "retain a vision of their country as a dominant regional superpower and counter European values with what they call Russian distinctiveness". As a result, Russia finds it "logical to utilise economic advantages as political leverage". The current EU-Russia relationship is "now seen as a softer version of the military face-off of the nineties," she adds.
"The present Russian leaders have both an enthusiasm and a propensity to politicise every issue at their first touch," Ordzhonikidze declares.
The EU thus has to "find a way to deal not with the objective facts of the situation, but with economic pressure used as a political instrument by Moscow when it believes it has the potential to convert trade into political advantage," the analyst argues.
Indeed, "what seems to be commercial wrestling has turned out to be a geopolitical 'Big Game'," she claims.
Furthermore, "Europe could create its own political leverage to protect against Moscow's gas truncheon in the future," Ordzhonikidze argues. "Europe has never talked to Russia with one firm voice," but "if it were to do so it could have a staggering effect," she believes.
The analyst deems Czech President Vaclav Klaus, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, to be "ready for this task," describing him as a "politician who does not shy away from telling what he believes to be politically inconvenient truths". Moreover, "Czech traditions of pragmatism and imperturbable common sense could help design an effective energy policy without excessive hype, arrogance or anti-Russian sentiment," Ordzhonikidze argues.
Nevertheless, "Prague will need help from Europe's larger players" for this to happen, she admits.
"It is time [for the EU] to unite around a policy designed to match Moscow's realpolitik with [its] own if [it is] to succeed in securing Europe's energy needs for the future," the paper concludes.