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A Lousy Start To 2009 . . . For Ukraine And For Much Of Europe As Well

For those who still have doubts concerning Russia’s desire to bully its neighbors, I refer you to this story, which reveals the degree to which Russia is willing to go to show just how much hegemonic power it can exercise over other former Soviet states–and by extension, over Europe itself:

Russia was preparing to turn off gas deliveries to neighbouring Ukraine on Thursday, raising the spectre of disruptions to European Union supplies.

European states are anxious to avoid a repeat of what happened in January 2006 when, during a similar row, Moscow cut off supplies to Ukraine, causing a brief fall in gas supplies passing through Ukraine on the way to the rest of Europe.

Moscow says it will honour its contracts to supply European customers with gas, and these have enough reserves to manage without Russian supplies for days, but not weeks.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko also gave assurances to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso that there would be no disruptions to supplies to the EU, the European Commission said in a brief statement.

Pipelines that cross Ukraine carry about one-fifth of the EU’s gas needs. A new cut-off could tarnish Russia’s reputation as a reliable energy supplier and further undermine Ukraine’s crisis-battered economy.

[. . .]

 Russia says the row is purely commercial, but it has in the past been accused of using energy to blackmail its neighbours. It has been fiercely critical of the drive by Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders to join NATO.

Putin launched a scathing attack on Ukraine on Wednesday.

He said its leaders had snubbed an offer to buy gas in 2009 at a below-market price of $250 per 1,000 cubic metres, he alleged they would block Russian gas supplies to Europe, and said they had brought Ukraine to the verge of economic collapse.

I have yet to hear from anyone in American policymaking circles concerning a viable and coherent approach to Russia in light of the latter’s clear and unmistakable hegemonic ambitions. Quite the contrary; American foreign policy is meandering and directionless at the moment. The President-elect and the Vice President-elect have certainly done nothing to indicate what, if any new tone might be taken with the Russian leadership and there does not appear to be any particular event we can look forward to that would give us any indication whatsoever of the new Administration’s thinking on the issue.

I will stress anew that right now, Russia does not have what it takes to present any kind of serious threat to American interests. To an extent, therefore, it would appear that we have some leeway to be sanguine. But not much. There is no sign that efforts at mischief on the part of the Russian leadership will cease anytime soon. And at some point, we are going to have to grapple with that mischief, with the possibility that it might get worse and that the consequences of Russia’s attempts at exercising hegemony might become more pronounced and more deleterious as well.

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