Join 3,497 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Russia stops all gas supply to Europe via Ukraine
January 7, 2009 8:13 PM   Subscribe

Newsfilter: It's that time of the year again, though now it seems to be more serious. Russia stopped all gas supply to Europe via Ukraine on Wednesday, January 7, 2009. The EU depends on Russia for about a quarter of its total gas supplies, some 80% of which is pumped through Ukraine. At least seventeen countries are affected, many of them severely as Russia is their primary or only source of gas.

While similar disputes between Russia and Ukraine already happened before, this is the first time it starts to directly affect people in other countries. In Bulgaria central heating shuts down in several towns, many schools are closed. Some factories had to stop production in Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia. Bulgaria and Slovakia are considering restarting their old nuclear power plants to get the extra energy. EU has called in the heads of the Russian and Ukrainian gas companies for emergency talks in Brussels.
posted by b. (51 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
NPR has been doing an interesting dissection of Gazprom for the past few days on Morning Edition.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:18 PM on January 7, 2009


That was kind of a dick move.
posted by hellojed at 8:20 PM on January 7, 2009


Well, that's Russia for you.
posted by Artw at 8:21 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow. I'm really curious what the fallout here in Austria is going to be- a lot of the small fleet vehicles run on natural gas, as well as heating systems.

I think we can expect to be seeing a lot more of this in the future.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:22 PM on January 7, 2009


Apparently, Russia thinks Ukraine is ripping them off because they delayed paying over one billion rubles until the end of 2008. Not saying that the Russians aren't up to their old regional imperialist tricks here, but they're also not just being unmitigated bullies either.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:26 PM on January 7, 2009


This post is the best summary of the situation I've seen yet. Let's not start playing Cold War Stereotypes yet, ok?
posted by nasreddin at 8:37 PM on January 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


This is more than just rubles. Its a point. Russia will have a big hand in future resource wars. America is very interested in surrounding Russia with NATO allies. Gee, NATO relevent to U.S. politics? Thats a twist.

I like posts on Russia. I tend to learn a lot. Thank you.
posted by captainsohler at 8:41 PM on January 7, 2009


If shortages encourage Europe to greater energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, that can only be good for Europe and the world as a whole, in the long run.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:46 PM on January 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yes, it's quite scary. I'm in Slovakia and here media are full of this story. It's probably the first time I viscerally realized how fragile our civilization is. We (and many other former Soviet block) countries depend heavily on Russian gas for many vital functions: heating, cooking, and (as I learned just now) also for electricity net stabilization (via gas generators).

For the moment, it's not critical, as we have at least 2 months of full consumption stored in underground gas tanks. But it could get very ugly very quick in countries with smaller reserves. You can go in days from completely normal country to dark cold place with closed factories and schools, people just staying at home, trying not to freeze, eating just cold stuff.

The crucial critical piece I was not aware is that also electricity here depends on gas. Otherwise you could just replace a lot of gas functions by electricity, even if this was more expensive. That's why old nuclear power plants are being considered again.

Now, independently of who is to blame, the problem that now became very clear is that both Russia and Ukraine keep us firmly by the balls.
posted by b. at 8:53 PM on January 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


This is an incredibly brain dead move on Russia's part. I suppose they'll think the other countries will all blame Ukraine, but I just don't see that happening.

Here's a thought. If run pipelines through a country, and you don't want 'em stealing your gas don't poison their presidents with horrible, disfiguring poisons! Seems like a pretty easy thing not to do. Just be glad they're just stealing gas and not dumping radio active waste from Chernobyl on your house.
posted by delmoi at 8:54 PM on January 7, 2009


Restarting, old, and nuclear, power, plants, are not words I like to see together. I hope this resolves soon!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:57 PM on January 7, 2009


Blazecock Pileon writes "If shortages encourage Europe to greater energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, that can only be good for Europe and the world as a whole, in the long run."

What was it Keynes said?
posted by orthogonality at 8:57 PM on January 7, 2009


Yeah, taunting Germany and Austria into finding another energy supplier may not be a good idea in the long run. Or the short term.

