For Slovakia, the supply of natural gas to Europe from the East is important for two reasons. First, for its own domestic and industrial needs, primarily for energy in the production of cars and products of other engineering industries, and second, for pumping gas further to Western Europe through the Druzhba gas pipeline running through Slovakia. Although successive Slovak governments have made intermittent attempts to diversify gas suppliers to the country and delivery routes, Slovakia continues to buy most of its gas from Russia’s Gazprom.
Two uses of Russian gas in Slovakia
Any shortage of gas supplied from Russia to Europe turns into serious problems for Slovakia. At the beginning of 2009, when the gas in the pipeline in Slovakia dried up because of the Russian-Ukrainian gas war, the Slovak automotive industry ground to a halt for several days. (Slovakia is first in the world in the production of passenger cars per capita and automobile export is one of the most lucrative industries for foreign trade.) The state budget suffered significant losses due to falling revenues resulting from the suspension of gas transit through Slovakia to the west.
Since then, everything related to Russian gas supplies to Europe has attracted special attention in Slovakia. Given this, it is not at all surprising that the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was perceived from the very beginning in Slovakia with concern, if not with heavily concealed discontent.
Fuel or an instrument of pressure and blackmail?
The overarching motif in assessments by most Slovak experts and public and political figures of the possible consequences of the commissioning of Nord Stream 2 was one of economic disadvantage for Slovakia coupled with a fear that Russia could use the new gas pipeline as a tool for blackmail when supplying its gas to Europe.
In the fall of 2021, a situation arose where Europe began to feel a shortage of natural gas, prices soared, and the issue of certification and commissioning of Nord Stream 2 came to the fore.
The Slovak expert community had no doubt that all three of these points are interconnected. The shadow of Russia was very evident in all this. Commentators have pointed out that Gazprom is not pumping enough gas into its gas storage facilities in Europe. This was not noted earlier. To complete the picture, it should be mentioned that Gazprom is the only foreign gas supplier to EU countries that owns gas storage facilities in the EU itself. Recently, voices in Europe have increasingly demanded that this situation be brought into strict compliance with European requirements on the separation of the owners of energy carriers selling them to Europe from the owners of transit facilities.
«It has never been like this and now it is exactly the same again.»
As a result of the tangible gas shortage, prices in Europe are growing, reaching record levels. Seeing the results of this undoubtedly man-made crisis, the Kremlin, in turn, insists on the early launch of Nord Stream 2, making it clear that all problems will be immediately resolved following that. One cannot help but recall the recent assertions of German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Nord Stream 2 is an economic and not a political project, as well as her suggestion following her meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow that Russia will not use the new gas pipeline as a geopolitical weapon – neither against its transit neighbor Ukraine, nor against Europe when purchasing Russian gas. And sure enough, as the unforgettable Viktor Stepanovich Chernomyrdin once said, «it has never been like this and now it is exactly the same again.» The Europeans do not have enough gas, prices for it have reached a record high, and the Kremlin is making it clear that as soon as Nord Stream 2, as they say, is «put on stream,» cheaper Russian gas will immediately pour into Europe.
The popular Bratislava daily liberal newspaper Sme, in a recently published editorial under the headline «What to do with the gas blackmailer?», wrote, «Putin is using gas as a weapon of geopolitical struggle.» Such a statement today is accepted as fact in analytical calculations devoted to the reasons for the shortage of gas and high prices in Europe, published in serious Slovak media.
A choir of pro-Kremlin propagandists
Not everyone in Slovakia, however, agrees with this assessment of the current situation. There are also other opinions.
