Calmly in July, a party leader from the Czech Republic visited Washington to hold discussions with the White House and Republican members in Congress on the basis of shared values, including peace in Europe. At the recommendation of senior national security officials, he has reached out to his neighboring countries, to the east and the west. His aim: to link Europe and the U.S. in a pragmatic formula to secure energy independence in Ukraine and provide economic opportunities for the Czech Republic.
In a meeting this week in Prague, Christian Democrats Chairman Pavel Belobradek and Ukraine’s Minister of Energy, Ihor Nasalyk, explored ways to strengthen Ukraine’s energy independence and secure Europe’s energy future. They understand Europe’s future to be linked closely with the United States, and are paying close attention to the framework being developed in U.S. policy circles.
When the U.S. Senate votes 98-2 in favor of a bill, as they did with the new sanctions law punishing Russia and Iran for their destabilizing activities, adversaries and allies alike take notice. An entire section of that bill formalizes American support for Ukraine’s energy security. This was the topic of the meetings between the Ukrainians and the Czechs.
I corresponded with Chairman Belobradek after the visit. “This is the first of several regional meetings we intend to convene to focus attention on energy security and building the resilience of NATO members and allies,” Belobradek told me. “It was inspired in part by Vice President Pence’s European visit earlier this year. I am pleased that Minister Nasalyk and President [Petro] Poroshenko support this initiative.”
No policy area matters more to the direct daily needs of Europeans than energy security. The potential for Russia to cut off gas supplies in the midst of a cold hard winter raises the specter of death and catastrophic suffering on a par with war or hurricanes. Vice President Cheney’s energy task force report famously declared, “We must make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy.” That principle again guides American policy, and is equally important to the governments of our European allies.
American leaders also care about the independence of Ukraine. Defense Secretary James Mattis
of his visit, “What a day! This is a day that will live long in my memory; to feel the refreshing sense of independence, of freedom!” Describing the trip journalists
, Mattis said, “By being here, I’m making a statement that our strategic relationship with Ukraine is getting stronger.”
Much of the discussion during the meetings revolved around upcoming initiatives to support Ukraine that are under discussion in Brussels and Washington. These will involve broad interagency participation from USAID, the Department of Energy, Department of State and the Department of Defense, and will address assistance ranging from energy efficiency to new generation capacity and grid interconnectivity.
Belobradek and Nasalyk are also considering forming a regional working group that will travel to Washington and Brussels to explore ways in which Czechs can support Ukraine policy initiatives formed by the U.S., the European Union, and NATO. Regional integration will help make better policy, and will ensure competent execution and sustained support.
Some of the issues the working group will address include a broadening of Ukraine’s electric power transmission interconnection with Europe; the strengthening of Ukraine’s capability to maintain electric power grid stability and reliability; independent regulatory oversight and operations of Ukraine’s gas market and electricity sector; privatization of government-owned energy companies through credible legal frameworks and a transparent process compliant with international best practices; repair of power generating or power transmission equipment or facilities; and provision of technical assistance for cyber security, crisis response, diversification of fossil fuel supply, nuclear fuel and public outreach.
This initiative is a powerful move by a political leader who is allowing a small country to take its place among the leadership of the transatlantic alliance in tandem with Washington and Brussels. It is likely to succeed, because it satisfies regional needs and aspirations, and at the same time is in line with the national security priorities officials of the entire Western alliance.
Chairman Belobradek is showing the way for Europe to forge independent pathways to bring strength to the north Atlantic alliance. He has been consistent in his support for Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity. It is encouraging also to observe positive moves by members of the Poroshenko administration toward integration with the West. Nasalyk’s visit with a European leader is a great foundation for his upcoming trip to Washington D.C.
As President Trump’s national security advisor H.R. McMaster said, “The point is, what kind of support is needed for Ukraine, which will meet our interests and desire to ensure that Russia does not take further actions to destabilize the situation.”
Bart Marcois (@BMarcois) was the principal deputy assistant secretary of energy for international affairs during the Bush administration and was previously a career foreign service officer. He is a director at the Richard Richards Foundation.