THE RUSSIAN-EU SUMMIT: EUROPE IS SHOWN ENHANCEMENT OF THE CHINESE VECTOR IN THE KREMLIN’S FOREIGN POLICY
The Russian-EU summit opened in Khabarovsk.
Negotiations in Khabarovsk within the framework of the Russian-EU summit take place against the background of a systemic failure of the relations between Moscow and Brussels (not even against the background of a crisis over something or other as events such as this used to take place in the past). Practically all commentators unilaterally agree that Russia and the European Union promote polar views on advancement of cooperation, security, and energy. There is actually even more to the strained relations than the difference in views. Russia and the European Union do not understand what is to be done about this whole thoroughly nonproductive situation. Official agenda of the summit does not even include matters of undisputed importance like work on a new partnership and cooperation agreement or cooperation in gas matters. According to interim reports, not even signing of a joint communique has been scheduled.
European experts comment on how Russia is demonstrating the guests that it has other potential partners to turn to and advance relations with. Partners like the People’s Republic of China. The summit is taking place in the Far East, right on the Russian-Chinese border. President Dmitry Medvedev chaired a conference on cooperation with China and Mongolia right in Khabarovsk before the Russian-EU summit. European Commission leaders themselves made the trip to Khabarovsk from the EU-Chinese summit in Prague.
Considering the systemic crisis, the least Moscow and Brussels should try to accomplish is determine ways and means to prevent the situation this January from repeating itself (Russian gas export to Europe was then interrupted by the gas war with Ukraine). It is known that Jose Manuel Barroso of the European Commission brought with him to Khabarovsk some official suggestions on that score. “We would like a more perfect supply interruption early warning system or mechanism,” EU Commissioner for Foreign Policy and Security Javier Solana told INTERFAX.
Brussels is being secretive about what it is that it suggests, but that no “early warning” system or mechanism offers a genuine solution to the problem at hand goes without saying. Upset by the short-lived Russian-Ukrainian gas war in 2006, the European Commission set up a system of “special correspondents” to inform EU officials of the impending problems. These “special correspondents” were obsolete on the eve of 2009. Starting in September 2008, Russian officials and Gazprom executives had been telling the EU of the immediate risks of transit via Ukraine. In December, they used diplomatic channels to officially inform Brussels, national governments, and commercial partners abroad of the lack of agreements with Ukrainian Naphthagas and of the potential dangers to gas export to Europe via Ukraine.
The European Commission remained an uninvolved observer until the last possible moment. It did not even accuse Ukraine of violation of the Energy Charter, a document that expressly prohibits interruption of gas transit because of a dispute with supplier.
Russia insists on amendment of the legislative foundation of the international gas cooperation. In late April, Medvedev approached the EU, Commonwealth, G20, and G8 with the idea of a new system of interaction, one which the Kremlin thought would balance the interests of all involved parties (namely suppliers, transit countries, and consumers). It was centered around design of a mechanism of transit disputes settlement that would protect suppliers from blackmail by transit countries and spare consumers undue interruptions. Unfortunately, Moscow itself does not know what kind of a mechanism it should be which means that no constructive talks on the issue are possible. Besides, Russia persists on withdrawal from the Energy Charter instead of joining forces with Brussels for the purpose of improving this document.
It should be added that the early warning system Solana mentioned is already functioning. Once again, the problem concerns Ukraine. Deputy Premier Igor Sechin informed EU Commissioner for Energy Andris Piebalgs in late April that Ukraine was experiencing financial difficulties preventing it from paying for the gas earmarked for underground reservoirs. (This gas is needed to ensure stable transit of gas to European consumers in the heating period.) Another signal came from Kazakhstan yesterday where prime ministers of CIS are meeting. “Should the Ukrainians fail to solve the problem of filling their underground reservoirs this summer, Naphthagas will be clearly unable to fulfill its commitments with regard to gas transit to Europe come winter again,” a source in the Russian delegation was quoted as saying.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will be meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Timoshenko in the capital of Kazakhstan, later today. Ukraine’s gas and financial problems on the one hand and concessions from Kiev in return on the other are on the agenda. This Wednesday, the Russian Finance Ministry admitted that it had failed so far to decide how to respond to a request for a stabilization loan ($5 billion) from Ukraine.