Ukraine is basically laughing at the Russian demands at this point... no, really, they actually are. Half the price Russia demands, no meddling Gazprom middle-man, and then they may come to terms. Maybe. If they don't feel too vindictive about their elected officials coming down with chloracne. Russia's only options are 1) come across as a petty bully that needs to be nullified by the EU 2) come across as a petty bully that got bapped in the nose by a former "client."

Dumb, especially after the PR fiasco the Georgian War turned into.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:59 PM on January 7, 2009


Yea, those imperialist fuckers over at PG&E pull this shit with me pretty regularly too. I'm always ashamed when I have to become their proxy and start paying my goddam bills again.
posted by FuManchu at 8:59 PM on January 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thanks, nasreddin; the links in that post are very, very informative.
posted by mediareport at 9:03 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Let's hope Team USA can build their alternative pipeline through Iraq & Turkey! Go Team!
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:04 PM on January 7, 2009


Russia will have a big hand in future resource wars.

They wont once everyone starts building nuclear plants again. The nice part about nuclear is that youre independent from natural resources. Burning gas from Russia? The politics of pipelines? That's suddenly a huge liability. No one country should hold so much power. The Eurozone would be stupid to continue this way. Toss in the pain of cheap oil and Russia is hurting. I expect them to fold shortly.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:05 PM on January 7, 2009



Ukraine is basically laughing at the Russian demands at this point... no, really, they actually are. Half the price Russia demands, no meddling Gazprom middle-man, and then they may come to terms. Maybe. If they don't feel too vindictive about their elected officials coming down with chloracne. Russia's only options are 1) come across as a petty bully that needs to be nullified by the EU 2) come across as a petty bully that got bapped in the nose by a former "client."

Do you have even the slightest idea what you're talking about? Ukraine's going to cave. Just like they've caved in the past. Ukraine has nothing that Russia needs except non-membership in NATO, and if it does end up joining the Russians will wave a bigger stick (e.g. the Sevastopol issue). Plus, let's do some math: Russia has no significant pro-Western political factions. At least half of the Ukrainian political establishment is pro-Russian, and they usually end up winning. Which is why Yushchenko has very little credibility left.

Europe has no choice when it comes to energy suppliers, because all the major pipelines are controlled by Russia. There was one that was supposed to run through pro-Western Georgia eventually--but Russia's "fiasco" means that Georgia is no longer as pro-Western (having been predictably abandoned by their allies) and that the pipeline is within shooting range.

As an American, you think politics is all about public relations, about putting a nice humanitarian spin on things. We're not invading Iraq just for kicks, we're giving them democracy! In this case, this approach is pretty misguided. The Russians don't care if Europe has tender loving feelings for them. They do care about being assigned what they consider their due role in regional power negotiations. And this gas crisis, which is the equivalent of Russia cleaning its fingernails with a sharp Bowie knife, is already producing such results.
posted by nasreddin at 9:11 PM on January 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Or, rather, they're not going to cave--they're going to recommit to the status-quo "private partnerships" arrangement and the real wheeling and dealing will take place behind the scenes. In this case, I think it's probable that the contract will be renegotiated on Russia-friendly terms, but whether or not that will translate into concrete revenue growth is questionable.
posted by nasreddin at 9:19 PM on January 7, 2009


Master Blaster runs Bartertown
posted by porpoise at 9:41 PM on January 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's that time of the year again, though now it seems to be more serious

Come to think of it, it was round about three years ago this weekend that I was pacing back and forth in a high school library, preparing for a high school speech competition having drawn a question on Russia manipulating Ukraine out of its oil in the dead of winter. Ah, memories...
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:42 PM on January 7, 2009


I would also disagree slightly with Jerome (who wrote the Oil Drum article above). I think he's overestimating Ukraine's ability to force a stalemate. Mainly because while gas imports are cut off, Ukrainians feel the losses directly in their pocketbooks (and bodies, obviously)--and because the Ukrainian political system is much less effectively centralized and stable than the Russian one (Yushchenko/Timoshenko/Yanukovich would love to have Putin's unchallenged authority), it's a lot more vulnerable to popular discontent. Thus playing chicken with the Russians is much more dangerous for a Ukrainian politician than it is for a Russian one. This goes for the Sevastopol issue as well.

