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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 January 2006, 16:21 GMT
Press shivers from gas woes
European Press

The drama of Russia's gas dispute with Ukraine is reflected in the European press, with many commentators warning that heavy reliance on Russia for energy supplies is risky.

"Europe at the mercy of Russian gas" is the headline in the French left-leaning Liberation.

"Russia's showdown with Ukraine over gas is a stark reminder for the European Union of its energy dependence," the commentary warns.

"Thirty years after the oil shocks of the 1970s, the European Union hits its first real energy crisis, and it does so from a position of weakness."

According to France's Le Monde, "Russia has just pressed the energy button", and "the first war of the 21st Century has been declared".

While Moscow's demand that Ukraine pay market prices for its gas is not unlawful, the paper argues in its editorial, Moscow is acting "with excessive brutality".

Germany's Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung also takes Moscow to task for what it calls its "brusque conduct and thinly-veiled blackmail".

'Blackmail'

Many commentators argue that while the crisis has been sparked by the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, there is little doubt that it is the long arm of the Kremlin at work.

While Vladimir Putin is neither Brezhnev nor Andropov, his style bears all the hallmarks of the methods used by the red Tsars of yesteryear
La Tribune

"Gazprom's rocket-shaped supermodern skyscraper is staffed not by managers a la Wall Street," writes Jan Machacek in the Czech Hospodarske Noviny, "but by yes-men dancing to the Kremlin's tune."

Switzerland's La Tribune is equally scathing. "Gazprom is nothing other than the new face of the former Soviet Ministry of Gas," it says.

"While Vladimir Putin is neither Brezhnev nor Andropov, his style bears all the hallmarks of the methods used by the red Tsars of yesteryear, and of his background in the organs of repression."

But not all commentators put Moscow in the dock.

"It is fashionable, particularly in this region and in Russophobic circles, to preach from the moral high ground," observes Hungary's Magyar Hirlap, "but everyone in the world uses blackmail in one form or another."

"Take America - ready to ease visa conditions and grant aid only to those who will help it to implement its plans - or the EU, which, setting aside moral issues, doesn't give a damn about the poor in the third world," it says.

'Wake-up call'

Switzerland's Le Temps draws an analogy with Iraq where, it claims, Washington's engagement is nothing less than a war for energy supplies.

But Russia, it says, will never need to invade anyone else's country because in Siberia it is sitting on one of the biggest energy reserves in the world.

Europe will undoubtedly become more dependent on energy imports in the coming decades...This development is a warning to diversify our energy supplies
Financial Times Deutschland

"There is less blood and less sand than in the conquest of Mesopotamia," argues the paper's editorial, "but Russia is acting in the same strategic context driven by might and hydrocarbons."

Several papers warn of the potential consequences of Gazprom's action for what Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung calls "the almost forgotten issue" of Europe's energy supply security in the longer term.

"Europe will undoubtedly become more dependent on energy imports in the coming decades," says Financial Times Deutschland.

"This development alone is a warning to diversify our energy supplies. In addition there is also uncertainty about whether Russia, an immensely important supplier, will really always be reliable."

Le Temps warns that the gas dispute comes at a time when Washington is "using every means, including military" to diversify its sources.

"For Europe, sitting on the sidelines yet again, the carbon divorce between Kiev and Moscow is a wake-up call," it says.

Thinking the unthinkable

The Who's Who of the most important oil and gas exporters reads like a directory of international crisis spots
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, however, the greatest threat to the West's energy supplies for the foreseeable future lies not in the scarcity of resources, but in their concentration in the hands of a few states whose political reliability is often open to question.

"The Who's Who of the most important oil and gas exporters reads like a directory of international crisis spots," the paper warns.

"After Putin's increasingly authoritarian Russia come Indonesia - vulnerable to terrorism, Venezuela - ruled by an anti-Western populist, various Central Asian despots and, of course, the Gulf states, whose stability can no longer be taken for granted."

Several papers argue that Europe has a vested interest in standing up for Ukraine.

"The unthinkable has become a reality," argues commentator Ivan Stulajter in Slovakia's SME.

"From now on, no one can say that Ukraine's transit system is absolutely safe... If the Kremlin doesn't realise for itself that reaching an agreement with the Ukrainians is the better option strategically it is up to the West to open Russia's eyes, and it has the means with which to do so."

The Czech Lidove Noviny agrees:

"We, the European Union, have a duty to put pressure on Gazprom - in other words the Kremlin - to reach an acceptable agreement with Kiev," writes commentator Lubos Palata.

"In the longer term, we must also ensure that the EU does not become dependent on Russia for its energy - perhaps instead of wasting money on French and Polish farmers."

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaus abroad.




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