Russian Natural Gas

The lead article in today’s New York Times, “Kiev Struggles to Break Russia’s Grip on Gas Flow,” describes an economic stranglehold making Ukraine dependent on Russia’s natural gas to heat its homes and run its factories.

Moreover, Russia, through its state-controlled gas company, Gazprom, changes the price of its natural gas to Ukraine depending on who is in power. With the current European-friendly government, it is charging $485 per thousand cubic meters compared to $268 when President Viktor Yanukovych was in charge.

In order to break this dependency, Ukraine is trying to arrange “reverse-flow” deliveries from Slovakia, even though that nation gets 60 percent of its own supply from Gazprom. And Europe as a whole gets about a third of its natural gas supply from Gazprom.

These facts on the ground give Russia tremendous leverage during geopolitical crises because it becomes problematic to arrange effective economic sanctions when so many nations in Europe are vulnerable to a complete cutoff. And Vladimir Putin knows how to utilize this reality to the full power of his ability.

Should the power supply be interrupted in European households, it is the democratically elected leaders who will face an outcry, especially during the winter. Putin knows this, and European leaders know that he knows, and that makes the situation in Ukraine all the worse for its peaceful law-abiding citizens.