Sunday, January 25, 2009

redrawing the european energy map

Radio Free Europe | There is no quick way for the European Union to penalize Russia and Ukraine for the gas dispute that led to a frosty two-week cutoff in natural-gas supplies this month. So, for the time being, the EU continues to receive one-quarter of its gas supplies from Russia -- and four-fifths of that via pipelines in Ukraine -- just as it did before the feud began.

But the 27-member bloc has already signaled that it will neither forgive nor forget, with EU officials exploring new energy alternatives that circumvent Ukraine, or Russia altogether.

In that sense, says Federico Bordonaro, an energy-security analyst with the Italian-based group equilibre.net, both Moscow and Kyiv lost something in the dispute. Moreover, with other transit countries like Belarus at the ready, one party's loss could well prove another's gain.

He says officials in Minsk are eager to "enhance the role" of the Yamal-Europe pipeline, a major route that stretches from western Siberia to Europe through Belarus, and adds that a second leg "could be carried out in a year or 18 months from now."

"It remains to be seen if everyone agrees with that," Bordonaro says, "but it's important to note that Belarus is trying to get some benefit from the Ukraine-Russia row in order to try and enhance its role as a key transit country, which could actually put it in competition with Ukraine."

Belarus has proven to be a difficult transit partner in its own right. During a pricing dispute in January 2007, Russia briefly suspended oil shipments through Belarus's Druzhba pipeline amid claims that Minsk was siphoning off shipments destined for Europe.

That row was quickly resolved, but for Russia, the ultimate goal remains a pipeline that runs directly to Europe uninterrupted by potentially quarrelsome post-Soviet neighbors.