Blogger poemless doesn’t seem to think the interwebs has rallied around a conspiratorial narrative for the recent plane crash that killed 98 members of the Polish political, military, and cultural elite.
On the one hand, she is more or less right: even the comically insane seem to be restraining themselves. Yulia Latynina only vaguely described the “mysteriousness” of the traffic control circumstances at the Smolensk airport, holding back an outright accusation that Putin engineered some kind of ‘Die Hard 2’ style disabling of the runway:
Putin and Tusk landed at the same Smolensk airport just three days before Saturday’s crash to participate in their own Katyn commemoration ceremonies. For their arrival, special navigation equipment was brought to the Smolensk airport to provide additional safety. It is possible that this equipment was removed before Kaczynski’s plane landed. That would add even more fog to the mysterious crash.
On the other hand, commentators have used the Kremlin’s recent “good behavior” to reignite another very in vogue “Russia is going down” theory: the rise of shale gas and its danger to Russian “energy-aggression.” Latynina’s Moscow Times op-ed is titled “Scent of Shale Gas Hangs Over Katyn” and the original, longer Russian-language piece on ЕЖ is called simply “Katyn-2.” Her general argument is that Russia had been preparing to strangle Poland with the Nord Stream pipeline, but a WSJ article on April 8, 2010, changed everything, and Moscow decided that it needed to make friends with the Poles quick.
For those who would like this reasoning broken down, I offer the following calculus:
Step 1, invite Polish PM Tusk to Russia for Katyn memorial; Step 2, criticize Soviet totalitarianism for its violence against Russians and Poles; Step 3, ?????; Step 4, defeat economic shale oil threat forever.
I have a few problems with the logic operating here. For starters, Lech Kaczynski hardly needed help losing the support of the Polish electorate. Polls (of Poles) indicated that Bronislaw Komoroski, who represents Donald Tusk’s Civil Platform party, would have defeated Kaczynski without much trouble. So Tusk and his people hardly needed the political bump. Putin already rubbed anti-Soviet elbows with the man last year in Gdansk, when they also met to commemorate how nasty Fascism and Communism were for both Russians and Poles. Why another photo op should be necessary to achieve “neo-imperialist meddling” is beyond me.
And what of the shale gas specter? If, a week ago, you had asked me what the dangers are of “fracking violations,” I’d have assumed you were watching too much Battlestar Galactica. Perhaps a savvier energy-affairs blogger like Sublime Oblivion will take up this question, but for now it seems the following can be said: shale gas extraction was not invented yesterday. It wasn’t even invented on April 8, 2010, the day Yulia Latynina would have us believe shocked the world. Indeed, “hydraulic fracturing of unconventional reservoirs like shale rock or coal beds to access gas reserves” was first employed in the United States back in the 1940s. Since the 1990s, shale mining has become more feasible thanks to advances in hydraulic technologies and the rise of the price of conventionally-mined oil. According to a recent study, Western oil giants are apparently betting that Poland might have 1.4 trillion cubic meters of shale gas. The European Union consumes 554 billion cubic meters annually – of which Russia supplies about 25 percent.
The drawbacks in all this for Russia are fairly obvious, and authorities in Moscow have apparently taken to (1) dismissing the certainty that Poland indeed has so much in shale reserves, (2) criticizing the profitability of shale mining, and (3) attacking the environmental safety of mining shale reserves. I was caught somewhat off guard by point three (Russians aren’t supposed to care about the environment – they’re vampires, after all), but it turns out they might have a pretty good point (even if it is offered from the perspective of vampire-selfishness). I found the following amusing comment attached to Rowena Mason’s snarky, ‘you suck, Gazprom’ article in the Telegraph:
Speaking as someone who cheerfully takes the £100 a month royalties that go with a shale gas lease, I can say that drilling does indeed cause minor earthquakes and a lot of pollution. Fraccing liquid is incredibly toxic and when a bit gets in the water system, good bye water. Most people who have firsthand experience of living close to a shale gas facility hate it, and some of them get very sick. [...]
On points one and two, the general conclusion seems to be this: shale oil and gas is a feasible competitor to traditionally mined oil and gas, so long as the price of the latter is exorbitantly high. So, Russia can indeed expect continued competition from new shale supplies, but those rival sellers are only a serious threat when the oil business is booming. Additionally, Poles themselves caution overestimating Poland’s shale reserves. Indeed, even the hawkish Radoslaw Sikorski said, “There’s a risk of exaggerated optimism. Shale gas raises questions that we don’t yet know answers to.”
I have a few final questions I’d like to pose to Ms. Latynina and her friends: how does organizing a memorial service for a decades-old atrocity amount to “neo-imperialism”? Do such people really use this word with only the concept of “soft influence” in mind? Neocons seem to believe that Putin has a secret war plan pinned to the wall in his office — but what do they think it looks like? Is a Katyn commemoration service its first order of business? By inviting Poland’s dominant politician, Donald Tusk, to Smolensk – instead of the declining, increasingly unpopular President – what exactly does Russia project onto the Polish body politic, other than, well, basically nothing at all?