On Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia and gas

Read few comments.

Ievgen VorobiovAnalyst, Polish Institute of International Affairs

Ukrainian officials point to Gazprom as the main problem in setting up the physical reverse – they hint that Gazprom’s warnings are preventing Slovak companies from agreeing to supplying gas to Ukraine. Also, they claim that the Slovak side is unwilling to allow access of Ukrainian experts to evaluate technical capabilities for the reverse. Unfortunately, I cannot vouch for their sincerity.
But knowing that Slovakia is dependent 100% on supply of Russian gas, I would not be surprised if that turned out to be true.

I am far from justifying the EU’s intertia, but I think it is hard to forge a common position in a situation that changes so fast and has potential for huge consequences if handled ineffectively. That is the major reason why Western politicians prefer to shun actions and adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude, even though it is counter-productive (see slow reaction to the initial occupation of Crimea by Russia’s “green men”). Alas, the problem of leadership is also there for the EU and NATO: Angela Merkel is substantially constrained by domestic public opinion, CEE countries do not always have enough weight when it comes to producing a decision that requires a consensus. Finally, in my opinion, decision-makers often ask wrong questions, such as “what Putin wants”, instead of focusing on what they can do in a fluid, changing environment.

Jonas Grätz, Researcher, Global Security Team, Center for Security Studies

Some Slovak players are not particularly keen on the reverse flow project, but they are pressured by the EU Commission and by other member states to make the project go ahead. It is clear that Ukraine would have expected more, but the previous Ukrainian authorities did not do enough on the issue. Under pressure from Brussels and out of own interest in some cases, the Slovak side was ready to work with them under certain circumstances, but the Ukrainian authorities were not set up for the steady and hard work that this project entails. Instead, they demanded a quick solution which would have entailed considerable risks for Slovakia.

Making reverse flow happen in Slovakia would blunt Russia’s potential to pressure Ukraine. It is therefore seen as a priority issue not only in Brussels, but also in major EU capitals. Naturally, Moscow perceives the issue as one of “high politics” as well, even more so as the battle for Ukraine again moved to the economic, the gas field. President Putin is now using a gas price almost twice as high as in the UK and a fantasy debt of over US$ 16 bn to pressure Ukraine into accepting a federal structure, which would pave the way to disintegration. Therefore, pressure by Moscow on Slovakia is likely to be great. Concrete points of pressure could be a demand to renegotiate the “ship-or-pay” contract with Slovak shipper Eustream, which apparently allows for renegotiation of the terms. This would be a threat for company revenues. Also, exports to Russia could be affected, but they are not a major share of Slovak exports.

It all shows that we are in doubt about our own political and economic achievements and the future direction of history. The rise of far-right parties in Europe underlines this. Also, the economy is less strong that we would like it to be and therefore economic matters are taking high priority. This makes it easier for Russia to influence our decision-making system with economic incentives.

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