February 08, 2010

This Weekend's News: Big Natural Security Elections – Ukraine Thinks Gas while Venezuela Explores Geoengineering

The biggest natural security news through the long D.C. snowpocalypse weekend involved coverage of two energy-important elections, one now held and the other to come later this year. Opposition candidate and former Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovich claimed a win yesterday in Ukraine’s race for the presidency, while Venezuela is gearing up for fall elections. Both races will come to have some serious importance for energy geopolitics.

There was a battle of fossil fuel backgrounds at play between the two main candidates in Ukraine’s election: Yanukovich was a former coal industry exec, while his opponent, current Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was a natural gas baroness before taking on energy issues in elected office. The domestic energy politics in this election heavily involved which candidate could form better relations with Russia on natural gas and seal a better deal for Ukraine. Yanukovich has stated that he supports “the creation of the gas transportation consortium, with Russia as a supplier, Europe as a consumer, and Ukraine as a transiting country.”

It seems as though improved natural gas relations with Russia would be on that country’s agenda regardless of which candidate prevailed, but a few more energy similarities and differences are noteworthy as well. The Kyiv Post reported that:

Both Tymoshenko and Yanukovich believe Ukraine, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, could gain energy security through the development and construction of more nuclear power stations. Tymoshenko wants to speed up exploration and extraction of oil and gas on the Black Sea shelf, to shore up Ukraine's energy security, while Yanukovich wants to modernise the coal industry, that could fuel much of steel production – key to the economy.

Whoa, there. We’ll see what actually happens – Russia will surely have a say in what actually unfolds.
And though the next ballots aren’t cast until September, speculation is already beginning about the direction of Venezuela’s political winds, as they are being influenced by resource concerns. Time reports that Hugo Chávez is experiencing much disenchantment from his public in no small part due to water and electricity shortages. It further reports that Chávez:

…blames water and electricity shortages on a drought caused by El Niño. A report released at Christmas by one of the state electricity companies predicted a national collapse within 120 days if drastic measures were not taken…To alleviate drought, Chávez has turned to Cuba for "cloud seeding" technology. He has also instituted unpopular water and electricity rationing to ensure the country's hydro-electric dams are not drained before the rains come in June.

Geoengineering, Chávez? Me thinks you have some energy and water policy choices a bit more straightforward and effective than cloud seeding. Wait…Cuba is cloud seeding? Looks like it was when I had the swine flu, but I totally missed that gem.

The Week Ahead

Once again, lots of great events in D.C. this week – if we can manage to dig out of a few feet of snow. Tuesday CSIS is hosting an event on the Politics of Climate Change in Asia at noon. Wednesday at 9am, the Wilson Center holds a forum on Conflict Prevention and Resolution featuring the director of the 3D security initiative, Lisa Schirch. At 2:00 that afternoon the House Committee on Science & Technology will also hold a hearing on Rare Earth Minerals and 21st Century Industry – say hi to Dan if you see him there!

Thursday Georgetown University is holding an event on Energy in Foreign Policy at noon.  Later that day at 2:15pm, the Wilson Center is hosts an event on the political benefits shared between China and the United States through climate change cooperation. To wrap up Thursday, CSIS offers a chance to hear speeches from Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and General Victor Renuart, Commander of NORTHCOM and NORAD, as they discuss U.S. Strategic Interests in the High North.