In the Northern Hemisphere, Winter is just around the corner. The bears in the Moscow Zoo are yawning and getting ready to hibernate. Human beings throughout Europe are donning sweaters and tuning up their natural gas furnaces.
In Ukraine, leaders of government and industry are likewise making their plans, preparing the people they serve for the Winter. Or, as Kiev Mayor Vitaly Klichko once put it, “preparing the people for the Earth” [linguistic malapropism: Klichko intended to say “preparing for winter” — K zime — and instead uttered “preparing for the earth” — K zemle — which could also be considered a Freudian slip].
So, which is it? Earth or Winter? Well, it all depends on Mother Nature.
According to this piece in VZGLIAD, Ukrainian Energy Company UkrTransGaz spokesperson Maxim Bilyavsky announced on his Facebook page that Ukraine has zero new gas arriving in its underground reservoirs at this point. Knowledgeable people know the reason for this: It’s because Russia finally and once and for all (presumably) shut off the gas feed into Ukraine. Why? Because Russia is such a mean country? Perhaps. But most importantly, because Ukraine could not or would not pay its gas bills.
Maxim, who, judging by his Facebook, appears to be fine young fellow with a firm, square jaw, goes on to say that the Ukrainian gas company has started to dip into its underground gas reservoirs. The word for which in Russian is Подземное Газовое хранилище, abbreviated as ПХГ.
Both Bilyavsky and his ultimate boss, Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladimir Groisman (Hroisman) have known for a long time that this day would come. Both they, and their friends in the EU Energy World have been expecting, and preparing for the Russian cut-off. For years now the EU has been promising Ukraine various pie-in-the-sky schemes for energy independence. Of all the EU fantasies proposed, the only one which has in fact born fruit is “energy conservation”. Ukraine has been able to radically cut back and conserve energy. Due to the fact that its rapidly-de-industrializing economy is in free fall. And maybe that is the ultimate solution for the human race as a whole: We just go back to living in the trees and consuming less energy.
Who Was Right?
To the two standard Russian questions (1) Who is to blame? and (2) What should be done now? I propose a third (3) Who proved to be right?
As the ancient seer Tiresias once warned King Oedipus Rex, as the latter was hiring a wedding planner with a “Happy Mothers Day” type theme for the nuptials: “χρόνος δίκαιον ἄνδρα δείκνυσι μόνος, bitches.” Which is Greek for: “Don’t say I never told you so. Bitches.”
Along these lines, the rest of my post is sort of a “he said – she said”, with the two sides (Russia vs Ukraine) making various predictions. The former making Schadenfreude-like predictions about Ukraine’s dire straights. The latter rebuffing, “Nah, it won’t be so bad.”
We start with Bilyavsky: With the Russian gas cut-off and no new gas flowing in, we sit back and take stock of what we have: Namely, 14.7 billion cubic meters of gas; the reservoirs are 48% full.
Now take into account that the needs of the Ukrainian population constitute something like 1.2 million cubic meters per day. Smart people can do the math themselves and calculate how long the reserves will last. But while getting out your calculators, please also take into account that the reservoirs are not allowed to be completely depleted. There must always be SOMETHING in there, this is called “technical gas”. Not being a scientist, I don’t understand the fluid dynamics of it, but apparently if the pressure falls too low, then bad things will happen.
On the other side of this dispute (which is both business and political in nature), Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak declared that Russia is ready to resume gas injections into the Ukrainian reserves, just the moment that Ukraine deigns to pay its utility bill. The Russian suits from Gazprom add helpfully that they don’t think the Ukrainians have enough gas to get them through the winter. They say the Ukies need at least 17 billion cubic meters in their ПХГ, and as we just learned, they only have 14.7 billion. Can the Ukies squeak by? Only if the winter is a mild one, according to both Ukrainians and Russians alike.
Hence, in the end, now that the Ukrainians have made their gamble and tossed the dice:
It is all up to Mother Nature. SHE will decide who is right.