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February 3, 2009 |  5 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Sonja  Davidovic

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Sonja Davidovic: Russia‘s shut down of its Balkan gas deliveries with the ink not yet dried on the Serbian Government/Gazprom deal indicates that vulnerable areas such as energy security must be reflected in a European strategy.

Although the short-term emergency arrangements with Hungary and Germany prevented big-scale power and heating outages in Serbian households, the Serbian economy continues to suffer losses due to gas shortages. The gas crisis proved that the opponents to the energy deal were right, since the arrangement has neither secured domestic energy supplies, nor has it contributed to the prosperity of Serbia's economy as announced by President Tadic. The Serbian government will find it harder to justify the bargain sale of the majority stake in the Serbian national oil company.

Europe's concept of energy security seems to be focused on the steadiness of energy supplies, not so much on the diversification of its energy sources. The current crisis is yet another reminder that Europe needs to develop a common energy strategy and that steady supply can only be guaranteed through the diversification of its sources. The energy debate needs to be depoliticized: Instead of taking sides and engaging in short-term political trade-offs, the EU ought to develop a long-term common strategy based on commercial principles. In microeconomics, supply chain diversification does not only imply lower prices due to increased competition between suppliers, but it also prevents firms from incurring high switching costs and it ensures steady business operations and cash flows. With more than 80 percent of their gas imports from Russia, some European countries severely violate this fundamental business rationale.

Alternative sources of fossil energy inevitably draw the attention to the Caucasus, Central Asia and Iran. While Iran has been on the EU's radar screen for some time, the Caucasus and Central Asia has been a neglected European backyard. The importance of the Caucasus for Europe's energy security is not solely related to Azerbaijan's oil and gas reserves. The entire region will become a major transit corridor of energy supplies from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and eventually Iran.

The European Neighborhood Policies (ENP) towards the individual countries in the region were half-hearted commitments to the Caucasus. Ironically, it needed a full-scale military conflict between Russia and Georgia for the EU to realize the importance of the region for its overall security including energy. The EU's relations with the countries in the Caucasus have been upgraded in form of the recently introduced Eastern Partnership within the auspices of ENP. However, this new initiative is just a compromise resulting from the objection of some EU member states in NATO to grant MAP to Georgia and Ukraine. Although it creates a link between ENP and potential EU membership, the arrangement does not provide any security guarantees. A "European NATO-light version", so to speak.

The frequency of high-level visits by officials to the region indicates that the EU finally made up its mind to devote more attention to its own outskirts. Hitherto, the EU policies towards the region have been reactive in nature. The successful integration into Euro-Atlantic security system requires more than merely extending MAP or institutionalizing new forms of cooperation with the countries in the region in response to political events. More than the form, it is the content of NATO's and the EU's relations with the countries that will ensure regional stability and steady energy supplies to Europe. If the EU takes its own energy security seriously, it should adopt a more pro-active regional approach. It is high time to put existing forms of cooperation and beautiful words into action.

Next to increasing financial assistance for regional projects, initiating efforts to establish a free-trade area in the region and promoting cross-border civil society cooperation, the EU should augment its support for international efforts to resolve the separatist conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh since they are the main stumbling blocks for regional integration and security. Furthermore, the EU should finally grant membership to Turkey since it is the most important transit country for European energy supplies from the region, key for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the promotion of regional development and cross-border cooperation.

Ultimately, it is neither about bashing nor about political blame games. It is about children freezing in classrooms in the midst of a harsh winter and the responsibility of governments towards their constituencies.

Sonja Davidovic is a graduate student at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, Washington DC.

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Goran  Radakovic

February 3, 2009

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Sonja,

I would respectfully disagree with your argument that the deal will not secure Serbia's gas supplies.

Imagine if the gas pipeline had already been in place before the Russia-Ukraine drama. There would be no disruptions of gas supplies to parts of Europe (including Serbia) as the South Stream pipeline avoids Ukraine altogether. The Russian Government is planning to build pipelines that avoid countries that Russia perceives as threats to its interests (think of North Stream which made the Poles angry). Russia is behaving strategically and it is moving to secure its position as a main supplier of gas to Europe. Whether it is going to use that dominance as a tool for political concessions, it remains a question. But I would not jump to conclusions that it is part of Russia's neo-imperialist strategy.

