Engdahl: Ukraine gas dispute — Has Putin gone nuts?


Richard Moore

Original source URL:


Ukraine gas dispute -- Has Putin gone nuts?

By William Engdahl

It¹s more useful to assume that the answer is Œno.¹ Then we must ask what is 
Russia doing with its gas price policy demands and supply cut-off to Ukraine? 
The move is one part of a complex series of Russian moves in the ongoing Grand 
Chess Game. That game is between Washington as sole global superpower and Russia
as a reconstructing nuclear power, and one with a vast resource wealth needed by
its Eurasian neighbours from China to Germany and beyond. Russia, which holds 
far the world¹s largest known reserves of natural gas, is playing its own energy
card with Ukraine as the momentary field of that battle.

The Ukraine drama is clearer if we look at it in the context of a series of very
quiet but dramatic moves recently by the Putin government in the realm of energy
and national military preparedness.

Part I: The Ukraine issue

Just one year after the Washington-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yushencko 
came into office in Kiev, promising to bring Ukraine into NATO and into the EU, 
Putin and the Russian state-controlled Gazprom natural gas monopoly of Russia, 
cut gas supplies to Ukraine on January 1. The ostensible reason was that Ukraine
refused to pay a 450% price increase for Russian gas demanded by Gazprom for its
delivered gas.

By January 4 both countries announced that they had reached a compromise 
settlement. The terms appear to be a face-save for both sides: Ukraine¹s state 
Naftogas, and Russia¹s Gazprom. Under the Byzantine fine print Ukraine agreed to
pay Gazprom¹s demand of $230 per 1000 cu m for gas. The gas flows to Western 
Europe were reported back to normal after falling by up to 30% on January 1-2.

There are two aspects to this peculiar situation which bear further examination.
The first is commercial and the second is geopolitical.

Fallacy of Œworld market price¹

For more than a quarter century the major Western oil companies led by 
ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, BP and Shell have tried to establish the artificial 
construct of a Œworld market price¹ for natural gas, similar to the Brent or 
Dubai or WTI daily price benchmarks. A global market in gas is far more awkward 
than for oil simply because of the transport problems. Gas needs pipelines or 
costly LNG terminals and tankers and is thus less mobile. Oil by contrast is 
controlled by four giant Anglo-American oil majors‹ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, 
British Petroleum (BP) and Shell. Those four determine world oil prices. Because
it has not been possible to create a controlled global market for natural gas, 
the gas tends to be pre-sold in contracts typically of 20-25 year term.

What has resulted is a patchwork of different prices, usually in some opaque, 
undisclosed manner, tied to a formula linking it to crude oil such that, when 
oil in dollars drops by say, $1, gas would drop along with, but by how much is a
proprietary secret of the gas companies and for obvious business reasons‹lack of
price transparency can hide a multitude of sins. That non-transparent price 
formula allows companies like Germany¹s E.ON-Ruhrgas to charge significantly 
more for its gas to end-users when oil prices climb above $60, even though most 
of its gas deliveries from Gazprom are in typically 20 to 25 year fixed price 
contracts with small variances possible.

The Gazprom Ukraine dispute opened the Pandora¹s box of confidential gas pricing
to the world as Russia revealed Western customers paid some $450 tcm compared 
with the then $50 tcm Ukraine enjoyed.

Gazprom argued that raising that to $230 or about half the western price, was a 
fair price. Gazprom is in the process of becoming a global energy giant on a par
with PB or ExxonMobil.

Putin also signed a decree on December 28 lifting the limits on foreign 
ownership of Gazprom, an ostensibly market-oriented move. It made good a promise
Putin made two years ago on the controversial arrest of Yukos Oilchairman and 
political rival, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, namely that he would liberalize the 
shares of Gazprom, in a matter of Œmonths not years.¹

Gazprom share ownership by foreign interests was previously capped at 20% of 
total shares, and the Russian government held the remaining and controlling 
share. Foreign investors were limited to Gazprom London-listed American 
Depository Receipt shares.

Gazprom shares will now be listed on the Russian stock  market later this month.
Gazprom has a current market capitalization of $160 billion dwarfing the next 
largest Russian stock company, LUKoil with $50 billion capitalization, and 
Surgotneftegaz with $40 billion.

