Gazprom’s Destabilization Plan for Ukraine and Southeast Europe

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 10

When the tense horse trading among the EU, Ukraine and Russia about allowing EU monitors to observe how Russia was renewing the flow of gas to Europe and how Ukraine was transporting this gas ended on January 13, most Western observers were mildly optimistic that at long last the January 2009 gas blockade of Europe had come to an end. Few, however, took into account the fact that Gazprom was bound to a hidden agenda that dictated its moves and negotiating position. Gazprom is not and never has been a private company. It is a Russian state-owned monopoly, operated and controlled by the government; and this does not allow it to behave as a private entity, independent of the Kremlin’s foreign policy goals and the ambitions of Russia’s leaders and their subservient oligarchs.

When Russia partially opened the gas valve at the Sudzha pumping station on January 13 to supply gas to Ukraine in order to satisfy the agreement with the EU, the Ukrainians refused to accept the flow. Why?

Oleh Dubyna, the head of the Ukrainian state-owned Naftohaz Ukrainy, explained that the route proposed by Gazprom would force his company to cut off supplies to the heavily populated industrial regions in eastern Ukraine. Dubyna proposed that Gazprom pump gas to the EU via two other stations, Pysarivka and Valuyky. For unexplained reasons the Russians chose not to do so. Bohdan Sokolovsky, the Ukrainian presidential energy envoy, stated that Gazprom’s choice of the metering stations was "provocative" because it set a "technologically unrealistic" task for Naftohaz (Interfax, January 13).

“Naftohaz also needs Russian gas coming in at the other two import terminals in order to feed the Balkan pipeline,” said Mikhail Korchemkin, director of the U.S.-based East European Gas Analysis consultancy. “Russia’s decision to use just one metering station indicates that it wants to extend the conflict, he said” (Moscow Times, January 14).

If Gazprom is successful in stopping the flow of gas to southeastern Ukraine by insisting that gas to Europe go via Sudzha, the Kremlin’s strategy of provoking mass disturbances in these regions in order to precipitate a “popular” anti-Tymoshenko-Yushchenko uprising would intensify calls in these critical regions to join the Russian Federation. With the Ukrainian Party of Regions seemingly more loyal to Moscow than to Kyiv, Putin and Medvedev apparently feel confident that such a strategy would transform Ukraine into a second, pro-Russian, Belarus-like puppet state in the CIS and give Russia control over the Ukrainian gas pipeline to Europe. The consequences of this for the EU would be disastrous. For Gazprom, however, it would be a major coup, allowing it to abandon the costly South Stream pipeline project and, at long last, to destroy the Nabucco pipeline scheme.

It was no coincidence that on January 14, the pro-Russian Party of Regions called on the Ukrainian parliament to impeach Viktor Yushchenko and disband the Tymoshenko government because of their handling of the gas conflict.

Gazprom’s policy of selectively renewing the flow of gas to Europe and blaming Ukraine for delays is aimed at making the leadership in Romania, Bulgaria, and Moldova mistrust the Ukrainian authorities. At the same time, it is intended to provoke civil disturbances in these states in order not only to win the PR war against Ukraine but also to generate popular suspicion about the decision of these former Warsaw Pact states to join NATO. The message the Kremlin wants to convey to these countries is that NATO cannot supply you with gas, so why join this organization. It is in your best interest to stick to Russia, a reliable supplier of gas.

The recent Bulgarian riots are a case in point. Demonstrators in that country revolted not only against corruption in their homeland but also over the Russian gas blockade. (<wbr></wbr>.

Will the protests succeed in creating a pro-Russian wave of public opinion as the Kremlin hopes? Hardly. But the managers of Gazprom and their masters in the Kremlin appear to have set a firm course to reintegrate not only the former USSR, but the Warsaw Pact as well. The only means they have at their disposition is the gas weapon, a powerful tool as the past two weeks have proven.

Last night, Medvedev said Gazprom had declared "force majeure" on its gas exports to Europe and warned that it would unleash its "entire legal arsenal" against Ukraine.