This is an interview with Robert Bensh, an energy and energy security expert who has led oil and gas companies in Ukraine for over 13 years, and served as an advisor to former energy minister and former vice-prime minister Yuri Boyko on issues of Western capital markets and political systems.
James Stafford: Now that Russia has annexed Crimea, are there fears that it won't stop there, and that we could see Russian tanks entering Eastern Ukraine?
Robert Bensh: The reality is that this game is over. The Crimea is Russia's and everyone's let it go. Ukrainian troops are actively disengaging with Russian troops, even with Russian speakers in general. They will not engage, and in return, Russia will not attempt to move further into Ukraine.
If Russia rolls into Eastern Ukraine - even if they don't kill anyone - we know that Poland, Romania, possibly Hungary, possibly Slovakia and definitely the Baltic states will invoke Article 5 of the NATO agreement. And when that happens, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has already stated that if NATO were called in, the US would stand behind it and support it militarily. The rhetoric has been pretty high, but it's just that - rhetoric.
JS: So the game is over, and Crimea is gone. What does this mean for Ukraine from an energy perspective?
RB: With Crimea, Ukraine loses some prospective offshore oil and gas territory in the Black Sea, but it doesn't lose any shale. All the shale is in Ukraine's east and west.
But things are going to get tricky now. One of the bigger developments is likely to be the Russian nationalization of Chornomornaftogaz, Ukraine's state-run gas company in Crimea. This, in turn, would impact Exxon Mobil's proposed agreement for offshore Black Sea exploration. Exxon never signed the agreement because the Maidan protest movement was blowing up and they didn't want to give anything to [now ousted] Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and rightfully so. But what happens next with that potential deal is up in the air.
Interestingly, I think we still have Ukrainian gas prices effective in Crimea but they would fall under Russian law. This is all completely new territory. This isn't Africa, where something like this is par for the course. High-level government officials here have not been through this before so it's a very unique, unwanted challenge. It's upsettingly interesting.
JS: What does this mean for Ukraine's pipeline system?
RB: Ukraine's pipeline system would continue to belong to Ukraine unless Russia took over all of Ukraine. To get control of the pipeline system you have to roll up to the Ukrainian borders, side to side. And it's hard for me to believe that NATO wouldn't react to something like that. It's hard for me to believe that NATO wouldn't respond to Russia taking over the Donbass, Ukraine's heavy industry heartland.
The Russian annexation of the Crimea isn't going to have a major effect on pipeline gas on either side. Gazprom executives aren't exactly losing sleep over what could add up to the gain of Crimea and the loss of Ukraine. Russia already ships almost half of its gas to Europe via pipelines that bypass Ukraine, and in 2015, if Gazprom's South Stream pipeline comes online as planned, it will be shipping a lot more gas to Europe without Ukraine.
JS: How critical, then, will Ukraine's development of its shale assets be to forging energy independence, and what needs to happen next?
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