New Сracks in the anti-Russian Front

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USEUNATOBy Pyotr Iskenderov

[T]he anti-Russian colours that the policies of the European Commission and the US administration are painted in regarding the introduction of economic sanctions against Russia are slowly losing their lustre and beginning to peel off. Within the European Union there are pockets of internal resistance to the anti-Russian policy that are particularly noticeable against the feverish attempts by Brussels to force Serbia and other countries, where the mirage of joining the EU still seems to be a bit like reaching the Promised Land, to join in with the sanctions. The latest evidence of the growing discontent within the ranks of a ‘united Europe’ has been the preparation of a Russian-Slovak long-term agreement on the supply of Russian oil to Slovakia.

According to the Slovak Ministry of Economy, the document will be valid until 31 December 2029. It has already been approved by the Slovak cabinet. The terms of the document provide for the supply of up to 6 million tonnes (43 million barrels) of oil to Slovakia a year. They also cover the transit of the same volume of oil to other EU member countries through the territory of the Slovak Republic. As of year-end 2013, 5.8 million tonnes of Russian oil had been supplied to Slovakia through the ‘Druzhba’ pipeline.

And this is only the start. According to the Russian Ministry for Economic Development, both sides established during consultations that if the technological infrastructure is available and contracts are entered into between businesses, then transit volumes could exceed 6 million tonnes of oil a year.

Bratislava’s approval of the Russian-Slovak agreement on the supply of Russian oil to Slovakia coincided with a significant anniversary: the official ceremony to mark the commissioning of the ‘Druzhba’ pipeline took place exactly 50 years ago, in 1964. The pipeline is one of the biggest oil pipeline networks in the world and is used to supply Russian oil to Europe.

Paradoxically, the anti-Russian policy of Washington and Brussels has acted as a catalyst for the development of relations between Russia and a number of EU states in the energy sphere. Ukraine’s refusal to fulfil gas agreements previously entered into with Russia and the country’s unambiguous threats to start siphoning off Russian gas intended for transit to Europe are placing Europeans on the brink of a fuel and energy crisis. Supplies through the gas pipeline system under the Slovak gas transport operator Slovensky Plynarensky Priemysel (SPP) have already dropped by 50 per cent.

Under severe pressure from Brussels, Bratislava has also been forced to agree to use reverse-flow deliveries to send Russian gas to Ukraine. Reverse flows began in September 2014. According to the Slovak gas TSO Eustream, nearly 618 million cubic metres of gas were imported to Ukraine through Slovakia between 1 and 24 September. Meanwhile, the total volume of gas supplies to Ukraine from Europe during that same period was no more than 798 million cubic metres. So it is Slovakia that became Ukraine’s main energy ‘donor’ in September at a time when gas supplies destined for Slovakia itself were cut in half.

Such are the paradoxes of EU countries’ ‘energy security’: they are dependent on the actions of the European Commission, which one might as well refer to as energy blackmail. Hungary has also refused to play the role of gas ‘cash cow’ for Ukraine, cutting off its reverse gas supplies to Ukrainian customers in September. The corresponding agreement was signed back in March 2013 by the Hungarian company FGSZ. A new statement by the company says that in order to ensure the safety of supplies and maintain the balance of the network, the direction of the Testveriseg pipeline needed to be changed and altered in such a way that it would supply the domestic market. A similar clause is also included in the text of the Russian-Slovak agreement. It states that gas supplies from Slovakia to Ukraine will depend upon current commercial and technical conditions.

At the present time, Russian gas is supplied to Europe through several main gas pipelines – the Uzhgorod and Balkan corridors, the Yamal-Europe pipeline, and the ‘Blue Stream’ and ‘Nord Stream’ pipelines. The distribution pipes branching off from these pass through Poland, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Austria.

In the foreseeable future, Europe’s energy sector will continue to rely on Russian gas, whose share in the structure of Europe’s fuel mix will remain significant until at least 2030, predicts Tim Boermsa, an expert at the Brookings Institute in Washington. «In sum», said Boermsa, «studies suggest that a transformation of Europe’s fuel mix is not going to take place».

Knowing that Europe will not be able to manage without Russian gas, it is interesting how long the Brussels bureaucracy will continue with the policy imposed by Washington to the detriment of Moscow and of the Europeans themselves.

Originally published in The Strategic Culture Foundation.

Pyotr Iskenderov, PhD, Senior Research Associate Institute for Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Science, Strategic Culture Foundation expert, was published in International Affairs magazine.

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