Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 03.03.2018
Russia launched a gas war against Ukraine and the rest of Europe on Friday. The opening salvoes looked like Russia’s use of gas supply blackmail in the past, with “let them freeze in the dark” threats looming over Ukrainian gas consumers and westward, down-the-pipeline victims of Putin’s so-called gas weapon. But four years since the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine and four years of fighting Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Donbas have forged Ukraine into a formidable adversary for Muscovy’s imperialist aggression. By the end of the day on March 2, Russia had backed down and failed in its blitzkrieg attack against Europe’s energy security.
On February 28, Russia suffered a major defeat in a tribunal of the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. The Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal decided in favour of Ukraine’s Naftogaz and against Russia’s Gazprom in a dispute about transit of Russian gas through pipelines across Ukraine. Gazprom was ordered to pay Naftogaz $2.56 billion, and faces half a million dollars in fines for every day that it doesn’t pay the arbitration award.
Russia never abides by international agreements and is at war with Ukraine. On March 1, Ukraine’s Naftogaz detected that Russia’s Gazprom was failing to supply the contractually obligated pressure to the pipeline transiting Ukraine. Naftogaz and the Ukrainian government sprang into action. First, they called out Gazprom on its breach of contract. Then the Ukrainians took steps to maintain pressure to down-the-pipeline customers in the European Union. The Ukrainian government and Naftogaz decided that even though Russia and Gazprom was in breach of contract to supply gas to Ukraine, Ukraine was not going to be in breach of contract to supply gas to the European Union. On March 2, it was announced that all kindergartens, schools, colleges, universities in Ukraine will be closed until March 6 to prevent an energy crisis. Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, appealed publicly for all Ukrainians to turn down their thermostats and to reduce demand for natural gas.
On March 2, around noon, Gazprom declared war and announced that it would intentionally fail to meet its obligations under all its contracts with Naftogaz. It is clear that Putin thought Naftogaz would then pass on the effect this breach of contract to its down-the-pipeline customers in central and western Europe and cut their supply – rather than have Ukrainians “freeze in the dark” during a wintry cold spell that is affecting Ukraine and much of Europe besides. Instead, the Ukrainian government announced an intensification of conservation efforts and maintained pressure in the transit pipelines. Right in the afternoon, Naftogaz announced a new contract, with Poland’s PGNiG, for “reverse flow” supply of gas to Ukraine for Ukrainian domestic consumers. A bit later, Ukraine’s Ukrtransgaz warned its partners in the European Union about potential problems with gas transit because of unreliable sourcing from Russia, while reassuring them of the steps Ukraine was taking to meet its obligations for delivery of natural gas.
Having badly underestimated the resilience, business acumen, and moral integrity of the Ukrainians, by the evening on March 2 Gazprom admitted defeat in this phase of Russia’s gas war against Europe, and announced the resumption of its contracts with Ukraine’s Naftogaz.
Following Naftogaz and President Poroshenko’s appeal for conservation, Ukrainians managed to cut natural gas consumption by 14%, as revealed in figures released on March 3 (on the main picture: daily gas consumption of major cities, courtesy of Andrii Kobolev from Naftogaz of Ukraine). The extreme cold spell that gripped Ukraine is over, so the hardship is less acute. In an unscientific poll on Ukrainian TV “Espreso,” out of 8,100 respondents 86% said they were willing to freeze rather than let Russia win in a gas war. As is usually the case in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, Ukrainians become more united with each Russian attack.
Natural gas is nothing but a weapon in Russia’s war against the West. But cutting off gas supply to Ukraine is no longer effective for Putin for blackmail as it has been in the past. Four years of diversification of supply and intensification of domestic production has created conditions for a resounding victory by Ukraine over Russia in the Gazprom blitzkrieg attack against Europe’s energy security on March 2.
Ukrainians have proven to be resilient against the Putin regime in the gas war. But Germans are profoundly weak. Oblivious to the the war that Putin’s Russia is waging against Europe, Germany and Austria and France are blundering ahead with the Nord Stream 2 scheme by Russia’s Gazprom to attack Ukraine’s economy and to destroy the energy security of the European Union. Would German titans of industry learn any lesson from the blitzkrieg gas war launched by Russia against Europe on March 2, it would be that Gazprom is a criminal monopoly and nothing but a weapon of Putin’s war of aggression against the West. At the very least, Gazprom is a wholly unreliable partner that always betrays governments, businesses, and customers who are outside the Putin-Kremlin crime syndicate.
Ukraine won a victory for Europe on March 2 in the gas war started by Russia. Now it’s time for the rest of Europe to step up. The European Union must kill the Nord Stream 2 plot to attack Ukraine’s economy and destroy Europe’s energy security. The EU must prosecute Gazprom in the courts for the criminal monopoly that it is. The EU must increase sanctions on Russian individuals and entities because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. When threatened by the Muscovy invaders that they will “freeze in the dark” without natural gas, Ukrainians were united in saying: “Bring it on! We will never surrender.” Other Europeans need to show the same resilience, courage, and moral fortitude to defeat Russian aggression.