Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Moscow Crosses the Line

The FT comments on the gas blockade:
Russia has crossed a dangerous line in cutting gas supplies to Ukraine. While Moscow has legitimate grounds for complaint in its dispute with Kiev, its actions are irresponsible. The interruption of Ukraine's shipments will damage Russia's efforts to establish itself as a trustworthy energy supplier. It will also cast a shadow over President Vladimir Putin's attempts to increase Russia's global influence. Moscow's year as president of the Group of Eight for 2006 could not have had a more difficult start.

Moscow is within its rights to end the preferential deals under which former Soviet republics buy gas. Given the high global energy prices, price increases are commercially justified. They are also desirable in economic and environmental terms as they could push the region's notoriously inefficient energy users to cut waste.

But the Kremlin's motives are largely political. Mr Putin is taking revenge on Ukraine for the triumph of, Viktor Yushchenko, its west-oriented president, in the Orange revolution. Russia is angry at its loss of prestige, irritated at Kiev's bids to join the European Union and Nato, and fearful of the precedent set by a successful democratic revolt.
The paper also has some advice to offer:
As a first step, Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor, should reconsider his decision to work for Gazprom as chairman of the planned Baltic Sea gas pipeline. He should not lend his name to such a blatant instrument of Russia's political power.

Mr Putin values Russia's presidency of the Group of Eight for the prestige it will bring Russia as chair of the global elite's top club. He also wants to use Moscow's presidency to address world energy policies. The EU, the US and Japan must tell Mr Putin that if he wants to keep his place among the world's leaders he must start behaving like one.
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