The EU should act as a mediator in the Russia-Ukraine energy row given that large parts of the continent have had their gas supplies cut. But the basis for successful crisis talks is rather weak, says DW's Bernd Riegert.
It was a similar situation three years ago. Russia and Ukraine fought about gas prices. The ones to suffer were the EU countries, whose gas supplies became scarce. At the time, gas volumes were only reduced, the gas taps weren't fully turned off as is the case this winter. At the time, the EU member states grandly promised to pursue a common energy policy which would lead to more independence from Russia.
Three years have passed and not a lot has happened. Quite the opposite is the case: Russia and Ukraine are even more brazenly showing the European Union who has more pull when it comes to gas.
The EU Commission determined in its second report on an energy strategy last November that the dependence on Russian gas will grow significantly in the next few years. There is no prospect of this dependence easing before 2020. Building new gas pipelines and finding suppliers in Central Asia or North Africa was taking longer than they thought.
In addition, Russia was doing everything possible to torpedo European plans. Russia itself is going shopping for gas reserves in Central Asia. Russia is trying to form a supplier cartel of gas producing countries. And Russia is successfully attempting to divide the EU. Moscow has made bilateral supply and pipeline agreements with a few EU countries, which Moscow considers to be friendly. Others -- particularly the Baltic States, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia -- should be thwarted from a Russian perspective.
The Baltic pipeline which will connect Russia directly with Germany will not lessen the dependency on Russian natural gas. The necessary suppliers for the Nabucco pipeline via Turkey are still missing. Even Iran, which could provide gas supplies one day, would not really be the most reliable partner.
European interests differ
Meanwhile, European solidarity and the common gas market, which EU Commission President Jose Barroso already evoked three years ago, is not far gone. Only now are countries beginning to think about connecting EU nations with each other with pipelines so that there isn't only the one-way street from Russia. No country is really willing to open its gas reserves for another nation. There is no European storage for gas, only nationally administered ones.
Within the EU, the dependency on Russian gas varies greatly. Finland and Poland, for example, get every cubic meter of gas they use from Russia. Spain doesn't import any Russian gas at all. It's evident that the interests are very different.
It has now become clear to European gas clients and the EU Commission in Brussels that Russia is no longer a reliable supplier. Moscow employs gas as a political weapon. That should be a constructive shock for the EU. The bloc's summit in March will have to come up with an effective counter strategy.
Moscow is also dependent on the EU
The success of the Czech EU presidency is a ray of hope. The Czech Republic's Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek was able to mediate and get EU inspectors to monitor the gas flow from Russia via Ukraine. This could be a beginning in taking action against the corruption in the gas business in Russia and Ukraine. For with each cubic meter of gas sold, dubious middlemen also earn money. Twenty percent of turnover is allegedly redirected into the pockets of the political and economic elite this way.
The European Union has to remain unified against Russia and push through a new energy agreement. European companies have to finally be allowed to tap energy sources in Russia and build up infrastructure for its transport.
Russia raked in tons of cash so long as the world economy was booming and energy prices rose. Now, Russia as a supplier may be noticing that it too is dependent on its customers. Falling prices are likely to make the leadership in Moscow see that cooperation with the EU and western investors is better than confrontation.
Ukraine too is acting just as unreliably as Russia is. It is diverting gas or blocking deliveries from Russia. This disqualifies Ukraine both as a candidate for NATO and EU membership.