At the beginning of the year, with the world awaiting the inauguration of the next American president and witnessing the escalating violence in Gaza, another smaller-scale and closer to home conflict drew the attention of the EU. On 1 January 2009, after long debates over unpaid debts, Russia stopped supplying gas to Ukraine. As a result, gas supplies to many other countries were severely reduced or completely cut off for 20 days in the dead of European winter.
Both Russian and Ukrainian sides were prompt in identifying the other being the bad guy in the conflict by using admirably dramatic words. The Ukrainian media blamed Russia for causing “gas war”, giving “ultimatums”, making “accusations” and turning Europe “hostage to Ukraine-Russia relations”. An article in the Ukrainian Journal went even further with the sensationalised language and quoted Andriy Kislinsky, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential secretariat, comparing the gas shortage to the “Nazi Leningrad siege”.
On the other hand, Russian media also did not spare Ukrainian policy any criticism. Ria Novosti repeatedly referred to Gazprom’s CEO, insisting that “there are political forces in Ukraine who are extremely interested in a gas dispute between our countries”, and labelling Europe – “a hostage to Ukraine’s heedless behaviour”. Metaphors and comparisons were even more picturesque as Ukrainian actions were described as “blatantly provocative and destructive”, “mockery of common sense”.
As for the major British dailies, they proved that im Westen nichts neues, at least when it comes to international crisis in which one of the major players is Russia, and some editorials did not cheat on the old love-hate relationship that the West has with Russia.
But while media were struggling to define the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in the conflict, the gas crisis made utterly obvious the need of new EU energy strategy, which would diminish European dependence on Russian supplies.
Apparently, the European Parliament drew a lesson from the recent dispute as the energy security is one of the highlights of the Strasbourg plenary session this week. The MEPs were scheduled to debate this Monday on the challenges of energy sufficiency, which clearly involves further discussions on the new climate targets, renewable energy policy, and information and communication technologies.
I am meeting this Friday with Bill Newton Dunn, Liberal Democrat MEP and Vice-Chairman of the EP’s Budgetary Control Committee, to get the latest updates on the session in Strasbourg. I’ll keep you posted.