31st Mar 2023

Cold War politics haunt EU gas crunch response

  • The cold snap in Europe will see gas demand shoot up (Photo: EUobserver)

Ex-Communist EU states are again accusing Russia of using energy as a political weapon in the Ukraine gas crisis, despite European Commission efforts to paint the dispute as a purely commercial matter.

"It's big politics from 2004 [when Ukraine broke away from Russia's control in the Orange Revolution]," a senior Lithuanian official told EUobserver on Monday (5 January).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"Russia is saying: 'You have to become a vassal state, then you get what you want.' All the neighbouring states of Russia are still fighting for their independence," he added. "Lithuania is paying one of the highest prices for gas in Europe and this is also as a result of Russian attitudes to our policies."

Russia cut Ukraine's gas on 1 January after accusing Kiev of not paying its 2008 bill and asking it to pay $450 (€330) per thousand cubic metres of gas in 2009, compared to $180 in 2008 and compared to average European prices of $450 to $500.

The Paris-based International Energy Association (IEA) has questioned the commercial logic of the move.

"To adjust prices so rapidly will cause problems for Ukrainian consumers," IEA expert Ian Cronshaw told this website. "Russia's call for higher prices is interesting because it reflects the abnormally high oil prices at the beginning of 2008. Those prices are dropping and should keep falling in 2009."

EU deputy ambassadors met in Brussels on Monday to exchange technical information about gas supply shortfalls. Ukraine transit of Russian gas accounts for one fifth (about 300 million cubic metres) of EU daily consumption.

But the first political-level debate will take place at an informal gathering of EU foreign ministers in Prague on Thursday, with some EU officials expecting a renewed push for the Nabucco pipeline project, designed to bring in gas from Central Asia to the EU, bypassing both Russia and Ukraine.

Russia-Ukraine rows over gas prices have taken place every winter since the Orange Revolution, with the worst spat in 2006 seeing Ukraine transit shipments to the EU plunge by 200 million cubic metres a day, compared to the current shortfall of around 50 million cubic metres.

The 2006 crisis was widely interpreted as a Russian attempt to destabilise the post-revolutionary government in Ukraine.

But the European Commission is depicting the latest crunch as a purely commercial dispute between Russian supply firm Gazprom and Ukraine's state-owned gas buyer, Naftogas.

RosUkrEnergo - an intermediary company co-owned by Gazprom and Ukraine oligarch Dmitry Firtash, which buys gas from Gazprom and sells it on to Naftogas - has reportedly filed a law suit against Naftogas at an arbitration court in Stockholm to get its 2008 money.

"It is a commercial dispute and it has to be solved by the two parties," European Commission spokesman Ferran Tarradelas said on Monday, adding that the commission's main concern is EU consumers, which have not yet been affected by the spat.

A delegation of commission and Czech EU presidency officials is due in Kiev on Monday and Tuesday on a "fact-finding" mission to see how bad things might get, with another set of EU officials to meet Gazprom delegates in Berlin.

Some EU officials believe a Russia-Ukraine deal will be struck by Wednesday, in time for Russian officials to settle down for the Russian Orthodox Christmas holiday.

But the IEA in Paris is less optimistic, pointing out that while EU gas stocks (at 70 to 90 percent full) are higher than back in 2006, this week's cold snap in Europe will see gas demand shoot up.

"The bad news is the weather has turned. There's a nice little snowfall in Paris today," the IEA's Mr Cronshaw said.

"There doesn't seem to be a lot of momentum to resolve the issue. We're getting a little worried it's dragging on for a week already, whereas in 2006 it lasted just a few days."

Correction: the article originally said an informal EU foreign ministers meeting will be held in Prague on Wednesday. In fact it will be on Thursday

Police violence in rural French water demos sparks protests

Protests are planned in 90 villages across France on Thursday to protest against escalating police violence that have left 200 people injured, including two people who are still in a coma, after a violent clash in Sainte-Soline over 'water privatisation'.

EU approves 2035 phaseout of polluting cars and vans

The agreement will ban the sale of carbon-emitting cars after 2035. The EU Commission will present a proposal for e-fuels after pressure from German negotiators via a delegated act, which can still be rejected by the EU Parliament.

'Final warning' to act on climate change, warns IPCC

The United Nations's report — synthesising years of climate, biodiversity, and nature research — paints a picture of the effects of global warming on the natural world, concluding there is "no time for inaction and delays."

EU launches critical raw materials act

The EU presented its strategy to ensure access to critical raw materials needed for clean technologies. No country should supply more than 65 percent of any key material. Currently, China dominates almost all rare earth metal markets.


Dear EU, the science is clear: burning wood for energy is bad

The EU and the bioenergy industry claim trees cut for energy will regrow, eventually removing extra CO2 from the atmosphere. But regrowth is not certain, and takes time, decades or longer. In the meantime, burning wood makes climate change worse.


EU's new critical raw materials act could be a recipe for conflict

Solar panels, wind-turbines, electric vehicle batteries and other green technologies require minerals including aluminium, cobalt and lithium — which are mined in some of the most conflict-riven nations on earth, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, and Kazakhstan.

Latest News

  1. Ukraine — what's been destroyed so far, and who pays?
  2. EU sending anti-coup mission to Moldova in May
  3. Firms will have to reveal and close gender pay-gap
  4. Why do 83% of Albanians want to leave Albania?
  5. Police violence in rural French water demos sparks protests
  6. Work insecurity: the high cost of ultra-fast grocery deliveries
  7. The overlooked 'crimes against children' ICC arrest warrant
  8. EU approves 2035 phaseout of polluting cars and vans

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. InformaConnecting Expert Industry-Leaders, Top Suppliers, and Inquiring Buyers all in one space - visit Battery Show Europe.
  2. EFBWWEFBWW and FIEC do not agree to any exemptions to mandatory prior notifications in construction
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ways to prevent gender-based violence
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Economic gender equality now! Nordic ways to close the pension gap
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Pushing back the push-back - Nordic solutions to online gender-based violence
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: The Nordics are ready to push for gender equality

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Azerbaijan Embassy9th Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council Ministerial Meeting and 1st Green Energy Advisory Council Ministerial Meeting
  2. EFBWWEU Social Dialogue review – publication of the European Commission package and joint statement of ETUFs
  3. Oxfam InternationalPan Africa Program Progress Report 2022 - Post Covid and Beyond
  4. WWFWWF Living Planet Report
  5. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us