by Jerome a Paris
Wed Jan 7th, 2009 at 02:44:18 PM EST
Putin's recent involvement in the gas crisis, to announce a complete interruption of all gas deliveries to Europe is incomprehensible, and can only be analysed as a loss of control over what the oligarchs are doing.
By this action, Russia becomes the obvious target of Europe's ire, as the guilty party. As long as the gas cuts targetted only Ukraine, it was reasonably easy to blame Ukraine for siphoning gas, but this blanket interruption shifts the responsibility clearly towards the Kremlin. By making it an openly political decision, all commercial arguments for the cut appear hollow or artificial. By directly cutting all gas deliveries to Europe, it directly undermines Gazprom's credibility as a stable supplier.
So what goals is Putin pursuing through these actions? I fail to see any Russian interest which is enhanced. All I see as a likely reason for it is that oligarchs behind the scenes are escalating their fight for control of the shady underside of the Russian-Ukraine gas trade, and are willing to hold the national policy of Russia hostage to their private fights. But it means that they are actually able to use the infrastructure of Gazprom, and the instruments of the Russian State, to reach their ends, and Putin is either unwilling or unable to prevent them.
This is a pretty momentous development, even if the gas cuts do not last long. I still expect supplies to be restored quickly, but the blatant demonstration of how public institutions are diverted for private gain is not going to be forgotten for a long time.