Category Archives: The Russian Domain

The Energy Implications of Russia’s Crimea Annexations

You think Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea was all about reclaiming “rightful territory”? Think again. And to help your thinking along read this insight New York Times article, “In Taking Crimea, Putin Gains a Sea of Fuel Reserves.” Spoiler alert: Here’s what I think are the article’s three key points: 1) annexing Crimea extends Russia’s claims on Black Sea fossil fuel reserves; 2) this expansion of Russian offshore territory deprives Ukraine of using offshore fossil fuel to bolster its struggling economy; and 3) Russia’s new maritime territory will make it easier and cheaper for Russia to build a natural gas pipeline to Eastern and Central Europe. Here’s some choice lines from the NY Times article:

“When Russia seized Crimea in March, it acquired not just the Crimean landmass but also a maritime zone more than three times its size with the rights to underwater resources potentially worth trillions of dollars. Russia portrayed the takeover as reclamation of its rightful territory, drawing no attention to the oil and gas rush that had recently been heating up in the Black Sea. But the move also extended Russia’s maritime boundaries, quietly giving Russia dominion over vast oil and gas reserves while dealing a crippling blow to Ukraine’s hopes for energy independence. Russia did so under an international accord that gives nations sovereignty over areas up to 230 miles from their shorelines. It had tried, unsuccessfully, to gain access to energy resources in the same territory in a pact with Ukraine less than two years earlier. …

“Most immediately, analysts say, Russia’s seizing may alter the route along which the South Stream pipeline would be built, saving Russia money, time and engineering challenges. The planned pipeline, meant to run through the deepest parts of the Black Sea, is to pump Russian gas to Europe.Originally, to avoid Ukraine’s maritime zone, Russia drew the route for the costly pipeline in a circuitous jog southward through Turkey’s waters. But now it can take a far more direct path through its newly acquired Black Sea territory, if the project moves forward. The Ukraine crisis has thrown its future into doubt.

These two maps from the NY Times show how Russia's maritime territory expanded through the annexation of Crimea

These two maps from the NY Times show how Russia’s maritime territory expanded and Ukraine’s diminished through Russia’s annexation of Crimea

This Wikipedia map shows the original planned route of Russia's South Stream natural gas pipeline that ran through deep, international waters south of Ukraine's maritime territory. Now, with Russia's expanded maritime territory, the pipeline can be constructed closer to shore in shallow waters

This Wikipedia map shows the original planned route of Russia’s South Stream natural gas pipeline that ran through deep, international waters south of Ukraine’s maritime territory. Now, with Russia’s expanded maritime territory, the pipeline can be constructed closer to shore in shallow waters


Europe’s Dependence on Russian Natural Gas

As tensions build between Russia, the U.S., and Europe over the Ukraine, the issue of Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas as an energy source once again emerges. The following is from The Economist, April5, 2014, which can be found on the internet here. Here are first two paragraphs of that informative article, along with several illustrations

WHEN Vladimir Putin was bribing Viktor Yanukovych, then the president of Ukraine, to turn down a trade deal with the European Union last year, one of the sweeteners was cheap gas. The copious Russian gas Ukraine burns through every year—it is a profligate user of energy—would be priced at just $268.5 per thousand cubic metres (tcm), which for 2013’s total of 28 billion cubic metres (bcm) works out at $7.5 billion. Since February’s revolution ousted Mr Yanukovych, gas has become a stick, not a carrot. On April 1st Alexei Miller, the chief executive of Russia’s gas giant, Gazprom, said that theprice of Ukraine’s gas was going up by 44%, to $385.5 per tcm. This is ominous news for Europe. Ukraine already owes Gazprom $1.7 billion, according to Mr Miller. If Ukraine continues not to pay its bills—and without outside help, it cannot—Gazprom can cut it off. Such a dispute need not, in principle, have any effect on the gas that flows through Ukraine to other countries farther west (see map). But if Gazprom reduces the flow of gas to reflect the fact that Ukraine no longer has a right to its 28bcm, and Ukraine takes some of that gas anyway, or if Gazprom shuts down the pipelines going through Ukraine completely, Europe’s supplies get hit. Europe gets 24% of its gas from Russia, and half of that—80bcm a year—passes through Ukraine. An argument between Russia and Ukraine led to the pipelines shutting down for two weeks in January 2009, to much consternation downstream.

