|WASHINGTON - The Cold War competition between the United States and Russia — played out in Europe with the threat of mutual nuclear destruction — ended with the collapse of the Soviet empire nearly two decades ago.
The Russians now supply about 25 percent of the European Union's crude oil needs and half of its natural gas.
And Moscow, with its recent attack on its former Georgian republic, may be trying to blunt the West's counteroffensive in the deadly serious energy competition. A key, U.S.-backed pipeline that carries oil out of Caspian and Central Asian fields to a Turkish port on the Mediterranean was nearly hit in recent attacks.
The stakes are high for the Europeans.
Some U.S. lawmakers worry about divisions within NATO due to Russia's domination of European gas markets and the threat of cold, dark winters if an angry Kremlin closes the valves.
"It is unlikely that aggression against our NATO allies will occur with aircraft and tanks and troops," said Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in an Associated Press interview. "A nation could achieve the same and worse effects simply by turning off the taps_ people freeze, industry stops."
To counter this influence, the U.S. sent special envoy C. Boyden Gray to energy-rich Central Asia to lobby for new routes that run through Georgia — notably the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline that was almost hit by a Russian bombing raid Monday.