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‘Ukraine can't have it both ways’

Published time: April 11, 2014 11:19
Reuters / Yuri Maltsev

It is ridiculous of Ukraine to accuse Russia of using the gas weapon because the Russians are simply charging normal market prices, Srdja Trifkovic, Foreign Affairs editor at ‘Chronicles’ magazine, told RT.

RT: Ukraine's economy is in a shambles and its people are suffering. Is it morally justified to turn the taps off?

Srdja Trifkovic: If you are talking about moral justification, let’s remember the first OPEC oil crisis in the winter of 1973-74 after the Yom Kippur War. It would have been rather funny for the Western countries which imported Arab oil to say, “We don’t recognize your prices. We are going to pay the old ones.”

Moral justification doesn't come into it. What we are looking at is business like any other. And if the Western countries are so terribly concerned about Ukraine’s economy and about the suffering of Ukrainian consumers, then of course they are more than welcome to re-export Russian gas, which is coming regularly through the North Stream pipeline to Germany, for instance, and I don’t think the Russians would mind.

If they want to sell that gas to Ukraine on discounted prices, they are more than welcome to do so. But at the same time to say “it’s a horrible Russian bear using the gas weapon” because the Russians are just simply charging normal market prices is ridiculous.

Talking about the US gas supplies to Europe Charlie McGrath, founder of Wide Awake News, said that it will take the US at least two decades to start shipping gas to Europe, taking into account the regulatory system in the US and how long it takes for the necessary facilities to be built, liquefy the natural gas and ship it. It will be 2017 before the US can even touch one-sixth the amount of natural gas being shipped from Russia to Europe right now.

RT: President Putin has warned that supplies to Europe could be affected. If they are, what sort of further backlash we’ll see against Russia? We are seeing what’s happening in PACE.

ST: Forget about PACE. It’s useless talking as Russia is better without it. I don’t think what Putin meant that Russia would play with supplies to Europe via Ukraine, but it is possible that the Ukrainians themselves start playing games. After all, they did so with the ‘Orange’ regime in 2006 and even more seriously in 2009. So what Ukraine would need to do to reassure both Russia and Europe is to stop saying these ridiculous things [like] “We don’t recognize the new regime, we want to buy gas at discounted prices,” because this really sounds like a veiled threat. And they do have a weapon in the ability to turn off the pipeline but at the same time it would be up to the Europeans to make their judgment on whom to blame.

Let’s face it. The Ukrainians can’t have it both ways, or even three ways. It reminds one of one of the old Pushkin story about the goldfish and the ever escalating demands. “We want a European Ukraine, we want Ukraine with the association agreement, Ukraine and NATO, Orange Ukraine, West Ukrainian Ukraine and in the end we want also a gas discount.” Come on.

AFP Photo / Andrey Sinitsin

RT: What about money? $16.6 billion are to be paid to Moscow. If Ukraine can't even pay for discounted gas, how it's going to pay now when it's virtually bankrupt?

ST: I don’t think Moscow will see any of that money any time soon. But at the same time I don’t think that the Ukrainians will see much money from the West either because a billion from Kerry here and a couple of billion from the EU there, a credit line of X-billion from IMF for so many years is not going to resolve the structural problems.

“The US is going to become an exporter of energy. It benefits the US to have a very energy-hungry Europe. It is going to be a ready customer. Theoretically it can be an economic boom for the US, but for Europe it is devastating. Europe is on financially shaky ground and I think that in a short term would affect the US a lot more negatively than the benefit of having an eager customer of 10-15 years down the road,” McGrath told RT.

RT: Should Russia stop the gas supplies then?

ST: The optimal strategy would be to say “At this moment we are willing to continue supplying you with gas on credit, but that credit will be calculated on the basis of regular and not discounted prices.” In other words, from Moscow’s point of view it would not be political advisable to turn off the pipeline, but it would to say, “You owe us $16.6 billion and we will continue calculating what you owe us on the basis of the new prices.”

The difference between the old one and the other is miner but at the same time it’s essential for the Europeans to realize that if they follow the US hardline and this ridiculous notion of “punishing Russia” that in fact there is indirect punishment coming back, which is not using the gas weapon, the energy weapon, simply financial weapon of “Please, can we have our money.” If you are the ones who want to help Ukraine by all means do so, but you are the ones who is going to bear the burden. And I can tell you that Angela Merkel’s party and the German voters wouldn’t like that one little bit.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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