Uncommon Sense in Pipeline Politics

ukrainegas122908.jpgThere’s a confusing editorial today in the Boston Globe, which draws heavily on the assumption that it is up to President-elect Barack Obama to draw up a plan to intervene in the Russia-Ukraine natural gas supply disputes, and that the key thing for him to do is withdraws support from any talks between NATO and Kiev in order to guarantee secure energy supply to Europe.

Wait a moment – I thought that we were meant to understand that Gazprom’s threat of supply cuts was a purely commercial dispute, focused on weaning the Ukraine off their Soviet era subsidies and asking them to pay something closer to market rates like everyone else.  There is certainly a legitimate point held by the Russians on pricing, but one that has been pursued with very little skill or diplomacy.

In light of so many calls for greater legal and diplomaticefforts to de-politicize the energy trade (including reminding Russia of their obligation to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty), this line of thinkingout of theBoston Globe editorial desk is strikingly supportive of Moscow’s”spheres of influence” argument, which would deny sovereign nations theright to establish relations with whomever they please.  It is notlogically possible to uphold Gazprom’s sincereity in solving acommercial problem while at the same time throwing the NATO card intopipeline politics. 

Furthermore it is a frightening thing to see the Boston Globe in such vigorous consensuswith the likes of Muammar Gaddafi – perhaps next they will call on theUnited States to invade Venezuela just because of its closerelationship with Russia.  I am left with the impression that some veryexpensive K Street PR firm is working hard to get the Globe to producethis dreck.

Gazprom and Naftogaz should be encouraged by both the United States and Europe to settle their dispute in a lawful, apolitical manner, ideally in an impartial third party forum, in which supplies to consumers will not be disrupted or threatened as leverage.  The proposal of making sensitive security and political relations conditional for such energy transactions represents an extremely dangerous precedent – one that in the long run would not be beneficial to Russia’s interests.

Russia should be focused on convincing the West that the Ukraine gas dispute is based on commercial motives, not a political attempt to unseat a Western-friendly government.  Unfortunately, what this Globe editorial does is convince us that the latter is true.

Photo: A worker is seen at Mashivske gas field 400 km (248.5 miles) east ofKiev, December 23, 2008. (Reuters Pictures)