Russia has been holding its own vast natural gas supplies over the heads of Ukraine and the European energy market at large for years now; pipeline running through Ukraine accounts for about fifteen percent of Europe’s gas supplies, not to mention around a third to a half of Ukraine’s. Putin cut off gas supplies to Ukraine most recently in 2006 and 2009 to exert just the right amount of pressure to keep Ukraine within their sphere of influence, and for the past few months, Russia has been (oh-so-generously and dispassionately) supplying them with heavily discounted gas that the Ukrainian government in turn subsidizes for their consumers to try and stave off their own major fiscal and economic problems. Not at all surprisingly, Russia’ state-controlled gas giant Gazprom announced today that they have decided to cancel that price discount, via the AP:
Gazprom chief Alexei Miller said Tuesday in televised remarks that Ukraine has accumulated a $1.5-billion debt for Russian gas supplies. He added at a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that Gazprom will cancel a price rebate for Ukraine starting April 1.
Russia offered the discounted price and a $15-billion bailout to Ukraine in December following President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to ditch a pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
The underlying danger is that, if things continue to escalate, Russia could decide to yank supplies from Ukraine and Europe altogether — although Daniel Yergin doesn’t think they’ll actually take it that far, at least for now, per Politico:
“With everything else going on, I think it would only be in the context of if things somehow got much worse,” Daniel Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning energy historian, told POLITICO in an interview at the annual IHS CERAWeek conference…
“From the viewpoint of Russia, part of its value-proposition is that it’s a reliable supplier,” he said.
Cutting off natural gas supplies, even if the goal is to hammer Ukraine, would likely have a major impact on the rest of Europe. And experts say that would further exacerbate an already tense situation.
Furthermore, Russia needs buyers just as much as those buyers need a seller, and Europe has been doing pretty well with hedging its own gas supplies this year. But, either way, this all begs the question: Why, exactly, hasn’t the United States better positioned itself to take better economic and geopolitical advantage of our own energy abundance, again? Because we should be, as several Republican lawmakers have chimed in this week, via the WFB:
“One immediate step the president can and should take is to dramatically expedite the approval of U.S. exports of natural gas,” Boehner said in a statement. …
“The United States has abundant supplies of natural gas … and the U.S. Department of Energy’s excruciatingly slow approval process amounts to a de facto ban on American natural gas exports that Vladimir Putin has happily exploited to finance his geopolitical goals,” Boehner said. …
“We also need to open up exports of domestic natural gas to our allies and partners in the region so that they are less susceptible to Russia’s efforts to use energy as a weapon,” wrote Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Rep. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) in a CNN column on Tuesday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told an audience in Houston on Monday that current export restrictions are reducing the country’s ability to “respond quickly and nimbly” to punitive market manipulations by Russia and others.
Instead, we’re behind the geopolitical curve here — but this could still be our shale boom’s time to shine.