Talking tough on energy security

  • 2010-10-06
  • Interview by Rokas M. Tracevskis.

From Sept. 29 - Oct. 1, Vaclav Bartuska, ambassador-at-large of the Czech Republic, visited Lithuania. He is a well-known person in his country. During the years 1989 -1990, Bartuska was one of the student leaders of the anti-Communist Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia. Due to his previous dissident activities and experience with the secret police, Bartuska was elected as the students’ representative to the parliamentary committee, which oversaw the investigation of the Communist Party security apparatus. In 1990, he described this experience in his first book, named Polojasno (“Semi-cloudy” in Czech language), which sold 230,000 copies and made him independent enough to spend most of the 1990s traveling and writing three more books.

In 1992, he graduated from Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Social Science (journalism) and worked as a reporter for a Czech daily newspaper. Bartuska was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Columbia University (1994-95) and a Marshall Fellow in 1999. In 1999, Bartuska was appointed to be the Czech commissioner general at EXPO 2000 in Hanover, Germany. In 2006, Bartuska was appointed the ambassador-at-large for energy security. The biggest challenge in his career relates to the gas crisis in January 2009 when, under the Czech EU Presidency, he was actively involved in the negotiations with Russian, Ukrainian and EU leadership.

artuska also worked as the official counselor for energy security issues during the Swedish EU Presidency in the second half of 2009. Now Bartuska continues his work in the position of ambassador-at-large for energy security at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, and on June 21, 2010, he was appointed as plenipotentiary for the supervision of the tender for the completion of the Temelin nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic.

What is the main goal of your visit to Lithuania?
The Czech Republic is in the tender process for two new nuclear blocs (to be added to the present six operating blocs). We are talking not only to the three bidders - Areva, Rosatom, and Westinghouse - but also to their customers around the world, as well as other countries considering nuclear expansion. Lithuania has been thinking about a new Ignalina for some time, so I would like to see the situation with my own eyes.

Is Russia using its energy supplies (gas, oil) to increase its political influence in the EU?
We all use our strengths to obtain what we want. Russia exports raw materials and not much else. Don’t blame her for using energy as a tool; do your homework and lessen the dependency.

How can we preserve the EU’s energy independence from Russia?
Please, do not limit the question of EU’s energy insecurity to Russia only. The whole EU worries about energy, but different member states have different worries. Russia might scare you, but it hardly scares Portugal or Ireland. Yet we all - EU 27 - have basically the same problem: more than 90 percent of the world’s oil and gas is in the hands of nation states - and most of these have no reason to like the West, let alone help it. Our problem is not Russia, but the dramatic shift in the world which gives players like Algeria and Turkmenistan and Venezuela - not to mention Gulf countries – an increasingly big role.
So if you want the big players in the EU to be interested in your problems, be interested in theirs. Does your energy envoy go to Qatar and Saudi Arabia and Algeria and Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, or is your energy policy ‘Russia only’?

Will the shale gas exploitation in Poland (which will maybe start in 10 years) reduce the EU’s energy dependence from Russia?
I would gladly be wrong, but I see shale gas in Europe as mostly hype. Unlike in the U.S. (shale gas) and Canada (tar sands), EU environmental standards make shale gas deposits difficult to mine.

How independent is the Czech Republic in terms of the energy sector?
No one in Europe - besides Norway - is energy independent. Surely you can make charts and graphs, depicting the relative independence of different member states. But in real life, the only way to survive is for the EU to stick together. As I said during the gas crisis in January 2009: ‘United we stand, divided we freeze.’

What do you think about Lithuania’s plan to build its liquefied gas terminal near the port of Klaipeda?
I don’t know enough to have an opinion. I can only ask a few simple questions: Does the project make commercial sense? Is your gas market big enough? And are you in contact with LNG producers, from Qatar to Trinidad to Yemen to Australia?

What do you think about the Kremlin-inspired Nord Stream gas pipeline via the Baltic Sea, and the Kremlin’s South Stream gas pipeline?
It makes sense. If I were Gazprom, I would definitely build Nord Stream. And I would use the South Stream project to put even more pressure on Ukraine. Russia’s energy strategy till 2020 (for both oil and gas) is a clever one. It can be dangerous for countries like the Czech Republic and Lithuania if we do not do our homework. But the world is not a sentimental place.

What are the perspectives for the EU’s Nabucco gas pipeline (Turkey-Austria) project?
I have been very skeptical about our ability to build anything. The EU has been talking about Nabucco for eight years now and there is not a single inch of it built. China opened last December the pipeline Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China, from the Caspian to the Yellow Sea. 7,000 kilometers long, built in two years. When I was in the region this year, on four separate trips to Ashgabat and Tashkent and Baku, it was clear that the rulers there value deeds higher than words.

Lithuania plans to establish a special NATO research center for energy security in Lithuania - what is your opinion about such plans?
Wish you success.

What do you think about Lithuanian plans to build its new nuclear plant?
Make a brutal assessment of your capacities, abilities and resources. And then make the final decision. Warning: an honest evaluation might tell you that this task is simply a bridge too far.

When will the EU have its united stance on energy security issues?
We need a real crisis that will hit us hard. And make us realize that no matter how deep are the differences between us in the EU, we have one another and no one else.