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  Ukraine and Russia: partners or opponents?

Jonas Motiejûnas
2009 05 07

Relations between Ukraine and Russia are again deteriorating. Usually the increase of tension between the states is related to energy problems or Ukraine‘s ambitions to join NATO or the EU.

This time energy and political problems intermixed. Recently the EU delegation paid a visit to Ukraine to discuss gas transit via Ukraine. EU buys from Russia about one fourth of the consumed gas, and about 80 percent of gas is transported via Ukraine. Certain Eastern and Central European states nearly 100 percent depend on gas supplied from Russia.

Ukraine declared that EU would finance modernization of its gas pipelines.  Moscow‘s response towards the above was nearly hysteric. Statements of the Russian leaders demonstrated that the Kremlin is worried about Ukraine's pipelines being taken by strangers.

This could decrease not only Russia‘s possibility to manipulate with „turning off the taps“, but also to change geopolitical situation in the region against the Russian interests. Besides, by the above action Ukraine would take an actual step towards integration into the Western economic area.

Russia got angry that Ukraine ignored it in making an agreement with the EU. President D.Medvedev announced that the planned meeting with the Ukrainian Prime Minister Y.Tymoshenko was postponed for an unlimited period (it was meant to discuss terms for allocation of the loan of USD 5 billion to Ukraine). Prime Minister V.Putin said that „if Russia‘s interests are ignored, we‘ll be forced to reconsider the principles of relationship with partners“. I‘d like to highlight the words „Russia‘s interests“, since they reflect the essence of Moscow‘s anger.

The Russian gas monopoly Gazprom evaluated the EU’s decision to modernize the Ukrainian pipelines without coordinating it with Gazprom as an unfriendly action.  According to Gazprom, any changes in the system of the Ukrainian gas pipelines might negatively influence not only the supply of the Russian, but also of the Middle Asian gas, and might have „unexpected consequences for the entire Eurasian territory“.

Moscow cannot accept the fact that the EU is interfering into the sphere considered by the Kremlin its zone of influence. The EU launched the Eastern Partnership Program stipulating the improvement of relations with Armenia,Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia,Moldova, and, certainly, Ukraine. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed negative attitude towards this program, as well as towards the EU‘s decision to modernize Ukraine‘s gas pipelines.

However, it wouldn’t be right to refer to Ukraine only as an opponent of Russia. First of all, Ukraine is a diverse country: Western Ukraine is pro-Western, whereas its Eastern part is historically attracted to Russia. In general, Ukraine shouldn‘t be attributed to the list of states opposing Russia, irrespective what its politicians say (e.g. V.Youshchenka). By the way, while considering integration towards Western structures, especially NATO, we must not forget that the majority of the Ukrainians are clearly against this membership.

To my mind, Russia‘s irritation concerning modernization of the gas pipeline is not justified.  The EU is not going to accept Ukraine; so far NATO’s talks about possible Ukraine’s membership are only words. EU has only one objective – to ensure reliable supply of energy resources.

Russia is irritated because its leaders haven’t yet accepted the fact that Ukraine is an independent country. But this anger is not justified: Ukraine is more nearly related to Russia than to the European Union.

Thus, the countries would inevitably remain both, partners and opponents and this ambiguous situation provides certain opportunities for the European Union.

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