Eastern Promises

Watched Eastern Promises tonight. If it had been made for American audiences, the mafia in Eastern Promises would have been Italian (if it had been set a century ago) or Mexican (if it had been set in the present day). Instead, the movie is set in present-day Britain, and the mafia is Russian. Russia is no longer a Cold War power capable of cunning and audacious power plays around the world. Instead, it’s a corrupt petro state that on the small scale exports heroin and on the larger scale causes havoc throughout Europe.


For instance, consider Vladimir Putin’s cut-off of natural gas from Russia’s Cold War-era ally, Bulgaria:

Bulgaria takes emergency measures to deal with gas crisis_English_Xinhua
SOFIA, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) — Bulgaria has taken emergency measures to deal with gas crisis after Russia cut off all natural gas supplies to Europe through Ukraine.

Suspension of natural gas supplies from Russia forced the Bulgarian government to order rationing for utilities, schools and hospitals.

Energy and Economy Minister Peter Dimitrov signed an ordinance Wednesday night during a meeting with representatives of large gas consumers, aimed at reducing Bulgaria’s daily natural gas consumption from 12 million to 18 million cubic meters per day to 5.7 million cubic meters per day.

At present, Bulgaria has cut gas supplies completely to 72 big industrial consumers, while the supply for another 153 factories was rationed to enable them to maintain minimal operation. In addition, 84 of 2,761 state schools were closed due to the lack of heating, the government said.

In addition, trams and buses in the capital of Sofia switched off heat to save energy. Utilities said they will switch to alternative fuels before they can heat homes again.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said, “Our top priority is to guarantee heating for households, schools, child-care centers and hospitals… Most of the heating utilities have already been converted to diesel fuel.”

What did Bulgaria do to deserve such a fate?

Nothing. Bulgaria is cut off because of Russia’s natural gas embargo of Europe.

Why is Russia refusing to sale natural gas to Europe, especially considering that todays natural gas prices are only going to go down?

Because Vladimir Putin has so mismanaged Ukrainian relations that the only thing to Yeltsin-era allies of Russia (former bureaucrat Viktor Yuschenko and former oligarch Yulia Timoshenko) agree on is that Russia is their greatest threat.

Like Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein (other men quite good at monopolizing power inside a country and very bad at doing anything with it), Vladimir Putin never seems to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

16 thoughts on “Eastern Promises”

  1. this is the geogia invasion by “economics” rather than military force.

    1) if georgia is found to be siphoning gas, it reduces it’s odds of joining nato = russia wins.

    2) if not, who cares?! russia still doesn’t lose. europe needs the gas.

    3) besides, the veiled threat to western europe gets relayed either way.

    the best outcome would be for nato to “blame” kiev for the crisis, and “pre-emptively” invade it and secure the transit of the gas (and surrepitiously fold ukraine into nato.)

  2. Doug,

    the best outcome would be for nato to “blame” kiev for the crisis, and “pre-emptively” invade it and secure the transit of the gas (and surrepitiously fold ukraine into nato.)

    Very funny.

    A great satire of a Russophile troll 😉

  3. I imagine that this would be a good time for Electricitie d’France to visit Bulgaria offering to build and operate some nuclear power plants there. Admittedly, it will take several years for the first new plant to come on line, but in the mean time, construction will provide good paying jobs and in the long run it will make Bulgaria immune to this sort of Russian tantrum.

  4. Another option, though I’m not sure how politically realistic it is–Europe could try forming a collective body for negotiating gas deals with Russia and include Ukraine in it. It would require a willingness to risk doing without gas while they faced Putin down (the part I’m not sure is realistic), but would provide an effective checkmate to the gas monopoly.

  5. Michael,

    Good point. Seemingly, the problem would be Germany, which has a history of breaking European unity in order to secure Russian natural gas delivery.

    Former Chancellor Schroder, for instance, is on the board of a Gazprom-owned entity designed to circumvent the countries of eastern Europe. [1]

    sonofsamphm1c ,

    If your intention is not to troll, please leave more than one-sentence-long comments.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nord_Stream_AG

  6. The news is full of stories that indicate Russia is about to get exactly what it wants. Among them:

    1. impartial pipeline monitors to insure the Ukrainians can no longer divert/siphon off (denied by the Ukrainians) gas purchased by other Europeans from Russia

    2. that Ukrainians will pay a price for Russian gas that reflects market value – current ask is the equivalent of $250

    3. partial Russian ownership of Ukrainian pipeline companies – to prevent them from being used as the diplomatic tools – similar to the arrangement on the pipeline through Poland, which has never stopped moving gas to Europe

  7. sonofsamphm1c,

    Thank you for the informative comment.

    The “market value” line is rather facetious, in my opinion, as those who push it conveniently forget the market value of gas transhipment through Ukraine.

    It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.

    Certainly, Putin’s habit has been to be tactically capable and strategically inept — this may well be another example. Making a few more dollars out of Ukraine while spooking Europe by behaving more aggressively wrt natural gas than the Soviets ever did trades long-term success for short-term gain.

    You seem to be up on the issue — when does the natural gas price paid for by Ukraine and Europe collapse in keeping with the general decline of commodities?

  8. Naomi Watts was completely believable in her role — actually reminded me of a relative who spent some time in London. Very non-glam, which fit her role in the movie (a nurse) quite well.

    Compared to City of God or even Transsiberian (which we also watched this weekend), Eastern Promises is disappointing as a film because the characters are all “flat”– they do not develop as the film progresses. Still, Naomi’s acting is top-notch.

    City of God is a better portrait of contemporary organized urban crime, and Transsiberian is slightly deeper and at least has a plot. I was ready to love Eastern Promises, but I came away thinking it was overrated.

    We also watched Stand by Me and Kids Return this weekend. Stand by Me is of course a classic — Kids Return is better when you know that it was made shortly after the director’s suicide attempt left him partially paralyzed.

    Tomorrow we watch Slumdog Millionaire.

  9. “I was ready to love Eastern Promises, but I came away thinking it was overrated.”

    Thank you. For me, it wasn’t just flat, it was utterly generic.

  10. I thought Transsiberian’s plot was ridiculous. I especially didn’t like the ending.

    I like Eastern Promises, but agree it works more as a mood piece than simply a story.

    Also, I have it on word from my Russian fiance that Mortenson managed very good Russian as did the French actor (playing the mob boss’s son).

  11. I was’t impressed with the ending of Transsiberian on viewing either, but I liked it more when I thought of it as Flight of the Phoenix on tracks.

    Likewise, I think the depiction of Eastern Promises as a mood piece is good. Like a portrait of a vase.

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