Sunday, January 18, 2009

What are the Russians doing now?

Certainly European nations will be overjoyed if Russia and Ukraine agree Monday to get the natural gas flowing, but the recent stoppage, in the middle of winter, should give everyone pause. The stoppage, which began Jan. 1 to Ukraine and Jan. 7 to Eastern Europe, was imposed by Russia in a pricing and payment dispute, according to the Reuters international news service. While all nations impacted were believed to have reserves, the dispute has now gone on long enough to leave residents of Ukraine and southeastern Europe in the cold. But even if Russia and Ukraine, the former Soviet republics, have reached a settlement, as reported Sunday by Reuters, the nature of the dispute and the potential for disastrous consequences should inspire the European Union to seek alternative sources for gas. On the surface, the dispute involved past due balances and future pricing but, just below the surface, was actually about politics. Ukraine is determined to join the Western military and political alliance NATO, and that's not acceptable to Russia. While it is understandable that Russia might feel some discomfort, since NATO was formed as a counterbalance to the Soviet military after World War II, it cannot choose when it will honor its commitments to the international community. The war is over, the Soviet Union has gone out of business and Russia must learn to behave itself -- with Ukraine, Georgia and everywhere else -- if it wants to reap the benefits of the world economic system.

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