"Those who trade with each other don't shoot each other" - former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's statement assumes great importance in understanding why the current Ukraine problem has not yet escalated into a major conflict. Although the superpowers have conveyed their strength in many ways, neither side, particularly Russia, has gone for a full-blown invasion yet, even though all sides are entirely pointing to self-defense.
Although this problem cannot be solved in the near future because of its magnitude, the chances of a full-blown invasion are also quite low. In the meantime, the Russian president has noted that while the comparison of power with NATO is not worthy enough, one should remember that Russia is ahead of many others in terms of nuclear power.
The crisis in Ukraine does not revolve around a single particular event. There are various dimensions to it, which will be tried in the next section.
Russia's gas trade
More than forty percent of Russia's state income comes from this gas trade. Ukraine also earns about $1.2 billion a year through Russian gas transits. Germany buys about fifty-five percent of its gas from Russia, which largely passes through Ukraine and Belarus. About 200 billion cubic meters (BCM) of gas is exported from Russia to Europe every year. In 2019, 89.6 BCMs were transported through Ukraine, which was reduced to 55.8 BCM in 2020. In addition, in 2019, an agreement with Russia's state-owned Gazprom to export another 40 BCM of gas by 2024 was brokered by the European Commission, in which Ukraine's Druzhba pipeline would be used.
Nord Stream 2
Some 55 BCM of gas was sent to Europe through Nord Stream 1. A new 1,200-km new Nord Stream-2 pipeline has been laid from Russia's Narva Bay-Usthluga to Lubmin, Germany , through which another 55 BCM gas can be exported. With this new connection, the dependence on Ukraine and Belarus will be reduced as additional transit fees are reduced.
But in the emerging circumstances, the Western powers have taken a very strategic position on the opening of this new connection. If Russia invades Ukraine, sanctions will also be imposed on this link with many other sectors. So far, the investment in this project is about $11 billion. However, if this connection is established, it will bring about $15 billion a year.
The Black Sea
Historically, the Black Sea has been an important strategic theatre for Russia. In 1783, when Catherine the Great took Crimea from the Turks, one of the focal reasons was the Black Sea.
The Black Sea is especially important for two reasons.
First, the inadequacy of Russia's warm seaports - which is a major challenge for trade. Its two major ports - St. Petersburg (in the Baltic region) and Vladivostok (for entering the Pacific Ocean) - often have to use ice breakers to keep them usable throughout the year. Which requires different cost and time. That's why Russia has been using the Crimean port of Sevastapol because it gives it the benefit of a year-round port system. Russia lost the port in 2014 in the face of intense protests across Ukraine. Therefore, along with the ethnic factors, the use of this port was also a major factor in the inclusion of Crimea in Russia.
The second reason is military. Due to the Montreux Convention of 1936 in the Black Sea, there are restrictions on the movement of military vessels. Those who have borders with the Black Sea enjoy more opportunities than others in terms of military instances. It is better to name the countries here - Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Georgia. Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey are members of NATO. Therefore, NATO's presence in these countries is quite noticeable. Ukraine and Georgia have often expressed their desire to join NATO for years. This is where Russia's accusations are that they have been demanding an assurance from NATO that NATO will not increase its membership in the east. Russia intends to implement a new pipeline called Turkstream through the Black Sea that will help reduce its dependence on Ukraine and Belarus. More than 3 percent of global supplies, which accounts for 3 million barrels per day, predominantly from Russia and the Caspian Sea, passes through the Bosphorus-which connects the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea and ultimately to the Mediterranean Sea. About a quarter of the world's grain exports come from Black Sea ports. Turkey is the second largest importer of Russian wheat after Egypt, which was 3 million tonnes from July 2015 to May 2016. Turkey also imports barley and maize through Russia's Black Sea ports.
There is a U.S. air base in Constanta, Romania, which is a matter of discomfort for the Russian Navy in the region. Russia considers the region so seriously that in 2016 Bulgaria refused to join NATO naval bases with only Russia in mind.
If you look at the areas of Ukraine along the Black Sea, such as Odessa, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and Donetsk, it can be seen that since Soviet times, Russia has been allowing ethnic people who live in Russia to live here. After World War II, about 200,000 Tatars from Crimea were forcibly deported to Siberia and central Russia, replaced by ethnic Russians. All this is done to maintain authority over the Black Sea. Even separatists within Ukraine are more active in these regions.
The Strait of Kerch connecting the Azov Sea and the Black Sea, is also of great importance. Two rivers, the Don and the Kuban, which are also commercially important, meet in the Azov Sea, which merge into the Black Sea through the Strait of Kerch. Crimea acquisition can be observed with a kind of security lens which leads towards ensuring the safety of this Azov Sea and its associated straits.
In addition, according to UNCLOS, Russia's identification of its Exclusive Economic Zone from Crimea will also facilitate economic activity across the Black Sea, which is rooted in the exploration and extraction of new natural resources.
The European Union and NATO
While Russia is the source of fifty-five percent of Germany's energy and ensuring such a large source in the near future is quite a bit difficult, Germany's attitude towards Russia seems tactical. However, Annalena Baerbock, the foreign minister of the new German government, is in a very tough position on Nord Stream 2. But in reality, while there is an energy crisis across Europe, Germany attaches the highest importance to diplomacy. As a result of which the recent visits of Olaf Scholz are seen.
In world politics after AUKUS, the Ukraine issue has opened up a number of possibilities for France. On one hand, the US-led NATO's tough stance, and on the other hand, to defuse the tensions with Russia, which is adamant on its demands, will be a diplomatic victory for France alone, which will help bring it back to the table in other post-AUKUS international affairs.
Whether NATO can go into full military intervention in any part of Europe, having reviewed the behavior of major powers such as France and Germany, is a matter of study by military experts. But the ability of these two powers to maintain military dominance in Europe is beyond question.
Boris Johnson's position is, of course, foreseeable. The tone of the ally on the other side of the Atlantic echoes through him.
The U.S. position is also quite clear - the extent of NATO's scope.
Will Russia really invade Ukraine, putting the largest sector of the Russian economy at risk? Would Europe, especially Germany and France, want to escalate tensions with the largest natural gas exporter when the energy crisis is at its peak? Even if it goes to war, how long will Russia be able to hold its position in this war? Will the U.S. forces, which have just returned from Afghanistan, want to engage in another war with another superpower? After all, why did Russia's head of state mention nuclear power in an early stage of discussion? There's really no choice but to wait for these answers.
Syed Raiyan Amir, Researcher. E-mail: [email protected]
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