The new law will also bring Gazprom into the widely followed Morgan Stanley 
Capital International emerging market index, dramatically shifting weightings 
there for index tracking investors.  That has major implications for 
international financial portfolio investment.

Gazprom argues it was Œcommercially¹ justified in breaking an August 2004 
Gazprom-Naftogaz supplement contract which specified a fixed $50 price until 
2009, a price it said then was Œnot changeable.¹ All that being said, the 
Gazprom-Kremlin move was clearly a hardball Russian geopolitical warning, with 
an eye to both NATO and upcoming Ukrainian Parliament elections in two months.

Ukraine¹s political shift

What changed in the Œnot changeable¹ Gazprom-Ukraine contract between August 
2004 and January 2006, of course, was not Gazprom but rather the political 
complexion of Ukraine. The victory of the Washington-financed Yushchenko 
candidacy for President in December 2004, and his inauguration in early 2005 on 
a pledge to bring Ukraine into NATO, did not go down well in Moscow, which 
considers Ukraine historically and strategically a part of ancient Russia‹Kiev 

It was also clear to the Kremlin that Yushchenko¹s call to bring Ukraine into 
NATO was no mere election gimmick to distance his party from his pro-Moscow 
electoral opponent.

Yushchenko¹s wife, Kateryna Chumachenko Yushchenko, a Chicago-born 
Ukrainian-American, had previously served in the Reagan White House and State 
and Treasury departments, and did liaison work with Afghani and other 
anti-Soviet US-sponsored opposition groups, such as Bush neo-conservative Zalmay
Khalilzad¹s Friends of Afghanistan. She also sat on the board of a pro-NATO 
neo-conservative US think-tank, New Atlantic Initiative, along with Radek 
Sikorski, Poland¹s effusively pro-Washington Defense Minister. Sikorski is a 
close friend and former American Enterprise Institute colleague of Richard Perle
and the other neo-con hawks.

The New Atlantic Initiative was created in June 1996 following the Congress of 
Prague, where more than 300 conservative politicians, scholars, and investors 
discussed a Œnew agenda for transatlantic relations.¹ The Œnew agenda¹ they 
promoted was quite simply to encircle Russia by bringing the former Soviet 
satellite states into NATO and into a US-defined Œfree market.¹

The New Atlantic Initiative has headquarters in the offices of the 
neo-conservative base of operations, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in 
Washington, DC, where Richard Perle, his co-author David Frum, Michael Ledeen, 
Lynne (wife of Dick) Cheney and Irving Kristol are based. A more hard-core nest 
of neo-conservative hawks would be hard to find on that side of the Atlantic.

The New Atlantic Initiative openly states it was set up to bring the countries 
of the former Soviet bloc into NATO and the European Union. Its original 
Œpatrons¹ were Václav Havel, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Schmidt, Leszek 
Balcerowicz, Henry Kissinger, and Bechtel¹s George Schultz, Secretary of State 
under Ronald Reagan. Its executive director was current Polish Defense Minister,
Radek Sikorski.

Kissinger chaired the NAI International Advisory Board, which was filled with 
neo-conservatives, including the authors of the Project on the New American 
Century people (the original group calling for Œregime change¹ in Iraq already 
back in September 2000).

The NAI board included PNAC former LockheedMartin executive, Bruce Jackson, now 
of the Project for Transitional Democracies. Also former Pentagon adviser 
Richard Perle; Michael Ledeen, one of the close neo-con advisers to Karl Rove; 
neo-con publisher William Kristol; now UN Ambassador and neo-conservative, John 
Bolton; Don Rumsfeld; Deputy State Department Secretary Robert Zoellick.

The fact Yushchenko immediately opened oil pipeline talks in May 2005 with 
Chevron, as a Polish-oriented counter to the Russian pipeline Brody route, was 
also not lost on Moscow. Poland, a new NATO as well as EU member, is firmly in 
the pro-Washington camp, with its Defense Minister, Radek Sikorski, a 
Washington-trained neo-conservative hawk.

