On 1st January Gazprom decided to suspend its deliveries to the Ukraine which is accused of not having paid its debts and has demonstrated its disagreement with the prices put forward to renew the contract. On 5th January, saying that the Ukraine was using some of the gas that transits across its territory towards the countries of the EU for its own requirements Russian Prime Minister asked Gazprom to reduce its deliveries to Europe. A new gas crisis was starting in the same manner as in 2006. The European Union, which at first felt safe in the knowledge that it held major reserves, dismissed the complainants asking them to settle what they considered a commercial disagreement. But the effect on the EU's most eastern members has forced it to act. It is too early to see what can be learned from the ongoing crisis but three points certainly seem to be evident.
Firstly with regard to its Russian partner.
Its roughneck behaviour is more in line with the Bolshevik era than with that of the 21st century. As usual in the face of a undeniable problem the Russian method comprises opting for force rather than negotiation and civilised behaviour. No normal economic player behaves like this by cutting the supplies of its leading clients; those which provide it with nearly 70% of its budgetary income. Coincidentally the European effort to take up dialogue with Russia in spite of the Russo-Georgian war has not been taken on board by Moscow which continues to nurture dreams of unexplainable revenge within an extremely difficult economic situation. Gazprom, the national company, which has debts to a total of 60 billion dollars has revealed itself to be what it has tried to hide by all possible means, including the costly employment of lobbyists in Brussels, London and Washington – that it is the confirmed pillar of an authoritarian system which has now been established in Russia for the duration – the strong arm of a policy of energy infrastructure acquisitions that stretch far beyond its own capabilities. It is not a normal economic player. Russia, which is agitated, unstable and riddled with nationalist trends of another age is not a trustworthy partner. It is up to the European Union to draw its own conclusions especially in the negotiations it undertakes with Russia. The Union is neither without power nor advantages. It must really show what it is worth.
With regard to the Ukraine with whom the EU has just signed a strategic partnership agreement, the situation is hardly better since in this matter it has again fallen victim to Russian cynicism. The political confusion that reigns within the government has also led it into opposition against Russia in the most violent and useless manner possible and to compromise with those who corrupt it in shady financial deals that are legion in the energy sector. The latter will probably make the fortune of some suspect intermediaries but they will certainly add to the country's vulnerability and damage its credibility. The Ukraine, which is the beneficiary of an IMF Recovery Fund of 16 billion dollars, which enjoys Europe's support and is eligible to European funds and to the eastern partnership which the Union wants to offer it, confines itself to infantile behaviour. The Ukrainians, whose history is tragic, who had a pacific revolution and whose human, agricultural and industrial advantages are real, certainly deserve better than self-destructive political manœuvres and a third-rate foreign policy. The Union should now be aware that there will be an on-going "Ukrainian issue" as there was an "Eastern or Balkan issue" in the 19th century. It is right that the possibility of membership is no longer highlighted – as long as this important country has not demonstrated that it can rise to be what Europe expects it to be.
The third certainty concerns the Czech Presidency and also other Member States with timorous European feelings.
It is within a crisis that we can gauge the vanity of euro-scepticism and the inadequacy of simplistic anti-European attitudes. Maybe the European flag does not fly over the Castle of Prague but all Czech interests lie in Europe and not elsewhere nor in declarations that throw doubt over the Union's policies.
With this gas crisis the Czech Republic that is confined between the Union and its external borders may see the interest of a common foreign and defence policy. The Union can no longer afford not to have a more positive and more united foreign policy. With regard to Russia it must now embody a definite, courageous, firm policy which achieves real results. Words will not lead to this but acts. We must organise solidarity between Member States during this energy crisis and define a true diplomatic means to emerge from it. The Czech Prime Minister went as far as to say that he hoped that he would not have to employ "an extreme option" to achieve this! We thought this meant sanctions, threats of visa prohibition for Russian citizens, the monitoring of European investments in Russia, the suspension of energy payments to a partner who does not keep its promises …. But no, his thoughts were oriented towards a Union-Russia-Ukraine tripartite summit! The threat must have made them tremble ….
By not thinking of the EU as a power and of denying it even the prospect of being one we reach extremes that should not be…. In the multi-polar world, but which is still extremely unilateral, the Union has no alternative. Gradually it has to accept that it is a major global economic and political player.
It is good that a new Member State, of modest size experiences this. This is valid for all of those who see in the construction of Europe a simple regional UN which is only of economic interest, a "Self-Service Europe" that hands out loans but which does not meddle in politics.
It is the inverse we need today. The EU must be involved in politics internationally. To do this it has to give itself the means, including military. Every day it must be firmer and above all more united.