Ukraine moves away from Russia toward EU over Central Asian energy

By Sergey Markedonov Source:Global Times Published: 2013-11-6 22:23:01

In late November, the EU will host the Eastern Partnership Summit, a project aimed to strengthen ties with former USSR republics. In Lithuania, the EU will initiate an association agreement with Ukraine as well as Georgia and Moldova.

Russia, which wants to play a leading role in the post-Soviet space, has suspicions about the EU's plans in Eurasia.

Moscow is afraid of losing its economic and political influence on Ukraine, as the main naval base of its Black Sea fleet is located at Sebastopol. At the same time, Kiev has tried to diversify its contacts and decrease its dependence on Russia.

In this context, the role of Central Asia in Ukrainian foreign policy has become very important. The interests of Ukraine are concentrated around energy and transportation priorities.

This direction is perceived as a continuation of the complicated Russian-Ukrainian energy partnership. The transit of the Russian resources to Europe is a very complex process which has provoked numerous disputes and quarrels. Kiev is thus considering the Central Asian region as an alternative energy route to connect its mineral resources with the European market.

Part of this is the proposed Odessa-Brody pipeline. This project is considered to be significant geopolitical importance challenging the Russian dominance of the European and Eurasian energy markets.

However, the energy alternatives to Russia look attractive in theory, but in practice they are challenged by a real lack of resources to fulfill the pipelines.

Although the EU is keen to lessen the dependence on Russia's energy as well as to diversify its routes, it cannot abandon existing lines and Russia's significant role as the biggest supplier.

Besides, European and Ukrainian interests in Central Asia are strengthening their cooperation with Russia in terms of security and economy. It is no coincidence that most countries of the region are engaged in Russia-led Eurasian integration projects.

Ukraine could be considered as a competitor to Russia's role in Central Asia. But this will be determined primarily by the wider context of the Moscow-Kiev relationship. If it worsens, Ukraine might widen its search of alternatives and "energy insurance mechanisms." If Moscow and Kiev can reach a compromise on the Ukraine's shift toward the EU and maintain constructive bilateral cooperation, the Central Asian theater will not become crucial.

The author is a visiting fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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