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Gazprom and Naftogaz: a cold, bitter winter

Earlier this week, many Ukrainians were outraged that President Yuschenko did not appear to be doing enough to solve the present gas spat between Russia and Ukraine. Although reports vary, some place Yuschenko’s approval rating as low as 4%. It’s not that hard to believe – the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies placed his approval rating as low as somewhere between 6% and 7% in the early summer days of 2008.

Yuschenko’s colossal failures cannot be blamed on Yuschenko alone. A political crisis has been supplanted by an economic crisis. Russia’s meddling in Ukraine’s affairs has not exactly let up, despite the fact that the primary opposition to Victor Yuschenko – Victor Yanukovich – has, in recent years, dropped the “all Kremlin, all the time” act from his political routine. But the outrage of ordinary Ukrainians, directed at both Yuschenko and lavishly wealthy Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is especially understandable in regard to the disconnect between the average Ukrainian and the political elites

Last month, when many homes in the nation’s capital, Kiev (Kyiv), stood without hot water and barely any heating, Yulia Tymoshenko had the gall to stand in front of reporters and piteously announce: “I too am feeling rather cold in my flat.”

In the same week, the Mayor of Kiev, Leonid Chernovetsky, who blamed Tymoshenko for the situation, decided to cheer everyone up by pointing out that “cold showers are actually good for your health!”

Chernovetsky, who has unofficially been dubbed as “the Mayor of all Martians” (a play on the words of his political slogan – “the Mayor of all Kievans” – and yes, it sounds funnier in Ukrainian), enraged Kievans and other Ukrainians with his idiotic approach to the problem. I remember standing in my parents’ kitchen that week, trying to wash the dishes as the icy water was stabbed my hands, laughing mirthlessly about Ukraine’s EU aspirations.

Chernovetsky ended up suing Ukraine’s “Naftogaz” over the issue, which ostensibly involved unpaid bills (a funny coincidence, that one). The Mayor’s office won. Of course, this was before the latest spat with Russia’s “Gazprom.”

Although the Chernovetsky/Tymoshenko incident is small when compared with the present energy scandal, it illustrates an important point: the political crisis in Ukraine is having very real repercussions. And the heaters in the nice flats and dachas of Ukrainian politicians mean that they will most likely never get to experience what the rest of us have to go through as the result of their in-fighting.

EU nations are presently screaming about the lack of gas being pumped into their countries, with Ukraine standing accused of stealing gas, and Russia gleefully grand-standing throughout. Welcome to Ukraine’s reality, EU. Pull up a chair and enjoy.

It goes without saying that the fight between Russia’s state-owned “Gazprom” and Ukraine’s state-owned “Naftogaz” is politically motivated. Kremlin politicians are not going to forgive Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in a hurry.

Yet I cannot, in good conscience, state the Ukrainian leaders have done much to improve relations with Russia over the last few years. And I will never tire of pointing out that Russia and Ukraine share a border and a history. A great percentage of Ukrainian citizens also share a language with Russian citizens, not to mention various cultural and spiritual affinities. It’s a tad unrealistic for Yuschenko, or any Western politician (Britain, I’m looking at you), to pretend that there is an easy way to solve our external political issues.

One does wish that Russia would drop the act. But what Western commentators often forget is the fact that the 1990’s dealt a harsh blow to Russia. While slimy Western johns were busy cavorting with impoverished Russian teenagers in local and international prison-brothels, no one was paying any attention to the growing wave of resentment against the forces that aided the Soviet Union in its collapse. How anyone can be surprised and self-righteously outraged at the culture of antagonism and anti-Western totalitarianism taking hold in Russia once more is beyond me. Totalitarianism used to mean that one’s sister or daughter didn’t have to entertain some sweaty sex-tourist with a big, meaty wallet as a means of survival (I support sex-worker rights, but that means supporting those who want to exit the industry/reduce abuse). Most people don’t think beyond that.

The latest chapter with Ukraine is a smooth continuation of Russia’s many political dramas and Russia is naturally casting Ukraine as the bad guy in this situation. So far, the EU does not appear to be buying that entirely, but I don’t know if that will last with the gas disruptions continuing. I think that in the end, Ukrainians are viewed as expendable by both sides. And if the sex-tourists get cold, most can hop a plane to Thailand.

Ukraine’s politicians, in the meantime, can recommend more fun wintertime activities, such as ice-fishing in bathtubs. Of course, Ukraine does have such a thing as a coal industry with huge reserves, but solving its problems is, like, too much work, man.

Oh well. Happy 2009, Europe!


Natalia Antonova

Natalia is a writer and journalist. She’s the associate editor of openDemocracy Russia and the co-founder of the Anti-Nihilist Institute.

One thought on “Gazprom and Naftogaz: a cold, bitter winter

  1. Jesus. I still remember my high school econ teacher–a comfortably jocular man who had us read Wall Street Journal articles regularly–opining that the transition to Western style capitalism in the just-former Soviet Union countries should come as, what was it now? “shock therapy.” Like a cold shower, I guess: it’s -good- for you. I mean, -you-, you know, not -me- or anything.


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