Now EU Wants to Talk... Cheap Russian Gas Speaks Louder Than American Trade Threats
That Austrian TV Interview Was a Microcosm of EU-Russian Relations:
Evening with Vladimir Solovyov
— It's time we've confessed. What else is there to do? A country with its economy ripped to shreds held in terrible isolation… At this point, we should start pulling out our hair, fall to our knees in tears, and repent. The country's misbehaving. Its president gives an interview, patiently listening to the accusations of the zealous journalist. He switches to the foreign language to tell the interviewer to calm down. I imagine the US president talking to one of my colleagues and at some point, switches to Russian and says «Don't worry, I'll explain everything to you.» The Austrian journalist tried to interrupt our president eleven times. Putin responded calmly and gently, in the interviewer's mother tongue. and explained what he meant. And today's working visit to Austria clearly shows that we're not stuck in isolation and that the economy hasn't been ripped to shreds. The interview was seen by 900,000 Austrians. Curiously enough, when the press conference started the Austrian leader said: «You clearly have questions for Mr. Putin, I won't take much of your time. You seem more interested in talking to him».
Europe seems to lack an alternative opinion. The majority of politicians refuse to listen, with Austria seemingly being an exception. The USA wants to impose sanctions against the countries participating in Nord Stream 2 and the Italian Prime Minister supports the lifting of the anti-Russian sanctions. His position corresponds to Putin's recent statement: «Everybody is interested in lifting the sanctions, including Russia.» The situation is rather curious because Austria has reiterated its interest in Nord Stream 2 and called the Americans insane for trying to push their fuels because the price difference is unacceptable. Against this background, one sees the value of courtesy in politics. Our president demonstrates fair manners, politeness, and patience. He explains everything as many times as necessary. America's ambassador to Germany decided not to bother and started handing out advice on how the Germans should live, who they should trust and which parties they should support. Several major German parties responded to him saying: «Thank you very much, but perhaps it's time you went home?» And now he's saying that it all was a misunderstanding.
Regarding the visit to Austria: We signed a series of very important agreements with Austria. We knew that someday the ice would break and they'd start listening to us.
Mikhail Gusman, News Agency TASS: You know, Volodya? I had the honor to interview Federal Chancellor Kurz four days before Putin gave his interview to the Austrian channel.
— He's charming, isn't he?
— He's young, 32 years old. He'd already proven himself in the position of State Secretary for Integration He was dealing with immigration issues. After that, he became the youngest Foreign Minister in Europe at 27. He continued to deal with immigration, the issue everybody tends to avoid even though the Interior Ministry was supposed to handle it. It earned him additional points and helped Austria easily recover from the infamous migration crisis. In his interview, he spoke about his expectations of Putin's visit and the positive history of Russian-Austrian relations despite the recent crises. Recently, we celebrated a small anniversary: 50 years ago, Russia started to supply gas to Austria. Almost half of Austrian households use Russian gas. It basically means that Russia supplies half of Austria's households with heat. It's not a metaphor, it's simply a fact. And naturally…
— They should have a special bill called «heat from Russia».
— That's right. Speaking about our days the Austrian president said that they don't need liquefied natural gas as long as they can get cheap gas from Russian. It's not a coincidence that Austria didn't expel our diplomats despite international pressure. Chancellor Kurz was against the sanctions from the very beginning. Of course, they're part of the European team and they won't veto the decision of the EU. But the situation's changing. Italy has a new government. It seems to me that Putin's visit is very significant and will be some kind of breakthrough. They say the Putin's re-opened the window to Europe with his visit. To modern-day Europe.
— He should've started in Holland. If he followed the historical analogy.
— The roads have already been paved.
— Or Peter the Great just got lost and accidentally ended up in Holland?
— This visit is a landmark event. You know, Putin and Kurz are very different politicians.
— Let's say Peter cut the window and we opened the door.
— Yes, opened the door.
— Italians and Austrians dislike the very idea of sanctions. They dislike the very mechanism that's been created. They believe that the sanctions policy is faulty and obsolete.
— When the first sanctions were just being implemented, the then-President Fischer said, sorry, that Austria was initially against the sanctions.
Evgeny Satanovsky, Orientalist: Be it Fischer or gefilte Fischer the situation is pretty clear. Let's stop casting pearls in front of ourselves. There are simply technical matters, there are matters of understanding, and then there are plain facts: Europe is fed up with A) Trump, and B) sanctions, which snatch money from their pockets. How can they keep the money when there's a bully sitting in the White House who's now imposing sanctions against Europe on steel, aluminium, and other exports. The German ministers shouldn't be offended by the words of the American ambassador. It'd be a great statement if we lived in 1948. He told them whom to elect and they elected his candidate. But it's not 1948. It's a new Germany, a new Europe, and a new America. They're fed up with those games. Trump did something Obama couldn't do: He convinced the majority of Europeans that the US is neither their protector nor partner. The rest is in the favor of the poor.
Secondly, regarding the gas supply: There's a myth that the shale gas from the US will push the Russian gas out of the European market. I seriously doubt that. Currently, the US supplies their liquefied shale gas to two countries — Portugal and Spain. I've checked the gas balance. There are terminals built for Eastern Europe but they are empty. There was one transaction with Norway, that's it. Because whatever you do to gas, we've assessed all possible criteria whether you increase the price or reduce, whatever manipulations you conduct the American liquefied gas would still be $15-20 more expensive than the Russian pipeline gas. Politics don't work when there's such a difference in cost. No matter how much pressure they apply, nobody's going to bankrupt themselves. Moreover, Europe currently has three different sources of gas. Norway, with its depleting reserves, which isn't even a part of the EU. Algeria, which has been exporting gas for an eternity. If Trump seriously wanted to participate he should have invested in the Algerian gas industry instead of his own, like Qatar does. But he can't do that, he's the American president, not the president of Algeria. Besides, Bouteflika is there, who doesn't really like the US. The third source is Russia. There's no other sources. When you assess the balance, all those options with Nabucco and Azerbaijan seem rather inadequate.
Our future relationship with the Europeans doesn't look good. Our future relationship with the Americans is complicated. There might be hope but I don't see that happening. But I believe that the desires of the US won't have much impact on our business with Europe.