Russian occupation in Ukraine raises questions on energy

The consequences of Russia's decision to move troops into the Ukraine's Crimea region after the ousting of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich have begun to emerge, potentially affecting future energy agreements and the trade relationships of both countries.

As tensions continue to mount on the heels of Crimea's parliament voting to join Russia on Thursday and defiantly setting a referendum for March 16, questions are being raised as to what impact the crisis will have on the stability and future of the region’s energy.

Jiri Dienstbier, a Social Democrat in the Czech Republic and minister for human rights, recently voiced opposition to Russia's current bid to lead the expansion of the Temelin nuclear power project, which could total more than $10 billion, Reuters reported.

"Personally, I cannot imagine that Russians will continue to take part in the tender to expand Temelin because a country that uses military aggression in foreign policy is a security risk for the Czech Republic as well," said Dienstbier.

The Ukraine has also begun steps to reinforce its nuclear power plants, expressing in a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) it was taking the action because of "a grave threat to the security" of the country posed by the Russian military, said the source.

News outlets are also reporting Russia's assets - from the Ruble to stocks and bonds - are falling significantly as a consequence of the nation's aggressions in the Ukraine. The value of the Ruble dropped to record lows, down 2 percent to 36.41 against the dollar as well as declining 1.2 percent against the euro this past week. Russia's central bank's most important lending rate jumped to 7 percent from 5.5 percent, citing increasingly volatile financial markets and risk of inflation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Europe have begun to follow through, to different degrees, on promises to impose sanctions against Russia in an effort to exert pressure on the country to withdraw its military occupation of Crimea.

However, it remains to be seen how far the U.S. and Europe are willing to go as stiffer sanctions could prove problematic for all sides. Russia serves as a major producer of oil and gas products, with Europe heavily reliant on imports.

Moscow-based Gazprom announced it would cut off its price discount for natural gas supplies to Ukraine by April after its neighbor did not pay its debt for gas deliveries in February, with its total debt to Gazprom reaching $2 billion in total.

In response, Ukraine said it would reduce its natural gas imports from Russia and offset this decline with supplies from Europe. Energy Minister Yuri Prodan brought up the possibility of receiving one-third of its natural gas imports from Slovakia. However, Prodan noted gas imports from Slovakia have not been possible in the past.

Ukraine is expected to import nearly 30 billion cubic meters of gas this year to meet energy demands.

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