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Russia/USA/NATO Talk: Degassing Europe via Ukraine
[Image: EuanMearns.com, with an article to describe it. If it looks confusing, you’re getting warmer. The graph is a 2011 depiction, but I like it. See the legend in the bottom right to get it. Gas vs. LNG and Production vs. Consumption.]
Publication date: 2022-01-16
Following the issuance of its draft treaty between itself and the USA led NATO alliance, the Russian Federation attended discussions with parties as follows:
Monday 2022-01-10: Russia and the USA in Geneva, Switzerland
Wednesday 2022-01-12: Russia and NATO in Brussels, The Netherlands
Thursday 2022-01-13: Russia and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna, Austria
If one has been following western media to learn about what has happened during these discussions one will have seen the usually distorted headlines using adjectives like "stalled" and phrases like "no progress". This is, of course, because these media outlets are in a bind. On the one hand they need to comply with the perceived political objectives of the European/NATO/USA block, the editors write the headlines and enough click-bait needs to be added to the hook.
The reality is far more interesting, but takes more than 400 words to describe. It is also difficult to validate with only links to your other "reportage". Here's an attempt with a few more words, a wider collection of sources and a little hindsight to give a more balanced analysis of what these discussions were about, and what was achieved.
Since the dissolution, collapse or demise (depending on your "corner") of the USSR, the USA and NATO held a "unipolar" moment. Preceding this, during the "Cold War" the static battle line was Europe. One should not ignore the myriad proxy conflicts around the world from Africa, South America, the Caribbean (i.e the Cuban Missile Crisis), and the middle and far Easts. The greatest risk of conflict was projected to be Europe wherein both sides had located short to mid range nuclear missiles to add to their intercontinental ballistic missiles held on home territory.
The Europeans having foisted two world wars onto history, were perhaps a little reticent to start another and bolstered by a strong anti-war movement largely born out of the American War, as the Vietnamese rightly term that conflict, and some intelligent global leadership and diplomacy, a sequence of strategic arms limitation treaties were established between the USSR and USA/NATO. These treaties may not have been the key factor in the prevention of conflict, but did serve a very useful purpose in calming tensions. Importantly, they embraced a key concept "Trust but Verify". This can be still seen in nuclear non-proliferation agreements, including that between Iran, members of the EU and the USA which the USA "recently" dismembered.
That unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA ("Iran Nuclear Deal", which had a lot more in it that just "nuclear"), is just one of the many non-proliferation treaties which the USA and by extension NATO have torn up. Credit is to be given to current USA president Biden for signing a 5 year extension to the New START treaty so quickly when taking the role. But, this positive sits starkly isolated in the USA/NATO approach to balance of power dynamics this century.
Following the disaster of the 1990's Russia has rebuilt its "military technology base" and is now producing cutting edge military technology in advance of any other nation or alliance, particularly in missile defense and offense. Russia has just approved the deployment of Mach 12+ missiles onto its surface fleet. As it has been doing this it has seen NATO expanding towards its western border and holding closer and closer military "games" in this ever encroaching space.
The old CIA/NED colour revolution mechanic has been playing out with Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus as examples. This has been complemented by funded and trained radical religious insurgencies in Syria, and one just attempted in Kazakhstan. Additionally, the "no fly zone" in Libya was transformed into the same religious extremist violence. Political skulduggery and the use of sanctions as a component of "hybrid war" have been evident south of the US of A in the Americas in Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil.
All of this in the last 15 years.
Meanwhile, China's economy has been growing at an almost unbelievable rate, and a now declared alliance in political objectives, and military interoperability exists between her and the Russian Federation. The BRI project under the SCO exists to knit together a trade network and military alliance across Asia to withstand the expected "hybrid wars" against it. Have they been "fighting back"? Well, yes, but with a lot more "back" than "fighting". China is using its economy to establish influence in markets where resources and perhaps to some extent location, are important. But, her focus has primarily been on this BRI mega-project. Russia, focusing on its military technology base and reconstructed forces, along with its effective military and diplomatic intelligence service has also been applying influence. In the case of Crimea, they invaded the territory of the Ukraine, but that is a convoluted story involving much history, going back to "Novo Russia" a term used by Catherine the Great, and the provocation of a coup instigated in Ukraine by the USA.
With this turmoil behind us, lets return to the negotiations.
This is the only important discussion. The other two are to make NATO and the OSCE feel relevant. As we shall see, they managed to affirm their irrelevance very quickly.
