East Gas? West Best!

It seems Russian troops – even though they (mostly) are not yet labeled as such – are in the Crimea to stay. Reclaiming that strategic peninsula for Ukraine would require the use of force, something no state outside of the Ukraine is willing to contemplate, and before which even Ukraine authorities themselves should hesitate due to the risk of thereby only losing more of their territory.

What the West is left with is proceeding with a deliberate worsening of relations with Vladimir Putin’s regime as punishment: denying him the chance to get yet more mileage out of his $51 billion Sochi reconstruction by staging a G8 summit there, for instance. But the unfortunate problem is that, to a great extent, this can turn out to be self-defeating as the West needs Russia just as Russia needs the West.

Anyone who follows international affairs regularly can name two vital areas right off the bat for which that is true: Iran and Syria. For the former, the West seems very close to achieving a remarkable deal that will safeguard against any nuclear weapons ambitions Iran might have – but one for which Iran’s willingness has been predicated upon united political and economic pressure from the West and from Russia. As for Syria, the regime there is already behind on the schedule for the elimination of its chemical weapons that Russia did quite a lot to help draw up.

(Now, this NYT piece claims that Syria is ready to try to speed things up to try to make up lost ground – but the article is dated March 4. Returning to Russia’s potential reluctance for any more international cooperation, there are always those inspections that Putin, in good times, ordinarily consents to undergo in relation to various arms-control treaties.)

Then there are the more tangible things – like natural gas. (OK, it’s a gas, but still slightly more tangible than a pure concept such as “arms control.”) Plenty of European countries are still dependent on gas supplies from Russia, piped through the Ukraine. And so we get this:

V4 Czech
I know, that must seem at first sight like some confused jumble. “V4,” for example: what’s “V4”?* That is shorthand for the “Visegrad 4,” itself a shorthand for the Central European countries Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. And what the governments of those countries have done is think ahead a bit in light of this new geopolitical confrontation with Putin.

The article from Czech Television tells of how they have sent a joint letter to House Speaker John Boehner (a similar one to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in the works) asking Congress to support a speed-up in the development of deliveries of American natural gas to their countries – just in case Russia might be tempted to cut off supplies coming from the other direction. And it does seem that this is a relevant request, as well as an appopriate official to which to direct it, since the article describes how up to now the Obama administration has been very slow to grant the sort of export licenses that would make such natural gas sales to Europe possible.

UPDATE: Here we are, from the Bruegel think-tank in Brussels:

Meanwhile, the EU’s Energy Commissioner, Germany’s Günther Oettinger, is also quoted here as discounting the prospect of the Russian’s cutting off the gas: “I don’t believe it would be in the Russian interest” he is said to have told the German weekly Wirtschaftswoche.

In a similar vein, though, there is this, and from the same source:

Jaderniho paliva
“Russia will renew its supply of atomic fuel through Ukraine to the EU” the headline reads. Yes, there’s another thing for which much of Europe – particularly that part of Europe formerly under Soviet domination, such as the Visegrad 4 – is dependent upon Russia.

That piece is dated yesterday (Saturday, 8 March), and it’s very strange. The reason why there is a question of “renewing” such shipments in the first place is that the Ukraine government had forbidden such shipments through its territory by rail due to safety concerns. But that was at the end of January, i.e. that was the former government headed by Yanukovych. Now that he’s gone, the message seems to be, everything should soon again be hunky-dory, perhaps after the new Ukraine government takes care of a few matters on its agenda of somewhat higher priority. Vladislav Bočkov, the spokesman for the Russian company in charge of these uranium sales, Rosatom, even issued this statement:

Rosatom has committed itself to ensure for our clients throughout Europe the import and export of nuclear fuel. If some further problems arise with rail transportation through Ukraine, we will ensure that deliveries will be transported on time through the air.

I don’t think so; at least, probably not for very much longer. Doesn’t Vladislav know that there’s (almost) a war on?

* Readers from the USA might imagine “V4” to be the new vegetable drink from the makers of V8, with only half the calories – but no.

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