EDITORIAL

Russia: The stake of Crimea (III)

Thus, it is possible that, of all reasons for the intervention in Ukraine, first by annexation of Crimea and after, by destabilizing the Eastern regions of this country, Moscow was actually following, and perhaps prioritizing, on vital economical interests. Among these, the main focus is on the preservation of monopoly of gas exports to Southern and Eastern Europe, where most of the states are prisoners to gas deliveries from the East which, obviously, brings a massive profit share to Russia’s economy (not to mention geopolitical benefits). Some of the events that appeared after suggest that this vision on the motivations of Russia’s actions in Ukraine also included economical arguments. First, Russia gave up its long-time project to build an expensive pipeline named “South Stream”. It happened on December 1, 2014, when, after a meeting with Turkish counterpart T.  Erdogan, V. Putin announced that he would drop the planned pipeline due to obstructions caused by the European Union, and in order to compensate, he would increase deliveries to Turkey through “Blue Stream” by almost 20 per cent, also offering Turkey a discount of 6 per cent, starting on January 1, 2015. As we know, Europe purchases almost 30 per cent of the Russian gas annually, and “South Stream”, that was to be finished in 2018, would have transported almost half of this quantity on a route that connected Russia to Bulgaria through a pipeline placed on the bottom of the Black Sea, so that, avoiding Romania, the gas would be delivered to Austria. Fear that Russia, eluding Ukraine, would exercise a geopolitical domination on Central European states depending of Russian gas had determined the EU to demand in June 2014 – while Russia was annexing Crimea – Bulgatia to suspend the planned start of “South Stream” Constructions. Simultaneously with their announcement on December 1, 2014, Putin and Erdogan also announced the start of the construction of a new pipeline of Russian gas transportation to pass the Black Sea towards Turkey (doubling the “Blue Stream”), and from that point, besides completing the requirements of Turkish economy, the gas was to be conducted to the energy hub at the border of Greece. In his public statement, V. Putin pointed out: “The gas hub by the Greek border could be used to supply Southern Europe if there is demand.”

Yet, as the press mentioned, Russia adopted other measures, as well, destined to grant monopoly over gas transportation in the Black Sea region to Europe. At the end of the year 2014, as well, Rosneft, Russia’s greatest state-owned oil companx, bought from the Georgian Government 49 per cent of the shares of the oil terminal of Poti. Armenia depends of the oil from this terminal. These measures by Moscow in the energy field and the Black Sea region have an obvious strategic target. Asked about the viability of the new Turkish Stream at the beginning of February 2015, Russian Ambassador to the EU V. Chizhov declared: “Now, faced with draconian energy policy of the EU, including the infamous Third Energy Package, Gazprom has taken a more flexible view, and is prepared to deliver gas to the border of the EU, namely to that hub at the Turkish-Greek border. It could have been the Turkish-Bulgarian border, had the Bulgarian government been more consistent in its support of the project”. Moreover, the Russian diplomat pointed out that, lately, there is an increase of Russian gas demand in Europe; therefore, when planning the new pipeline, Moscow took into account precisely the fact that there will be sufficient demand. “The figures we have so far indicate that in 2014”, said Chizov, “Gazprom delivered more gas than before to EU countries. So there is a very visible trend of growth of gas supply from Russia to EU member states. And with gas prices going down, it may get increasingly attractive” . It must be admitted, when faced with such information, that it is a coherent politics performed by Russia in the last months, since an energy monopoly was installed over the Black Sea region and, practically, it is a diversification of the pipeline network so that, on one hand, it punishes certain states, that opposed Russia’s policies in this field (see Bulgaria recently, economically affected by abandoning the “South Stream” pipeline) and rewards others (see Turkey, that exhibited an increasing “hunger” of energy and needs a new pipeline, and is due to absorb 60 per cent of its transportation capacity), and on the other hand, may conduct a selective policy for the future (prices and quantities) to the EU countries in energy-dependant EU countries in Central and Eastern Europe. And these ample “opportunities” revealed by Russia’s new energy politics may be put into practice eluding Ukraine, without fearing eventual issues in energy transportation to Central Europe determined one way or another by this state, but also by eventual “prohibiting measures” imposed by the EU. We are calling them “prohibiting measures” – the Russian Ambassador quoted above named them “draconian” and “infamous” from Moscow’s perspective, precisely because they are targeting to stop Russia’s aggressive politics concerning this part of the continent. And they include the Russian practices of using energy deliveries as a geopolitical tool. Let us mention that, under these circumstances, Ukraine, losing the profit from energy transportation and in a precarious economical situation, is looking forward to a terribly difficult time it may only overcome if provided international help, once Russian policies are implemented (“the Turkish pipeline” is planned to be finished in 2019).

Moreover, as the Russian press showed, at the half of February 2015, Russia already started applying its new energy strategy based, in the first stage, on suffocating Ukraine. Russia restarted direct gas deliveries to separatist regions (Donbass) and announced Ukraine that, if the country does not pay in advance for deliveries, they will be stopped. Simultaneously, Gazprom significantly reduced gas deliveries to Europe. In the first half of February, the volume of gas transported to Slovakia decreased by 55 per cent, compared to the similar period of the previous year, the gas deliveries by “North Stream” were reduced by 54 per cent, and those to Belarus decreased by 44 per cent. The move is intended to persuade Europe not to deliver gas to Ukraine in reverse regime and to convince it to accept the building of the South Stream, by revisiting its decision to stop attending this project. The EU immediately replied by creating the European Energy Union, establishing Algeria, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and other countries in Asia as Europe’s top energy suppliers. A plan aims building a Trans-Caspian pipeline that will connect Europe to Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan and, as members hope, even to Iran. EU announced that they would re-establish energy relations with Russia when conditions will be favourable. Faced with the firm attitude of the EU, Russia reconsidered its decision and restarted delivering gas to Ukraine. Obviously, it is the initial stage of an already ongoing energy war, and its stake is, on one hand, Ukraine being under the control of Russia or being disintegrated and, on the other hand, keeping the dependency on Russian gas of states from Central and Eastern Europe, a presence vector and geopolitical droit de regard exercised by Moscow in these continental regions. The key of this never ending war is Crimea’s tremendous importance in the Black Sea region.

And, given the fact that this kind of monopoly on energy over the Black Sea region needed consolidation and defence, a strategic control position was needed over these port waters, and the geographic configuration provided the ideal location on the Crimea Pensinsula. As recently mentioned by General Philip Breedlove,  NATO Military Commander, since March 2014, Crimea was turned into an air-defence and sea defence system that covers the port waters of the sea: “These weapon systems—from air defense systems that reach nearly half of the Black Sea to surface attack systems that reach almost all of the Black Sea area—have made the platform of Crimea a great platform for power projection into this area.”

The militarization of Crimea, and, thereof, the strategic domination of the Black Sea is the stake that made Russia fight for the disintegration of Ukraine, leading to its own economical collapse due to sanctions by the West and, thus, the partnership with the West turned into open hostility at least for the next few years (two until the next presidential elections in the United States and at least one more year until the new American President is accustomed to foreign affairs files.)

 

 

 

 

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