The most serious security crisis in Europe since the Yugoslav wars is underway in Ukraine. The trigger for the trouble was the Ukrainian rejection of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. The EU has used unusually intemperate language, slapped sanctions on Russia and keeps trying to up the ante. So why has the EU gone to all this trouble? Why is the EU so prepared to play high-risk brinkmanship with Russia? The answer is energy.
Germany runs the EU. Germany’s economic heart is manufacturing and the most important factor in manufacturing is the cost of energy. Germany announced it would close all of its nuclear power stations in just eight years’ time, meaning coal would have to fill the gap. Germany actually has plenty of lignite coal that can do this so no imports are necessary. There is just one problem. Lignite coal mining is very environmentally damaging, causing irreparable damage to the landscape and being so intense whole communities often have to be relocated for their safety. Furthermore, energy companies that use coal have to buy expensive certificates for carbon offset. Germany has a strong Green Party which is often needed by Germany’s two main parties for coalition government in German State Parliaments (Länder). You can imagine how inflexible they are when it comes to coal mining regulation or hitting carbon targets.
What would be ideal for Germany and the EU would be if three things occurred. Firstly, if there was a source of lignite coal from somewhere else. Secondly, if this coal was mined and processed outside the EU, so that EU citizens wouldn’t have to struggle with the effects. Thirdly, if it is outside the EU, they won’t need to worry about coal certification imposed by the Commission. Wouldn’t it be convenient if there was such a place where all three applied?
Ukraine has lots of lignite coal. Also, it is outside the EU so not bound by the EU’s coal carbon certificate scheme. Thus, Germany could get cheap energy from Ukraine, and the Ukrainians are the ones who will bear the brunt of environmental damage to the landscape, rehousing thousands of people and will be able to do so without having to spend money on carbon certification. Ukraine’s lignite coal provided Germany/EU with the ideal dream scenario to meet its energy needs in the non-nuclear future it has committed itself to. So imagine how angry they would be if that Association Agreement somehow didn’t go through? Like, if Yanukovic refused to sign the deal. What would be ideal then would be if he was deposed by completely ‘spontaneous’ uprisings and a more pliable leader put in place.
The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement included chapters on energy co-operation (i.e. the EU gets lots of lignite coal and Ukraine can worry about mining it and damaging our own country so you EU citizens don’t have to). As was revealed recently, the EU had been funding Ukrainian NGOs for years. These NGOs would be used in the first instance to steer Ukraine’s government into signing the Association Agreement peacefully. If Ukraine’s government didn’t sign the deal, heavily funded media savvy NGOs can be very effective for organising completely ‘spontaneous’ street demonstrations.
The EU was surprised at how forcefully Russia and Ukrainian-Russians reacted to the ‘spontaneous’ overthrow of Yanukovic. It is almost certain the EU didn’t see that coming. What also concerned the EU was that the lignite coal regions of the Ukraine are all concentrated in Eastern Ukraine, regions that are de-facto independent of Ukraine and thus, not prepared to go along with the Association Agreement signed by the new Kiev government that says Donbass coal must be processed there before being sent to Germany. But the whole point of the EU arranging the ‘spontaneous’ overthrow of Yanukovic, the text of the Association Agreement and the entire EU strategy towards Ukraine was to get this coal. The EU has to have that coal no matter what, which is why the EU is adopting increasingly shrill and hostile rhetoric and action towards Russia.
It is deeply worrying to see how far the EU is willing to go to get this coal. They are not picking on a failed state like Libya or Iraq. Russia is the world’s largest country, bristling with weapons and possesses a fearsome national pride and toughness. It’s bad enough the EU is picking fights in our name, but to make matters worse they have to choose one of the biggest, strongest powers in the world to pick one with. All because they want coal. All because they want to brag to home audiences how carbon friendly they are in their own country whilst tearing the environment of Ukraine to pieces.
For the EU to drag us into deeper confrontation with Russia over oil, which Germany does not have, would be bad enough. To take us into confrontation over lignite coal, which it has lots of but would prefer to get from somewhere else, is even worse.