As viewed from the eyes of a Kremlin President, Russia was being encircled by 
pro-NATO former satellite states. Not only that, but with neo-conservative 
assets in the Presidency of Ukraine and the Defense Ministry of Poland, the 
encirclement was becoming potentially quite threatening to vital Russian 
national security interests as seen from the Kremlin. After all, Poland is now 
in NATO.

The NATO encirclement of the Russian Federation, as we have earlier detailed, 
involved a series of so-called ŒColor Revolutions.¹ In Georgia the US-educated 
and backed lawyer Mikhail Saakashvili replaced the old KGB survivor, Edouard 
Shevardnadze. Georgia was a key strategic piece for the route of the 
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline from the Caspian, a project backed by 
Washington to get Caspian oil out to the West, independent of Russia. That 
pipeline was completed in September and is slowly being loaded.

The next major strategic blow to Moscow came with the mentioned Ukrainian 
ŒOrange Revolution¹ inauguration of Yushchenko in January 2005. Then in July 
2005 came another US-backed Œcolor revolution,¹ the ŒTulip¹ Revolution in 

Indeed, as recently as January 9, 2006, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop 
Scheffer told reporters in Brussels that he expected to see Ukraine inside NATO 
by 2008.

Putin reacts

Putin is many things but he can¹t be accused of being passive in the face of 
strategic threat to Russian national interests. Moscow moved swiftly last summer
to exploit a growing rift between Uzbekistan and Washington, and the result was 
a ban by Uzbekistan of US military overflights and use of its airbase, a right 
that had been granted by President Karimov after September 2001 to get 
Uzbekistan into the Œgood¹ side of the US War on Terror. Relations between 
Uzbekistan and Moscow today are very close, including in military mutual defense
agreements. That rapprochement dealt a major blow to the Washington encirclement
on the Eurasian space of both Russia and China.

The next move in this complex geopolitical power chess game will be in Ukraine 
where Yushchenko faces parliamentary elections in March. Discontent with his 
lack of progress on the economy had given him very low poll ratings. Some 
Russian experts believe Putin is playing hardball with Yushchenko to remind 
Ukraine voters where their energy security lies, i.e. not with Yushchenko and 
his Western friends, but with Moscow. Russia regards a NATO Ukraine inside the 
EU as a Œstrategic threat¹ to put it mildly.

The Gazprom Ukraine Œcompromise¹

By ending the dispute so swiftly, with a doctored compromise, Putin made his 
point, and he immediately reassured edgy West European gas importers that 
Gazprom never intended to cut their gas, only the uppity Ukraine¹s.

Under the terms of the new deal, Gazprom will sell the gas which Ukraine 
receives, but in a devious way. It will be sold for $230 thousand cubic meters 
(tcm) to an Austrian trading company, Rosukrenergo. Rosukrenergo is in turn 
owned by Gazprom and the Austrian Raifeissen Investment AG. Then Rosukrenergo 
simultaneously buys gas from Turkmenistan for $50 a tcm. The two are Œmixed¹ and
Ukraine¹s Naftogas buys the final gas for a price of $95 tcm. Both sides can 
claim Œvictory.¹

Gazprom also agreed to pay a 50% higher Transit Fee to Ukraine for its pipeline 
route through Ukraine to Europe, a fee of $1.60 instead of $1.06 per tcm per 100
kilometer. As well, both parties will settle in dollars not in the form of gas.

The West was caught in a dilemma in opposing the Gazprom price demand of $230. 
First, as it was only half the Œmarket¹ price, showing some restraint on 
Gazprom¹s account. Second, because Western organizations from the WTO to the IMF
to the Washington Bush Administration have been demanding Gazprom begin selling 
its gas in Eastern Europe at Œmarket¹ prices and not at a Œsubsidized¹ price. 
Ukraine is far the largest Eastern Europe gas customer of Gazprom.

Significantly enough, on January 5 US Energy Secretary Sam Bodman told US 
companies they should not be discouraged from investing into the Russian energy 
sector merely because of the Ukraine dispute, adding that the dispute had not 
undermined his confidence that Russia was a good place to invest. ŒWe continue 
to encourage our companies to explore opportunities with Russia,¹ he added. 
Washington clearly has a larger agenda in the region. So too does Putin, and the
two agendas are manifestly divergent.

