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LOOKING AHEAD
24.01.2009

January 19, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexander Sobko

EUROPE SURVIVED THROUGH UKRAINIAN SHOCK

Small countries of Central and South-Eastern Europe won't soon forget about Kiev government making them hostages of "gas war"

Vladimir Putin and Yulia Timoshenko have made a deal about the price of Russian gas for Ukraine during the gas summit, so we have reasons to suppose that the gas war between Moscow and Kiev has ended for now. And if it's that way, we can try to make some conclusions. How will the policy of European countries toward Russia and Ukraine change?

To all appearances, one of the main aims of the gas crisis, which was inspired by Victor Yushchenko with the allowance of the US government, was the creation of additional source of awareness in the relationships between the Russian Federation and the EU. As Yushchenko's curators from Washington think, Europeans had to get filled with hatred to Russians, who allegedly were guilty in preventing heating in the very middle of the winter. Russia was ready to freeze dozens of thousands Europeans to reach its geopolitical aims – that's what the US mass media affirms trying to depict Ukrainian government in favorable light.

In addition there are many reasons to suppose that these provocations were planned also in Europe itself. Stage (!) photographs from Serbia, where two men burned Russian flag, have already appeared in the Internet. And even though some politically committed media were too fast to make doubtful generalizations ("Europeans, freezing with no gas, burn Russian flags"), neither the USA, nor Ukraine lived to see any protest actions against Russia.

Also a really important fact is that many European politicians stood on Russia's side in the conflict. "I can understand Gazprom's reasons" – Silvio Berlusconi said. "Ukraine mustn't take Europeans hostages. The trust in Ukraine is staked", – Nicolas Sarkozy said in his turn.

On the other hand, Angela Merkel and Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, acted in absolutely vague way. The reasons of such a behavior are quite clear: many countries of Central Europe could function successfully while the gas crisis took place. Storehouses for gas plus gas supply through Belarus and the usage of alternative energy resources allowed European bureaucrats from Brussels to take a wait-and-see position, preferring to stay in warm chairs and get definite political dividends.

In contrast to them, governments of many countries of South-Eastern Europe, and of Balkan Peninsula in the first place, didn't stint their sharp criticism of Ukrainian government. This countries suffered from the locking of Ukrainian gas pipe valve most of all.

Boris Tadic, the President of Serbia, announced he didn't exclude the possibility of legal actions against Ukraine, which stopped the transit of Russian gas one-sidedly.

Dusan Caplovic, Slovakian Vice-Prime Minister for European Integration, was even more categorical: "In spite of the 'gas crisis' Russia stays a trustworthy partner for Slovakia". His position is also approved by Robert Fico, the Prime Minister of Slovakia: "Ukraine is losing the trust of European partners because of its behavior".

It's easy to understand the indignation of Slovak government. Gazprom had few times offered Naftogaz to realize exchange dealing: to pump gas into Ukrainian storehouses near the border with Russia in exchange for the same volume of gas for Slovakia on the border between Slovakia and Ukraine. And every time Gazprom was refused and given the explanation of some "technical" difficulties.

Serbia and Slovakia used to have constructive relationships with Russia, which can't be said about Romania. Nevertheless Romanian side preferred naming the one responsible for the gas crisis clearly. During the phone conversation with Vladimir Putin Trajan Basescu, the President of Romania, mentioned he shared Russia's position about the responsibility of Ukraine for the gas transit to Europe.

But what did Ukraine get as the result? Firstly, a considerable worsening in the relationships with its western neighbors. If before only Germany and France expressed negative attitude to Ukraine joining NATO, then now few countries of so-called New Europe which used to agree to American attitude but suffered much from the gas crisis will share this point. Bucharest had complicated relationships with Kiev before (the border argument about Zmeinyi Island, Rumanian claims for Ukrainian part of Bukovina), and now the memory about cold January of 2009 will obviously worsen it. Hardly will Ukrainian relationships with Bulgaria stay on the same level, after gas blockade led to anti-governmental disorders in the country.

It's obvious that Ukraine may forget about strengthening its transit status and perspectives of building new pipeline systems on the territory of the country (like, for example, White Stream, which was offered by Yulia Timoshenko).

Even though the gas crisis activated the conversations about the building of Nabucco among European politicians, we'll take a risk to suppose that in future the energy partnership between the Russian Federation and the EU will only get better.

The discussions of Nabucco really do not cease, but while there's simply no gas to fill those pipelines. We'll remind that there are two variants of this pipeline branch avoiding Russia. First variant is the very Nabucco, which brings Central Asian gas. But while Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan sell their gas to Russia on European prices, the project itself stays only on the discussions phase. And the main point is that Ukrainian lesson must be enough for Europeans to understand how risky the dependence of gas pipeline from politically unstable countries is. The second variant (Nabucco with Iranian gas) is connected with even higher political risks.

Still unpredictable actions from Ukraine may repeat again and again. Of course the counties, which suffered from that, plan to build gas storehouses to use them in emergency cases. But nevertheless it's obviously not the salvation of the problem. The actions of Ukraine will only make Europeans realize South Stream project faster. Moscow and Sofia couldn't make a deal about the right of ownership of the gas pipeline on Bulgarian territory, which was the reason for the discussion of building a new pipe on the territory of Romania. But the results of parliamentary elections, which took place in Romania on November 2008, has made this variant improbable. Russia had difficulties with signing contracts on building pipelines with some other Europeans countries. But after Ukrainian demarche the number of states willing to become transit-countries of South Stream will increase, as many would like to secure themselves from tricks of their neighbor countries.


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