Daniel had posted several times about the effect of the Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis. This thought were formulated in our discussion following his post which drew attention to Gazprom deputy-chairman Mr Medvedev’s op-ed in the WSJ Online. That is the Russian side of the story. I wanted to flip the coin and defend the Ukrainian position.
First let me say that it must have been terrible having an energy crisis foist on you and other parts of Central Europe, but blaming Ukraine equally with Gazprom is highly problematic. While I will get to Ukraine’s contributions to prolonging the conflict below available evidence shows that Russia/Gazprom was quite happy to prolong the conflict to undermine Ukraine’s reputation as a business partner. This was best illustrated by Gazprom’s bizarre maneuver of sending a test shipment to Ukraine after EU monitors were in place that was to be directed along pipelines used for gas distribution within Ukraine, and hence are not secure, that happen to extend Ukraine’s southern neighbors rather than along the Druzhba pipeline, which is secure. Furthermore, according to Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian language only) Gazprom continued to entertain counteroffers from RosUkrEnergo for gas to Ukraine during the negotiations with Naftogaz Ukraine, despite Putin having said he was ready to remove RosUkrEnergo as an intermediary. In short, Putin/Miller were happy to complicate the negotiations at the expense of Europeans.
That does not mean that Ukraine bears no responsibility. Political backstabbing on the part of leading Ukrainian politicians prevented a deal being reached before 31 December 2008, and so unnecessarily prolonged the conflict. Worse it is now clear that the ostensibly “pro-Western” President Yushchenko was actually one of RosUkrEnergo’s protectors Even so, let’s be real: the stability Putin pretends to offer has been bought at great cost, and I will take Ukraine’s mess above that any day, the days of journalist being killed there seems to be over. The ugliness of Ukrainian politics, however, does not mean there are no responsible leaders; it just shows how entrenched the interests blocking progress are, and how difficult it is to bring about a wholesale reform of society when there is no moral counter force along the lines of Solidarity, which can represent society’s interests and push politicians towards responsibility. Indeed the reality is no other former Soviet State outside the Baltics is as close to developing a coherent party system — though it has a long way to go. Yet another reason why Putin and his allies would prefer to encourage the view that Ukraine is a “failed state” both in the west and at home in Russia.
But rather than look at the especially ugly sausage making of the gas dispute and negotiations, let’s look at the results. There is now a new level in transparency in Ukraine’s energy market, which for as of next year will follow the same pricing scheme used in the rest of the world based on the price of crude oil. (Hat tip to Daniel for correcting my original phrasing of “market forces”) Up to now the lack of transparency has allowed a handful of parties with interests in RosUkrEnergo, most notably Ukrainian oligarch Dmytry Firtash and Gazprom(!), to get rich in trades that no one could keep track of. Now Ukraine will now be able to act more independently than it ever has before when it was dependent on Russia’s good will. For a brief and cogent explanation of how Tymoshenko’s efforts reflect real responsibility I recommend “So who has committed treason” by Taras Kuzio, an English born political scientist, who is on of the keenest observers of Ukrainian politics.
Ukraine’s problems are not over by any means, but Yushchenko is on the way out and as that happens the Orange Coalition will cease to be a two-headed beast. Tymoshenko is no saint, but far better than Yushchenko she appears to understand that Ukraine has to balance between its struggle to remain sovereignty and its need to engage with Russia. It was she who insisted on getting rid of RosUkrEnergo as a middleman and insured that Ukraine did not fall into any of the traps Putin and Miller tried to set.
Hugo Lane is an American blogger who started a discussion with me after blogging my previous post. He’s blog, Lands Far Away…, deals with the same regions as my blog from an American historians perspective. It is a great complement to Central Europe Activ.
Former posts on this blog on Ukraine.Author : Dániel Antal