Ukrainian media and even some MPs are actively quoting Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller as saying in Moscow, when meeting with the new European Commissioner for Energy Union, Maros Sefcovic, that Gazprom will cut gas transit to the EU through Ukraine and switch to the Turkish pipeline.
Mykhailo Honchar, president of the Global Studies Center “21st Century Strategy,” told The Day that Mr. Miller’s statement amounted to little, and that Ukrainian media, along with the European Commission, are making bad mistakes when dealing with the Gazprom issue. More on this in the following interview.
Gazprom’s propaganda appears to be having the desired effect. The Kremlin doesn’t need to establish additional ministries, considering that Ukrainian media are conveying Russia’s message loud and clear.
“Gazprom’s threat to cut gas transit to Europe via Ukraine is 20 years old. The late Gazprom President, Rem Vyakhirev [1992-2001. – Ed.] threatened to cut this transit through Ukraine in the mid-1990s, as soon as the Yamal-Europe Pipeline was completed and the construction project had just started being implemented. The pipeline was built and has been functioning for the past 15 years while Ukraine has continued pumping Russian gas to Europe. The simple truth is that Yamal-Europe doesn’t have the capacity to make up for transit through Ukraine.
“Then there was the Nord Stream saga. They [i.e., Russia] said they would stop transit through Ukraine as soon as that pipeline was ready. Then it was ready, but it wasn’t good enough to stop this transit, either. Russia then threatened to stop transit after completing the South Stream project, but again it came to nil.
“The same is true of the Turkish pipeline. Come to think of it, there is little difference between the Turkish and South Stream, except that Russia has actually admitted that the non-transit pipeline strategy has failed. Whereas the South Stream project is a case study in non-transit pipeline construction, the Turkish one involves Turkey as a transit country. In fact, a number of Russian experts voiced their skepticism about projects such as Blue Stream, saying Russia was making a senseless swop, considering that the project was aimed at substituting an unpredictable and unreliable Ukraine with an ambitious and nonetheless unreliable Turkey. Mr. Miller appears unaware of this criticism, insisting that the Russian Federation is about to meet Turkey halfway. Great! We’ll see what the result will be like. Among other things, they’ll have to lay the pipeline on the bottom of the Black Sea. While it is true that the length would be shorter – 444 km rather than 900 km – the pipeline would have to be laid through the deepest part of the sea. The kind of pipes they have are no good, so they’d confront technological difficulties. Then they’d have to lay part of the pipeline across Turkish territory. Greece is no big deal as a European gas consumer; the amount consumed is peanuts compared to the other countries.
“Finally, there is the south of Europe. Given the highest conceivable living standard, these countries will never require as much natural gas as their North European counterparts. Mr. Maros Sefcovic posed Mr. Miller the logical question: ‘Why should you need such amounts of gas supplied?’”
How do you think official Kyiv should respond to such statements on the part of Gazprom?
“As another act of information dominance and psychological warfare that is aimed against Europe first and Ukraine second. It is their another attempt to teach us a lesson. We shouldn’t take it seriously. Let them build their pipelines. The more they build the sooner their economy will kick the bucket.”
Why would you say Vice President Maros Sefcovic of the European Commission met with Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller?
“He is the newly appointed Commissioner for Energy Union, such contacts are up his alley, add here his vice presidency. He flew to Moscow to figure out the status of South Stream. Mr. Miller told him that there would be no South Stream, period, that there would be Turkish Stream instead.
“In a broader context, the meeting was about how the EU and Russia could build cooperation in the energy sector in view of current realities. I believe that this mission of Mr. Sefcovic was another strategic mistake on the part of the European Commission. Missions with such objectives should not be on the agenda now, what with Russia stepping up its aggression against Ukraine. On the one hand, the EU says it is necessary to find an extra edge over the Kremlin, but on the other hand an emissary from Brussels flies to Moscow to make a deal of sorts. That’s a signal to Russia [which is bad for us] because it encourages it to move further in the [unwelcome] direction; because this Brussels tactic answers the Kremlin’s logic: Whatever the Europeans have to say, whatever their threats, they’ll visit Moscow to make oil and gas deals, and the Russian Federation will make the best of them.
“Europe, of course, remains the biggest consumer of Russian gas. It has to cooperate with Russia in terms of energy supplies. Yet it is necessary to [correctly] determine the time and place for such deals. Otherwise the whole thing looks as though Brussels were sending envoys to curry favor from Moscow.”
In you opinion, what should be the right tactic of Brussels?
“The EU is talking about harsher sanctions against Russia (we heard this from German Chancellor Angela Merkel); in this context the European Commission ought to have removed South Stream from the agenda, the more so that Russia says there is no such project today.
“This project has never been a priority with the Commission and they should remember their own Nabucco project. Now is the time to revive it, but no one in Brussels seems to remember it. If the EU turned down the South and Turkish Stream projects, this could’ve been part of ‘sanitization’ [reorganization] procedures. Russia would’ve been led to understand in no uncertain words that Europe doesn’t need its pipelines because it is determined to receive gas from the Caspian region – I mean from Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan through TANAP. Then all the i’s would be dotted and t’s crossed. As it is, the European Commission is acting like Buridan’s ass and the Kremlin can only laugh at this approach.”