Who expresses them? These are the same familiar faces – the authors of «alternative» media platforms, fighters «for the truth,» disseminators of numerous conspiracy theories, politicians who criticize the West and all its «fiends» – the U.S., the European Union, NATO, the Pentagon, the CIA, Wall Street, the White House, etc., etc. For nearly two years now, many of them with inexhaustible energy have been looking for the real culprits of the pandemic, which some consider a phantom, non-existent and invented phenomenon, while others are weapons of Western intelligence services, pharmaceutical companies, and other corporations in the fight against defenseless people in the rest of the world. All of them fight against the wearing of masks, resist sanitary, hygienic, and administrative measures introduced to curb the pandemic, and advocate for resisting vaccinations. Most importantly, all of them are united by a pro-Kremlin leaning, adherence to pro-Russian narratives, and active support for the domestic and foreign policy steps of the current Moscow leadership.
As a result of the emergence of problems with gas supplies to Europe, these media and political «activists» rushed in to the additional space that suddenly appeared, longing to fight there «for the truth» with the mainstream media allegedly bribed by the West, as well as with independent analysts, with academic experts, and with the alleged corrupted by the pro-Western national political establishment. And quite expectedly, all these knights of the «holy battle for the truth» stood up to defend the Kremlin and its inhabitants. The fact that such a position denotes a hostile attitude towards one’s own country and its economic and foreign policy and is, in fact, a betrayal of the principles and values on which its socio-political structure and international partnerships, of which they are members, is based does not trouble them in the least.
The main thematic outline of their statements regarding the current gas crisis in Europe is also predictable: Europe itself is to blame for the crisis with the supply of Russian gas, Russia bears no responsibility for the crisis that has arisen, Russia has never used and is not using its energy carriers as an instrument of pressure on European consumers, for Europe there is no other alternative than buying Russian gas, and the commissioning of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will automatically lead to a resolution of the crisis.
All these statements look as if they were carved from patterns of Kremlin propaganda.
«Europe itself is to blame»
Slovak Member of the European Parliament Milan Ugrik, who was elected through the list of the neo-fascist People’s Party of Our Slovakia (ĽSNS), was actively involved in the dispute around the causes of the gas crisis in Europe. He is known in the European Parliament for his unequivocal pro-Russian stance, his praise of the Kremlin’s foreign and domestic policies, and for his sharp attacks against the EU and NATO, accusing these organizations of hostility and aggressive policies towards Russia. Ugrik said that the EU itself is to blame for the jump in energy prices, arguing that the supposedly stupid and arrogant policies of Europe, which in the fight against climate change reduce electricity production using traditional methods, led to a shortage and increased prices. Ugrik has no doubts regarding the main reason for the current gas crisis: «Behind all this are the stupid political decisions of the European Union and individual governments. At the urging of the Americans, European governments first turned the whole of Europe against Russia, and now they are surprised by the sharp rise in prices and the shortage of gas in Europe, because Russia has started selling gas to other countries, such as China.»
«America is to blame for everything»
The online newspaper Hlavné správy, the most widely read «alternative» (that is, conspiracy and disinformation) platform in Slovakia, detailed the Kremlin’s interpretation of the gas crisis in Europe, as presented by Igor Sechin at the Eurasian Economic Forum in Verona, Italy. The head of Rosneft, in his speech at this rather strange event, explained popularly to everyone (and Hlavné správy helped him to convey this idea to a Slovak audience) that America is to blame for all the energy troubles in Europe. It was America that ensured that fuel prices in Europe rose sharply. Speaking ironically about the «molecules of freedom» that were supposed to arrive in Europe along with American fuel, Sechin said, «The molecules of freedom mentioned by the previous U.S. administration, which were supposed to bring American gas with them, do not reach the European continent in sufficient quantities.» According to Sechin, the political and economic priorities of the U.S. differ and «although the U.S. promises to significantly increase gas supplies to Europe, they actually increase them in a completely different direction.»
The publication adds that Russian President Vladimir Putin considers the gas shortage in the European market to be the result of EU economic policy. Hlavné správy have no doubt that if Putin thinks so, then in fact it is so. The Slovak online platform InfoVojna, a homespun local version of InfoWars founded by Alex Jones, a well-known American author of numerous conspiracy theories, also provided ample space for laying out the Russian president’s position.
