Barry Pavel, Atlantic Council vice president and director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, joins Federal News Radio to speak about why America's rebalance to Asia and the Middle East makes our relationship with European countries and NATO different.
Frederic C. Hof, senior fellow with the Hariri Middle East Center, appeared on Australia’s primetime news program to discuss the G8 countries’ talks on the Syria conflict, the Obama administration’s plans to arm the Syrian opposition while seeking a negotiated settlement, and the broader regional implications of the Syria conflict.
Atlantic Council managing editor James Joyner asks in The National Interest, "Why Should Congress and the Courts Care About Snooping If Citizens Don't?"
J. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Michael S. Ansari Africa Center, was interviewed by Brian Todd on CNN’s Situation Room in a segment on the discovery of evidence in northern Mali that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) may have acquired surface-to-air missiles.
The annual variety show of disrupted gas supply from Russia across Ukraine to European customers is now probably at the apex of its box office success with the policymaking and energy-commenting crowd, and at the nadir of its rating with businesses and those who shiver in cold homes. It is a divisive show, with lots of finger pointing and accusations flying between Russia and Ukraine, plus an international monitoring mission being deployed under an agreement between the EU and Russia to which Ukraine has only reluctantly acceded. All of which has so far been of little consequence for the renewal of gas deliveries from Russia to the EU. Now that’s a bit of a strange circumstance given: (a) Russia is by far the largest external gas supplier to Europe, (b) Europe is by far the largest export gas market for Russia, and (c) Ukraine gets most of its gas from Russia and is the largest country in the transit route for Russian gas to European markets. These facts seem to support evidence for commonality of interests and maybe even ground for coherent action. So why is Ukraine’s gas transit system not busy?
One could, of course, look for answers in the plethora of statements, accusations, explanations, and other material abundantly supplied by the parties involved in the dispute and the attempts to find a solution to it. Valid contracts, business ethics, goodwill, and intergovernmental agreements all point in one direction: commercial disputes cannot be used as a justification for interrupting transit energy flows to third countries or parties, regardless of who may be right or wrong in the now annual spate of bad will between Russia and Ukraine. Common sense would add that Europe needs to enhance its energy security by diversifying gas supplies, creating larger stocks of gas, and bringing its gas network up to scratch to match the solidarity principle espoused by the European Union, making internal gas markets more competitive and flexible, and – last but not least – improving energy efficiency and moving away from fossil fuels.
All of the above is very fine and truly relevant. However, there is something else that might induce one to imagine more than a list of the usual suspects: the pipelines across Ukraine are not the only ones that are not in much use these days. Paradoxically, Europe has been connected for some time now to non-Russian gas supplies by large-diameter, large-capacity pipelines … and some of these are by and large idle as well: the ones that originate in Azerbaijan and (alas) Iran. Being a different show, the pipelines in Southeast Europe come with other actors, props, and publicity, and yet yield a similar outcome: no gas so far (or just a puff) to Europe.
One common feature between the two shows is the presence of gas transiting countries. One may even rationalize the motives of Ukraine and Turkey for insisting on playing not just the role of a transit route but that of a gas hub as well. In both countries, the hubs would apparently come furnished with traders and intermediaries, topped with a dominant state-owned incumbent. So much for competition, transparency, and open markets in Europe’s neighborhood.
However, what is really disturbing is something else: the set-up for the shows, along with most of the actors and the props, has been there for at least a decade now. Furthermore, the risk of gas supply disruptions to Europe, involving serious political connotations, great economic loss, and much human trouble, has been identified in countless reports, addressed in a myriad of speeches, and even targeted for reduction via the implementation of well-funded, dedicated, multiyear programs and cooperative frameworks – Inogate, the Energy Community, the Energy Charter, to mention but a few. And yet, when push came to shove, there was little to show for the money – Russian gas is still bogged down in Ukraine and Caspian / Middle Eastern gas is still a long pipe away from European markets, just as if it were 1999. Party, anyone?
Seems to me, it is time to consider two apparently underestimated issues: first, the importance of the European markets for Russia, and second, the prevailing upside-down views on the importance of geopolitical relationships and other high-brow thinking vs. down-to-earth, national, and regional solutions for gas infrastructure and gas markets. A bit more on these two issues:
- The European gas (and oil) market is really the only cash cow for Russia, a situation which certainly motivates much of the talk about security of gas demand one often hears from Russian officials and the anxiety about losing market positions that pervades Gazprom’s new projects department. Given that, it is really a bit strange to see how little is done to address these legitimate concerns, by highlighting, for example, the relatively marginal (or incremental at best) character of even the largest projects that would bring gas to Europe from sources other than Russia. Nabucco – many years away from start-up of construction – will bring to Central Europe about 1/8 of what flows now (as if it were) across Ukraine. The Trans-Adriatic Pipeline is half of Nabucco and partially competes with it for upstream resources. Maybe it is time for both Europe and Russia to look at the proposed gas supply diversification projects and recognize what they really are: not an attempt to undermine the basic structure of the European gas market by squeezing the largest external supplier out of it, but simply a tool for better dealing with emergencies and making the market more secure, deep, and efficient.
- It’s a staple claim that geopolitics often drives pipeline projects. Maybe. But what geopolitical force prevented – for example – Bulgaria, arguably the country most affected by the interruption of gas supply across Ukraine, from constructing a 60-mile interconnection to Romania, or a 40-mile one to Greece, or a 70-mile line to Serbia, to enable it to get some gas supplies elsewhere? What geopolitical force pushed away the Bulgarians from building a big enough underground gas storage facility and storing there gas that would suffice for a month or so? Was it some geopolitical daemon that drained the tanks of mandatory alternative fuel oil stocks, so that the district heating in Sofia all but collapsed when gas was cut off? I’d say it was rather the lack of capacity in public offices and elementary crookedness that did it.
Maybe there’s a silver lining in the cloud, after all. I’ll bet on a future that holds both a stronger energy security dialogue between Europe, Russia, and transit countries, and more action on the ground where it makes most sense for Europe: diversification of gas supply and pipeline routes and providing a flexible, open-market gas network capacity.
Boyko Nitzov is an employee of the Energy Charter Secretariat in Brussels who will be joining the Atlantic Council in mid-February 2009. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily of the ECS or any member of the Energy Charter constituency.
On June 24, the Brent Scowcroft Center of the Atlantic Council will host a panel discussion on the most recent claims of Chinese cyber espionage and the implications of this threat for the US-China relationship and China's ties with its neighbors in Asia.
On June 27, the Atlantic Council’s Iran Task Force will launch a new issue brief by Ramin Asgard and Barbara Slavin entitled US-Iran Cultural Engagement: A Cost Effective Boon to US National Security, along with a public briefing on people-to-people exchanges with Iran.