August 27, 2008

Slovak Paper Urges EU to Review Joint Energy Projects With Russia

Text of report by Slovak privately-owned independent newspaper Sme website, on 23 August

[Commentary by Ivan Stulajter: "Cold war"]

The West, together with Ukraine, has invested too much energy and resources in the oil-and gas-rich Caspian region for it not to undertake any measures to make Russian troops withdraw from Georgia. Moscow is not going to rush to pull them out. The Kremlin cannot leave only because the West wants it to leave. Besides, this is also a matter of national pride and, above all, a matter of strategic interests. Nothing can discourage Western investors more from their endeavour to create in the Caspian region an alternative source of energy than Russian military presence in Georgia, which is an important transport artery. Needless to say, Russia is doing everything it can to make also the other nations to the south of the Caucasus and around the Caspian Sea - especially Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan - realize that Moscow, and not Washington or Brussels, is the hegemon in the region.

From the viewpoint of the West's interest in the diversification of the sources of gas and oil and transport routes, the Georgians' attack on South Ossetia was thus, at the very least, a tactical mistake on the part of Tbilisi and the near future may show whether it was not a strategic mistake as well. It is the best thing that could happen to the Kremlin. It gained a pretext to destabilize the entire region, which, at the same time, provided it with an opportunity to work on its stabilization according to its own scenario. In practical terms this means acquisition of control over local raw materials and over transport routes that have been outside Moscow's influence.

On the other hand, the Georgian crisis is an enormous challenge for the West to increase its engagement in the Caucasus and Caspian region. There are several possibilities of pushing the Russians back beyond Georgia's borders. Apart from pokes in the rib within the framework of the G8, the UN, or cooperation within NATO, EU member states to the south of our border, for example, should start reassessing the construction of the Russian South Stream gas pipeline, which is a tough competitor of the European Nabucco project. It is precisely Nabucco, through which "Caspian gas" is supposed to flow. Berlin, too, should proceed similarly with respect to the construction of the Russian-German Nord Stream gas pipeline. Let us not forget: In the same way as the EU is more or less dependent on gas and oil supplies from Russia, Russia does not currently have comparable alternative customers, either, and can ill afford the loss of income from raw material exports. An extreme possibility is Georgia's accelerated admission into NATO, which means, however, getting ready for a possible military clash with Russia.

And what can Slovakia do? It should, at long last, purchase from the Yukos Finance company 49 per cent of Transpetrol [oil pipeline operator] shares and should under no circumstances pass them on to Russia, as is being speculated behind the scenes.

Originally published by Sme website, Bratislava, in Slovak 23 Aug 08.

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