OPINION: Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking to start talks with European states Germany, Ukraine, Poland and Slovakia, as well as with the US, over potential changes in Russian gas transit flows after the completion of subsea pipeline Nord Stream 2.
Speaking earlier this week, Putin said that the country “has assumed certain obligations under the [gas transit] agreement with Ukraine and will continue to fully implement them”.
He also insisted on keeping gas transit and Nord Stream 2 out of “political talks” between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France over tensions following the Russian annexation of the Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine and the Kremlin’s alleged support of pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Ukraine, Poland and Slovakia have repeatedly expressed concerns that Russian gas giant Gazprom will halt its gas transit flows across these countries after Nord Stream 2 comes into operation.
Nord Stream 2 has a nameplate annual capacity of 55 billion cubic metres of gas to be delivered from Russia across the Baltic Sea to Germany.
Should the transit routes be brought to a halt, these countries will lose billions of dollars in revenues and be forced to pay more for importing Russian gas from Germany.
Ukraine claims a Russian military assault on its eastern borders is possible once Russian dependence on it as a transit country wanes.
Putin fuelled these concerns when the Kremlin released an opinion article on Monday to argue for what he called “the historic unity" of Russian and Ukrainian people.
In the article, Putin argued that Ukraine had never existed as an independent state, and was a part of the Russian empire before the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, only to be included in the Soviet Union later.
Political observers in Moscow said the article indicates an unabating Kremlin desire to take control of its neighbour.
Putin's pronouncements seem intended to sow confusion among European and US political leaders on whether they need to press for mutual agreements to halt Nord Stream 2 and face the prospect of an end to Russian gas flows via Ukraine or Poland.
(This is an Upstream opinion article).
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