TWQ: Where East Meets West: European Gas and Ukrainian Reality - Winter 2009
January 1, 2009
On January 11, 2008, on the eve of the NATO summit meeting in Bucharest, the Ukrainian president, prime minister, and parliamentary speaker wrote to Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, asking that Ukraine be invited to begin a Membership Action Plan (MAP) leading to membership in the Alliance. In April, the NATO heads of state deferred the issue of MAP for Ukraine, and fellow aspirant Georgia, saying that progress should be assessed at the December 2008 NATO ministerial. That same month, after a tumultuous year of political recriminations and policy deadlock within the ruling coalition, Ukraine is also scheduled on December 7, 2008, to have its third pre-term parliamentary election in three years.
These events shine a harsh spotlight on the current policymaking environment in Kyiv, and also on the country’s longstanding aspiration to join the Euro-Atlantic community. At present, Ukraine is caught between the old, post-Soviet world and the new, European one that it says it wants to join. Nowhere is this clearer and more consequential, both for Ukraine and for the Euro-Atlantic community, than in Ukraine’s natural gas industry. While Ukraine plays a critical role as the key transit connection between gas producers in Russia as well as Central Asia and gas consumers in the EU, its incomplete market economic transition and culture of corruption weaken its own energy security, destabilize its economy, destroy public trust in its politics, and undermine the interests of its European neighbors as well.
Worse yet, Ukraine’s leverage in the energy marketplace is eroding rapidly. A Ukraine that modernizes the practices in its energy sector can contribute significantly to European security, stability, and economic prosperity. Yet, this is not the role that Ukraine has played since 1991 and, even most disappointedly, not the role the country has played since the dramatic Orange Revolution brought new leaders to power in 2005. Western leaders who have encouraged Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations would be well-advised to critically examine the current state of Ukraine’s gas sector, its implications for the country’s democratic development, and risks for European security as it reconsiders Ukraine’s bid to join the trans-Atlantic community in 2009 and beyond.