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Kremlin steps on the gas


Russia-Ukraine dispute leaves Europe shivering
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: January 25, 2009
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Kremlin steps on the gas In the late 1980s, American President Ronald Reagan had cautioned Europe, in a hushed voice, against relying too much on Russian energy supplies, claiming that one day the Kremlin might find it alluring enough to twist it into a blunt-force foreign-policy device. It was brushed aside as Reagan’s infamous ‘cynicism’. This week proved he was just being plain foresighted. In the gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine, both sides are licking their wounds after 10 days of hostility. While it has emerged that the pumping of gas will be taken up again in days to come and the chill from the lives of millions in the freezing winter in southern Europe would promptly pass, the damage done politically and economically to both fighting parties will defy any quick fix. “Both stand to lose if they fail to reach a resolution: Russia will appear vicious and callous; Ukraine’s trustworthiness as a purveyor to Europe will be called into question and its bickering leadership will lose integrity internally and overseas,” Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center told TSI.

Meanwhile, Russia declined to resume gas exports to EU via Ukraine early this week, after condemning Kiev for making objectionable changes in the deal that was painstakingly stitched up during the weekend. In a spell of shuttle diplomacy, the Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, got Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir V Putin to sign in Moscow, and then flew to Kiev, to get Ukrainian PM, Yulia V Tymoshenko, to do so too.

The deal had called for immediate resumption of gas under the supervision of global monitors who would guarantee smooth delivery of the fuel to Europe. Gazprom, Russia’s gas monopoly, cut supplies for Ukrainian utilisation on January 1 over the latter’s alleged fuel debts, and then blocked exports to the EU via Ukraine after condemning it of 'stealing' the gas. Underneath the wrangling over shipment fees and rates, Russia’s outline was clear. Ukraine has infuriated the Kremlin with its proposition to join NATO. Moscow saw an opening to split Europe and weaken those nations it still deems inside its sphere of influence. However, Russia is also worried that the West might deny it capital and technology to upgrade its ailing refineries. Therefore, it's worth watching who will blink first. If it is the West, then a new phase in history will start with Russia in the ring, and not on the sidelines.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017