Table Speech


“Turbulent Waves in the Black Sea -the Ukraine and Russia”

February 18, 2009

Mr. Kazuo Kobayashi,
Journalist,
Professor in Charge of Special Assignment, Sakushin Gakuin University

 Since the emergence 9 years ago of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, former President of the Russian Federation, real wages have risen at rates ranging from over 10% to in excess of 20% each year in Russia. The Russian GDP has grown 7-8% per year and foreign currency reserves, which had been US$10 billion in 2000, have grown to US$560 billion in 2008. The lives of the Russian people and the national fiscal conditions have become affluent. From these results, one can only say that Putin was a good president.
 There are two features in the methods adopted by Putin. One was that he astutely exploited international situations to benefit national interests.
 Putin, in his second year in office, visited Germany on April 9, 2002 and met with Gerhard Schroeder, Chancellor of Germany. In his first day of negotiations, Putin managed to force Schroder to reduce US$6.5 billion in debt to US$350 million.
 At the time, France, Germany, and Russia vehemently opposed the policy of attacks against Iraq taken by George Herbert Walker Bush, President of the United States. Instability in the Middle East situation impedes the stable supply of crude oil. Furthermore, the expected spike in the price of crude oil was another factor behind the opposition. It was said that Putin, at the negotiating table, had promised a stable supply of crude oil and natural gas to Germany in any situation.
 In this, there was a longer term brick laid, which is the second feature of Putin’s policies. The Russian pipeline that supplies one quarter of Europe’s natural gas passes through the Ukraine to reach Europe. This is a serious vulnerability for Russia. Should the Ukraine decided to close the valve to the pipeline, the supply of natural gas to Europe will cease to flow. Up until that point in time, there had been no concerns over such an occurrence, but with the emergence of an anti-Russian government, such an event had become a real possibility.
 With respect to this, Russia created a joint venture company with Germany in 2005. The company will lay a natural gas pipeline that stretches 1,200 km from Saint Petersburg to Greifeswalt under the Baltic Sea, and carry gas to Europe. The company is also the world’s largest gas company.
 This was not the only pipeline plan. Another plan calls for taking natural gas from Central Asia and carrying it to the Black Sea over Russian territory. Then, using an undersea pipeline, the gas will be brought to Bulgaria. According to the plan, one route would carry gas westward from Bulgaria to Greece and Italy and the other route would be from Bulgaria to Europe via Serbia and Hungary. Germany, France, and Italy are the partners in this project.
 This will reduce the influence that the Ukraine has over Europe’s energy but other issues still remain. The fleet headquarters for the Russian Baltic Fleet is located in Sevastopoli, which is on the Crimean Peninsula in the Ukraine. The Ukraine became independent in 1991, which created a peculiar situation, as the Russian fleet headquarters is located in a foreign country’s port. To solve it, a land lease agreement was signed in 1994 under which Russia is lessee of the land/sea area in which their Baltic Fleet headquarters is located.
 The majority of the people living on the Crimean Peninsula are Russian. Already there have been racial movements calling for a reversion to Russia. On the other hand, the Abkhazian people living in the Republic of Georgia, declared independence from Georgia in 1992 to form the Republic of Abkhazia. Russia recognized this independence. Russia also recognizes the Republic of Belarus. Such recognitions currently bear no particular benefits. However, in the future these areas will be keys in transporting energy from Central Asia and the Caspian Sea to Europe. The recognitions are a tool to secure future energy routes for Russia. One cannot judge Putin’s actions just from a short term perspective.
 Unexpectedly, Putin said “We use the power of our counterparts whenever necessary. How can we deal with a crisis? All of these things I learned from Judo”. He also said “Judo is a Japanese philosophy”. Learning that he is participating in diplomacy with Japan using a way of thought on how to live which he absorbed from Judo, makes us Japanese that much fonder of Putin.