Thane Gustafson’s account of the building of the Russian-European energy alliance is impressively detailed. The first pipelines between Russia and Europe were laid in the late 1960s, soon after the extent of the gas reserves in Siberia became clear. Soviet planners immediately saw the benefit of pipelines to Europe. Natural gas would be a boon for industrialising the state, but the USSR had more than it could use and lacked the capital necessary to pursue development on its own. Any ideological qualms, on either side, would have to bow to strategic necessity. Gustafson lays out the story of the creation of what is now Gazprom, the Russian state gas company, avoiding easy Russophobia. He has great admiration for the gazoviki who designed the system, especially Aleksei Kortunov, who developed the Siberian gas reserves in the 1960s under the sponsorship of Aleksei Kosygin, a senior Politburo member, and Nikolai Baibakov, chairman of the state planning committee. Kortunov designed the industry that modernised the Soviet Union’s internal energy system and Kosygin opened the breach in the Iron Curtain that allowed Siberian gas to flow to Europe. The first pipeline to Austria opened in 1968, unaffected by the invasion of Czechoslovakia. West Germany supplied the steel.
The Bridge, a richly detailed analysis written with a relaxed, lucid style, justifies that decision. One of Gustafson’s central themes is the way that economics have often trumped politics in the European gas trade. The first deal to import Russian gas through the Iron Curtain was signed by Austria in 1969 after huge reserves were discovered in western Siberia, and between 1970 and 1990 Soviet gas exports to western Europe soared from about 1bn cubic metres a year to about 60bn.