Russia is not the only one to blame over gas crisis

mary-dejevskyBy Claire Charras

Mary Dejevsky  chief editorial writer, columnist and Russian specialist for The Independent gave Dunedin Napier News this exclusive interview on the Russian and Ukranian gas crisis. After a row over who owed what, Russia decided to cut off Ukraine’s gas supplies leaving the rest of Europe with a quarter less supplies.

Is it strategic of Russia to have cut off gas supplies over the coldest months of winter?
Of course not, but there are two qualifications. First, Russia and Ukraine have been negotiating, without success, for at least half a year, and the agreement expires at the end of the calendar year. Maybe that is another change that needs to be made. The other is that there is a dispute about who actually cut off the gas, or at least who is responsible. Russia says that Ukraine cut off the gas to force the EU to put pressure on Russia. It also says that it only cut off the gas to Ukraine when Ukraine started siphoning off gas for itself, which it wasn’t paying for – and so depriving EU countries of gas. This is all part of the dispute.  

What do you think the outcome will be of today’s meeting in Brussels with Ukraine and Russia?
Well, it’s actually already over, apparently without agreement. But that needn’t mean that no solution is in prospect. In the end, it is Russia and Ukraine who have to hammer out their differences.

How is this affecting Russia’s relationship with the EU and also the UK?
So far, i don’t think very much. This is because both EU officials in brussels and the UK see the problem as a bilateral one between Russia and Ukraine, in which there is blame on both sides. For the UK, it is also because we are not really affected! Most of our gas still comes from the North Sea. I also have the impression that there is a better understanding of the complexities of the dispute than there was three years ago, when everyone automatically rushed to blame Russia. Now, I think that in Brussels and most of Western Europe there is a general understanding that Gazprom is not (quite) the same thing as Russia and that at least some of the difficulties rest with Ukraine, which tried to drive a harder bargain on pricing than it could and is now using the fact that Russia’s pipelines run through Ukraine to the west to discredit Gazprom as a supplier. The EU countries that are most affected – mainly former Soviet-bloc states still dependent on Russian gas – have been less successful than three years ago in presenting this as a political problem rather than primarily a commercial one.  So far, anyway.

What can be done in the future to prevent this from happening again?
– Speed up the development of pipelines which bypass third countries, such as Ukraine and Belarus, that could be tempted to pursue their quarrels with Russia by holding other countries to ransom. This is where the problem lies, more than with Russia alone. Until this year, for instance, Turkey had never had any problem with Russia as a gas supplier, and the same applies to those countries which already pay market rates.
– Convince Ukraine that it will have to accept higher prices – and/or cut its energy use – now that it is an independent, sovereign country. It can’t demand preferential prices from Russia, while orientating itself increasingly to the West.
– Convince both Russia and Ukraine to conclude three-year pricing deals, which is the international norm, which would mean that disputes would not be the annual occurrence they have become.
– Ensure that the EU, as a group, and individual EU countries, diversify their own energy sources, so they are less dependent on Russia and transit pipelines.
– Many people argue that the EU needs a comprehensive energy security policy, but I’m not sure, given the big differences between the former Soviet-bloc countries and the rest, that such a policy would be any easier to agree than a solution to the current Russia-Ukraine dispute.