Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ukraine vs Russia, the gas confrontation

Some things to share on the Ukraine/EU gas shutoff by Russia.
* US media was mostly telling us only that Russia's reasoning was that Ukraine had "stolen" gas, a pretty unbelievable accusation that makes Russia look like a bully. It was finally mentioned that Russia was asking for Ukraine to pay the going market rates, not the deeply discounted rates they have been paying. I'm sure it is more complicated than all that, but asking to get paid the going market rate is not unreasonable.
* This conflict has been brewing for years, and is, to my knowledge, basically unchanged.
* The Ukraine and Georgia both sit on major oil and gas transportation routes for Russian oil and gas. A situation very likely to lead to conflict when the neighbors are generally unfriendly, as these three are. This has been obvious enough that US media forecast the conflict years ago.

Does this excuse Russia political brinkmanship? I don't think so, but it does make it look less menacing. Putin is playing for the long run, that much is obvious. That his long run doesn't include a strongly democratic government also seems obvious. My hope is that it doesn't become more overtly autocratic. So far what I see doesn't compare to the autocratic excesses of the 20th century (early 20th Fascism, National Socialism, and Communist excesses. Late 20th Latin & South America, Southeast Asia, Africa). I do see some evidence of repression, but it is of a low level. More akin to Jim Crow.

Comments and questions welcome. I can easily imagine some spirited responses to this post from some of my friends.

Once again, I believe the best indicator will be the level of economic opportunity available to the majority of the populace. The worsening economy will hamper that, but so long as economic pursuit is permitted, things will eventually come around.

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