Who won the latest natural gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine?
During a briefing at RFE/RL's Washington, DC headquarters, three leading experts on Eastern European energy policy grappled for an answer to that question.
"As of now, it's too early to identify a clear winner," said Roman Kupchinsky, RFE/RL Senior Consultant on energy issues in the former Soviet Union. "The key players within both countries are using their leverage against each other, resulting in an extremely unstable situation. The real loser, so far, is Western Europe, whose natural gas supply is subject to sudden disruptions in what seems to be a recurring, biannual feud between Russia and Ukraine."
Kupchinsky's co-panelists agreed that the complexity of the issues makes it nearly impossible to reduce the conflict to 'winners' and 'losers.' Instead, Margarita Balmaceda of Harvard and Seton Hall University and Keith Smith, former U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania, joined Kupchinsky for an in-depth discussion of the thorny issues surrounding Eastern European natural gas supplies. Some of the topics included the lack of transparency in Russian gas giant Gazprom's operations and its relationship to President Putin and the Kremlin political elite; unreasonable transportation fees; allegations of corrupt middlemen and entities such as RosUkrEnergo; disagreements over Ukraine's desire to join NATO; and the impact of fluctuating Central Asian natural gas prices.
Nearly 50 people attended the briefing, which included a slide show presentation detailing the key players in the natural gas dispute and a question-and-answer session.