Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gas shortage shows that EU is full of hot air

The natural gas shortage that is gripping a large swath of Central and Southern Europe shows no sign of letting up. Shortages are prompting some nations to ration the gas they still have and have a couple considering restarting potentially unsafe nuclear power plants to make up for the shortage in energy.

And while European politicians are threatening to take legal action against Russia and Ukraine because of the shortages, they apparently aren't willing to travel to Moscow to do anything concrete about it. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for European heads of state to gather to work out a solution to the problem, but only a few nations have even agreed to send low-level envoys to the meeting, forget about sending presidents or prime ministers.

Maybe Europe could just use all the hot air their politicians vent to keep warm instead of natural gas?

The crisis seemed to be over late in the week when the European Union and Russia agreed to a series of monitors in Ukraine to watch the pipeline network that ships gas to the rest of Europe (the crisis started when Russia cut off shipments through Ukraine after claiming the Ukrainians were stealing gas bound for Western Europe). But Ukraine scuttled the deal by adding last minute conditions to the agreement, like claiming they didn't owe Russia $2 billion in payments for natural gas they have already used. Ukraine also wants Russia to give them, for free; additional gas they say is needed to maintain a working pressure in their pipeline network (Russia wants Ukraine to pay for this ‘technical gas’, since it will stay in Ukraine).

And Ukraine's ongoing political soap opera is making it impossible for them to even talk with Russia. Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is in Moscow for negotiations, but she says she does not have the authority to make a deal, something the government of Ukraine denies. She wants to treat the transportation deal as a separate matter from Ukraine's dispute with Russia over buying natural gas to use domestically, while President Viktor Yushchenko insists the two matters are connected. The result is there's a lot of talking going on, but no deal making since no one on the Ukrainian side can even agree on who has the power to say yes and what they're even negotiating about in the first place.

But this hasn't stopped European leaders like German Chancellor from blaming Russia for the current mess. On Friday she said that if gas shipments don't resume it would hurt Russia's image as a ‘credible gas supplier’. She did not though take a similar swipe at Ukraine for not being a ‘credible gas transporter’.
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