The % of a country's total gas needs that are supplied by Russia

The % of a country’s total gas needs that are supplied by Russia

A map of the very complex natural gas delivery system, (from The Economist, 4/7/14)

A map of the very complex natural gas delivery system,
(from The Economist, 4/7/14)


A new Cold War with Russia? How about an Energy War instead

With Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea, the news is rife with talk of a new Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. Tom Friedman offers another view—an energy war with Russia—in his New York Times column this morning (found here). A few quotes follow (and take a look at some of the comments to his column as well):

“There are a lot of people who seem intent on restarting the Cold War — in both Moscow and Washington. I am not one of them. But if we’re going to have a new Cold War, then I have one condition: I want a new moonshot.

The Space Race and the technologies it produced weren’t purely an offshoot of the U.S.-Soviet missile West_Texas_Pumpjackcompetition, but they were certainly energized by that competition. Well, if we’re going to go at it again, this time I want an Earth Race. I want America to lead in developing an energy policy that will weaken the oil-and-gas-autocracy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and, as a byproduct, produce the technologies that will mitigate climate change, make America a global technology and moral leader and ensure that the next generation can thrive here on Earth.

And as opposed to the stimulus/deficit debate, in the energy case, there really is now the raw material for a “Grand Bargain” between Democrats and Republicans — if President Obama wants to try to forge it. Such an energy grand strategy would be a first. It’s shocking how devoid of strategic intent U.S. energy policy has been. Both political parties have repeatedly let our economy be hostage to Middle Eastern and Latin American oil despots and to energy booms and busts…..

This is a grand bargain on energy that would advance our growth, national security and climate policy. If paired with similar efforts by our NATO allies, it would, in time, sharply reduce Putin’s ability to blackmail his neighbors, using energy. It would also protect Americans from price shocks, as both the sun and the wind are free, make our farmers, our coastal cities and our public health system much more resilient and tilt our energy policy toward exploiting our advantage — technology — rather than oil.


“This is the One Map You Need to Understand the Ukraine’s Crisis”. Maybe, Maybe Not

In a recent article in the Washington Post, the author, Max Fisher, maintained that an electoral map of Ukraine from 2010 was the “one map you need to understand Ukraine’s crisis.” Here are some extracts from that article.

From the  Washington Post's article, "This is the one map you need to understand Ukraine's crisis"

From the Washington Post’s article, “This is the one map you need to understand Ukraine’s crisis”

“What’s happening in Ukraine is about much more than the anger over Yanukovych rejecting the European Union deal and drawing the country closer to Russia. To help explain what’s going on, I’ve put this map together up top. The red stripes show regions where mass protests are surrounding the regional capital buildings. The black stripes show regions where protesters have actually seized the government administrative buildings. The blue regions are where Yanukovych won a majority in the last presidential election, in 2010; dark blue means he won at least 70 percent. Orange regions show where Yulia Tymoshenko, then prime minister and candidate for a pro- European party, won the majority; she won at least 70 percent in dark orange regions.

Here’s why this map is important: There is a big dividing line in Ukrainian politics — an actual, physical line that separates the north and west from the south and east. You can see it in this map and in just about every electoral map since the country’s independence. That divide goes beyond the question of whether Ukraine faces toward Europe or toward Russia, but that question is a major factor. And it’s polarizing.

This map drives two things home: First is that the protests are practically endemic in the half of the country that voted against Yanukovych, which includes Kiev. Second, the protests are not really a factor in the half who voted for Yanukovych. That doesn’t mean that people in the blue areas adore Yanukovych, but they’re certainly not pouring out into the streets to oppose him. It also doesn’t mean that the protesters lack legitimate gripes or that it’s just about their candidate losing. The economy is in terrible shape, and the government recently imposed severe restrictions against free speech, media and assembly rights, which is part of why the protests kicked back up again. ”

While Fisher’s comments and his map are an OK starting point,  one really needs to go deeper, and to do that I strongly recommend looking at the series of posts about Ukraine on our sister blog, “GeoCurrents”. Take a look at  “Crimea and Punishment”: Comments on the Media Coverage of Recent Events in Crimea”. Here’s the link. As well, look at another recent post by Asya Pereltsvaig here on the ethno-linguistic situation in Ukraine. Noteworthy is her critique of Fisher’s Washington Post map.