«Polish and Ukrainian Russophobes are to blame»
A more detailed picture of the causes of European gas disasters is laid out by the same resource, Hlavné správy, in an editorial entitled «Gas is expensive, the Americans and their European puppets are to blame, and the Slovaks will pay for it.» The geography, geopolitics, and history of the perpetrators here are much broader and older than even in Igor Sechin’s speech in Verona: «The real culprit of this situation is the United States and its Ukrainian and Polish puppets, who for years have tried to use the European gas market as a weapon in the political struggle against Russia. The mantra of stubborn Russophobes about how the evil Gazprom will go bankrupt if rich Europe stops buying gas from it, and how the good Americans will save Europeans by supplying them with shale gas today sounds like a bad joke with black humor.»
According to the online newspaper (and in full accordance with the well-known Kremlin narrative, which oozes out here, as they say, from all the holes and cracks), the situation with Russian gas in Europe is exacerbated due to flawed historical circumstances: «Since the 1970s, Russia (while part of the USSR) has been a reliable supplier of cheap natural gas to European consumers. When the Americans succeeded in destroying the Soviet Union, they sowed the seed of the fascist regime in Ukraine, which today bears its poisonous fruits.»
Ukraine, continues the publication, acting in concert with Poland, took all possible steps to prevent the commissioning of Nord Stream 2 so that this «purely commercial project» does not hit the incomes of the «Bandera» regime of «Ukraine, or Anti-Russia.» Actors here are allegedly «sounding the alarm that without payment for the transit of Russian gas they will not have enough money to finance their anti-Russian policy, especially the army, which will be used as cannon fodder in the future U.S. war against Russia.» America is seeking to bury Nord Stream 2, the author claims, because if it works, it will sweep America’s plans to supply their liquefied gas to Europe off the table.
What are the immediate prospects for the gas crisis? What can be expected here for Europe, including Slovakia? The author calls for vigilance, warning that the struggle is not yet over: «The Poles and Ukrainians failed to block Nord Stream. However, they still have not lost hope that with the help of the U.S. they will be able to block at least the certification process to preserve their own monopoly on Russian gas supplies to Europe. Of course, the Americans and their Polish and Ukrainian puppets do not care at all that some Slovaks will be hurt because of gas prices.»
«Do like Victor Orban»
Almost at one with such reasoning, the nationalist pro-Russia-oriented monthly Extraplus responded, as always, knowing how to find the right way out of the current situation. In their opinion, Slovakia should follow in Hungary’s footsteps. Budapest recently signed an agreement with Moscow that would allow Russia to supply gas to Hungary – bypassing Ukraine – via Turkey, Bulgaria, and Serbia. The signing of this agreement has brought great tension to bilateral Hungarian-Ukrainian relations. Ukraine saw Budapest’s move as an unfriendly act. Brussels was also not pleased.
Extraplus commented as follows: «While the government of Heger (Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of Slovakia – G.M.) is fighting against everything Russian and against Putin, Viktor Orban is doing everything so that Hungarians feel the consequences of the global situation as little as possible. He contributes to this through the signing of a 15-year contract with Russia’s Gazprom to supply gas at an extremely favorable price. Hungarians will no longer then depend on an unstable Ukraine, as gas will go to Hungary via Serbia. What about Slovakia? Heger’s government is not at all worried that Slovakia has small gas reserves, pretending that there will be no winter.»
Fortunately, this kind of «expert» advice does not affect the position of the current Slovak government, which adheres to a common European line in its energy policy and takes a position of solidarity towards neighboring Ukraine.
Grigory Mesezhnikov is a Slovak political scientist, president of the Bratislava Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), and iSANS expert.
The article was prepared by iSANS specially for Reform.by.
Материал доступен на русском языке: Энергетические проблемы Европы