The European Commissioner for Energy Guenther Oettinger suffered an embarrassment lately. Almost as soon as he had said that the newly elected President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin would meet to discuss the thorny gas issue, press secretary of the Russian president Dmitry Peskov told reporters at the Kremlin that no high-level meetings and negotiations between Russia and Ukraine on the gas issue were scheduled for June 11 or even the near future, and no appropriate proposals had been received, despite what the European commissioner said. With that, he actually put Oettinger in an awkward position – and not just him.
“A source in the European Commission” decided to tell the Ukrinform agency reporter on June 12 what Oettinger had really meant when announcing the meeting about which its key participants had turned out to know nothing. “The commissioner was referring to our understanding that there would be high-level political contacts between them,” the agency’s source stated.
“The EU Commissioner for Energy Oettinger stated his expectation that in parallel to the trilateral talks, there would be talks held on the gas issue at the highest level between the presidents of Ukraine and Russia. He did not specify any further details,” the commissioner’s spokeswoman Nicole Bockstaller told The Day as she tried to clarify her boss’s statement. She said the quotes circulated by the media were “somewhat incorrect” and “compiled from various elements,” i.e., taken out of context.
However, Ukrainian experts see the warning signs in the very fact the EU admits the possibility of, and even supports, Poroshenko’s contacts with Putin on the gas issue. As Oettinger was bold enough to be the first to express these views publicly, it can be seen as an indication of our arbiter’s suspect impartiality, which can be weaker than commonly presented.
“Oettinger’s abandonment of his previous position is a result of the fact that the European Commission is not aware that Russia is waging a hybrid war not only against Ukraine. It fights the EU as well. In this latter case, there is simply no military component to the war, but there are information and energy ones,” Mykhailo Honchar said in a commentary for The Day. “Knowing that the Europeans are willing to do what it takes to have a comfortable winter, and feeling that the European Commission is passive at the table of the tripartite negotiations, the Russian side has started to issue what are actually ultimatums. It is no accident that Putin, instead of Gazprom’s Alexei Miller, said on June 6 that if the Commission was going to help Ukraine with reverse gas supply, Russia would respond with cuts in gas supplies to Europe. It was, in fact, a gas ultimatum, and the EU has taken it lying down. Now we have the result: Europe is practically washing its hands of the issue and leaving it to be resolved on the bilateral level, even at the presidential one.”
Honchar said in an interview with The Day that the German side had been advising the Russians during the trilateral negotiations involving Ukraine, Russia, and the EU. So, there is no doubt, in the expert’s opinion, that the European Commission’s position was known to the Kremlin. Therefore, one question remains unanswered: why did the Russians decide to make a laughing stock out of Oettinger on June 11?