Reuters reports that Ukraine has chosen Shell and Chevron as its development partners in harvesting two potentially enormous shale natural gas reserves, a critical step in mitigating Ukrainian and European reliance on Russian supplies.
The possibilities here are profound, and so it was somewhat surprising to see this as a bit of a buried Reuters news article. Ukraine is so held hostage by Russia’s natural gas supplies, and the ruinous deal former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko negotiated for their price, that its economic and political reforms have been hobbled by it. Every winter, Europe is held hostage by Russia in its foreign policy, a fact that will only become more apparent as the Continent bows to political pressure and continues to destroy its nuclear power-generation capacity.
Having a friendly country, aiming at joining Europe as Ukraine is, ready, willing, and able to supply natural gas without the lurking threat of Russia in the background is a phenomenal step toward European energy security. It promises a breakthrough in Ukrainian reforms as the government does not need to subsidize its citizens’ natural gas needs. It promises a transition away from what has become a decade-plus-long cycle of dreading the winter and Russian demands.
This is one of those things that is hard to understand unless you live it. Democratic practice arises where people are sufficiently sure their day-to-day lives can be lived in relative safety. Starving poor terrified of the winter do not form active political parties. Men and women terrified of a next-door neighbor cannot work through the rough and tumble of parliamentary democracy.
All of the focus on Ukraine the last few weeks has been about the counterproductive threats of boycotts of Euro 2012. Out of European politicians in this era, we should likely expect no better. But anyone with any foresight should be able to understand that the bigger news is coming out of the ground, and that whatever Ukraine’s problems with democracy, they simply cannot be solved without taking off the burdens accumulated over the last four years.
Energy security is human security. We should laud every step toward it.
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