21st Feb 2024

EU promises Ukraine to regulate Russia gas pipe

  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Kyiv on Tuesday (Photo:
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The EU has promised that Russia's 'Nord Stream 2' gas pipeline will be bound by anti-monopoly laws, making it harder to cut off Ukraine.

"As we've repeatedly stressed, the 2019 gas directive, the third energy package, fully applies to Nord Stream 2. For the [EU] Commission, what's clear is that Ukraine remains and must remain a reliable transit country," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said at a summit in Kyiv on Tuesday (12 October).

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The summit communiqué also "reiterated our mutual commitment to full implementation of the applicable EU legislation" to "existing and future gas transmission systems on the territory of the EU".

Russia recently completed the new gas pipeline to Germany.

It is now awaiting German regulatory approval before pumping gas.

It wants to run Nord Stream 2 as a monopoly, but under EU law it has to appoint an independent operator and let other suppliers use the pipe, making it harder to cut off Western allies, such as Poland or Ukraine.

The Kyiv summit took place amid surging gas prices and allegations Moscow was tightening supplies to bully Germany on Nord Stream 2 rules.

Ukraine still transits most Russian gas to the EU in a trade worth billions to its economy.

It also imports gas from Russia for own consumption, but does so via 'reverse-flows' from EU countries, such as Hungary and Slovakia.

Ukraine's deputy prime minister Olha Stefanishyna recently told EUobserver Russia had pledged Ukraine enough gas for winter.

But von der Leyen also promised to help on this front.

"I understand Ukraine's concerns about gas supplies in view of much lower gas deliveries from [Russian gas firm] Gazprom. This is an issue not only for this winter, but also for winters to come," she said.

"We will also work closely with you ... to increase gas supply capacity coming from European Union member states. And this includes the option of working on arrangements to reverse the flow of an additional gas pipeline from Slovakia," she added.

For his part, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky repeated that Ukraine wanted to join the EU.

He also welcomed a new aviation deal that would help Ukrainian airlines fly short-haul in Europe.

But, as usual, the EU gave no enlargement promise, repeating years-old language that it "acknowledged the European aspirations of Ukraine".

The EU communiqué also promised to uphold economic sanctions on Russia over its aggression in east Ukraine.

And von der Leyen said "we [the EU] call on Russia to assume its responsibility as a party to the conflict" there.

International monitors recorded 291 ceasefire violations, including 77 explosions, on the contact line in the 24 hours before the EU summit.

Nord Stream 2 and Ukraine's security are intertwined for Ukrainian military commanders.

Contacts on the front line previously told EUobserver Russia would be bolder to wage war in east Ukraine if it did not have to fear damaging EU-gas transit pipelines once Nord Stream 2 was up and running.

And Russian president Vladimir Putin recently remarked Ukraine's transit pipes were so old they could "burst" any time.

"Putin suggests an 'accident' may befall Ukraine's gas pipeline," Daniel Fried, a former US diplomat, commented on Tuesday.

"Now would be a good time for the US and Germany to caution the Kremlin regarding new aggression," Fried, who writes for the Atlantic Council think-tank in Washington, said.

EU test

Russia-Ukraine conflict resolution is handled by France and Germany on behalf of the EU in the 'Normandy Format'.

The four leaders last sat down in Paris in 2019, but Berlin said on Monday foreign ministers would "meet soon" to plan new talks.

A Normandy summit could turn into a test of EU foreign policy on Russia in the context of German chancellor Angela Merkel's departure from power.

And for its part, Russia was sending mixed signals on the way ahead.

Putin spoke with Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron on Monday about Normandy talks.

But the same day, Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev called Zelensky "disgusting ... weak ... stupid" in Russia's Kommersant newspaper.

"It's pointless for us to deal with vassals," Medvedev said.

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