Ukraine Urges Europe Not to Draw “Iron Curtain” Around It

Ukraine hopes to increase its domestic gas production in order wean itself of Russian influence.

Ukraine’s prime minister urged European leaders not to draw an “iron curtain” around the union and promised to wean his country from Russian influence.

Ukraine will increase its natural gas production by as much as 25 percent in the next three years to decrease its dependence on costly Russian imports and wriggle free of Moscow, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told The Wall Street Journal. He added that shale gas holds the key to eventually “covering all of Ukraine’s needs.”

The United States Energy Information Administration estimates that Ukraine has the third largest shale gas reserves in Europe at 1.2 trillion cubic meters, some twenty times its annual consumption.

Russia holds significant leverage over Ukraine as the supplier of nearly two-thirds of the sixty billion cubic meters of gas it uses every year. Twice in recent years has it turned off supplies amid price disputes. Russian state oil company Transneft said in February that it was in talks with the Czech Republic and Germany to bypass Ukraine’s export infrastructure entirely. Gazprom blamed Ukrainian siphoning of gas supplies for shortages in Europe last winter.

For more than two years now, Moscow has had a better friend in Ukraine and its president Viktor Yanukovich who doesn’t want his country to join the European Union. Even he is reluctant to give Russia more control over Ukraine’s gas transit system though because it is the only leverage Kiev has over its neighbor.

Yanukovich replaced the pro-Western president Viktor Yushchenko in February 2010 amid allegations of Russian meddling in Ukraine’s election.

European leaders have since cooled to prospects of Ukrainian membership. In recent weeks, German president Joachim Gauck and other heads of state fiercely criticized Yanokovych’s government over its treatment of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko who was found guilty in October 2011 of abuse of office and incarcerated. Tymoshenko alleged that she has been abused by prison guards and only gave up a hunger strike when Ukraine allowed German doctors to treat her.

Azarov accused the Europeans of using the Tymoshenko case to delay Ukraine’s integration. He brushed aside threats of a boycott of the European football championship which starts in Poland and Ukraine next month. “We do not accept the principle of diktats and ultimatums,” he said.