Ukraine Must Stand Up to Russian Blackmail

KIEV, Ukraine -- When president Yushchenko makes an appeal not to make gas supply a political issue, there is no doubt he has common sense. This is the only way to cool down and create optimal conditions for the negotiations to go ahead.

However this matter had become a political issue long ago. In August “RIA Novosti”, a Russian pro-government information agency, put a lot of effort into publicising a leak from the Foreign Office, in which the Russian minister claims that Russia is commencing to use the energy-related linchpin to regain domination in Eastern Europe.

This policy is being put into action as Russia asks a new price for gas from the 1st of January 2006 at $160 per thousand cubic metres in the form of an ultimatum, and then the sum of $230 is mentioned.

Ukraine has an agreement with Russia which sets the price for gas at $50 until 2009. Russia demanding Ukraine paying the new price immediately is an equivalent of Ukraine is demanding that the Black Sea Fleet leave Sevastopol before the 1st of January 2006 regardless of any technical obstacles related to such a move.

Certain rules apply when such an agreement becomes subject to review. For instance, Georgia demanded an immediate withdrawal of the Russian military bases from their territory, however after the protracted negotiations the parties had agreed on a 3 year term.

That is why when Russia demands Ukraine to pay twice the price it is charging the Baltic states, that is solely due to political considerations. The Baltic states are protected by NATO and EU and Russia had lost the main means of manipulating there.

Russia is provoked by the Ukrainian temporary vulnerability which enables it to subject Ukraine to various experiments as it is not a member of the clubs mentioned above.

Russian historical tendency to breach agreements represents an issue in any negotiations with this country. German Chancellor Bismarck once said that all agreements signed with Russia are not worth the paper on which they are written.

(Moscow breached the non-aggression pact with Poland dated 1936 (breached in 1939), Romania in 1934 (breached in 1940), the agreement with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia annexed by the USSR in 1940 and the agreement with Afghanistan in 1976 (breached in 1979).

Ukrainians know as well, that the Treaty of Pereyaslav signed by Bogdan Khmelnitsky was breached two years later when Moscow established a truce with Warsaw.

Russia recognised the territorial integrity of the Ukraine according to the agreement between the two states, however in November 2003 Russia came up with a factual territorial claim, questioning Cosa Tuzla island being a Ukrainian territory.

In the view of all these historical cataclysms Russia’s unwillingness to comply with the agreements on gas prices looks a mere trifle.

Modest Colerov, who is currently responsible for the Kremlin’s policies regarding CIS states, and is fighting “orange revolutions” on post soviet territories, once said that Russia “has got no moral reservations for re-establishing control in the Baltic states by military intrusion”.

Moral reservations is something very alien for Russian politicians. Under such circumstances moral preponderance or the opponent being right are not worth a penny.

That is why in relationships with Russia, and this is not restricted to gas only, one has to hope for the best and expect the worst. The gas blackmail and Putin’s remarks about Bolivar (a horse from O. Henry’s story), on whose back 2 can’t ride, are of the same origin as the porno starring Tymochenko and Russian mass media spreading the rumours that Yushchenko’s face condition was caused by an attempt of rejuvenation.

That is why to solve the current problems only one little thing is required. The Ukraine has to stand up to the pressure. Zbignev Bzejinsky once commented aptly “Russians are very smart and they can’t stand losers”.

All reserves must be utilised: energy saving, increasing the amount of coal used by the economy, resuscitation of the old coal mines (Donetsk region will definitely approve!) and oil and gas fields, and putting the price up for gas transit for Russia.

If the Ukraine sets the price for Russian gas transit at $10 for transportation per thousand cubic meters for 100 km, Ukrainian budget receives over $7 billion as the result which constitutes one third of its total.

It is an option to get greedy and set the price at $20 dollars. Russia who is a monopolist demanding such gas prices, should face the same monopolist and pay prices set by the Ukrainian side.

Obviously in such case the Ukraine loses Turkmenian gas, and this is going to be a shock for the economy. However the Ukraine, which during past decades has survived Chernobyl and Kuchma, can cope with it. Especially with such finances.

The president and the government have taken the right political stand regarding the gas issue today. The Ukrainian position is levelled and not hysterical.

Neither president Yushchenko, nor Prime Minister Yekhanurov has made any rigid statements, as opposed to the Russian side. At the same time the Ukraine keeps on producing some trumps from the sleeve from time to time, which should help Russia to cool down.

If Moscow has more incentive not to cause any damage for Russia, than to damage the Ukraine, then in theory there is a chance it can stay in tune with the situation when the trumps keep appearing.

Amidst these trumps there is appropriating Russian gas as smuggled commodity after it crosses the Ukrainian border illegally.

And there are as well some other ones, for instance the hints that there will be no cooperation in the areas of critical importance for Russian defence, Americans possibly getting access to the missile tracking systems in Sevastopol and Mukachevo, and the increase in payment for the Black Sea Fleet stationed on the Ukrainian territories as well.

It is possible that such politics will work, and Russian government will “sabre rattle” for a little bit longer and then sign a compromise agreement.

However such developments are not guaranteed. It is not due to the negotiators who represent the Ukrainian side, but it is Russia’s willingness to punish the Ukraine because we “dared” to choose our own way and to elect our own government independently. Moscow openly admits such an attitude.

Under such circumstances it does not matter how brilliant the negotiator is, even if he can speak not only Russian with no interpreter, but hindi and urdu as well.

The main argument in relationship between the Ukraine and Russia is our present trumps. And the strength and unity the country can show.

However, there are some problems with the latter. A great number of politicians, even from the so called “orange camp”, are criticising the way the government moves in the negotiations.

The negotiations have not even reached their final stage yet, and the cause of crisis does not allow it to keep the government responsible. It will not pay to betray the country’s strategic interests just for “a tiny sniff” of gas.

However Russian politicians turned out to be much more mature than the Ukrainian ones. Even if they do submit their government foreign policies to criticism, they do it quietly, not to display the weaknesses and thus help the opponent.

In Ukraine this criticism, which is highly inappropriate under the current circumstances, causes damage to the national interests and looks as if it is ingratiating to foreigners. That is why such critics have to understand that united we stand and divided we fall and shut up.

Fortunately Ukrainian society is much more patriotic than the Ukrainian politicians. The majority of the latter is a product of long lasting anti Ukrainian selection.

Gas matters are now being discussed in the kitchens of Ukrainian households which is a great power. Prior to the Orange revolution the author wrote for Ukrainskaya Pravda, that Ukrainians, who are stubborn by nature, are not going to give in to pressure exerted by foreigners and would elect whoever they see fit.

However, the foreigners found it hard to believe. If now the general public receives the information that it was Yanukovich himself who asked Putin to stop gas supplies to the Ukraine (and the forecasts for “Big Problems” in that area were voiced by Yanukovich in the beginning of summer, when he toured Moscow suburbs and visited Kremlin), his political allies will not get even 12%.

Thus, this is the way, from crisis to crisis, Ukrainian political nation is maturing. During the Tuzla conflict, a Russian speaking local “granddad” with berdanka (9.2 calibre gun used by Russian in hunting big animals including manhunt) was running along the sea coast in Crimea ready to combat the aggressor.

During the Orange revolution there were hundreds of thousands of such “granddads”. And they grow in numbers.

Source: Ukrayinska Pravda