Thursday, January 15, 2009

Passing on gas: don't point fingers

Of course, I've been following the news of the Ukraine-Russia-Europe natural gas debacle. It's hard not to when you're living in the middle of it. Friends and family have asked if we're sitting in our homes freezing or if we've started to burn the furniture yet. Neither is the case. The radiators are warm and we can even keep turning on our Christmas tree lights. How long that will last, I don't know but we're living in the moment.

I've been working a post that gives my opinion on the whole mess. But there has been so much written already, that I don't want to regurgitate all of it, and I don't want to write a book. But this morning I read a commentary in The Moscow Times that prompted me to respond. The commentary, written by a French deputy, annoyed me on a number of levels, not all of which I addressed in my response. In general, anyone who tries to point the finger exclusively at one country makes their objectivity suspect in my book. And the fact that this person seemed to touch on practically every aspect of the Kremlin's version of things, makes it even more suspicious to me.

But instead of writing a full analysis, I decided to merely post the commentary and my email response to the editor. Feel free to send your response to them as well. I kept their contact info in the article. I'm told that my response will be printed in the next letters-to-the-editor section.


Kiev Must Pay the Price For Victimizing the EU

15 January 2009

By Thierry Mariani

The crisis between Russia and Ukraine that threatens gas supplies to Europe each year was caused by Ukraine's refusal to pay Russia what it owes and the attempts by Kiev to escape its responsibilities. Throughout this conflict Ukraine tried to put pressure on Europe, using it as a pawn in its economic dispute with Gazprom and to avoid paying the billion dollars Kiev still owes.
At the onset of the crisis, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko made multiple reassuring declarations affirming that Russian gas destined for Europe could continue to transit through Ukrainian territory -- regardless of what happened in the conflict with Moscow. We have seen what his promises are worth: The Ukrainians have not respected their commitment.

This manipulation of Europe by the Ukrainian government is even more questionable than it may appear. Each day it becomes more and more evident that Kiev's stance was driven by internal politics and rivalry among the top Ukrainian business clans. Yushchenko left the field free for Naftogaz to break negotiations and has continued to block attempts by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to mediate the conflict.

Europe should not have to pay for these mistakes. Europeans have been the victims of Ukrainian blackmail as well as Kiev's incapacity to insert itself into a global market economy and achieve political maturity. The envoy of European observers to Ukraine was an indispensable measure for the return to normality, but it is not sufficient in the long term. This situation cannot continue. We Europeans must think now about the future.

With regard to our supply levels, we must begin to work on finding diverse ways of transporting Russian gas to Europe -- for example, the Nord Stream project to transport gas through a pipeline under the Baltic Sea or the European Union- and U.S.-backed Nabucco pipeline, which envisions transporting gas from Azerbaijan and/or Kazakhstan through Turkey and the Balkans.
On a political level, this crisis confirms the urgent need to reinforce the partnership between Europe and Russia, which is essential for the equilibrium of the European continent. Ukraine can and should have its place in this partnership, but the country must understand that this depends on its own actions -- particularly, its ability to provide political and economic stability.Thierry Mariani, a deputy in the French National Assembly from the Union for a Popular Movement, is president of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.

Thierry Mariani, a deputy in the French National Assembly from the Union for a Popular Movement, is president of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.

To Our Readers
The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number. Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.


Dear Editor:

Thank you for publishing Mr. Mariani's insightful yet disturbing and one-sided commentary. It speaks volumes about the current problems with Ukraine, Russia and Europe and the attitudes which perpetuate them. Anyone who is familiar with Russian and Ukrainian relations, particularly since 2004, should understand that there are always at least two sides to every story and every conflict in this relationship. Informed people know that this gas crisis is not merely a commercial dispute, and anyone who points the finger exclusively at one country or the other suggests to me that person is either ill-informed or biased in some way.

I do agree with Mr. Mariani that Europe needs to diversify its energy supplies. But it needs to diversify its energy sources as well as its routes, particularly central and eastern European countries. Merely shifting the pipes through which Gazprom's gas flows may be a short-term solution for Europe, it does not change the fact that Russia has shown itself willing to use energy as a foreign policy tool. I don't blame them for that, but it is a fact that must be considered as Europe plans its energy strategy. I hope the western European countries will listen and learn from the experience of their newer member countries.

I am not an apologist for Ukraine's political leaders. In fact, the opposite. All of them have let down their citizens. Guided by their own self-interests, they are the main obstacle, to use Mr. Mariani's words, to the country "inserting itself into the global economy and achieving political maturity". The past four years have been extremely disappointing for anyone who cares about Ukraine's political, economic and societal development. However, one cannot deny that Ukraine's geopolitical status makes it an extremely important political battleground for other countries' to achieve their own foreign policy goals, which only exascerbates its internal divisions.

It is disappointing to see this opinion coming from an EU citizen who is also leading a regional body whose mission it is to foster economic interaction and harmony among the Black Sea countries. Even if this is Mr. Mariani's position in his private dealings with BSEC's members, it seems to me that publishing these kinds of opinions only polarizes people and squelches open discusson.

I hope that The Moscow Times has remained an independent publication and will also publish opposing or more balanced opinions (whether it is mine or someone else's) to give your readers a balanced viewpoint on which to base their own opinions.

Thank you.

Tim McQuillin