Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine has never looked more likely.
In events that eerily resemble the prelude to Russia's annexation of Crimea, pro-Russian demonstrators have overtaken government buildings in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Donetsk, proclaiming a "people's republic" in Donetsk and snagging weapons and possibly hostages in Luhansk (Ukrainian police have regained control in Kharkiv). Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine's acting president, has blamed Moscow-organized instigators for the unrest, as fears mount in the West that Russia, whose troops are massed along Ukraine's eastern border, could seize Ukraine's industrial heartland next.
If that happens, Russian President Vladimir Putin would acquire various forms of leverage over the young, weak, and pro-Western Ukrainian government—including an often-overlooked one: Ukraine would have little hope of achieving energy independence from Russia.
Energy politics and Ukrainian politics are often the same thing. Around 40 percent of the energy Ukraine consumes comes from natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Three-fifths of the 50 billion cubic meters of natural gas Ukraine uses each year is imported from Russia, with the rest domestically produced. This gives Russia a significant bargaining chip in its relations with Kiev—one that Moscow isn't afraid to use. Gazprom, a Russian energy conglomerate with close ties to the Kremlin, raised gas prices for Ukraine by 81 percent earlier this month, prompting Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, to accuse Russia of "economic aggression."