It was amazing to watch Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller resenting about the fact that he himself pumped 11.5 billion cubic meters of Russian gas in gas storage systems of Ukraine for free, thereby supporting the Ukrainian economy before spring. Is Miller a bad economist? Or is Russia unable to use its major political and strategic weapon?
Alexei Miller, having finally switched Ukraine to the prepayment system, was very angry at the press conference on Sunday. However, the question arises - at whom? Hardly at himself or the Ukrainians. Naftogaz, the gas company of Ukraine, was doing what it was allowed to do, and Miller himself would hardly let such mismanagement happen. Then, probably, Miller was angry at Russian President Vladimir Putin, because natural gas "is our national treasure."
What were the motives of the Russian leadership to sponsor the clearly anti-Russian regime of Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko?
"Ukraine faces a complicated geopolitical situation, and the Russian leadership understood that in case of any escalation of tensions, Russia would be blamed for driving Ukraine into a corner, - Aleksey Grivach, Deputy Director General of the National Energy Security Fund told Pravda.Ru. - Therefore, everything was done as publicly as possible, transparently. There were several payment deferrals made, European clients were involved in the process, letters to Europe were written and so on.
"It was a conscious concession. Ukraine was switched to the prepayment system after it became clear to everyone that Ukraine had failed the negotiations. And there is no indication that the Russian side is guilty of that. It was also "good will of Gazprom to give Ukraine a possibility to prepare for winter, to avoid a transit war, when Ukraine could start stealing gas from the transit pipeline."
It just so happens that Russia, once again, prefers to be kind to others to its own detriment? It is more than just obvious that Yatsenuk has gone absolutely insolent because of this kindness. He now wants to resell the Russian gas, Poroshenko kills Russian journalists and Ukraine's Foreign Minister Deshchytsa publicly insults the Russian president.
Is it about time Russia should use it "advantage" - natural gas - not as a part of the image of "Mother Russia," but as a strategic weapon? The West has long been prepared for this.
According to Alex Brumer of the Daily Mail, the head of Russia sees energy riches of his country as a strategic weapon that will be used when necessary to promote the interests of the country.
The author gives an interesting example of the use of this weapon. Bob Dudley, CEO of BP, in 2008, when TNK-BP was in dispute with Moscow, could not extend his visa and had to leave the country. Currently, being a minority shareholder of Rosneft, Dudley can freely travel to Russia, and BP became his favorite partner for the implementation of new energy projects in Siberia and the Arctic.
Shall we agree with Mr. Brumer and assume that the Russian president is not "a good guy" at all? In this case, we go back to the motives of the obvious sponsorship of the economy of Ukraine with Russian gas. Has Vladimir Putin demonstrated an inept use of the weapon of "soft power?" Or was it a strategic move? On the one hand, it is obvious that there is inefficiency, otherwise there would have been no doubts about the price and significant concessions against the backdrop of menacing rhetoric and no delays and interruptions in the construction of the South Stream in connection with the requirement of the European Union to execute the rules of the "Third Energy Package."
The fact is that all of Gazprom's contracts and bilateral agreements were concluded with participating countries in 2008, when the "Third Energy Package" of the EU did not exist. Its provisions, in particular the rule to distinguish between the owner of gas and the owner of the pipeline, were approved a year later and entered into force in 2011. Any Western company would have resolved the issue at court long ago. Gazprom filed the lawsuit only at the end of April of this year. Besides, what was the need to nominate the company of Gennady Timchenko to tender in Bulgaria, who was already under U.S. sanctions? SGM won the tender, the Americans immediately threatened to sanction 100 Bulgarian firms participating in the works, and Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski suspended the construction of the pipeline.
This stirred things up. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went to Serbia and announced the resumption of the construction of the South Stream in the country. Putin is going to Austria to discuss the same. What about Bulgaria? Most likely, one will have to replace SGM with a different company: Bulgaria is not a country that can resist the threat of U.S. sanctions.
There were strategic measures taken as well. The talks took so much time not to incite Europe that remains under constant pressure from the Americans. Putin, apparently, tried to show EU partners his understanding of their concerns about the dependence on Russian gas (from 30 to 90 percent in different countries). In return, he was counting on a special position of the EU regarding sanctions.
"I do not see anything catastrophic now. On the contrary, there were two positive aspects. - Ivan Grachev, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Energy told Pravda.Ru. - Firstly, the European Commission took the Russian side, which is very important. Secondly, chances for the construction of the South Stream have grown, and the European Commission will not be objecting much."
One needs to be able to use a fine weapon, and one should not be afraid to do it. Russia has a problem about the latter. Russia fears accusations of blackmail, of going on the offensive. Does Russia have to retreat all the time? How long will this last? Russia is a world power, and she should be treated accordingly, with respect. What can the West oppose to the Russian energy weapon in Europe? During the next 10-15 years - nothing. Europe will need billions and billions of euros to build ports for liquified natural gas or develop shale gas deposits. Europe does not have this money yet.
The Americans demonstrate force whenever they need to. "For the United States, the game is not to massively arm Poland, build a Romanian navy or transform the world oil markets. It is simpler than that: Washington wants to show that it is ready to do these things. Such a show of will forces the Russians to recalculate their position now, before the threat becomes a reality. It is not that the United States is bluffing -- it is that Washington would prefer to achieve its goals without a major effort, and frankly, without tanking oil prices," George Friedman wrote for Stratfor.
In conclusion, we would like to say that gas storage systems of Ukraine currently have about 13.5 billion cubic meters of gas. In order to ensure uninterrupted transit of the blue fuel to EU countries, one needs to take it up to the level of 19 billion cubic meters. That is, starting from July, one will need to pump 5.5-6 billion cubic meters more, or transit of gas to Europe will be interrupted. This is the weapon, that one will have to use, alt east to remove discrepancies about the South Stream project.