BY DR. SIBEL ZENGIN
The possibility of a new Russian offensive on Ukraine’s borders has been a matter of heightened tension among former Cold War rivals and has inflamed NATO -Russia geopolitical rivalry for the last two months. But in fact, the conflict has been far from over since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
In essence, Russia does not believe that Ukraine should be able to enter the E.U. or NATO, following in the footsteps of the Baltic states. Russia is trying to prevent this through hybrid warfare. Aware of the U.S.’s containment efforts through Ukraine and Eastern Europe, the Kremlin’s diplomatic threats and ad hoc maneuvers cast doubt on whether or when an attack could occur.
Regardless of the threat of heavy sanctions, the energy superpower has progressively translated its military leverage into effective pressure on Ukraine and the West, indicating the cost of ignoring its security demands as conditions of détente. Russia’s sending troops to Belarusian border near Kyiv and holding joint military exercises, in addition tp a large military buildup at the Russo-Ukrainian border, have increased the claims that tensions could rise at any moment in February, or potentially in spring. Despite the latest Biden-Putin call for a diplomatic push, tense standoffs have not slowed, instead reaching their peak this week.
Indeed, Macron’s much discussed February visit to Moscow, in search of a greater French role for European security and world affairs, provided little motivation for deescalation of the crisis and as yet seems far from yielding a new phase in the multilayered conflict. NATO had already declared that it did not plan to deploy combat units in Ukraine as the country is not a member of the Alliance. However, the U.S. and some European members of NATO, such as Britain, France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain have deployed military presence on the Alliance’s eastern flank to deter any acts of aggression on Ukrainian territory. Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, have also sent American-made missiles to Ukraine. Now, the crisis is at a strategic crossroads. Biden even said that “things could go crazy quickly” and even trigger a “world war”.
STRATEGY OF REGIONAL DESTABILIZATION AND DOMINATION
Obviously, Moscow is determined to regain its primacy in the global arena at a time when unipolarity, embodied in American hegemony, has begun to decline. In addition to Russia’s perception of a weak U.S. presidency, certain mistakes made by the Biden administration coupled with Europe’s inability to play a regional role have facilitated Moscow’s plans. As such, Russia has benefited from the impression of Western ambivalence toward the Kremlin’s offense. Plus, given its deepening revisionist coalition with a major power like China, which is an actual adversary of the U.S., it is not likely that Russia will back down in the Ukrainian crisis given its full support from Beijing. All this has implications for Russia’s strategy of destabilizing and dominating its surroundings in an effort to promote its possible revival in the international system and consolidate its expanding sphere of influence. As the two sides push each other to the brink, a compromise seems unlikely, unless Putin obtains certain concessions from the West.
E.U. WEAKNESS AND INADEQUACY
In a geopolitical sense, the crisis on the doorstep of the E.U. affects the Union and its members the most. In fact, Europe has become more sensitive to the threats surrounding it than it has been since the 1990s Balkan crises. Yet again, the Ukraine crisis has revealed the E.U.’s weakness and inadequacy with regards to regional and global security. As events rapidly unfold, the continent has once more found itself dependent on American power and NATO because of its limited tools and limited room to maneuver against a Russian threat. As might be expected, this desperation sends the world an implicit message that rather than a Soviet threat, Russian aggression holds NATO together. Indeed, wide divisions in the positions of certain members over the ongoing escalation has reinforced the fact that Europe lacks collective ability to solve the political/ military conflicts on its periphery without NATO’s support.
What is more, energy security is a major goal of E.U. foreign policy. In this respect, the energy and power interdependence with Russia further complicates the situation, given the massive impact of the recent energy crisis on European economies. Differing national interests within European Union members have also emerged when responding to the present challenge. While it is typically the Franco-German axis that manages to hold the E.U. together, the Russian-Ukrainian crisis has put forth France’s standalone role vis-à-vis Germany’s timid position on the conflict due to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Indeed, the maximization of security, particularly in energy and migration, is now the primary goal in a post-pandemic era. As such, the failure of member states to develop a consensus on the Ukraine conflict highlights institutional deficiencies and divisions within the Union driven by individual foreign policy agendas and economic and energy interests. Most European countries are not strong enough to handle another energy crisis and waves of migrants that might come from the north.
In the meantime, Turkey has maintained a delicate balance between the sides to reduce the possibility of war, but that is all for now. Its temperate relationship with Russia on the one hand and membership in NATO on the other, coupled with its critical geopolitical position as a major actor in the Black Sea region and the European neighborhood, puts the country right in the middle of the crisis. While ambiguity over the state of play re:the Ukraine crisis continues, Ankara is currently focused on fixing relations with the United Arab Emirates.