You can see how a similar process played out in Georgia. Any post-Soviet leader is essentially like a feudal lord: he benefits from the loyalty of his vassals only when he can effectively protect them. Once it was clear that Saakashvili was incapable of standing up to the Russians, the opposition began calling for his immediate resignation. Ukrainian leaders are in constant danger of being cannibalized by their internal opponents if they show weakness or fail to perform. Putin (who will be reassume the presidency, thanks to a new constitutional amendment, later this year) has nothing to fear.
posted by nasreddin at 9:42 PM on January 7, 2009


I read an article just now that used the most appropriate conceivable analogy:
However, we should not forget that popular support for authoritarian regimes like Russia's is not diffuse, but quite specific. In other words, citizens support the regime not because they like it as such, but because for the majority it brings material dividends (or at least the hope of such dividends). Popular support for these regimes is rather like a relationship with a prostitute: she is prepared to make love as long as she is paid money, but when the client's money runs out (in this case, the money of the ruling group of the authoritarian regime), her love is no longer for sale. So, if the recession in Russia will be, as many economists predict, deep and prolonged, it will be quite difficult for the Russian regime to keep its citizens' loyalty and there will inevitably be increased demands for alternatives to the status quo.
The article itself ("Russia's Crisis: The Political Options") is very much worth reading, by the way. It may well turn out that I was too "optimistic" about Putin's prospects.
posted by nasreddin at 9:46 PM on January 7, 2009


"The nice part about nuclear is that youre independent from natural resources"

Excepting Uranium and heavy water of course.
posted by NiteMayr at 10:02 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm reading Petrostate right now. Apparently Russia is working on setting up natural gas distribution to China next. The only problem is that the combination of expected Chinese demand and current European demand for natural gas is likely to exceed Russia's ability to produce. So if Russia can write a supply deal with China, Europe can expect gas shortages in the future, regardless of the political games Russia happens to be playing.

With oil trading well under $50 / barrel, things will definitely be interesting.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:05 PM on January 7, 2009


The nice part about nuclear is that youre [sic] independent from natural resources.

Well, except for uranium. Which is (a) not everywhere, (b) difficult to purify, and (c) more difficult to purify if a large, well-armed country decides it doesn't want you purifying it.

(It is purely a coincidence that those large, well-armed countries have purification facilities of their own, and would be delighted to loan you purified fissionables, sealed inside containers of their own devising—and all for a very reasonable fee.)
posted by eritain at 10:09 PM on January 7, 2009


[sic] is Latin for "use your head"
posted by eritain at 10:10 PM on January 7, 2009


If shortages encourage Europe to greater energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, that can only be good for Europe and the world as a whole, in the long run.

It'd also be nice to see Europe provide accelerated assistance to the newer EU countries in getting there, too. Germany and Austria probably have far greater financial resources to make that transition than the Balkans do, for example.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:10 PM on January 7, 2009


It'd also be nice to see Europe provide accelerated assistance to the newer EU countries in getting there, too. Germany and Austria probably have far greater financial resources to make that transition than the Balkans do, for example.

My impression is that Western Europe is interested in newly-EU Eastern Europe primarily as a reservoir of cheap labor, as Mexico is for the US within the framework of NAFTA. So I don't know if I'd hold my breath for that one. On the other hand, that does mean that Western corporations have a direct interest in securing reliable and affordable energy supplies, so maybe it'll work the other way. We'll see.
posted by nasreddin at 10:15 PM on January 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Eastern Europe primarily as a reservoir of cheap labor

Probably true, but Austria (for example) has long had serious issues with nuclear power plants near their borders. There certainly is some incentive for them to encourage renewable energy in the east.

But it could get very ugly very quick in countries with smaller reserves.

Yup. Croatia has already announced it only has 3 weeks of reserves. They're now scrambling to find alternate sources. (And OT but still: good luck with the euro up there!)
posted by Ljubljana at 12:37 AM on January 8, 2009


I'm waiting for the tabloid headline.

Russia forbids Ukrainians from passing gas.
posted by qvantamon at 12:40 AM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


It'd also be nice to see Europe provide accelerated assistance to the newer EU countries in getting there, too. Germany and Austria probably have far greater financial resources to make that transition than the Balkans do, for example.