The swift settlement of the Ukraine gas dispute, as well as the details of the 
compromise, in which Ukraine de facto pays what it offered before the cut-off, 
suggests what Yushchenko claimed. It was not an issue of commercial policy. It 
was and is an issue of power politics, Russian power geopolitics.

Its real focus is how Putin perceives the danger posed by an ever-more-ambitious
USA foreign policy in Eurasia and what he can do to contain that threat. It¹s 
clear the cut-off was intended to send a sharp signal to Kiev: don¹t get any 
cute ideas of joining NATO and becoming a part of a hostile alignment to Russia.
Here the US build-up of potential war threat against Iran also figures into the 
Kremlin calculus.

Part II: Russia¹s strategic response to Washington

Moscow¹s military muscle shows

On December 26, as most of the West was distracted in Holiday cheer, the Russian
military activated a new fleet of Topol-M missiles. The new generation weapon is
capable of fitting a nuclear warhead, as well as changing trajectory to foil an 
enemy interception device such as the current generation of US anti-missile 
defense weapon.

This was no small act of macho bravado. General Nikolai Solovtsov, commander of 
Russian Missile Forces simultaneously announced the mobilization of a new 
battalion for the Topol-M missiles. The missiles have a 1 megaton impact, some 
75 times the Hiroshima A-bomb of 1945. Solovtsov is an outspoken critic of the 
US decision to forge ahead with its anti-missile defense, which is a Rumsfeld 
priority. The Russian general announced that the Topol-M was, Œcapable of 
piercing any missile defense system,¹ and was immune to electromagnetic blasts 
used by current US missile defenses.  For military experts that is impressive.

Russia announced it has also formed 20 new nuclear missile units, its largest 
increase of nuclear spending since the 1962 Cuba Missile Crisis.

London¹s respected Jane¹s Defense Review says the new Topol-M missiles could 
Œevade the ballistic missile defenses currently being fielded in Alaska and 
California.¹ That¹s perhaps an unexpected surprise for Mr. Rumsfeld, the 
champion of the US defense shield.

The fanfare in Russia around the Topol rollout is the greatest since the 
Soviet-NATO confrontation around the Soviet SS-18 missiles and the NATO Pershing
II¹s in the 1980¹s. The recent flood of petrodollars into Moscow Treasury 
accounts has allowed the military to significantly upgrade defense technology 
for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. In November 
2005 the Kremlin announced a $ 1.8 billion spending increase for the nuclear 
missile program. The move was greeted with applause from the Russian population 
according to reports.

Not irrelevant, Ukraine has now asked to rejoin the Russian nuclear umbrella and
be protected by Topol-M missiles along the Volga River. In September 2005, 
Russia also successfully tested a submarine-launched version of Topol-M, called 
Bulava, from the White Sea. That missile successfully hit its target 30 minutes 
later on Kamchatka on the Far East side of Russia, an extremely impressive feat 
not lost on Pentagon strategists.

Putin, under strong US protest, has also pushed ahead with his decision to sell 
anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. Russian technicians are building the Iranian 
nuclear power complex. The current leaks in the German press as well as Turkish 
media, whether true or not, of advanced Pentagon preparations for a possible 
nuclear strike on Iran¹s nuclear installations, has to be seen in the context of
these Russian military advances. This is becoming a very high-stakes game of 
chess in Eurasia. Zbigniew Brzezinski¹s map of  Eurasia, recall, includes the 
oil-rich Middle East.

This renewed Russian military assertion on the advanced nuclear missile front is
also accompanied by major other moves to extend Russian energy policy abroad in 
a clear politically-drawn map, or more accurately said, geopolitical map, as the
Russian map is about political geography-where the energy resources are and who 
controls them.

There are three notable new elements of the Putin energy strategy now being 
undertaken: the start of construction of the Eastern Siberia oil pipeline going 
to Vladivostock on the Russian Far East coast, the signing with Germany for 
construction of a new Baltic underwater gas pipeline from Russian territory to 
Germany, bypassing Ukraine or Poland. Finally, on January 9, Moscow announced 
Gazprom had concluded an agreement with the Moscow-aligned government of 
Alexander Lukashenko to explore ways of expanding Russian gas delivery to the 
European Union via Belarus, again bypassing Ukraine.

