‘It’s the Gas, Stupid.’ or Slovakia in-between the Ukraine-Russia Conflict

Normandy talks in Paris,  October 2015
Normandy talks in Paris, October 2015

When the gas dispute between Ukraine and Russia occurred in January 2009, Slovakia was the only Member state of the European Union to declare a state of emergency. The country was not prepared for such a crisis: at that time, 100% of its gas supplies were coming from Russia and the gas strategic reserves to be relied on were restricted. As a result of privatisation in 2002, the gas supplies were not controlled by the government but by private companies, making the situation worse. On top of that, the estimations of gas supplies varied from being able to last from 10 to 30 days, depending on how harsh the winter of 2009 would be. Panicking, the government restricted the largest consumers of gas, such as factories, and thus the Slovak economy was able to function at only 60% of its potential, losing profits each day. A bit of relief came on the 19th of January, when reverse flows from the Czech Republic were established and subsequently when the conflict ended, on the 21st January. In total, fifteen days of uncertainty showed the weakest point of Slovak politics.

 

One would think that the country would learn from its mistakes and find other resources to relieve itself of its gas dependence on Russia. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Even today, 95% of imported gas comes from Russia, using the fewest renewables in the EU. If anything, the on-going conflict in Ukraine just worsened the anxiety inside the country, making Slovakia the principal victim of the crisis. The rhetoric of the Prime Minister, Robert Fico, now puts the country in between two superpowers: the EU and Russia. Russia now plans to exclude Ukraine from its gas transition by building the new pipeline, the Nord Stream 2, which will also exclude Slovakia. This will account for losing the transit fee amounting to hundreds of millions of euros, affecting the Slovak GDP. In order to prevent this, Slovakia was lately more inclined to support the Russian side of the conflict in Ukraine. For example, when the sanctions were announced and most of the representatives of Member states met in Brussels, Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs secretly flew to Moscow to meet the Russian Ministers.

 

Therefore, instead of finding new sources for energy production, the ruling (and in the past very pro-EU) populist-left DIRECTION, Social Democracy party (SMER-SD), rather directed its political support towards the East, criticising the sanctions. Ultimately, any disruption in gas supply would mean higher prices for its voters, something the party cannot accept if it wants to win the upcoming elections. Showing support for Russia thus cannot be considered for an ideological, but purely economically-driven act of a government that is unable to find any other solutions to the energy dispute between Ukraine and Russia. Robert Fico is desperately trying to keep the gas prices at the bare minimum, gambling with Slovak reputation inside the Union.

Zuzana Soročinová

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