Germany and Austria already provide assistance through the EU Structural Funds, which in turn are available to help countries like Slovenia or Romania meet their national renewable energy targets. Asking Germany or Austria to make even more money available won't help if the countries don't view renewable energy as a national policy. Up until now they generally haven't, with much of the energy-related spending being focused on efficency of fossil fuels, but maybe now the newer members will feel a little more pressure.
posted by cmonkey at 1:09 AM on January 8, 2009


The trouble with renewables in Central and Eastern Europe is that, except in the Balkans, their renewable energy resources are quite limited: those countries are mostly flat (so, no hydro), not particularly windy, not particularly sunny, and mostly landlocked (so, no offshore wind power or sea power). Also, they are geologically very stable, so no geothermal either. And their infrastructure is still very fossil fuel oriented and difficult to turn around.

What they do have plenty of, in the other hand, is coal. Because of environmental concerns, the EU has however been pushing them steadily towards replacing coal with cleaner...Russian natural gas. So, it's a lose-lose situation, but with the current shenanigans, you can safely bet that we'll hear a lot more about "clean coal" and carbon capture and storage in the EU in the following months and years.

Also, as in South Ossetia, it is easy to blame Russia here, but most of the blame lies squarely on Ukraine, which has brazenly been diverting gas supplies and refuses to pay for them (duh, they just don't have the dosh). With Ukraine's Byzantine politics, it is difficult to say who precisely has been involved, but it is also likely that PM Yulya Timoshenko (formerly known as the "Gas Lady", with plenty of connections in the gas business and a running dispute with President Yushenko) has plenty to answer for...
posted by Skeptic at 1:49 AM on January 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's some talk about importing EU energy supplies from another supplier: solar power, from Africa.
posted by woodway at 4:03 AM on January 8, 2009


Here is a good overview of the situation:
http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/4944#comments_top
posted by robbyrobs at 5:06 AM on January 8, 2009


Ljubljana: Thanks, Euro is great, just queues in shops are longer and wallets are heavier.
posted by b. at 7:43 AM on January 8, 2009


Here in Hungary we have some significant reserves of gas stored away, enough so that last night Hungary was able to give some to neighboring Serbia, where the Hospitals are no longer able to stay heated. A lot of Hungarian schools are going to close on Monday to save fuel, shops are backordering electric heaters, and businesses are going on restricted opening hours.

My friends in the Republic Moldova are skyping me now that it is -15 centigrade (that's cold...) in Chisinau and they are saying they have only enough reserve gas for the next 24 hours. The nearby Transnistrians have gone without heat for two days now.
posted by zaelic at 7:52 AM on January 8, 2009


Centigrade gets all wonky once it goes bellow freezing. -15C wasn't cold enough to stop me playing outside, when I was a kid.

Living in that kind of cold without heat, though, is obviously much different, and I'm not trying to make light. Frankly, cutting off heat to millions of people in January is unconscionable, whether Ukraine was skimming or not.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:04 AM on January 8, 2009


Probably true, but Austria (for example) has long had serious issues with nuclear power plants near their borders.

To the point where there's a monument "der Zaun des Anstoßes" in the Salzburg Mozartplatz, commemorating how Austria has resisted going nuclear.

That article didn't get Jörg Haider's name right, though.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:06 AM on January 8, 2009


Is there a black-lung statue next to it? Breathing all that coal exhaust isnt all that good for you. Ironically, coal exhaust has uranium in it. Burning leads to uranium in the air. That's something anti-nuclear hippies dont like to talk about. Ist not 1950 anymore. Even the French are reprocessing their spent fuel in breeder reactors.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:11 AM on January 8, 2009


What do you mean 'even the French'? They have long been the most fission happy country in Europe.
posted by Catfry at 11:00 AM on January 8, 2009


Just wanted to second nasreddin's recommendation for Vladimir Gelman's article (and thank him for his useful contributions to this thread).
posted by languagehat at 11:01 AM on January 8, 2009


Centigrade gets all wonky once it goes bellow freezing. -15C wasn't cold enough to stop me playing outside, when I was a kid.

I just had to walk around in -10C temperatures, and I can assure you that it does not get wonky, it gets quite cold.
posted by cmonkey at 11:04 AM on January 8, 2009


It's about 14f.
posted by merelyglib at 12:12 PM on January 8, 2009


Germany and Austria already provide assistance through the EU Structural Funds, which in turn are available to help countries like Slovenia or Romania meet their national renewable energy targets. Asking Germany or Austria to make even more money available won't help if the countries don't view renewable energy as a national policy. Up until now they generally haven't, with much of the energy-related spending being focused on efficency of fossil fuels, but maybe now the newer members will feel a little more pressure.

