While Iraq has dominated the geopolitical stage this week (and with good reason), there's still some crazy stuff going on in Ukraine. Earlier this week Russian natural gas giant Gazprom shut off the flow of its product to Ukraine. Then last night a portion of a pipeline in Ukraine "mysteriously" exploded. Can anything be done to calm the tensions?
In short, yes says energy expert and former advisor to the Ukrainian government Robert Bensh. For starters Bensh notes that 60% of Europe's gas flows through Ukraine. When Gazprom shut down the flow it impacted more than just Ukraine and that alone could prompt action if the rest of the EU begins to feel the pinch. "What this really is more than anything else is Russia exerting control and influence both over Ukriane and the European Union with regard to its gas supply," he says.
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Then comes the exploding pipeline. Bensh admits this has Russia's fingerprints all over it and says it will allow them to "argue to the European Union and the United States that Ukraine cannot secure the transportation system and something must be done."
So what then can the U.S. actually do? Not much Bensh says. "The U.S. has significant influence, it has a very good relationship with the Ukrainian government. At this point they are letting the new president Poroshenko deal with and negotiate with Russia. He's actually a very good president for the country at this point in time. If anyone can find a solution it will be him."
That solution may actually surprise you. While it would be a tough pill to swallow Bensh says Ukraine must sell some of its pipeline system...to Russia!
Poroshenko "must sell at least a third of it to Russia," he says, "and that ultimately is a good thing not only for Ukraine and Russia but also for Europe." Such a sale would make the pipeline secure, would get the gas flowing, and would probably even result in some improvements to the system. What happens after that is anyone's guess.