Serbia’s desire to implement the European integration vector in its foreign policy as actively as possible is inevitably forcing the country’s authorities to decide on issues that are in some way related to national security and state interests. This primarily concerns carrying out a responsible energy policy and engaging in a moral position regarding events around Ukraine.
Both of these areas are interdependent, which is why Belgrade should look carefully at the model of relations that Brussels and Kiev are imposing on its partners. The essence of this model is blatant blackmail, cynical deception and the arm-twisting of objectors. The impact of this kind of approach is being felt increasingly keenly by the authorities of Slovakia, a country that European Commission leaders and the Ukrainian government are essentially trying to turn into a silent cash cow and a plaything in the hands of geopolitical hustlers.
The Ukrainian authorities are using Slovakia increasingly cynically as a way of achieving its own speculative aims with the clear support of European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, who is responsible for energy issues in the EU. Contrary to business interests and basic common sense, Šefčovič is trying to get major European gas companies to pump substantial amounts of gas into Ukraine’s underground gas storage facilities (UGSF), while Kiev, through Naftogaz, is cynically blackmailing its own gas companies, using Slovakia as a cover.
The essence of this approach was clearly reflected in an unprecedented statement made by Andriy Kobolev, head of the Ukrainian company Naftogaz. In the statement, he called for local private companies to pump gas into underground storage facilities and as a reward, he promised them access to increased reverse-flow deliveries of gas from Slovakia.
That said, neither the size of the Slovak reverse flow, much less the mechanisms of access for private Ukrainian companies to the appropriate capacities and volumes, have yet been determined. This is not stopping the head of Naftogaz from engaging in speculation behind Bratislava’s back, however. At the same time, the European Commission is twisting the arms of European gas companies. Among the list of clients are European gas industry giants such as E.ON, Engie, OMV, PGNiG, RWE, ENI, SPP and Statoil.
The Ukrainian authorities and the European Commission are trying similar methods to solve a strategic problem – the pumping of at least 19 billion cubic metres of gas into UGSFs by the winter. This is necessary for Kiev to avoid public protests and for the European Union to cover itself should Ukraine once again attempt to siphon Russian gas destined for EU countries.
However, the Ukrainian government has nothing to pump. Talks with Russia were broken off by Kiev and European gas companies have no desire to pump their gas into Ukrainian UGSFs reminiscent of corrupt black holes.
Representatives of the European gas industry are not hiding the fact that they want guarantees from the European Commission that the gas they put into Ukrainian UGSFs will not disappear. It is clear that neither Maroš Šefčovič nor anybody else in the European Union is able to provide the Europeans with such guarantees.
However, blackmailing the gas industry is just one of the elements of the policy being implemented by the authorities in Kiev with the approval of the European Commission.
By rhetorically positioning themselves as responsible international partners, the Kiev authorities are, in fact, increasingly discrediting both themselves and their country. The Ukrainian authorities’ arsenal of public diplomacy includes such methods as blatantly blackmailing partners, reneging on previously agreed obligations, and disrupting pre-agreed international forums.
This is most obvious in Kiev’s relations with countries providing the Ukrainian economy with real assistance, first and foremost with the very same Slovakia. It is no secret that since mid-2014, Bratislava has virtually been solving the Ukrainian authorities’ energy problems through the provision of reverse gas supplies. Slovak gas makes up the majority of the gas being supplied to Ukraine from the EU. And lo and behold, in recent weeks Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and their cronies have been engaged in the blatant blackmail of Slovakia, while at the same time suggesting that the country is the cause of its problems.
The most striking example of blatant blackmail was the disruption of the Visegrad Four meeting held at the end of June under the chairmanship of Slovakia in the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk with the participation of Ukrainian representatives. According to available information, this forum should have been devoted to implementing joint energy projects capable of really helping Ukrainian infrastructure on its last legs. At the last moment, however, the Ukrainian government refused to hold the meeting. The reason for such a resounding démarche was Bratislava’s refusal to increase reverse gas supplies immediately and at Kiev’s request.
Even more outrageous was Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s refusal to take part in the recent 10th GLOBSEC Security Conference in Bratislava. And while some kind of reason for refusing was at least unofficially given for the forum in Ivano-Frankivsk, Poroshenko’s administration simply announced after the event that he was not going to Bratislava, although his appearance along with other heads of state in the region had already been included on the agenda.
These are now the norms and principles of international politics – including in the energy and security sectors – being implemented by the Ukrainian authorities and their Western partners. In this regard, the question arises as to how the Serbian government intends to protect the interests of its own producers and consumers within the European integration policy if EU members with their own representatives in the European Commission cannot even do it? Political blackmail, contempt for diplomatic norms, deception and ultimatums – behaviour like this is currently held in high regard in Brussels. Vučić’s government ought to bear this in mind as it repeatedly promises European prosperity to its people.
«According to polls, the idea of joining the EU is becoming less attractive in all these countries. This is in no small measure due to the statement from Brussels that there are no plans to enlarge the EU in the next five years», German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Deutsche Welle, commenting on her recent visit to the Balkans. A very accurate assessment that is, however, in need of one important addition. The European Union is not only discrediting itself by stopping its expansion, but first and foremost by its own political speculations and blatant pro-American stance.