It’s funny how some posts come to be. Sometimes I stop myself partway through a reply to a commenter on another post, thinking, hey; there’s enough meat in this for a whole post, rather than just a one-paragraph rant. Or sometimes, as is the case with this post, I start out writing a new comment, just to draw the readers’ attention to something I read, and think the same thing – there’s more material here, and it forms a new picture. This could go somewhere. Let’s play with it a little, see if there’s something to it.
Once I decide there is something to it, I start looking for a hook – something catchy which will tie the title in with the post, so that while the connection might not be immediately apparent, it will be revealed within the body of the post.
In this case, a little explanation is called for, because the connection is so roundabout.
First, I ran across an hilarious post on Interfax Ukraine, which I was just going to offer for everyone’s amusement. It featured the 17-year-old CEO of Naftogaz, Andriy (it’s very important to Ukrainians that they spell their names differently from the Russian spelling, because they are not ignorant Slavs like the Russians, but the descendants of billion-year-old-carbon extraterrestrials) Kobolev, blubbering about how Siemens had caved in to pressure from the Russians, and stopped the sale of compressors to Naftogaz that it needed to modernize its Gas Transit System (GTS). He’s not really 17, of course; he just has that Richie Cunningham kind of face that makes him look perennially pubescent, complete with red hair. That’s part of what makes the article funny. There’s more, but we’ll get to that, in a bit.
Then it occurred to me that I’ve seen a loose series of pieces lately which mention Ukraine and gas transit, such as Ken Rapoza’s piece for Forbes (which I mentioned already, in the comments to the previous post), where he unaccountably suggests that Russia has discovered it still needs Ukraine. As I argued on that occasion, Ukraine’s soulful big-eyed caricature of trustworthiness is unlikely to fool anyone in Russia, and merely underscores how important it is for Russia’s continuing progress and uncoupling from the west that it circumvent Ukraine, and not rely on it for anything.
But then I ran across this. The EU is again taking the position, or at least it appears so from the gobbling of the human turkey Maros Sefcovic, that transit of Russian gas through Ukraine after 2020 is a priority. And I thought, holy shit. Are we really going to go through all this all over again? And then I thought, what’s a word for people who are incapable of learning? It’s plain that western bureaucrats see themselves – and I know it’s an analogy I have used before – as Lucy in the Peanuts comic strips, holding the football for Charlie Brown (Russia), only to snatch it away at the last second so that Charlie Brown/Russia falls ignominiously on his ass, to great amusement. What’s a word for people who are so stupid that they believe everyone else is too stupid to see through their self-interested mendacity?
So I searched “What do you call people who are incapable of learning?” This site – somewhat unkindly – suggested “thick”. Fair enough, I thought. Now I just need something really thick. So I searched “What is something really thick?” And the search engine offered the earth’s layers, of which the mantle is the thickest, and the crust the thinnest.
Which gives us “The West is as Thick as the Earth’s Mantle”. See? No mystery at all. But it is actually apparent that the west, embodied in the stubborn slow-learner Sefcovic, is going to take another run at saturating press coverage with what a great idea it would be for Russia to just forget about Nord Stream II, let bygones be bygones, and put its trust in Ukraine – its sworn enemy – as a reliable transit partner for about a third of the gas it sends to Europe.
That is a great idea, like a banana slug is a great tongue depressor. But let’s go back for a minute, back to the beginning and the original post that started us off, with Andriy Kobolev. As I suggested earlier, Kobolev blames Russia for applying pressure to force Siemens to scupper the compressor deal. He says as much. But there is no evidence introduced in the article that Russia even spoke to Siemens about the matter:
“The first batch of compressors was supplied. These were compressors from Siemens, but then Siemens called and said that if they brought more, they would lose the Russian market,” Kobolev announced at the 14th annual YES conference in Kyiv on Friday, September 15.
Well, Andriyusha, let’s look at some other possibilities, just a couple I can name off the top of my head. First, if Russia actually did pressure Siemens into canceling the deal, what makes you think they are going to be pressured by the EC into continuing gas transit through Ukraine, something Moscow plainly does not want to do? I mean, considering they can already make the most powerful country in Europe do what they want?
But it’s probably not as complicated as that. Consider – Siemens is a German company. If Nord Stream II goes ahead, Germany will be the major gas hub for Europe. Or….it could help Ukraine become the gas hub for Europe instead. Ukraine, who just got finished fucking Siemens over by squalling about Siemens turbines which were delivered to Crimea.
