I'd thought that the Great Gas War of 2006 was just Putin reminding us Europeans whatcside of the Carpathians Ukraine is actually on. Alex is being somewhat less lazy about the affair:
Well, Russia is a near-monopoly supplier of natural gas to much of Europe. They have no choice but to buy gas from Russia. This would seem to mean that the Russians have a very strong position. However, Russia has very little choice but to sell gas to much of Europe. The infrastructure constrains who they sell it too, and the economy constrains them to sell it. Rather than the relation of a monopolist to many customers, then, we have the relationship of a monopolist to a monopsonist, or sole buyer. This is exactly like the position between a dominant employer and a single trade union that represents the whole workforce. Historically, such relations tend towards stability - an extreme case of the well-known phenomenon of price stability among oligopolists.
...which raises the question: why bother? This in the mail from Stratfor:
Under the new deal, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will be able to sell natural gas directly to Ukraine at sharply higher rates than before. While that might seem like an improvement for Ukraine in terms of both political palatability -- the natural gas is not Russian -- and supply diversification, it is neither. Just as Russian natural gas must go through Ukraine en route to Europe, all Central Asian natural gas must go through Russia to reach Ukraine. The terms of the new agreement mean that Europe's natural gas supplies now will depend not only on the tenor of Russian-European and Russian-Ukrainian relations, but also on Russian-Kazakh, -Uzbek, and -Turkmen relations. Suddenly Europe has a vested, if reluctant, interest in ensuring that Moscow is satisfied with its level of influence in the bulk of the largest former Soviet territories.
Such developments cannot come as much of a shock to the United States. Truth be told, American policy toward Ukraine has been a bit of a Hail Mary all along. Washington's tools of influence in Ukraine and Russia are few and far between, and it cannot even pretend to offer an alternative energy supplier for the Europeans or Ukrainians. In fact, some of Washington's policies have even encouraged Europe's dependence on Russian energy: The Continent's most viable alternative to Russian natural gas is Iran -- which, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regularly shouting "Death to Israel," is hardly a place the United States wants the Europeans to foster warm relations.
Funny how everything leads back to Iran. Part of the reason why I assumed that there won’t be a war on Iran was that, below the propaganda, the evidence is clear that the war in Iraq has lessened the ability of the United States to influence the policies of the rest of the world. China’s been drawn out of its shell, South America is breaking out of the reservation and relations with the EU nations, have, in general, worsened. In general you can see a process whereby the US has swapped weight for force – gone from pervasive influence over the world as a whole to direct control over whatever happens to be under its gunsights. The aim might have been full spectrum dominance, but the outcome seems to be emerging multipolarity. Yet perhaps to the Bushies the logic of this simply mandates putting more of the world under its gunsights, especially if the calculation is that this would disrupt an emerging multipolar system and take American minds of the government’s little local difficulties.
So perhaps I’ve been paying attention to the wrong Santayana cliché. Forget about forgetting the past, it’s the one about a fanatic being a person who redoubles their efforts when they’ve forgotten their aims that seems increasingly relevant right now.