Does Europe hear us? And do we hear it?
Do journalists, politicians and experts in EU states talk about the role of Ukraine in Europe’s energy sector? Did they discuss all risks for the EU from the construction of Nord Stream 2?
“Ukraine is standing on the frontline protecting European countries against Russian aggression” – that’s the statement often heard from Ukrainian experts and politicians. At least in the energy sector, this statement is true. Ukraine’s GTS is an important pipeline system for transit of Russian gas, and on top of that, its use is conformant with European rules. Russian pipelines and their owners do not care about the compliance with EU requirements; moreover, Nord Stream 2 AG has recently filed a lawsuit with the EU Court of Justice demanding cancelation of amendments to the Gas Directive. Ukraine is ready for transit of not only Russian gas but also gas from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan, whereas Russia withdrew from the Energy Charter Treaty to prevent any talks about letting anyone except those whom Russia wants to have access to its pipelines.
But do journalists, politicians and experts in EU states talk about these pros and cons? How well do they hear these arguments voiced by Ukrainian experts and politicians? Do they discuss all energy, economic and security risks for the EU posed by the construction of Nord Stream 2, or this is only a “picture” for the Ukrainian audience?
In order to see the real, not imaginary situation in the EU’s information space, a team of experts working jointly with DiXi Group and with the support from the International Renaissance Foundation has launched the monitoring of key media in such countries as Germany and France, for these are the countries playing the most important role in the EU and, in the case of Germany, in the construction of Nord Stream 2. Daily monitoring “shows” key messages concerning Nord Stream 2 appearing in these countries, enabling Ukrainian experts and journalists to have an idea of what information space in these countries is really filled with, and in key English-language publications and how actively Ukraine is represented there.
The final component of our analysis is monitoring of Ukrainian media, which allows to understand whether Ukrainian media belong to European information space and whether they address similar topics or are more focused on what’s going on in the energy sector of Ukraine.
Below are the results of this monitoring for July. As to what to do and how to respond, we leave it to the discretion of Ukrainian experts, politicians and, especially, journalists.
The main event of the month commented on in the French press was the US 7.6 billion agreement between the Franco-American oil and gas company TechnipFMC and the private Russian gas company Novatech on joint construction of three gas liquefaction lines (Arctic LNG-2 project). This agreement was not conditioned in any way upon the return of Russia to PACE or the continuing Russian occupation of Crimea and the Donbas and violation of international law and human rights in these regions.
Leading media wrote almost nothing about Nord Stream 2 and gas transit via Ukraine. On the other hand, business relations between France and Russia in the energy sector received a broad coverage. Specialized economic press covered energy relations within the EU-Russia-Ukraine triangle in informational light, ignoring political aspects of the construction of new Russian gas pipelines and Russia’s geopolitical interests. Russian propaganda was very active in its French-language publications including blogs. These resources are consistently working on creating an image of Ukraine as an unreliable, problematic partner. There is a small group of objective journalists, but their articles almost never appear in leading publications. Ukraine is mentioned in energy-related articles superficially at best, without quoting concrete Ukrainian speakers responsible for the energy sector and without attention to Ukraine’s arguments.
A monitoring of leading German media has revealed that most articles mentioning the construction of Nord Stream 2 are the reprints of news disseminated by news agencies such as dpa and Reuters. Only a small number of articles was published in the form of commentary or interview and contained information about the author. Nord Stream 2 is often mentioned in the context of relations between the U.S., the EU and Germany, and attention is focused on the fact that Nord Stream 2 is not economically beneficial for the U.S., because Americans themselves are interested in selling their own liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe. Some articles offer superficial coverage of the environmental aspect of gas production and the advantages of LNG. Those critical of the construction of Nord Stream 2 are focused on the Russian imperialism and on the fact that this project will make the EU dependent on Russian gas and undermine Germany’s role in European unity.
Every week of July was characterized by a certain main topic important for news agencies. For example, the following topics were in the focus on the first and second week: LNG, cooperation of Germany and the EU with the United States in the energy sector, environmental impact; this period was marked by articles about the trip of Germany’s Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier to the United States, with Nord Stream 2 mentioned in the context of this trip as a problematic aspect of relations between the two countries. The third week was memorable for the reprints in German media of information from the interview of Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov published in the regional newspaper Rheinische Post (Dusseldorf) under the title Sanctions Harm Europe. In this interview, the Russian official stressed, among other things, that construction of Nord Stream 2 is right on schedule and that this is a purely economic project. Sergei Lavrov’s interview could be considered a calculated informational step, because a lot of media reprinted certain parts of this interview on the eve of the Saint Petersburg Dialogue, which for the first time since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 featured Foreign Ministers of Germany and Russia. In addition, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), a leading German newspaper published a commentary by some German expert claiming that Ukraine is dragging out the negotiation of the gas transit contract and trying to preserve the monopoly over the transit of Russian gas via its territory, and therefore, Russia’s actions as regards the construction of Nord Stream 2 are legitimate. The last days of monitoring were notable for the reprints of announcements by the Swiss company Nord Stream 2 AG regarding the lawsuit filed with the EU Court of Justice and demanding cancelation of amendments to the EU’s Gas Directive, in particular, unbundling-related.
Ukraine’s stance regarding Nord Stream 2 is almost unnoticeable in the analyzed articles. The only exception is the interview to FAZ by Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal, in which she speaks about the threats to Ukraine from Nord Stream 2. German media overlooked a number of important events, such as, for instance, the shutdown of Nord Stream 1 for maintenance with the simultaneous sharp increase of gas transit via Ukraine (which proves how important the gas transit via Ukraine is for Europe’s energy security).
The main events of the month included denial of the permission to Nord Stream 2 AG to lay the gas pipeline in Denmark’s territorial waters and the potential legal dispute between Gazprom and the European Commission. At the same time, a number of important events have been ignored, in particular, the adoption of a resolution by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly expressing “deep concern regarding Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream pipeline projects and their potential use as instruments of political or economic coercion against [OSCE] member states depending on energy supply”.
The works analyzing Russia’s intentions concerning gas expansion in Europe are very important. The analysis by Atlantic Council expert Alan Riley rebuffing main arguments against the imposition of U.S. sanctions is worth mentioning. Overall, critical information (both analytical and news) prevails over that favoring the Russian projects. The main suppliers of pro-Russian content were Russia Today and pro-Russian blogs.
The main event in the energy sector was the statement by President Volodymyr Zelensky pinning hopes on the U.S. President Donald Trump to resolve the issue of Nord Stream 2.
Overall, energy matters received weak coverage in the Ukrainian press. Considering the parliamentary election, discussion of energy matters wasn’t on the main agenda. The majority of materials were reprints from German publications or expert commentaries by Western analysts.
DiXi Group President