Europe Facilitates Russia-Ukraine Gas Deal

The agreement may be a sign that Russia is keen to normalize its relations with Europe.

The European Commission this weekend helped Russia and Ukraine negotiate a natural gas deal that should keep deliveries going through the winter.

The agreement sees Ukraine buying two billion cubic meters of gas from the Russian Gazprom company through March of next year at a price of some $500 million. It is modeled on an agreement the two sides struck last winter.

Maroš Šefčovič, the European energy commissioner, emphasized that the bloc had only played a “facilitating” role. But the deal is also vital to keep Europe warm during the winter.

Russia supplies around a third of Europe’s natural gas. Half of it flows through pipelines in Ukraine.

When East-West relations soured in 2014, Russia started to look for alternatives to Ukraine. It plans to double the capacity of the Nord Stream system that pipes Russian gas into Germany and seeks to construct a new pipeline through Turkey that would reduce its dependence on its former satellite state.

The European Union, for its part, is exploring options to diversify its supply away from Russia. Šefčovič advocates a Southern Gas Corridor that would pipe gas from countries on the Caspian Sea through Turkey into Europe.

This weekend’s agreement — assuming it sticks — may be sign that Russia is keen to normalize relations with Europe as the war in Ukraine appears to be winding down.

Russian-supported separatists in Ukraine’s southeastern Donbas region have lately mostly observed a truce that was brokered by France and Germany earlier this year.

European Union sanctions imposed on Russia after it annexed and occupied the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine are slated for renewal in January. Russia is seen as trying to influence relatively sympathetic member states such as Cyprus, Greece and Hungary to block a continuation of the embargo that has helped push Russia’s economy into recession.

Unanimity is required from the bloc’s 28 member states to keep the sanctions in place.