You don’t scare us: Slovakia shrugs off Kremlin energy retaliation for arming Ukraine

You don’t scare us: Slovakia shrugs off Kremlin energy retaliation for arming Ukraine
Опубликовано: Monday, 10 April 2023 10:09

Slovakia is still dependent on Russia energy, but sending weapons to Ukraine is ‘a matter of principle,’ says energy official.

BRUSSELS — Slovakia will continue to support Ukraine “regardless” of the risk of the Kremlin cutting energy exports in retaliation for Bratislava sending fighter jets to Ukraine, a senior government official told POLITICO.

“We have supported Ukraine in the past and we plan to support it also in the future regardless of this risk that exists,” said Peter Gerhardt, Slovakia’s state secretary for energy.

But with his country among the most dependent in the EU on Russian crude, gas and nuclear fuel, he admitted it “would be a problem” if Moscow decided to immediately slash oil supplies in particular.

"We are aware of this risk of course,” he said, noting that Slovakia has already seen cyberattacks on government institutions, but added that “we have to deal with it.” Bratislava’s “support of Ukraine is a matter of principle,” said Gerhardt, speaking in Brussels late last month.

The nation of 5 million last month allowed four Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets to fly to Ukraine, as part of a pledge to donate the 13 in its armory — making it the first country to send warplanes to Kyiv. Poland has also pledged to send its MiG-29s to Ukraine.

A furious Kremlin has vowed to destroy all donated jets.

Moscow also has other ways of inflicting pain.

Despite an EU effort to wean the bloc off Russian energy, Slovakia still gets 60 percent of its natural gas, 95 percent of its oil and all of its nuclear fuel from there, according to Krzysztof Dębiec, a senior fellow at the Warsaw-based Centre for Eastern Studies think tank.

“The war in Ukraine highlighted our dependency on energy imports from Russia,” Gerhardt said, but insisted Bratislava has “strategically started to diversify supplies of gas” over the past year. Before the war, it was getting about 90 percent of its gas from Russia.

Slovakia has a memorandum of understanding “prepared for signature” with Poland for more gas supplies via a new interconnector, he said. The country has also started supply talks with Lithuania as well as Italian and German companies.

“The ultimate goal is to get 100 percent independent from Russian supplies,” he said, even if it’s a process that “can take time.”

However, Slovakia, which got a temporary exemption from last year’s EU’s embargo on Russian oil imports, still has “no set date” for ending its reliance on Moscow for crude, Gerhardt said.

Although finding crude is “not a problem,” he said, as Bratislava can use the Adria pipeline that passes through Croatia and Hungary, Slovakia’s main refinery is still only able to process Moscow’s Urals grade crude effectively — meaning “big investments” will be needed to accept other types of crude.

On nuclear, the country is still fully dependent on Russia’s state-run Rosatom for fuel to power its four Moscow-designed VVER reactors.

Gerhardt said negotiations with private companies to replace Rosatom are “going positively."

Ukraine has repeatedly urged EU countries to slap sanctions on Russia’s nuclear sector for its role in overseeing the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine, but so far the bloc has balked at taking that step.

Slovakia is also wary.

“At this moment, we are very hesitant” about such sanctions, Gerhardt said. “It would not be very welcomed from our side if such a thing was introduced.”

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