Leave a comment

Posted by on March 5, 2014 in The Russian Domain


Policial Tensions in the Ukraine

Ukraine Protest

Anti-government protestors in Ukraine prepare on Tuesday morning for an expected operation by state forces. The police have surrounded the camp to stop the influx of people. (photo: AP/dpa, from Spiegel Online article,

An excellent article in Spiegel Online International on the current tensions in the Ukraine over their relationships with Russia and the European Union. You can find the complete article here. Several paragraphs from that article follow:

“The fight for Ukraine has now become a contest between the Russian president and the German chancellor. Putin won the first round. But Merkel and her fellow Europeans are grooming professional heavyweight boxer Vitali Klitschko to be their new strongman. 

Russia has defeated the European Union in the latest round of the fight for Ukraine. To be more precise, Chancellor Merkel lost the round against Russian President Vladimir Putin, with the Russian defeating the German in a technical knockout. Within several weeks, Putin had brought Ukrainian President Yanukovych into line with a mixture of overt pressure and tempting promises. As a result, Yanukovych did not sign an association agreement with the EU at the EU-Eastern Europe summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, despite months of negotiations. For the time being, his country is now a part of the bloc of countries bordering Russia that Putin plans to join together into a Russian empire of sorts, from Vladivostok to the eastern border of the EU.

“The door remains open for Ukraine,” Merkel repeatedly emphasized after the debacle, noting that the Europeans were still willing to talk. It sounded like a losing contestant’s painstaking effort to save face. But it also suggests that the issue is not a done deal. And before the next round begins, the chancellor plans to bring a new player into the game: Vitali Klitschko. The tall heavyweight-boxing champion is to be groomed as the pro-European opponent of pro-Russian President Yanukovych, and the hope is that he will be the one to sign a pro-EU treaty, which they still believe will materialize.

While “regime change” is too strong a term for what Germany is seeking, it’s not entirely off base. Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the European People’s Party (EPP), a family of European conservative parties, have chosen Klitschko as their de facto representative in Ukraine. His job is to unite and lead the opposition — on the street, in parliament and, finally, in the 2015 presidential election. “Klitschko is our man,” say senior EPP politicians, “he has a clear European agenda.” And Merkel still has a score to settle with Putin.”

Leave a comment

Posted by on December 14, 2013 in Europe, The Russian Domain


The Russia Left Behind

Russian_landscape_in_Volgograd_OblastAn absolutely terrific multi-media article in this morning’s NY Times describes how Russia’s countryside is being left behind as cities and large towns dominate socioeconomic development in that country. This fascinating  article by Ellen Barry, “The Russia Left Behind: A journey through a heartland on the slow road to ruin”,  including spectacular photos and video, can be found here. To whet your geographic appetite, here are a couple of introductory paragraphs:

“A few times every day, the high-speed train between St. Petersburg and Moscow barrels through the threadbare town of Lyuban. When word gets out that the head of Russia’s state railway company — a close friend of President Vladimir V. Putin — is aboard, the station’s employees line up onthe platform standing at attention, saluting Russia’s modernization for the seconds it takes the train to fly through. Whoosh.

But Vladimir G. Naperkovsky is not one of them. He watched with a cold, blue-eyed stare as the train passed the town where he was born, with its pitted roads and crumbling buildings. At 52, having shut down his small computer repair business, Mr. Naperkovsky is leaving for another region inRussia, hoping it is not too late to start a new life in a more prosperous place. The reasons are many, but his view boils down to this: “Gradually,” he said, explaining his view of Lyuban, “everything is rotting.”

At the edges of Russia’s two great cities, another Russia begins

As the state’s hand recedes from the hinterlands, people are struggling with choices that belong to past centuries: to heat their homes with a wood stove, which must be fed by hand every three hours, or burn diesel fuel, which costs half a month’s salary? When the road has so deteriorated that ambulances cannot reach their home, is it safe to stay? When their home can’t be sold, can they leave?

The people on the top do not know what is happening down here,” he said.“They have their own world. They eat differently, they sleep on different sheets, they drive different cars. They don’t know what is going on here. If Indeed one word to describe it, I would say it is a swamp, a stagnant swamp.  As it was, so it is. Nothing is changing.”

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 15, 2013 in The Russian Domain