Oil, Gas and Pipelines: New Perspectives on the Role of Soviet Energy during the Cold War

International Conference, January 14-16, 2015


Prof. Dr. Jeronim Perović
M.A. Dunja Krempin
M.A. Felix Rehschuh

The aim of this conference is to analyze the role of Soviet energy, in particular oil and natural gas, during the Cold War. The conference considers energy beyond its mere economic function as an element of politics and power in three key areas: domestic, regional and international. The Soviet Union needed to produce energy in ever larger quantities to fuel industrialization and modernization, but also to sustain its great power ambitions. The Soviet oil and gas campaigns from Stalin to Brezhnev were means to support the needs of the country’s military as well as its energy-intensive economy. However, energy also served as an important tool in Moscow’s project to integrate the Soviet controlled areas of Eastern Europe into a single “energy space” via the building of an extensive pipeline network. With regard to the capitalist states of the West, the primary function of Soviet energy export was to gain access to Western technology and hard currency. Especially in the cases of smaller European countries (like Finland) or certain states of the Third World, energy exports also served as means to expand Soviet political influence. While the growing share of “red” oil and gas in European energy consumption was viewed with suspicion in the West during the 1950s and 1960s, Moscow too had reservations about the prospect of the Soviet Union becoming increasingly dependent on foreigners for inputs and markets. During the period of détente in the 1970s, however, trade in energy was to become the main driver of Soviet-West European economic cooperation, eventually evolving into the kind of East-West energy interdependence that determines relations between Russia and Europe to this day.

Energy dimensions of the Cold War in general, and the role of Soviet oil and gas in particular, are still largely under-researched. While Western studies on the Cold War tend to leave oil and gas out of the picture, the few publications on the history of oil and gas do not generally interlace their analyzes with the history of the Cold War. There is still very little research based on newly available Soviet archival material on issues such as Soviet strategic thinking with regard to the development of its oil and gas sector, the establishment of energy relations within the Soviet controlled Eastern European “bloc”, or the various meanings that Soviet leaders attached to energy as a factor in relations to Western Europe, the US, and the countries of the Third World. By bringing together historians and specialists from the United States, Canada, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Sweden, Finland, the UK, and Switzerland, this conference represents a pioneering endeavor to approach these questions in a comprehensive manner and put them into transnational perspective.

A public roundtable will discuss the Soviet energy legacy in context of current conflicts in Eastern Europe, focusing in particular on the Ukrainian crisis - Friday, 16 January 2015, 18:15-19:30 at the auditorium KO2-F-150. Details