January 17, 2009

Officials are hopeful that talks today will finally end the 17-day-old cutoff of Russian gas to Europe.  Aside from the humanitarian and economic issues, the crisis highlights tensions between Europe and Russia, Russia and Ukraine, and within Ukraine itself.



AFP's Olga Rotenberg writes that the EU has characterized these discussions as the "last and best chance" to end the dispute. Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko posted a message on the government website that, "There is a need to compromise in order to preserve friendly relations between Ukraine and Russia and to uphold the reputation of both countries in Europe," adding, "I am sure that such a compromise will be brokered." Her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, agrees that, "We are approaching interesting agreements which could lead to a solution."

Guy Faulconbridge and Pavel Polityuk, writing for Reuters, say that it "has raised further doubts over Russia's reputation as a reliable energy supplier and added to political divisions in Ukraine."  They report that, "Russia has invited leaders of all the nations consuming its gas to a summit at the Kremlin Saturday afternoon but it is unclear who will attend, apart from Ukraine and the EU. Brussels will send European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and Czech Industry and Trade Minister Martin Riman, representing the European Union's presidency, but has discouraged individual member states from attending because it wants to negotiate with Moscow as a bloc."  

AP's Steve Gutterman adds that, "EU nations have criticized both Russia and Ukraine for allowing their politically charged price dispute to affect deliveries, saying the ex-Soviet republics are holding Europe hostage."  Further, "The EU has threatened to review relations with the ex-Soviet neighbors if weekend talks fail to bring a resolution."

If this weren't complicated enough, Faulconbridge and Polityuk note, "The row takes place against a backdrop of strained political ties between Moscow and Kiev. Russia has been angered by Yushchenko's aspiration to join NATO and by Kiev's support for Tbilisi during the Russian-Georgian war in August."

Internal political fighting in Ukraine isn't helping, with Tymoshenko adding that, she did not want "a knife in the back," which Rotenberg terms, "an apparent reference to her constant infighting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who has taken a harder line against Russia in the negotiations."


James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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