Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Excuse me, was this yours?"

One of the things you find in this area of the world is a tendency for people to do something they need to do and to be heedless of any kind of burden doing that thing places on others. That what the person is doing may put a real significant burden on someone else or on society in general is none of their concern. That they need to do what they are doing is the only thing that matters. That is true for oligarchs and for the Mercedes and BMW drivers on the road but it is also true to some extent of everybody else.

So now at least some in the know are admitting that Ukraine is siphoning off gas meant for Europe. (All the news programs here said the same thing last night.) And Russia is not pointing a finger and is not threatening to shut down the pipe.

Earlier on Monday, Russia's state-owned Gazprom monopoly admitted for the first time that it was not entirely fulfilling its contractual obligations to clients abroad because Ukraine was retaining some of the exports.

"You can call it withholding or taking, legal or illegal -- call it whatever you like," Gazprom's deputy chief Alexander Medvedev said in an interview with Russian television networks, extracts of which were broadcast Monday evening.

"But what is happening is that gas is remaining in Ukraine at higher volumes than envisioned. This prevents us from fully fulfilling our obligations to our foreign customers," he said.

Somebody at Gazprom or the Kremlin or both has gotten some sense because that is the right kind of tone to set to allow the Europeans to get a sense of the problem. And that sense means a finger pointed at Ukraine--a finger not pointed by Russia.

Somebody is going to have to explain this and do a good job of it. Ignoring something that shifts the burden onto someone else or onto some other country else is not going to cut it for long. Europeans will want their gas and all the friendliness that they might feel for Ukraine won't hold much water in the end if they don't get it. (And besides, aren't the Ukrainians themselves fed up with the Orange Revolution too?) And Ukraine needs all the friends it can get.

So someone ought to do some talking about this and do it now. And it needs to make sense.

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