Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Real Problem behind the Ukrainian Gas Crisis

A unilateral action taken by Russia to cut gas supplies to Ukraine on New Year’s Day has imperiled the life of nations across Eastern, Central, and even Western Europe. The map below shows considerable dependence of European nations on Russian natural gas.

Source: BBC

The EU gets a quarter of its gas supplies from Russia - 80% of which passes through Ukraine - and more than 15 countries across central Europe have been hit by the shutdown of Russian supplies (“Russian gas flow disappoints EU”; BBC News; 13 January, 2009)

In a cold weather in winter, numerous people across Europe will be frozen to death, if the supply cut continues. This crisis is more dangerous than current skirmish in Gaza. Moreover, Israeli attack is a natural retaliation against Hamas, while none of Ukrainians and East Europeans assaulted any Russians over the gas dispute. The media are unfair to blame Israel, but not Russia.

Thanks to the help of her European fellows, Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko of Ukraine managed to reach an agreement with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia on January 18, to start gas flow again. Quoting a Russian paper, Moskovsky Komsomolets, the Christian Science Monitor concludes this conflict as the following in its blog.

No matter what turn the Russia-Ukraine gas conflict takes, the West will always act in accordance with its friend-foe system, where Russia will always be a foe. To the West, Ukraine is a country of the ‘victorious orange revolution,’ while Russia is ‘the cradle of Putin’s authoritarianism.’ Like almost all EU countries, Ukraine is an energy consumer, while Russia is a member of the rival “suppliers club. (“Russian gas post-mortem: Was it Princess Leia vs. Darth Vader?”; Global News Blog; January 19, 2009)

A 5th degree black belt judoist intimidates a Ukrainian princess?: Prime Minister Timoshenko and Prime Minister Putin signs a 10 year gas supply deal on January 19 in Moscow (Christian Science Monitor)

Things are not so simplistic. Europe feels disgusted with pushy diplomacy by Russia and poor governability of Ukraine (“Ukraine's pro-Western progress set back in gas crisis: analysts”; EU Business; 15 January 2009). In the aftermath of the Orange Revolution in 2004, Ukraine was a brilliant show case of Western styled democracy to former Soviet republics. Successful incorporation of Ukraine into NATO and the EU has been a vital agenda for the West.

However, Ukrainian politics has been paralyzed by continual conflicts between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko. Also, corruption is serious.

Katinka Barysch, Deputy Director at the Center for European Reform, comments "The idea that the Orange Revolution would lead to a direct path towards democracy and free-market values has fallen apart," and "There is an impression that Ukraine is not a very well-run country and that certainly isn't to Ukraine's advantage when it comes to EU and NATO integration."

Ukrainians suspect that Russia conspires to decouple Europe and Ukraine with serious drawbacks caused by the gas crisis.

It is a pity neither President George W. Bush nor President-elect Barack Obama has taken any actions to deter Putin’s dangerous ambition. Particularly, I am appalled that Obama went on the razzle-dazzle with show biz stars in such a critical moment.

The Ukraine issue is beyond gas and energy. It is our imperative agenda to prevail democracy in order to make a secure and civilized world.

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