Tuesday, October 21, 2014

21/10/2014: Russian Gas, European Deliveries, Ukrainian Blackmail?

Over recent days there have been plenty of statements about the winter supplies of Russian gas to Europe. Majority of these fall to one side of the argument, alleging that Russia is likely to cut off gas shipments to Europe via Ukraine.

Here are the facts, strongly indicating an entirely different possibility.

Fact 1: Allegations. At the end of August, Euractive reported that "Europe faces the increasing threat of a disruption to gas supplies from its main provider Russia this winter due to the crisis in Ukraine." (link)

But when you read beyond the headline, you get something entirely different. "Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said today (27 August) Kyiv knew of Russian plans to halt gas flows this winter to Europe. "We know of Russia's plans to block [gas] transit even to European Union countries this winter, and that's why their [EU's] companies were given an order to pump gas into storage in Europe as fully as possible," he told a government meeting, without disclosing how he knew about the Russian plans."

So Yatsenyuk presented a conjecture - that incidentally boost his own agenda. Media reported it with zero questioning. Meanwhile, Russian officials denied the possibility of such disruption: "It's unlikely that Russia would cut gas supplies. Ukraine will start siphon off it itself, as it has been the case in the past," a senior source at the Russian Energy Ministry said."

We have set the stage: Ukraine says Russia may disrupt supplies. Russia says Ukraine may siphon off gas destined for other buyers in order to satisfy its own needs.

Fact 2: Historical Precedents. As Euractive reports: "Russian gas flows to Ukraine have now been halted three times in the past decade, in 2006, 2009 and 2014, due to price disputes between Moscow and Kyiv, and flows to the EU were disrupted in 2006 and 2009 after Ukraine took some of the gas intended for the EU to meet its own winter demand."

In other words, Ukraine stole (as in appropriated without a payment and beyond its contracted power) Russian gas destined for European customers. This, presumably is Russian fault, as it is Russia that is being blamed for the disruptions.

So we have it: Ukraine steals, Russia gets blamed.

Fact 3: Counter-accusations. Official Russian position on supplies of gas to Europe: "Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak refuted the claim by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk that Russia is planning to halt gas transit to EU member states. “Specific comments by Ukrainian politicians on alleged Russian intentions to stop gas transit to EU countries are puzzling. We can qualify them only as absolutely baseless speculations aimed at confusing or deliberately misinforming of European consumers of Russian gas”, said Alexander Novak."

Now, you can possibly say there is risk of Novak lying. Or you can say there is risk PM Yatsenyuk is lying. Remember: Yatsenyuk made a statement of claim unbacked by any evidence (Fact 1 above). Novak made an official statement on the record. Yatsenyuk has an incentive to push European member states to take a tough stance on Russia in brokering a gas deal between Russian and Ukraine. Russia does not have such an incentive. Yatsenyuk is actively campaigning for an outright re-writing of Russian-European contracts for gas supply to suit Kiev interests (read below). Russia does not have such an incentive.

So who is the beneficiary of all these conjectures about Russia 'cutting gas supplies to Europe'? Why, it is Ukraine.

Fact 4: In his own words. On October 17 Itar Tass (link) claimed: "Europe should respond to a statement by Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk that Ukraine can give no guarantees for safe Russian natural gas transit to Europe, Gazprom Deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev said on Friday. “Yatsenyuk said yesterday that Ukraine will not be able to ensure the safety of gas supplies from Russia to Europe,” he said."

So did Yatsenyuk say this? He did. His statement is supported by his own actions tracing back to end of July / beginning of August.

Fact 5: In his own deeds. Let's go back to August 8th, when Yatsenyuk threatened sanctions to cut off all transit of Russian gas: "Ukraine may impose sanctions against any transit via its territory, including air flights and gas supplies to Europe, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Friday." (link confirmed by Bloomberg here and the Wire here).

So real was this threat, Germany had to step in to put PM Yatsenyuk back into his place (link). And European buyers continued to pump up storage facilities not because of a Russian threat, but because of the Ukrainian actions.

Things got comical: Naftogas - a Ukrainian state-owned gas company - said back in August it was prepared to bypass its own Government-imposed restrictions on transit (link). So even Naftogas was aware that it was Kiev, not Moscow, who planned the cut off.

20 days after Yatsenyuk backed out the first threat, "Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk pushed a bill through the Verkhovna Rada that …would permit the transit of natural gas to be blocked." Source (link). In other words, on August 28, Yatsenyuk pushed through a law that legalises Ukraine's power to shut down transit.

Ukraine was no longer speaking about shutting down Russian gas transit. It actually set legal grounds for acting on doing so.

On September 23rd, Kiev backed out of the month-old stand and committed itself to allowing transit (link). Strangely, the article does not really try to explain why PM Yatsenyuk had to commit to such an act, if it was Russia that was a threat of disrupting gas flows.

Conclusions: Now, we can think of a straight logic implying that actually it is Ukraine that is a threat point replete with threat --> act --> deny chain of events. But the Western media continues to insist that it is all down to Russia's bad politics.

This week (link) Ukraine is again refusing to guarantee uninterrupted transit to Europe unless it gets all Russian-European contracts renegotiated on its own terms. These terms are: Ukraine gets full control over actual gas transiting over its territory and gains a de facto veto power on any contract any European buyer signs with a Russian supplier.

Again, who is the attempting to hold European gas supplies hostage to its own political agendas?

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