Russia-Ukraine row: up close and personal

January 4, 2009

Could it be that the gas dispute between Moscow and Kiev broke out because Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin felt personally slighted by his Ukrainian opposite number, Yulia Tymoshenko?
It may seem far-fetched that two countries would risk leaving half of Europe without gas over something so apparently petty. But a look at the sequence of events that led up to this crisis suggests there just might be something in it.

Rewind back to Oct. 2, and Tymoshenko is meeting Putin at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow. It is a lodge in forested parkland where, as a rule, he only invites people on whom he wants to make a good impression.

The portents were not good. Tymoshenko, often called the “Gas Princess” for the gas business she used to run in eastern Ukraine, has been a driving force behind Kiev’s push to integrate with the West and once wrote an article in a U.S. journal saying Russia had “imperial designs” on its neighbours.

Yet Putin and Tymoshenko seemed to hit it off. The Ukrainian Prime Minister, dressed in a designer outfit and looking much younger than her 47 years (she has since turned 48), radiated charm as she sat opposite her Russian colleague. Putin, the gruff former KGB spy, smiled and cracked jokes at a press briefing with Tymoshenko afterwards. And later that same evening, Putin took Tymoshenko to Gorki, where his boss Dmitry Medvedev has his own out-of-town residence, and they talked late into the night.

Most importantly, the visit ended with a deal on gas: Russia said it would not charge Ukraine market prices for gas straight away, and they agreed a memorandum which would serve as the basis for a new gas contract for 2009.

Now fast forward to December last year and – at least from the Russian perspective – Tymoshenko was going back on her word. The Russian theory goes that Tymoshenko, watching world prices for oil plummet and knowing that gas prices would eventually follow suit, decided that Ukraine should pay less for its gas than she had agreed back in October at Novo-Ogaryovo.

It should be noted that neither side ever made public what was agreed in October so it is impossible to judge if anyone has welched on the deal, and in fact Ukraine says it is Russia that is now failing to honour that agreement.

Either way, the indications from Russian officials are that Putin felt Tymoshenko had betrayed him, and was angry about it. Angry enough to start a gas war? It was probably not the only reason. It is impossible to dismiss the fact that there is a business dispute at play here. And then there is Russia’s well-known dislike for Ukraine’s pro-Western policies. But the theory is at least worth adding to the mix. We already know Putin is a man who takes politics personally. He did, after all, threaten to hang Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili up by his genitals.

13 comments

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West can pay difference for ukraina gass, west is known to be generous on someone else expense.
West does not like free market any more.

Posted by nikodem | Report as abusive

agreements with Russia are usually honored as long as Russia sees fit. The moment Russia is unhappy with “agreement” it becomes the other party’s liability.
A russian saying sums it up nicely – “the pretty little promise is a fool’s consolation”.

Posted by Pavlo | Report as abusive

all this gas problem,will not only affect Ukraine but also all Europe. GOOD LUCKY. fortunately AFRICA do not depend from Russian oil.

Posted by venceslau | Report as abusive

Putin is crazy – a child at the men’s table.

Across the globe, it seems to me, is a game of tit for tat, two no trumps and best man win. My children behaveing in the same way would have been ‘grounded’ long before now, so why doesn’t someone stand up to the childish goings on of governments and their leaders before they all blow themselves and us with them.

Posted by hopesome | Report as abusive

Well, as expected (done this in the past ) Ukraine is yet again siphoning off gas intended for others. Stealing it is. Either our way or we steal it anyway. Good for you, orange revolutionaries! Good for you!

Posted by Sb | Report as abusive

I dont agree that Russia broke the agreement, from the article I understood the agreement was signed in Oct when the prices were going up and so as per agreement the prices will not decided on market price but was pre determined. Now the prices are really low and Ukraine is not willing to pay as written in agreement (because the market prices are low now and probably less than what agreed in agreement), hence Ukraine refuses to pay the price as agreed.
Just my opinion.

Posted by Naveen kumar | Report as abusive

Putin spells Cold War 2 out for us. He is an ex KGB agent who feels the Soviet Union was sold out by people like Gorbachev. Medvedev is just a puppet of Putin’s ambitions. With a President like Barack Obama I hope the United States can counter Putin’s aggressive action.

Posted by Derek | Report as abusive

Once again Ukraine is stealing gas intended for us here in Europe. I hope our governments react properly this time.

Posted by Al | Report as abusive

Blame Ukraine… Russia sells product, take it or leave it. That’s the price.
The gas was more than $140 and no one jumps so hight for that?

Posted by Godo | Report as abusive

Putin is a weak man – he gives in to his base instincts and shows himself up as a small person acting like a dictator.

To shut off gas supplies during a bitter winter and make thousands suffer and even die, is an act of extravagant spite and malice.

His lack of good judgement and his rancour over the loss of the soviet empire, makes him a bitterly vengeful leader who seems more at home in the ignorant 1920′s than 2009.

His post-empire blues are becoming his hubris, and he is gradually losing his credibility by following an increasingly fascist line.

Posted by TheTruthIs... | Report as abusive

Putin, who has an eye for beauty and a Russian proclivity for conquest, might be a bit non-plussed that his private meeting and the troika afterward did not yeild the personal results that he might have wished.

Yulia, supremely aware that she has the charm and beauty to turn a bear into a lamb, uses that asset to her and Ukraine’s best interests with her superior brain power.

The real factor is that Putin needs Yulia, and Yulia needs Putin, to keep and maintain good Russian/Ukranian relations for both of their interests, and especially to keep a lid on the charged atmosphere surrounding the corrupt oligarghy of the oil industry that has enriched all of the players.

Little different exists from that of the American cabal of Republican players and their Wall Street enablers that lubricate the gears of the American oil plutocracy.

There is very little difference between the Ukrainian and Russian oil industries and the American industry. Each are corrupt to their bones, and both have had and do have corrupt actors in power positions inside and outside of their governments.

What difference that does exist comes with the extradinary beauty, charm and brains of Yulia Tymoshenko which neither Russia or the United States can match. She has the admiration of the world, and especially of the male rulers of the world, a fact of which she is well aware.

When she has the Presidency of Ukraine in 2010 she will use her assets to her fullest capability for Ukraine and for herself.

Americans up north bought fuel oil last summer trying to hedge against higher prices. Do you think they got out of the contracts when oil went down? No way. They signed a written contract. I wonder if the Russians know what a signed contact is stating the price agreed on for gas. This is why the US has lawyers and the court sytem to letigate disputed contracts. Be careful what you sign!!!

Posted by Curtis Horn | Report as abusive