Battle for the Ukraine

BERLIN/KIEV/MOSCOW | | ukraine

BERLIN/KIEV/MOSCOW (Own report) - The struggle between Berlin and Brussels, on the one side, and Moscow, on the other, for the predominating influence in the Ukraine is growing sharper. Since the end of 2012, the German RWE company has been systematically expanding its natural gas deliveries to this East European country. Its objective is to break Kiev's dependence on Russian natural gas, by reversing the flow in the pipelines already in place, to deliver large quantities of the gas from the West. However, these efforts - also being supported by the German EU Energy Commissioner, Günter Oettinger - are not advancing rapidly enough. According to reports, pro-western circles in the Ukraine are complaining that Slovakia - without whose pipelines, a breakthrough would hardly be possible - is opposing the project. Brussels, therefore, should exert pressure on that country, because time is running out. The Ukrainian government signed a memorandum last week, which is considered an important step toward its integration in the Russian-dominated EurAsian Economic Community, about to be established. In Berlin, Ukrainian participation in this community is perceived as incompatible with Kiev's integration into EU structures. This conflict, which in principle, has been going on for twenty years, is being fueled by this new accentuation.

20-Year Conflict

In principle, the struggle for predominating influence in the Ukraine has been going on since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in late 1991. Whereas Berlin would like to integrate that country into Germany-dominated European structures, Moscow, for its part, seeks to bind Kiev closer to Russia. From the German-European perspective, one stage of this tug of war for the Ukraine's incorporation, was the "Orange Revolution" in late 2004, bringing pro-western forces into power,[1] and, most recently, the intense - but unsuccessful - attempt to have the ex- Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko released from prison on the occasion of the European Soccer Finals held in 2012 in the Ukraine.[2] Formally, Berlin and Brussels are seeking the finalization of a - long-since initialed - association agreement with Kiev, as a means of imposing the Ukraine's incorporation into EU structures. On the other hand, Moscow seeks to incorporate Kiev into the EurAsian Economic Community (EurAsEC), whose founding is currently in preparation. Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan had, for this purpose, formed a Eurasian Customs Union in 2010 and initiated a Eurasian Free Trade Zone in 2012. The Ukraine is due to join as soon as possible.

Reversed Pipelines

Essentially, this political tug of war over the Ukraine is currently being waged with natural gas and pipelines. Russia's power resides in the fact that Kiev, to this day, is dependent upon its gas supplies. Last year, at the instigation of the German EU Energy Commissioner Günter Oettinger, an attempt was launched, to break the influence of Russian natural gas. Current global gas market developments allow this possibility. The boom in shale gas, in the USA, in conjunction with the increased availability of liquid gas, has rendered acquisition of natural gas relatively flexible. Last year, Oettinger, along with politicians in Berlin and German industrial circles developed a plan to reverse the flow in sectors of the Ukrainian pipeline system, enabling the pumping of comparably inexpensive gas of the global market through the pipelines to the Ukraine from the West. This would allow the Ukraine to become independent of Russian natural gas supply. Ferrostaal and especially the RWE companies of Germany are involved in this plan. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3])

The Pipes of Slovakia

RWE, in fact, began delivering gas to the Ukraine in November 2012, using, first of all, Polish pipes. By the end of this year, 53 million m³ will have been piped to the Ukraine. The plan is to increase the flow to 5 million m³ per day. Since the end of March, the Ukraine has been also delivered RWE gas via Hungarian pipelines, which have had their flow also "reversed." This delivery is planned to increase to 15 million m³ per day. The longer term plan is to be able to deliver a total of more than six billion m³ of natural gas per year to the Ukraine over pipelines through Poland and Hungary. However, this is still insufficient for being able to seriously compete with Russia, which sold the Ukraine about 45 billion m³ of natural gas in 2011 and at least 33 billion m³ in 2012. Therefore deliveries via Slovakia's large capacity pipelines should also be added. Pumping up to 20 - 30 billion m³ per year to Kiev through Slovak pipes is in consideration. Sample deliveries began in mid-May, but there is resistance. "According to Ukrainian sources, Kiev's negotiations on the question of the reversal of the flow with Bratislava, are making little progress," according to a recent report.[4] Pro-western circles in the Ukraine have therefore "made urgent pleas to the EU:" "Presumably (...) Bratislava is allied with Gazprom." Brussels must get Slovakia's "pipelines unblocked." Time is running out.

The Eurasian Integration

The latter refers to the fact that Kiev's ties to Moscow are actually making progress. With the signing of a memorandum, last Friday, the Ukraine obtained observer status in the Eurasian Customs Union, permitting its integration into these structures, just in time to become a founding member of the EurAsEC - as Russia desires. The EurAsEC founding is scheduled for early 2015. Moscow would thereby have achieved a key objective. According to Russian media, the Ukraine's EurAsEC membership is in compatibility with the EU association agreement. The Ukraine could then serve as a - strategically significant - "bridge" between the EU and the "Eurasian" integration project. In both Berlin and Brussels, this idea is stubbornly contradicted. Kiev's "Eurasian" integration would rule out "European" integration.

Part of the EU

Accordingly, demands to finally conclude the association agreement with the Ukraine by the fall are now becoming loud. The negotiations of the agreement were terminated in late 2011, and it was already initialed in March 2012. Until now, Berlin and the EU have insisted that the prosecution of their main contacts in Kiev, particularly the prosecution of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, be discontinued. In part, the Ukrainian government has fulfilled this demand, through its pardon and release of former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, a Tymoshenko ally. German business circles had warned, already last fall, that the demands should not be overextended and, if necessary, be withdrawn, to avoid completely losing the Ukraine to Russia.[5] Last week, former Interior Minister, Lutsenko visited Berlin for political consultations, at the invitation of the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation, where he reiterated his ultimate objectives to the foundation: "My dream is for the Ukraine to become part of the European Union."[6]

[1] see also Antisemitische "Kultur" and "Befreiung der Ukraine"
[2] see also Between Moscow and Berlin, Fußball als Mobilisierungsmittel and Fatherland and Freedom
[3] see also Kampf um die Pipelines
[4] Konrad Schuller: Am Scheideweg von Gas und Freiheit; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 01.06.2013
[5] see also Europas Werte
[6] "Mein Traum ist, dass die Ukraine Teil der Europäischen Union wird"; www.kas.de 03.06.2013