Russia¹s new Gas and Oil Pipeline strategy

These three projects combined with the clear Russian signals it is not about to 
abandon its support of the Iran nuclear plant construction and Russia¹s 
unveiling of new missile technologies, clearly indicate Russia is emerging as a 
serious counterweight to what had been a one-sided move by the United States to 
divide and control the giant Eurasian landmass in its now clear strategy of 
re-empting any rival nation or group of nations in Eurasia from challenging 
American hegemony and global Œtotal spectrum dominance¹ as the Pentagon likes to
call it.

It is useful to recall that it was the ever-bolder sequence of US-led moves to 
surround Russia with an iron cordon of US and NATO military bases which has 
prompted this Russian reaction.

Moscow is not naïve when it comes to analyzing power relations and geopolitical 
advantage. In March 2005, Leonid Shebarshin, ex-head of the Soviet Foreign 
Intelligence Service, KGB, who now heads a Russian economic and security 
consulting company, told the Russian paper, Vremya Novostei, ŒOn the pretext of 
fighting international terrorism, the US is trying to establish control over the
world¹s richest oil reserves.¹ He added, ŒThe US has usurped the right to attack
any part of the globe on the pretext of fighting the international terrorist 
threat. The fight against that all-mighty ubiquitous myth [Al-Qaeda], 
deliberately linked to Islam, is of great advantage for the Americans as it 
targets the oil-rich Muslim regions.¹

On December 9, Gazprom began construction of a 744 mile pipeline--the Northern 
Pipeline or more properly the North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP)--that will 
deliver Russian gas to Germany. The undersea Baltic route will bring Russian gas
from Vyborg between Finland and St Petersburg, through international waters, to 
the northeast German port of Greifswald. That allows Gazprom to bypass an 
existing pipeline from Russia through Poland. Future spurs from the main line 
could deliver gas to Swede, Finland and the UK. British gas output peaked in 
2000 and is rapidly declining such that the UK in 2005 was a net gas importer 
the first time since the 1970¹s.

It is a major $5 billion deal negotiated by then German Chancellor Gerhard 
Schroeder and Putin just before Schroeder left office. The deal is with 
Germany¹s largest gas company, E.ON and BASF¹s Wintershall AG, Germany¹s largest
oil and gas producer. We now know Schroeder was also offered a lucrative seat on
the board. That project immediately sent alarm bells ringing in Washington and 
by proxy, in Washington-dominated Poland and Ukraine. Poland has called the 
pipeline a Œconspiracy¹ against Polish interests, and has appealed to the 
International Energy Agency to block the deal claiming it robs Poland of gas 
transit fees (sic!). The IEA chief economist has sided with Poland whatever that
is worth.

It seems likely, despite soothing words by Chancellor Merkel to the contrary, 
that Berlin will continue to back the project. The Latvian press stated on 
December 12, ŒMerkel understands perfectly the importance of the pipeline for 
her country: for some time Germany will become an exclusive supplier of Russian 
gas to Europe in a situation where the amount of gas extracted by European 
companies is steadily decreasing. Under the circumstances, Germany has nothing 
to gain from involving Poland in the project, because the laying of the pipeline
may make Berlin dependent on Warsaw to some extent.¹

The second new Russian gas export project is the Belarus enlargement. Belarus is
today a de facto, and soon to be de jure, part of a regrouped Russia. The US-led
efforts to affect regime change there with a Œcolor revolution¹ a la Ukraine, to
date have fallen flat. Hours after Russia and Ukraine settled their gas dispute,
Gazprom announced it was in talks to build new underground gas storage 
facilities in Belarus. The two countries already have a common economic zone.  
The gas would come from Russia¹s huge Yamal peninsula gas field.

The third pillar of a global independent energy export strategy, one that is 
clearly intended to outflank the now-obvious Washington encirclement of Russian 
energy routes, is the Russian oil pipeline from Eastern Siberia to Nakhodka on 
Russia¹s Pacific coast, at the Sea of Japan near Vladivistock.

Construction on this pipeline was inaugurated also at the beginning of January.