What are Russia's objectives? Have a look at the draft treaty. They are trying to reestablish some of the elements of the strategic arms limitations treaties established during the cold war, and to prevent more "war gaming" in these newer "near NATO" territories. Its a "can we all please just cool down" request, but with a request for legally binding teeth. This "legal" approach furthers the Russian and Chinese demand for a return to "international law" as opposed to the "(change the) rules (as we go) based (dis)order".
The request that NATO commit to no further eastward expansion was a gambit. It was never going to be accepted, and naturally this is where western media derive their "stalled", "no progress" headlines.
Interestingly enough, Russia had already gained much of what it sought before the meeting in Geneva even began. McGovern's article describes the Russian read out of the telephone call between Putin and Biden before the meeting.
During the meeting, both sides declared that limiting where offensive and/or defensive missiles can be placed in eastern Europe is not something that can be agreed upon in a day or two, or even a month or two. What does this mean? Discussions on the topic are ongoing. Perhaps no agreement will be reached, but this author would prefer to have them discussing rather than not.
So, post Geneva Putin has: Biden accepts responsibility/commitment to the discussions, no offensive missile systems in Ukraine and discussions on limits of offensive missile sites in eastern Europe are to continue.
Biden has: Russia had pre-meeting already removed 10 000 troops further inland from their position 150 odd kilometres from the Ukraine border. Looks good. Means nothing.
Actually, the same could be said for the USA commitments. Looks good, means nothing. The difference is that these are things the USA President or negotiators have said or not denied, whereas the Russian troop withdrawal was just done. This is a game about political engagement and commitment.
Following the Geneva meeting lead USA negotiator Wendy Sherman offered this wisdom:
“There was no commitment to de-escalate, nor was there a statement that there would not be”
It takes effort to get four negatives into one sentence.
Not to be outdone, NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg said [emphasis mine]:
The United States, which had representatives here in Brussels at the same time, has made it very clear that these meetings were not negotiations. In the NATO-Russia Council, we floated ideas. We were looking for...a process that can ensure a political way forward.
Which “political way forward” is achieved without “negotiation”? Hmmm?
To call these people diplomatic lightweights would be to insult diplomats.
"It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years," Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau said
Followed a little later by:
OSCE observers monitor the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where a nearly eight-year war between Russia-backed separatists and government forces has killed more than 13,200 people.
I repeat, these quotes are from the SAME ARTICLE.
I’m just some “dude” in some “mother’s basement” “on the internet”. These people have millions of dollars of funding.
I provide links. They dont. Just think about how pathetic they are. Who approves this funding? Who does quality control? Anyone with three brain cells can see through this rubbish.
The clever interlocutor comes in with:
But, Ukraine is not in the OSCE area!!
To which I reply, spot on Jack. But, they’ve been permitting a war there now for 6 years by not strongly encouraging the Ukrainian leadership to engage in the Minsk accords while still trying to incorporate the region. Take your spots off, Tiger.
3 Meetings: Conclusions
Nothing really. Of course, the gambit was rejected, but a commitment for no offensive missiles in Ukraine was given before the meeting, and negotiations on missile placements in eastern European states continue, as will hopefully those of "war gaming" close to Russian territory.
I direct your attention to the Global Conversions video linked in Sources below. I advise particular attention to Glenn Diesen and his citation of the collective "pan-European security" treaties that have been abrogated by the west and how that contributes to Russia's desire to re-establish some form of security commitments. These comments occur during his first remarks. As an academic he just rattles off all the treaties abandoned.
But, there is another important factor that is only now reaching the general media. Yes, its the obvious: energy supply in Europe.
Gas, Gas, Gas
Should the proposed sanctions on Russia for whatever cause be imposed, they might just have an impact on the European economy and peoples’ day to day lives. Thus, there might be political consequences in Europe. Ohhh, drat. These pesky Europeans.
Reuters has a piece which is full of the usual rhetoric but, if one digs a little, does deliver some goods. The USA's foreign affairs department, called the "state" department, which could lead to an interesting discussion on nomenclature, has sought advice from a few multi-national energy companies about the 'state of affairs' in European energy supply:
The companies told the U.S. government officials that global gas supplies are tight and that there is little gas available to substitute large volumes from Russia, the industry sources said.
Ok. And? ... [parenthesized commentary is mine]
It was unclear which companies U.S. officials contacted. [But we're gonna name them anyway] Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L), ConocoPhillips and Exxon (XOM.N) declined to comment when asked if they had been contacted. Chevron Corp (CVX.N), Total , Equinor (EQNR.OL) and Qatar Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. [We were gonna ask Venezuela, but we were informed that they don’t do gas. Asking Iran was prohibited by some regulation.]
