See Part I
Russia’s plans to expand its gas supplies to Germany run counter to the interests of the European Union and could lead to the further destabilisation of Ukraine. This was the strange conclusion of a letter written to the European Commission by ten countries in Central and Eastern Europe: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
What did scare the cabinets so much while it seems they should have welcomed strengthening energy cooperation between the East and West, especially given the current complex geopolitical situation in Europe and around it? The answer is the Shareholders Agreement to create the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline system with an aggregate annual capacity of 55 billion cubic metres of gas to be laid from Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea that was signed in September 2015 by Gazprom, BASF, E.ON, ENGIE, OMV and Shell.
According to the information available, the current démarche by the ten EU nations was deliberately timed to coincide with a working meeting that took place in St. Petersburg on 27 November between Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller and E.ON board member Klaus Schäfer. During the course of the meeting, the Russian and German representatives noted the smooth operation of the Nord Stream gas pipeline and discussed further steps to implement the Nord Stream 2 project, which they both believe will significantly increase the reliability of gas supplies to European consumers.
The Central Europeans have made their own opinion known on that score, however. In their letter to the European Commission, they said that the Nord Stream 2 project should be subjected to the closest regulatory scrutiny and called for «an inclusive debate» at December’s EU summit. A similar letter was also sent to European Council President Donald Tusk, by the way. The heads of the CEE governments believe that, «the EU’s most powerful member state has put its own economic needs ahead of their energy security», meaning Germany.
The letter also emphasises that, «the position of the European Commission on the Nord Stream 2 project will also essentially influence the perception of the EU’s common foreign and security policy among its core allies and traditional partners». In particular, the authors of the letter believe that, «preserving the transport route through Ukraine is the strategic interest of the EU as a whole, not only from an energy security perspective, but also reinforcing the stability of the Eastern European region».
«Ukraine is a safe transit route. Gas should continue to flow through Ukraine», said Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, hurrying to support the letter’s authors by declaring the «safety» of gas transits through Ukraine. In truth, he is the commissioner for climate action rather than for energy, but that is not the most important thing. The most important thing in this seemingly paradoxical situation is the steadfast belief of Eastern Europeans (and the European Commission, which shares their opinion) that it is in Europe’s interests to maintain the transit of Russian gas through Ukraine, despite the recent dramatic experience. In 2008-2009, as a result of Ukraine’s refusal to pay Russia for gas and Kiev’s simultaneous siphoning off of gas from the transit pipeline, many European countries were deprived of all previously agreed volumes of energy resources. The specific statistics are as follows:
As at 6-7 January 2009 (at the height of winter), Russian gas flows to Austria dropped by 90 per cent; to Bosnia and Herzegovina by 100 per cent; to Bulgaria by 100 percent; to Hungary by 100 per cent; to Germany by 100 per cent (in this case, gas imports were quickly switched over to pipes passing through Belarus); to Greece by 100 per cent; to Italy by 90 per cent; to Macedonia by 100 per cent; to Moldova by 100 per cent; to Poland by 90 per cent (the same alternative used by Germany was also used here); to Romania by 100 per cent; to Serbia by 100 percent; to Slovakia by 100 per cent; to Slovenia by 100 per cent; to Turkey by 100 per cent (gas imports were switched to a gas pipeline running along the bottom of the Black Sea); to France by 70 per cent; to the Czech Republic by 75 per cent; and to Croatia by 100 per cent.
It stands to reason that there is no point suspecting the heads of the Czech, Slovak and Hungarian governments of forgetfulness and geopolitical naivety. They understand all too well the ‘reliability’ of Ukraine both as a partner, as a transit country and as a state more generally in the current situation. It is therefore worth looking for a more practical reason for the current anti-Russian and anti-German démarche, and one of the answers can be found in an article in the London newspaper The Financial Times. The publication learned of recommendations made by American experts to US President Barack Obama with respect to the Ukrainian economy. These include the fact that should Russian gas stop flowing through Ukraine, the US administration would have to compensate for Kiev’s financial losses amounting to $2 billion per year.
It is clear that this is really not the time for Washington to have to take on such a commitment, especially considering the unfolding presidential campaign, which is promising to be both scandalous and unpredictable. And so, as is often the case, a ‘grassroots initiative’ by the countries of Central and Eastern Europe was needed in the interests of their overseas ‘big brother’.