Gas Just Part of EU-Russian Problems

From Oil Price

By Daniel J. Graeber

The Ukrainian government postponed a natural gas price meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’s slated to meet with European leaders later this week. Kiev said it wasn’t ready to go ahead with the tense negotiations that are a focal point of European energy security. Europe gets much of its natural gas from Russia, while transits feed both Ukrainian and Russian coffers. Though European leaders are still complaining about Ukraine’s parliamentary elections, and the Kremlin now worrying over “color revolutions,” an authority in Kiev say there are no signs of “a new gas war.”

Contractual disputes between Ukraine and Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom left downstream consumers in the European Union in the cold during the winters of 2006 and 2009. Those disputes sparked a diplomatic frenzy over various pipeline projects meant to diversify the European energy sector. By next year, a BP-led consortium working in gas-rich Azerbaijan is expected to pick between competing pipeline projects for European gas deliveries. This year, Gazprom started gas deliveries through its Nord Stream pipeline in the Baltic Sea and said in December that it, in theory, started construction of its South Stream pipeline though southern Europe.

Members of the European Parliament said Tuesday that certain projects like pipelines should get fast-track approval. A Portuguese lawmaker said such efforts would “set forth a radically new approach” to European energy projects that are “crucial” to a single energy market.

Last week, MEPs adopted a resolution expressing concern that Ukraine failed “a key test” with its October elections. Those elections were seen as “a step backwards” for the former Soviet republic. Kiev was called on to address political concerns in light of stalled association talks. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government was tasked by the EU with finding a resolution to the status of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Dubbed the gas princess, Tymoshenko is serving time in jail on corruption charges stemming from her role in 2009 gas talks with Gazprom.

For the Kremlin, Putin later this week is expected to meet a hostile European crowd at a time when public frustration in Russia continues to grow. MEPs last week said Moscow will only be a strategic partner with the EU if it embraces democratic values. European lawmakers said they were frustrated with Moscow’s “repressive measures” and called for an “end to the culture of endemic corruption, politically-motivated persecution, arrests and detentions.” At home, meanwhile, Putin’s advisers are keeping a close eye on the eastern border for any signs of “color revolutions” in the former Soviet republics, like Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004.

An analyst in Kiev said stalled talks with Russia shouldn’t be seen as evidence of “a new gas war.” Ukraine could experience a sea change in terms of domestic energy issues if shale reserves there prove lucrative.

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