Whatever the case, it looks to me like a straight business decision by Siemens, and if they preferred to cultivate the Russian market over the Ukrainian market, that’s probably wise; but even if it wasn’t, it appears to be based purely on Siemens perception of what would be best for the company.
But that wasn’t the part that made me laugh. No, what I found funny was Kobolev’s pouty insistence that Nord Stream II be opposed as a ‘politically-motivated project’. Just as if leaning on the jellyfish President of the European Commission to force Russia to continue transiting Europe’s gas through the slow-motion collapse that is Ukraine had nothing whatsoever to do with politics. Nope, that just stands out as a solid business decision in every way, doesn’t it?
Let’s get something up-front and on deck right now, so that there is no ambiguity to confuse the issue. Washington was behind the Maidan turning into a violent insurrection, and the USA remains behind the scenes pulling the strings at the SBU. A very frank phone conversation between State Department neoconservative cookie-distributor Victoria Nuland and United States Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, in which the eventual composition of the coup government was planned in unambiguous detail should be all the evidence anyone needs that the entire process was manipulated and micromanaged. Lest anyone forget, Nuland’s choice, ‘Yats’ – Arseniy Yatsenyuk – was such a political dung-magnet that he lasted only 26 months in the job. To be fair to him, he was tasked with implementing the IMF’s favourite reform (because it’s the only one the IMF really knows); austerity, in the poorest country in Europe.
And it is the United States of America which continues to have its arm up the back of Kiev’s shirt, making its mouth move. Washington is the big brother Poroshenko turns to when he wants help to stymie Russia’s efforts to build circumferential commercial links around Ukraine, and instead for Ukraine to have an important linking role in Russia’s energy business with Europe – in short, for Russia to continue using Ukraine to transit its gas to Europe.
Why is that, do you suppose? What’s in it for Washington?
Dragging Ukraine into the west’s orbit has long been a goal for Washington, dating back to the late and mostly-unlamented Zbigniew Brzezinski’s ‘grand chessboard’ strategy – a geostrategic imperative, he said, to ensure American primacy in the world. Russia without Ukraine, quoth the pushing-up-daisies Pole, would never attain great-power status. And America has sort of gotten to like the feeling of being the only great power in the world.
The strategic value of Ukraine, then, is manifold. It can be stirred at any time to whip up global ire against Russia. NATO military exercises in Ukraine can be used to parade western might across Russia’s doorstep. But its real value lies in continued gas transit by Russia between the source and Russia.
For one thing, it’s the money – more than $ 2 Billion a year out of Russia’s pocket and into Ukraine’s, in transit fees. Once Russia is committed to continuing to use Ukraine as a transit country, transit fees can always be used as leverage to negotiate sweet energy deals for Ukraine, against the threat of interrupting Europe’s gas supply. Europe would play its part by acting hysterically terrified and victimized. But that’s still pretty small potatoes.
In Ukraine’s current condition, it is at serious risk of collapse. And a country that sends its gas across Ukraine is a country that cannot afford to let Ukraine turn into a failed state, at any cost. Just to put a cherry on top of this splendiferous vision, complications actually can be introduced, at a whim, into Europe’s energy supply, should they get uppity.
There is no room in this sugarplum daydream for an independent Germany which is a gas hub for Europe, perhaps not even with Mutti Merkel at the helm.
Perhaps some sort of medal could be struck for Sefcovic, for his relentless determination to herd Russia into a horrible bargain which would see it constantly bargaining and negotiating with greedy and lawless Ukraine for the expensive privilege of transiting its gas through Ukraine’s whistling, creaking pipelines. In other circumstances, such dedication might be admirable. But I’m pretty confident that nobody in Russia is buying it. Europe has made an increasingly half-hearted attempt to stop Nord Stream II, and has learned instead that if it wanted to make a sensible legal argument, it should never have allowed the first pipeline; that’s what, in the legal business, is known as ‘precedent’.
All of which leads us to suspect that the real remaining antagonist to the Nord Stream II pipeline is somebody whom it should not by rights concern at all, since that entity is neither part of the supply chain nor the end user of the product – Uncle Sam.
This is no time for Russia to weaken in its resolve. But it is also no time for Germany to allow itself to be rolled. Somebody is going to be a major gas hub for Europe, and in the current climate it is going to be Germany…or Ukraine. Germany should ask itself what Ukraine has done for it which would merit such sacrifice.