News & Current Affairs

January 6, 2009

Europe’s reliance on Russian gas

Europe’s reliance on Russian gas

A gas storage and transit point on the main gas pipeline from Russia in the village of Boyarka near the capital Kiev, Ukraine

Turned-off taps have caused gas shortages in Europe

The latest developments in the dispute over the price Ukraine pays Russia for its gas has yet again affected deliveries to other countries.

Several countries in Europe have reported a sharp decline or even complete cessation of gas supplies from Russia via pipelines through Ukraine.

This has reinforced unease in Europe about the important role that Russia has a supplier of gas.

A quarter of the gas used in the European Union (EU) comes from Russia.

And that share will rise.

Increasingly dominant

Europe’s need for gas is likely to increase.

Europe’s gas pipeline network

Economic growth, when it resumes after the current recession, will mean more demand for electricity.

Gas accounts for about a fifth of the EU’s electricity and the share is likely to grow, partly because gas produces less by way of greenhouse gas emissions than coal or oil.

The EU does have other suppliers, including Norway and Algeria by pipeline, and Qatar and Algeria, again, by ship.

But Russia, with the world’s largest gas reserves and an extensive network of pipelines to Europe, is likely to be increasingly dominant.

Soviet legacy

The EU, unless it drastically changes its energy strategy, will need Russia.

EU GAS IMPORTS FROM RUSSIA
100% dependent on Russia: Latvia, Slovakia, Finland, Estonia
More than 80% dependent: Bulgaria, Lithuania, Czech Republic
More than 60% dependent: Greece, Austria, Hungary
Source: European Council on Foreign Relations, 2006 figures

But Russia in turn needs Europe to buy its gas, and also its oil.

So it is not in Russia’s interest for Europe to become more wary of using gas as an energy source.

So far the disturbances to EU supplies have been a side effect of the recurrent dispute between Russia and Ukraine, with both sides blaming the other for the reduced supplies to the west.

The quarrels are a legacy of the end of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine has been receiving relatively cheap gas.

Russia’s Gazprom wants to charge more, and the negotiations are complicated further by questions about what fees Ukraine should receive for gas crossing its territory.

Some European countries are protected with substantial stocks to cover any supply disruptions for many weeks, although some, such as Bulgaria have very little cover.

The disruptions also reinforce the attractions of developing new pipelines that avoid potential problem areas.


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September 5, 2008

Rice making historic Libya visit

Rice making historic Libya visit

Condoleezza Rice in Lisbon before going to Libya - 5/9/2008

The US state department described the visit as a “new chapter” in relations

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed as “historic” her visit to Libya to meet its leader Muammar Gaddafi.

But she pointed out the “suffering” caused by the North African country’s long stand-off with the West.

Libya was on the US state department list of sponsors of terrorism until 2003, when it abandoned weapons of mass destruction and renounced terrorism.

Ms Rice will be the first US secretary of state to visit Libya since 1953.

“It is a historic moment and it is one that has come after a lot of difficulty, the suffering of many people that will never be forgotten or assuaged,” Ms Rice told a news conference in Lisbon, Portugal, before leaving for Libya.

Her trip will also include visits to Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.

But the visit could be overshadowed by Libya’s failure so far to honour a deal offering compensation to families of victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Six years ago, such a visit would have seemed far-fetched, but diplomacy and political will have overcome the obstacles.

The US State Department have described it as a “new chapter” in relations between the two countries, following on from the restoration of diplomatic ties in 2006.

‘Way forward’

Earlier this month, Libya agreed to pay compensation to families of the victims of the Lockerbie aircraft bombing, for which it formally accepted responsibility in 2003.

The deal includes compensation for Libyan victims of the United States’ retaliatory bombing raid over Libya in 1986.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi  (file image)

Ms Rice’s visit was partly intended to be a reward for successful completion of the deal, but Libya has not yet transferred the promised hundreds of millions of dollars into a humanitarian account.

The US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Welch, told Reuters that he was optimistic the transfer would happen soon but that Ms Rice would press Libya on this issue.

Col Gaddafi has stopped short of referring to America as a friend, but in a televised speech this week he said improved relations were a way for both countries to leave each other alone.

Assistant Secretary of State Paula DeSutter told a briefing in Washington on Thursday that the visit would show other countries they have “a way forward” if they change their behaviour and co-operate with the US.

Our correspondent says that although the visit is largely symbolic diplomacy, many in Libya hope that US-Libyan relations will only improve in the long-run.


