WASHINGTON, DC – In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the central European nations of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic yesterday sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) urging action to export more American natural gas to counter Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Energy security is not only a day-to-day issue for millions of citizens in our region, but it is one of the most important security challenges that America’s allies face in Central and Eastern Europe today,” ambassadors from the four nations wrote.

Speaker Boehner has long called for utilizing America’s vast natural resources to loosen Russia’s grip on America’s allies in Europe. He wrote this week in the Wall Street Journal, “The U.S. has abundant supplies of natural gas, but in stark contrast to Russia, the amount of natural gas we produce and export barely scratches the surface of its potential. That's attributable in large part to the U.S. Department of Energy, which maintains an approval process that is excruciatingly slow and amounts to a de facto ban on American natural-gas exports—a situation that Mr. Putin has happily exploited to finance his geopolitical goals.”

In response to the letter, Speaker Boehner issued the following statement: "I hope President Obama will heed this call from our allies to use his 'pen and phone' to direct the Secretary of Energy to immediately approve pending natural gas export requests and do everything possible to use American energy to reduce the dependency on Russia for our friends in Europe and around the globe."

The text of the letter from the Visegrad countries can be found below. A copy was also sent to Senate Majority Leader Reid. 

March 7, 2014

The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker

United States House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Speaker Boehner,

As events in Ukraine bring back the memories of the Cold War from which all of our countries suffered terribly, we are writing to highlight the overall importance of U.S. engagement in Central and Eastern Europe, and more specifically in the area of energy security and reliable supply of natural gas.

On March 4, the Prime Ministers of the Visegrad countries reiterated their strong interest iii maintaining the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine and called on Russia to respect its international commitments and legal obligations, including the Budapest Memorandum.

Despite significant diversification efforts, our dependence on natural gas imports from a single supplier is still anywhere between 70-100% in the region and the gas crises of 2006 and 2009 have shown that the region is more vulnerable to energy security risks than most of the European countries. It is not hard to see that energy security remains to be a critical aspect of the region’s geostrategic stability and independence.

With recent infrastructural investments in Central and Eastern Europe, it became possible to build “reverse gas flows”, which have allowed sending gas from Poland and Hungary to Ukraine at a cheaper price than what Ukrainians had to pay. As a result, in 2013 alone, Ukraine imported almost 2 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Poland and Hungary. Reverse flow capabilities could be further enlarged and a potential Slovak-Ukrainian direction could be added. As we know, after two months of decreased gas price, on March 4 Russia again unilaterally increased the price of gas supplied to Ukraine. Earlier today, the European Union Heads of State and Government confirmed that the EU stands ready to assist Ukraine in securing its energy supply.

Gas-to-gas competition in our region is a vital aspect of national security and a key U.S. interest in the region. It is for this reason that we now ask for your support. With the current shale gas revolution in the United States, American companies are seeking to export gas, including to Europe. But the existing bureaucratic hurdles for the approval of the export licenses to non-FTA countries like the Visegrad countries are a major hurdle. As a recent report of the House Energy and Commerce Committee highlighted, the US now has a window of opportunity to act.

The presence of US natural gas would be much welcome in Central and Eastern Europe, and Congressional action to expedite LNG exports to America’s allies would come at a critically important time for the region. Energy security is not only a day-to-day issue for millions of citizens in our region, but it is one of the most important security challenges that America’s allies face in Central and Eastern Europe today. Furthermore US export of LNG would not only meet the energy security challenge of the Visegrad countries but that of the wider region as well.

Yours sincerely,

György Szapáry
Ambassador of Hungary, Chair of the Visegrád Group

Ryszard Schnepf
Ambassador of the Republic of Poland

Petr Gandalovic
Ambassador of the Czech Republic

Peter Kmec
Ambassador of the Slovak Republic