This article was first published in the Journal of Turkish Weekly, on December 10, 2013.
JTW Interview, USAK Expert Hasan S. Özertem
The demonstrations on Kiev’s main squareMaidan have been sparked by President Viktor Yanukovich declaring on November 21 that the Ukraine will suspend the negotiation of an association agreement with the European Union, under economic and political pressure from it’s Eastern neighbor Russia. After 19 days of protests, the opposition is calling for early elections. While a large proportion of the Ukrainian population only speaks Russian, and who probably seek more intense relations with Russia rather than the EU, the opposition groups see Ukraine as part of Europe. What are the underlying strategic considerations for Russia and the European Union?
In light of the very tense climate in the Ukraine, and the consequences this may have on energy security in the European Union, I had a conversation with USAK director for the Center of Energy Security Studies, Hasan Selim Özertem.
Talks Russia and Ukraine
According to Özertem, Russia has been courting Ukraine’s President Yanukovich in favour of Russia by offering a possible membership of the Ukraine to the Eurasian Customs Union, a decreased price from Russian gas, and offered to postpone Ukraine’s outstanding gas payments until the spring of 2014. However, with the toppling of the Lenin statue – founder of the Soviet Union – and the continuing protests in the capital, “Russia is thinking twice over the short-run membership of the Ukraine to the customs union.” Also, a concrete agreement on the price of Russian gas for the Ukraine is still in undetermined.
The EU’s energy security and challenges ahead
The Ukraine is one of the main transit routes of Russian gas to the EU – as much as 60% of Russian gas to the European Union passes through Ukrainian territories. Particularly, Central and Eastern European countries depend on the gas coming from Russia through the Ukraine. However, according to USAK’s Hasan Özertem, the EU has managed to organize it’s energy security gradually. Thus, “if any distruptions happen in the short run, this will not affect European Union countries directly, as it did in 2009. One of the key improvements is the North Stream route from Russia to Germany, which has been in operation since 2011.” Particularly between Germany and Central European countries certain interconnector systems have been activated. In this sense, certain extra gas can be supplied from Germany to Central European countries.
The winter months in Europe look like they will be harsh. If the current weather conditions hold, the United Kingdom might need extra gas from the North Stream. In addition, Norway’s renovation activities to its gas infrastructure prevent it from providing extra gas from Russia “to compensate for any possible distruption from the Ukraine by sending extra gas to Germany,” Hasan Özertem explains. On the other hand, also the Ukraine has started to optimise it’s own gas efficiency, and started to import gas from Poland and Hungary.
Uncertain future, the EU undetermined
“There is a delicate situation in Ukrainian politics which makes Russia think twice before stepping forward, but it doesn’t let the Ukraine run into the arms of the EU.” In contrast to Russia’s careful calculations, the EU does not seem to stand firm on the issue of the Ukraine, energy interests and the political climate. One of the reasons could be the current financial crisis which pushes the EU away from more intensively assisting the Ukraine. Signing a partnership agreement with the Ukraine makes the EU at least partially responsible for the current political tensions in the Ukraine. Kiev will be in need of 12-15 billion dollars to pay its government debts in 2014. USAK’s energy security expert Hasan Özertem concludes that “the ongoing situation in the streets of Kiev might force European Union countries to consider their decisions once again.” The Ukrainian government.
By Tibor Hargitai
10 December 2013