Russia: Rising Tensions with Ukraine

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Russian news have been dominated by the growing row with Ukraine over deliveries of natural gas. The entire dispute has been "economically politicized," with both sides blaming the other for non-compliance and belligerence at a time of dropping winter temperatures across Eastern and Western Europe.

Daily Izvestia blamed Ukraine for thwarting the creation of independent commission made up of Russian, Ukrainian and European technical observers in order to mediate the dispute. The newspaper stated that Ukrainians refused to let Russian in, while citing that Ukrainians continued 'till the last minute to illegally siphon off gas for their own use, as "recently, nearly 86 million cubic meters of other people's gas have disappeared in the Ukrainian steppes." Today, as exactly two years ago in a similar dispute, the Russian side blames the Ukrainians for stealing some of the gas intended for the markets in Central and Western Europe. Russian Gazprom chairman Aleksei Miller expressed his concern that since Ukraine blocked the creation of an international observation commission to oversee the end of the dispute, the only people who may be observing the situation are members of the European Commission - themselves career politicians and clerks who may have never seen gas pipeline equipment in their entire life. The newspaper stated that EC's conclusions about the dispute will be undoubtedly politically motivated. "All blame is on the Ukrainian side," Miller was quoted by the paper.

On Friday, the energy dispute took on another dimension, as Kiev Economic Court concluded that the terms of Russian gas transit through Ukrainian territory in 2006 and 2007 are deemed illegal. The five-year contract - signed in 2006 and set to expire on December 31, 2010 - was considered unlawful because the Ukrainian signee, Igor Voronin, former Assistant to the Chairman of national "Naftogas" company, had no government authorization to sign such a contract with the Russian side. As of now, the terms of Russian gas transit through the Ukrainian territory are still undefined.

Izvestia reported on the "persecution" of Russian sailors in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol. Ukrainian Interior Ministry arrested several sailors of the Russian Fleet for "lack of proper registration." The paper commented that such "hunt for the Russian sailors always resumes at the onset of another crisis between Russia and Ukraine." Last time such action was undertaken by the Ukrainian authorities in August 2008, following Russia-Georgia war, when Russian Black Sea fleet returned from a mission to Abkhazia, a break-away region of Georgia.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for greater military-technical cooperation for the Commonwealth of Independent States Members (former Soviet republics) with Russia. "The majority of defense industries across Russia and FSU were based on a single Soviet complex, and still depend on each other to a great degree," stated Medvedev. "The maintenance of such ties increases mutual combat readiness and guarantees collective security in the face of rising threats." The article comments that the strength of today's Russian Army is the result of work of hundreds of defense industries across former Soviet Union. Therefore, future success of the Russian military is not possible without close cooperation with former Soviet partners.

President Medvedev also announced the plan to make purchases of Russian military equipment easier for the CIS members, starting with the ease of delivery of spare parts. This would simplify the purchasing process by former Soviet countries and their militaries - all part of the continuing push by Moscow to become the top defense exporter in the world.

Yevgeny Bendersky is the Senior Strategic Advisor for International Operations at Jenkins Hill International, LLC and a RealClearWorld contributor.
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