I recognize that western Europe has been providing assistance to eastern Europe in energy matters, which is why I said "accelerated assistance". And it wouldn't behoove just Germany and Austria, but every country in western Europe to provide that kind of assistance. As for energy policies in those countries, no, renewables probably aren't a priority in countries that are struggling economically.

The EU is supposed to be a united body of sovereign states, and a great part of its power has been in that spirit of solidarity. But I have the opinion, like nasreddin, that eastern Europe is seen as one big labor pool and not much more. I'm just saying that it'd be nice to see the principles of the EU being applied to all countries within that group to an equal degree. That hasn't really been the case in many areas; the EU readily suspended payments Bulgaria due to corruption, a country with a GDP of $58b. No such concerns seem in place about Italy, a country where the Mafia controls entire towns, and sits at the number 4 position for GDP.

I find that principles that surround the EU to be progressive and enheartening. A little more consistency would be nice, is all.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:38 PM on January 8, 2009


> Well, that's Russia for you.

You seriously can't imagine the US pulling a stunt like this?
posted by Evilspork at 2:13 PM on January 8, 2009


And it wouldn't behoove just Germany and Austria, but every country in western Europe to provide that kind of assistance

The EU structural funds are nominally funded by all the member states but adjusted according to wealth. There is some wonkiness with special considerations and such but generally it's a shared burden for the rich countries, of which Germany is the largest. The British cocksuckers are still exempt far as I know.

I'm just saying that it'd be nice to see the principles of the EU being applied to all countries within that group to an equal degree. That hasn't really been the case in many areas; the EU readily suspended payments Bulgaria due to corruption, a country with a GDP of $58b. No such concerns seem in place about Italy, a country where the Mafia controls entire towns, and sits at the number 4 position for GDP.

What principles are you speaking of? The EU basically stands for free, regulated markets, open borders for goods and services between member states, and.. that's it.
Bulgaria and Italy may not live entirely up to those market rules but the difference is the EU could do something about Bulgaria because the sin done was to skim money of the EU's structural aid. If Italian citizens can be shown to do the same I'd say you have more of a case.

That said I actually agree that the rules might not be aplied equally. The EU is a quite shaky construction. They could do something about Bulgarian corruption because it directly 'attacked' the money from the EU, and an easy punishment was stopping the flow. No fear about the Bulgarian reaction was warranted because Bulgaria had just endured many years of economic and political stress in order to achieve the accession criteria for entry, and they wouldn't be likely to want to make all that for nought by exiting again.
The consequences of punishing Italy on the other hand, should there be reason to do so, could be severe, especially if the act of punishing would have to be something that required active participation from the Italian government. Italy doesn't recieve money from the EU the same way Bulgaria does, so punishment would be a fine. Not easy.
posted by Catfry at 3:18 PM on January 8, 2009


What principles are you speaking of? The EU basically stands for free, regulated markets, open borders for goods and services between member states, and.. that's it.

The EU does of course have a business and trade aspect, but human rights play a huge role as well. When organized crime is taking hold of a large segment of one of those countries, it's always a lot easier to exact a punitive measure against a country still struggling to keep its head above water than one in the top tier of GDPs. There's a very strong case to be made that Italy's organized crime situation is beyond the pale, but, as you point out, pressuring Italy to clean up the corruption could have dire economic consequences for western Europe.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:30 PM on January 8, 2009


EU, Russia strike deal on monitoring gas flow
posted by merelyglib at 3:46 PM on January 8, 2009


I was possibly being a bit glib. I just find it hard to consider the EU a 'principled' organisation when it really has DONE quite little to change things in this aspect.
As for TALKING about principles the EU is the place!
posted by Catfry at 3:47 PM on January 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


What do you mean 'even the French'? They have long been the most fission happy country in Europe.

As many a Pacific atoll has found out to it's cost...
posted by Artw at 4:02 PM on January 8, 2009


« Older If you were a fan of late-nite horror movies in No...  |  Novels written on cellphones a... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments