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Energy Security: Ukraine’s Existential Challenge

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Over the last year and a half, Ukraine has lost —and continues to lose—valuable time in which to develop a comprehensive energy security strategy. More than three months after the March 2006 parliamentary elections, Ukrainian political parties have struggled to reach agreement on a new governing coalition. The nature and the future of the government and of Ukraine itself will depend to a large degree on the decisions reached in the coming months in the energy sector, especially concerning natural gas. The cutoff of gas supplies to Ukraine by Russia on New Year’s Day in 2006 came as a major wake-up call to the West—and a major rallying point for large numbers of Ukrainians, who had previously been relatively complacent about their country’s energy dependence on its northern neighbor. In March, large numbers of these voters cast their ballots for former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was the leading opponent of the non-transparent January and February gas agreements reached with Russia. Many had previously assumed that the Party of Regions (PR) led by Viktor Yanukovych would finish first in the parliamentary election, followed by the Our Ukraine bloc of President Viktor Yushchenko; the two parties were expected to form a solid Orange-Blue coalition, and continue business as usual. When Tymoshenko’s party took second place, such an arrangement was no longer possible. While Our Ukraine showed great reluctance to once again enter into a coalition with Tymoshenko, and may still choose to partner with the PR, the new Orange coalition represents the best possible outcome for the country—especially for its energy security.