The takeaway from all of this is that sometimes a single statement like Zerkal’s is all that it takes for two decades’ worth of fake news narratives to come crashing down in an instant.
Ukrainian Energy Ministry advisor Lana Zerkal threatened on Thursday that Kiev could cut off Russian oil to Hungary via the Druzhba pipeline that transits through its territory. The backlash that her thuggish comment triggered in some quarters quickly prompted her to backtrack by clarifying that it was only her personal opinion and that the government’s stance hasn’t changed, but the damage was already done. The fake news narrative that it’s always been Moscow that weaponizes energy was just debunked after it became clear that Kiev is the one that’s openly flirting with this scenario nowadays.
The insight is important to dwell on for more than just rhetorical reasons. First, it’s always been the case that countries in relationships of complex interdependence exert influence on one another. With respect to energy cooperation, those that are in pipeline partnerships equally need each other: the exporter relies on importers for reliable budgetary revenue while the importer relies on the exporter for the reliable supply of energy. Any unilateral moves by one of them therefore risks harming their own interests, hence why it’s unnatural for that to happen absent pressure from a third party.
The second point is that multi-country pipeline partnerships result in transit states exerting disproportionate influence over all the others in that chain. They can in theory, as Zarkal publicly proposed, interfere with exports to others downstream. That would also harm the supplier state, in this case Russia, which depends upon everything functioning smoothly in order to derive the budgetary revenue that they’ve expected. Kiev is therefore in a position to simultaneously cause trouble for both Moscow and Budapest.
Third, despite this being counterproductive to its own objective interests, it’s still possibly willing to do this at its American patron’s behest. That’s because Kiev is only nominally sovereign since it’s actually controlled by foreign parties. This is why its leadership is publicly countenancing that scenario in spite of the self-inflicted damage to its own economy. Washington most likely leveraged its network of corruption within Kiev to promise key decisionmakers some self-interested benefits for seriously considering this course of action.
The fourth point is that the US-led West didn’t condemn Zerkal’s threats like they’d have predictably done had a Russian official said something analogous. That just goes to show that they never saw anything wrong with weaponizing energy in principle and were only against this happening if it was Russia blackmailing a European country. When their Eastern European client state suggests this in order to punish “wayward” Hungary for refusing to agree to bloc-wide sanctions on Russian oil, they suddenly have no problem with it. In fact, the US-led West tacitly seems to support it by their silence.
And fifth, it’s now self-evident in hindsight that the prior concerns about Russia having supposedly considered doing this were nothing more than groundless fearmongering intended to create the pretext for “diversifying” European imports away from that country. Knowing what’s since transpired with respect to the NATO-led proxy war on Russia through Ukraine, the US compellingly seems to have been planning many steps ahead, intending far in advance to coerce the EU into unilaterally curtailing Russian imports and then having Kiev interfere with exports against those like Hungary who refuse to obey.
The takeaway from all of this is that sometimes a single statement like Zerkal’s is all that it takes for two decades’ worth of fake news narratives to come crashing down in an instant. It was never Russia that was planning on weaponizing energy against others, but the US’ Ukrainian client state that crucially sits in the middle of major export routes to Europe. By flirting with the scenario of cutting off Russian oil to Hungary and only being met with conspicuous silence by the same US-led West that would have freaked out if Moscow suggested something analogous, Kiev proved how hypocritical its foreign patrons are.