Even though I totally support the diversification of any industry, unfortunately, I think that Serbia is not in position to diversify its gas industry/supplies at the moment (unless in absolute emergency when it somehow managed to get gas from Germany and Hungary) because it simply cannot finance such large projects.
 
Member deleted

February 4, 2009

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One would agree completely with Sonja over the issue of securing energy-supplies and that which the NATO states should. However, there are other issues that can become a determining factor. Readership is a beautiful thing. Especially the reading of such books as Prof. Samuel P. Huntington's seminal and also controversial thesis about and over a Clash of Civilizations, in his similarly titled book "Clash of Civilizations: The ReMaking of World Order" idicate. Readership is supposed to not only add neural pathways to the human brain, but also help improve's one's manner of thoughts and speech. One's information - if you may. Attempting a global melo-drama to put into effect the works of a political scientist, however, de-recognizes the merits of readership in such cases and merely highlights a certain pathological malaise that can send frissons. It also encourages a steady drying up of the energy tap, amongst many other dried taps, in the global community. Especially since fossil fuels (petroleum included here along with coal, etc.) continue to form the basis of much of the motor-movements of the world. Those who hold the fossil fuel would also like to survive a strategic campaign of such melo-dramatic stupidity as well as magnitude. The issue here is about the right of the supplier to survive and also to not expect a covert war over and engineered by such books, written by famous political scientists. Especially when such political scientists probably are people who understand and appreciate: the meaning of readership. Energy security, it seems, may be inextricable linked to the strategic security of the suppliers' end of such groups.
 
Unregistered User

February 5, 2009

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“It is about children freezing in classrooms in the midst of a harsh winter…”

This is exactly what the Russian Federation was working to avoid during this latest disagreement with Ukraine. It is silly to blame Russia for trying to deliver gas to Serbia and other countries in Europe. But, I guess this is what the School of Foreign Service in Washington, DC wants its students to believe.
 
Christia  Flourentzou

February 5, 2009

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Although the latest crisis in energy supply might act to indicate that Europe should diversify its energy suppliers, at the same time Europe should not isolate Russia. Energy provision should be utilized from both Russia and the EU to create a stronger bilateral relation based on economic cooperation. This could be a step towards the de-politicization of a long and troubled relationship.
 
Sonja  Davidovic

February 5, 2009

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Ladies and gentlemen,

thank you very much for your comments.

Dragi Gorane,

you are right. South Stream is an alternative energy route circumventing the Ukriane as a transit country. Yet, it does not solve the supplier diversification problem.

I am not arguing for an exlcusion of Gazprom from the European energy equation. On the contrary. Gazprom should continue to be a market player, since it will ensure competition in the European energy market. Competition in form of multiple gas suppliers, as we all know, not only enhaces the steadiness of energy supplies, but also reduces their prices for the end consumers, induces technological innovation and economic efficiencies and has many other positive externalities for the respective countries. So, my point is less one of a global melodrama or doom-mongering, but more one of elementary business rationales and government responsibility to its people.

You are also absolutely right about Serbia's unleveraged position in this context. That is exactly why I argue that Serbia's long-term energy policies should be embedded in a broad European energy strategy. In this way Serbia could reduce its vulnerability and facilitate its integration into European structures. The main problem is that an European energy strategy hitherto is rather event driven and uncoherent.

If you read my article again you will realize that my conclusion is not that Russia pursues a neo-imperial strategy, but that Europe should seek to devote more attention to a region that it neglected for a long time, one that is vital for its overall security including its energy security.

Christia, I absolutely agree with you. The EU should seek stronger bilateral relations with Russia and at the same work on strategies that would prevent gas cut-offs and enormous costs to the European economies from ocurring in the future.

Mr. Austin, when I talk about children freezing in their classrooms I refer to a report on Bulgarian shool children who sang to keep warm in their cold classroms.
(http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2009/01/07/europe/EU-Ukraine-Russia-...)

As we all know, it is not the first time that Russian gas supplies to Europe are being cut off.
Blame games are a wrong approach to resolving a problem. If you read carefully, you will see that my criticism refers to the inability of the EU to develop and begin implementing a coherent energy strategy and not to Russia trying to deliver gas to Serbia.

I am fortunate for having brain that allows me to contest and question what I am being taught be it at the School of Foreign Service or at any other school.
If you are interested in hearing what SFS wants its students to believe, I will be happy to put you in touch with peole who are more competent to answer that question.

 

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