IN OTHER WORDS: In pipeline

Ukraine and Russia are at odds again over the price of natural gas and how it is delivered. This latest dispute underlines the need for the US to eliminate avoidable causes of friction in the West’s relationship with Russia. The state-owned Russian company Gazprom is threatening to halt deliveries to Ukraine unless a new contract is signed at more than double the current price. This month’s confrontation presents less of a risk than one in January 2006, when Russia cut supplies to Ukraine, and deliveries to Europe were interrupted.

Unlike the situation then, Ukraine and Germany both have ample reserves to get through the winter heating season. So even if Gazprom carries out its threat, consumers in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe should not go cold. With energy prices plummeting, Russia has no market motive to double the price of its gas. Rather, the Kremlin wants to show that steps toward NATO membership for Kiev will incur Russia’s displeasure.

However Russia and Ukraine resolve this latest quarrel, the Obama administration should set out to completely recast relations with Russia. Once the Kremlin no longer fears the Bush administration’s attempt to absorb Ukraine into NATO, Russian leaders will have no excuse for using energy supplies to apply geopolitical pressure.