The pipeline will run more than 2,423 miles and would be able to transfer up to 
one million barrels a day of oil of a quality similar to that in Abu Dhabi. The 
full size of the Russian East Siberian field is not yet known and exploratory 
drilling will be required, but early estimates are over 6 billion barrels. The 
project could take more than a decade and costs could hit $20 billion owing t 
the harsh climate conditions.

The project is expected to cost as much as $8 billion and will be largely 
financed by the Japan Bank for International Co-operation, a state agency, and 
the large private Japanese banks. Interestingly, during a state visit to 
Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi last November, Putin refused to give Japan a 
guarantee that Russia would give a priority to routing the line from Lake Baikal
to Nakhodko on the Sea of Japan, rather than building a ŒChina Route¹ going 
instead to Daqing in northeast China from Russia¹s Skovorodino.

The pipeline, which will be built by Russia¹s Transneft, will be in two stages. 
Stage one, just begun, will run from Siberia to Skovorodino, far from the coast 
to Japan but close to China. That will be completed in 2008. The plans for a 
second stage were left open during Putin¹s Tokyo talks, leaving his Japanese 
hosts more than nervous. Clearly, Putin and Russia¹s Gazprom are playing their 
cards close to the chest. The Koizumi government is regarded in Moscow as a 
Pacific proxy of Washington.

The Institute of Analysis and Prognostication Kazakhstan-USA, a Kazakhstan 
strategic institute, in a recent roundtable discussion of ŒUS Policy in Central 
Asia,¹ noted the resources reality defining much of US and NATO policy towards 
Eurasia and the Central Asian republics since the collapse of the Soviet Union 
15 years ago: ŒThe proven world gas reserves as of 1 January, 2001 are 164 
trillion cm. It is believed that these reserves will be enough for 62 years. 
Russia and Iran have 50% of the world's natural gas reserves, while the 
territory of Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Middle East 
(especially Iran-w.e.) has 70% of the world reserves.¹ And Russia itself holds 
fully 32% of those world gas reserves.

The Iran calculus

Little wonder Iran is such an obsession of Washington military strategists these
days. Iran has also been regularly purchasing not only nuclear engineering 
expertise from Moscow. It has also been buying Russian anti-missile defenses.

A Russian company, Antei, which produces anti-aircraft missile systems has 
developed a new efficient system called Tor M1. The US and other NATO countries 
have precision weapons and a reliable shield is necessary. The new Russian 
anti-aircraft missile system Tor is such a shield. According to the Federation 
of American Scientists, the Tor system is the only system in the world which can
detect and identify various targets. It can detect targets at a height ranging 
from 10 meters to 6 kilometers. The Tor system is autonomous and has short 
reaction time. The latest technologies of Russia's defense industry are used in 

This is the system believed to be in place in Iran against possible US 
airstrikes. The stakes are now far higher than the Iraq campaign where 12 years 
of blockade and US air control rendered Saddam Hussein¹s military a farcical 
opponent for the US Shock and Awe massive assault.

Clearly, as Washington turns up the heat by leaking hints it is preparing a 
possible nuclear attack on Iran, the potential for backfire against the United 
States is rapidly becoming colossal. That is not to say that the Bush 
Administration isn¹t mad enough to try it. But it is becoming very problematic 
for the role of the US in the world.

On January 4, the Kazakhstan Gazeta wrote, ŒThe situation is getting more and 
more complicated. On the one hand, Americans do not want Russia to strengthen 
its influence in Kazakhstan and Central Asia..¹ They noted that Œthe United 
States committed a serious error in alienating Uzbekistan in recent months. ŒThe
Americans were carrying out a double game with regard to Uzbekistan, but their 
politicians and analysts got mistaken in their prediction, so the US policy on 
this country ended up in a complete fiasco. The usage of double standards in 
their approach is far from causing a growth of confidence of our peoples in the 
United States of America,¹ the paper concluded. ŒThe fiasco of the Americans 
with regard to Uzbekistan, when first a gradual modernisation of the republic 
had been declared, then, after the Andijan events, the official relationship 
with Tashkent worsened, showed to all that the American politics and expert 
estimations were far from being omniscient and always successful. It is a very 
important moment for the regional countries: all observers noted that the 
geopolitical situation around Central Asia and Kazakhstan is directly connected 
to contradictions between big powers.¹

Contradictions is putting it mildly.

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