What do you think about Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Libya? Send us your comments

August 20, 2008

Deadly bombings hit Algerian town

Deadly bombings hit Algerian town

Map of Algeria

Eleven people have been killed and 31 injured by twin car bombs near a hotel and a barracks in Bouira, south east of the Algerian capital, state media say.

Witnesses said the blasts went off in quick succession.

The attacks come one day after a car bomb killed 43 people and injured a further 38 at a police college near Boumerdes, east of Algiers.

In recent months Algeria has suffered regular attacks blamed on Islamist insurgents linked to al-Qaeda.

The country has been rebuilding with the help of oil and gas profits after a brutal civil conflict in which Islamist militants led an insurgency against state security forces.

Many recent attacks have happened in the area east and south of Algiers, which borders the mountainous Berber region of Kabylia.

Passenger bus

Wednesday’s bombs went off near the Hotel Sofi and the military headquarters in Bouira, which is about 100km (62 miles) from Algiers, state media reported.

The blast at the hotel hit a nearby passenger bus, reports said.

One of the bombs ripped off the front of the military headquarters, and the blasts could be heard in a radius of several hundred meters, witnesses said.

Just a day earlier, a suicide car bomber drove a car packed with explosives into the entrance of a paramilitary police college in Issers, near Boumerdes, about 50km (31 miles) east of Algiers.

ATTACKS IN ALGERIA 2007-2008
19 August 2008: 43 killed by suicide bombing outside police college in Issers
10 August 2008: Eight killed by suicide bombing outside police station in Zemmouri
8 June 2008: French engineer and driver killed east of Algiers
5 June 2008: Roadside bomb kills six soldiers east of Algiers
January 2008: Suicide bombing kills four policemen in Naciria
December 2007: Twin car bombs kill at least 37 including 10 UN staff in Algiers
8 September 2007: 32 die in bombing in Dellys
6 September 2007: 22 die in bombing in Batna
July 2007: Suicide bomber targets barracks near Bouira, killing nine
April 2007: 33 killed in attacks on government offices and a police station in Algiers

That attack hit military police recruits who were waiting outside the building before an exam.

The government said 41 of those killed were civilians.

After Tuesday’s attacks, Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni said militants were trying to “loosen the net closing around them”.

Algeria’s government has long said Islamist insurgents are desperately seeking to raise their profile as they are isolated by security forces.

There have been no immediate claims of responsibility for this week’s attacks.

Previous bombings have been claimed by the North African branch of al-Qaeda, known as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Those included twin suicide car bombings in Algiers – one against the offices of the UN – that killed at least 37 people in December.

In recent years, Algeria has been slowly recovering from a conflict that began in 1992 when the army intervened to stop hardline Islamists winning the country’s first multi-party elections.

Violence has been greatly reduced since the 1990s, but since last year there have been a series of devastating suicide bombings and several attacks against international targets.

The attacks have largely been claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which was formed from the remnants of Algeria’s insurgency and was previously known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat.


Are you in the area? Have you been affected by the explosion? Send your comment

August 17, 2008

France probes Algerian official

France probes Algerian official

Ali Mecili. File photo

The Mecili case has puzzled investigators for years

The French authorities are formally investigating an Algerian official in connection with the killing of a leading Algerian opposition figure.

Ali Mecili was assassinated at his home in Paris in 1987.

He had been working as a senior aide to Hocine Ait Ahmed, leader of the Algeria’s Socialist Forces Front.

The man being investigated is Mohammed Ziane Hassani, now in charge of protocol at Algeria’s foreign ministry. He was arrested on Friday.

Mr Hassani was detained at Marseille airport shortly after arriving from Algiers.

French police say that although Mr Hassani was carrying a diplomatic passport, he does not enjoy diplomatic immunity.

Another man suspected by the police of firing the fatal shots is also the subject of an international arrest warrant.

August 10, 2008

Algeria city hit by suicide bomb

Algeria city hit by suicide bomb

Map

Eight people have been killed in a suicide bomb attack in northern Algeria, the country’s national radio is reporting.

Another 19 people were injured in the blast, which happened overnight in the northern city of Zemmouri, about 50km (31 miles) east of the capital Algiers.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

The seaside city is a popular holiday destination, particularly during the hot summer months.

Explosives packed into a vehicle detonated outside a police station in the city, reports said.

The attack came a week after more than 20 people were injured when a police station in Tizi Ouzou, another northern city, was targeted by a suicide car bomber.

Al-Qaeda’s North Africa wing claimed responsibility for that attack.

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