EU cracks under the weight of its policy on the Ukraine-Russia nub

Günther Oettinger, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Energy (on the right) and Aleksandr Novak, Russian Minister for Energy participated in the EU/Russia/Ukraine trilateral meeting which aims to ensure continued gas supplies and transit. To this effect Oettinger proposed a new compromise to secure gas supplies to Europe and the Ukraine during the winter season. The proposal envisages the following comittments:* Ukraine would settle its debts based on a preliminary price of $268,5$/1000m3 by making payments in two tranches: 2 Billion $ by the end of October and 1,1 Billion $ by the end of the year.* Gazprom and Naftogaz agree that at least 5 bcm based on a price of 385$/1000m3 will be delivered to Ukraine in the coming winter with the possibility for Naftogaz to order more gas if needed. 5 bcm is the minimum volume Ukraine considers it would need in the coming winter. There was no immediate reaction by the Russian minister.

Günther Oettinger, Vice-President of the EC in charge of Energy (on the right) and Aleksandr Novak, Russian Minister for Energy participated in the EU/Russia/Ukraine meeting which aimed at securing continued gas supplies and transit. To this effect Oettinger proposed a new compromise to secure gas supplies to Europe and the Ukraine during the winter season. The proposal envisages the following commitments:* Ukraine would settle its debts based on a preliminary price of $268,5$/1000m3 by making payments in two tranches: 2 Billion $ by the end of October and 1,1 Billion $ by the end of the year.* Gazprom and Naftogaz agree that at least 5 bcm based on a price of 385$/1000m3 will be delivered to Ukraine in the coming winter with the possibility for Naftogaz to order more gas if needed. 5 bcm is the minimum volume Ukraine considers it would need in the coming winter. There was no immediate reaction by the Russian minister.

The Ukrainian civil war, with the two sides patronised respectively by the West (EU and US) and Russia, has now deeply divided the entire Old Continent. On Friday 26 September Hungary decided to cut off its secondary supplies of Russian natural gas to Ukraine. Last June, after Moscow cut its direct deliveries of gas to Kiev, the European Union asked its members states Hungary, Poland and Slovakia neighbouring Ukraine to supply it with fuel initially, delivered to them by the Russian natural gas monopoly Gasprom.

During the summer months this arrangement didn’t seem to create any problems. But with the winter approaching Russia told the three countries that their contracts with Gazprom forbid the re-export of gas to third parties. Russian Minister for Energy Alexander Novak made this quite clear in an interview which appeared last Friday. He went on to say that the re-export of Russian gas to Ukraine by some EU states can lead those countries into being themselves cut off from Gazprom’s fuel supplies.

Hungary breaks the lines

Hungary’s decision to cut its re-sales of Russian gas to Ukraine came only a few days after the country’s rightwing and eurosceptic Prime Minister Victor Orban met in Budapest with Alexei Miller the CEO of Gazprom. It’s not the first time that Orban strongly disagrees with core Brussels strategy. He was one of the two European leaders to unsuccessfully fight the election of Jean-Claude Juncker at the helm of the European Commission. He invariably accuses the EU as being a new super-directory aiming at subjecting small European nations to the big powers and he always strongly opposes any move for ‘more Europe’.

Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Orban, despite or probably because he is an extreme right-winger and an autocrat by nature, has developed a close relationship with President Putin. The Hungarian PM has adopted a completely different position towards Moscow than most of EU leaders. As a logical development, according to a Reuters report Gazprom said it will increase natural gas deliveries to Hungary.

Extreme right meets the left

However, Orban is not the only political leader of an EU country to disagree with Brussels’ core strategy of an all out confrontation with Russia over the Ukrainian question. Marine Le Pen, the French leader of the extreme right-wing National Front party totally opposes EU’ stance towards Ukraine and Russia. She puts the blame for the Ukrainian crisis and the deadly civil war entirely on Brussels, accusing the EU of blindly backing the American aggression against Russia. Mind you that Le Pen leads by far the polls for the next presidential election in France ahead of President Francois Hollande.

Noticeably, it’s not only the extreme right-wingers who oppose the EU hostile policies against Russia. Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Greek major Parliamentary opposition left-wing party SYRIZA and President of the Party of the European Left has strongly criticised Brussels on the Ukrainian issue. The latest action of Russia to ban imports of fruits and vegetables from the EU harmed the Greek farmers. Tsipras found the opportunity to capitalise on it. Russia was retaliating after the West, Brussels and Washington alike, imposed a series of hurtful sanctions on Russian companies and businessmen closely related to Vladimir Putin.

More reactions

EU’s policy on the Ukrainian question has also attracted tough criticism from political parties and civil society organisations in Finland, the Baltic Sea democracies, Bulgaria and other Union member states. As things turn out the overall picture is not at all one of a common approach vis-à-vis Russia. The concrete and harsh decisions taken in Brussels during the last months against Moscow and the Ukrainian rebels in the eastern Russian speaking provinces are now backfiring.

Hungary is the first country to openly and decisively break the EU lines, totally disagreeing with the Union’s policies towards Ukraine – Russia policies. In Bulgaria, the EU’s tough stance with regard to Russia has created a political limbo. It’s not only that this last country depends almost entirely on Russian natural gas to keep it warm and its industry going. Sofia has traditional relations with Moscow surpassing the Warsaw Pact era and going deep into history.

It’s not an exaggeration then to reckon that the Brussels policies in the Ukraine-Russia nub as manifested so far has started to break up the EU. This is not a division of the usual kind. It’s not a confrontation about the future of agriculture or a difference between ‘federalists’ and ‘nationalists’. It’s a history making separation. Orban doesn’t feel only strained with the ‘more Union’ attitude of the Brussels’ elite. He now chooses to vehemently oppose the strategic decision of EU to cut Moscow out from the rest of Europe and ban it from the Western world. The results of the 5 October elections in Bulgaria will indirectly dictate Sofia’s position vis-à-vis the Ukrainian question and the EU–Russia relations.

Undoubtedly the Ukrainian issue is to leave its marks deep in EU’s body.

 

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