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Russia in the right in Gas Crisis

  • Sunday, February 01 2009 @ 01:05 PM CET
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In the current Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis, most recent events suggest that it is the Russians who are in the right, and the Ukrainians in the wrong.

The basis of the current crisis - not the general question of the price the Ukraine pays Russia for its gas, but the current crisis regarding the supply of gas to other states in Europe - is the question of whether the Ukraine has been properly transporting gas to other states through its pipelines, or instead has been taking it for its own use.

Russia turned off the gas tap to Ukraine on 1 January amid a price dispute, and stopped supplying countries beyond Ukraine last Wednesday because it claimed Kiev was siphoning off the gas. Ukraine has denied this. [Guardian, Jan 13]

Without direct access to the pipeline equipment itself, there is no good way to determine the truth of either claim.

Then followed the agreement to ensure supply to other states via the pipelines that passed through the Ukraine, with monitors in place to ensure that the gas was not siphoned off along the way. This seems to be an excellent solution: putting people in place to determine what actually is the case regarding the claims.

But now the gas has again been stopped.

The EU said "little or no gas" flowed yesterday to countries in central and southern Eur ope suffering acute energy shortages. Gazprom said Ukraine had stopped shipments and prevented Russi an observers from entering its gas stations. Ukraine said Russia had "provocatively" sent the gas th e wrong way, and compared Moscow's actions to the Nazi siege of Leningrad.
[...]
Ukrainian officials said Gazprom had "deliberately" sent the gas by a route that would have meant switching off gas to Ukrainian consumers in the east of the country. Instead of supplying gas via the traditional route, through Ukraine's Belgorod and Rostov region, it had been sent on a bypass route which would paralyse supplies to the towns of Donetsk and Luhansk. "This is just provocation against Ukraine," said Bohdan Sokolovsky, Ukraine's commissioner for energy security. [Guardian, Jan 14]

Leaving aside political posturing, the claims of US influence or references to the Nazis, one thing that seems to be clear based on the actions of the Russians and the Ukrainians is that the Russians were in the right.

After all, if the gas was only to transit the Ukraine and to be sent to other states, what possible difference could its route through the Ukraine make? Whether or not the gas supply would bypass the Belgorod and Rostov region could make no difference at all - if it were only to transit the Ukraine. The only reason such could make a difference is that the Ukrainians planned to siphon off gas for use in the Ukraine that was meant for other states.

One can simply read the statement of Sokolovsky, that the routing "would paralyse supplies to the towns of Donetsk and Luhansk". It may well be that supplies to the eastern Ukraine are stopped, but such has nothing at all to do with gas that is meant to transit the Ukraine. Supplies to the Ukraine are stopped because the Ukraine and Russia have been unable to agree on sales of Russian gas to the Ukraine, which is wholly independent of gas supplies that are meant simply to pass through the Ukraine on the way to other customers.

The only way Sokolovsky's statement makes sense is if the Ukrainians intended the "agreement" to be an opportunity to continue to siphon off gas for their own use.

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