From there, the Reuters article is long on opinion and short on detail. The detail is that European "Underground Gas Storage" (UGS) has reached below 50% capacity earlier than forever during a winter period by a week or two. No biggy. Weather has been mild recently. I know, I live in northern Europe. But, I also know that the rubber meets the black ice on the road over the next 6 weeks. It all depends on the now more volatile weather patterns.
A Bloomberg article is quick to clarify the situation and the source of the problem [all emphasis is mine, as ever]:
Gazprom is right. On Thursday, Gas Infrastructure Europe, an industry association, announced that European gas inventories had dropped below the key 50% mark of total capacity, down to 49.33% as of Jan. 12. It’s the earliest the half-empty mark has ever been reached, beating the previous record by seven days.
The author continues:
Russia has kept the pressure on the European gas market by turning down supplies. The Yamal-Europe pipeline, a major conduit of Russian gas into Germany, hasn’t shipped a single molecule of gas for 23 consecutive days. Flows via other pipelines remain well below normal levels.
And wonderfully follows immediately thereafter to "clarify" the above:
Gazprom says it’s meeting all its contractual obligations with customers in Europe. And the customers agree. What the Russian energy behemoth isn’t doing, as it does normally in winter, is to offer gas on the spot market above and beyond its long-term contracts.
For this, I give credit to the author of the Opinion piece in Bloomberg. You've an editor, I don’t, but you got that in there!
What this all tells us is that Europe's reliance on Russian gas supply is a factor in the current argy-bargy over security policy, else why would the “State Dept” be asking multi-national energy companies about it? The very old, and not worth maintaining Ukrainian supply lines will die very soon. Nord-Stream II is waiting to pump gas, but is being politically delayed. The Russians want long term supply contracts, which they are honoring, and the neo-liberal Brussels technocrats think that short term "spot market" mechanisms are an effective way to manage energy supply. Dumber questions have been asked, but rarely for such an important national service.
Interestingly enough, this also harks back to Russia's calls for "law", or in this case contracts. Russia and Gazprom are in no way required to engage in the spot market. Its what the "west" loves; free markets. The fact that they are not when prices are currently high may be for political purposes either to annoy the Europeans or because they have shortage of supply in their own storage. I dunno. Perhaps they're prioritizing supply to the East? We know that they're currently building their second major supply pipeline to the East so that they can pretty much say goodbye to the European gas supply market in a few years unless the Europeans engage with them on reasonable terms. If one pulls back a bit, and sees the transition to spot market reliance by the EU for energy policy, and understand that the infrastructure for reliable supply requires long term investment, then Gazprom's strategy to invest towards the East could be seen as a natural response to market dynamics. But, its never that simple. When Gazprom wanted to immediately pull out of the Ukraine pipeline delivery and take the financial hit written into the contract, Putin stepped in and demanded that they fulfill the contract. Political intervention can work either way.
Gazprom does have a gun to the heads of EU politicians, but the EU technocrats changed the magazine from blanks to dumb-dumbs.
3M22 Zircon Is Officially Accepted For Service, Andrei Martyanov, his Newletter, 2022-01-12
Agreement on measures to ensure the security of The Russian Federation and member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Russian Foreign Ministry (Unofficial Translation), 2021-12-17
Putin’s Quid: No Offensive Missiles in ‘ABM’ Sites, Ray McGovern, AntiWar.com, 2022-01-07
Russia US Negotiations - McGovern, Diesen, Kuzmarov, Tremblay interviews guests, Global Conversations, 2022-01-14
OSCE Meeting Ends, No Movement Made In Russia-Ukraine Crisis, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (i.e USA government funded media), 2022-10-13
Exclusive: U.S. talks to energy firms on EU gas supply in case of Russia-Ukraine conflict, Dmitry Zhdannikov and Ron Bousso, Simon Lewis, and Timothy Gardner, Reuters, 2022-01-15
Earlier Than Ever, European Gas Storage Is Half-Empty, Javier Blas, Bloomberg, 2022-01-13
Sorry, this really is for the first 60 seconds of visuals. Thanks, Mick. I prefer the studio recording, a version of which is below.
Jumpin' Jack Flash －The Rolling Stones, menmo0819, Youtube Channel, 2009-04-16
A "remix" of the studio version. Great riff, great rhythm section, great singing, great recording and arrangement. The 'Stones and all that.
Jumpin' Jack Flash (2021 Stereo Remix / Remaster) - Rolling Stones, Tiger Rogers, Youtube Channel, 2021-08-11
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