Russia-Ukraine war a paradigm shift in diplomacy

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According to John Mearsheimer, the eminent American international relations scholar, “what money is to economics, power is to international relations”.

Indeed, the two major assumptions/tenets of rationality and maximisation, either of wealth or power, underlie the neorealist school of thought in international relations and neoclassical economics.

The pursuit of rational maximisation is encapsulated in measurable objectives.

Since “war is the continuation of politics by other means” (Prussian military theorist General Carl von Clausewitz), Vladimir Putin could claim the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 as a political act with a very rational objective.

Moscow is reversing the ousting of Ukrainian pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych after demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine, called the Euromaidan, that the West arguably financed.

The collapse of Russian communism on December 25, 1991, when the Soviet flag bearing the hammer and sickle was lowered over the Kremlin, did not mark the ideological victory of capitalism, nor “the End of History” (Francis Fukuyama).

It rather designated a new stage in “the Clash of Civilisations” (Samuel P. Huntington).

Human conflict will continue because it is inherent in human nature and its domination instinct which creates violence.

Aggression will persevere even when all the people on earth have enough to live comfortably.

In the Russia-Ukraine war, which marks a paradigm shift in international relations, the heartland-rimland theory (Mackinder-Spykman) is unfolding and playing out among the superpowers (USA and Russia) concerning the geopolitical control of Eurasia and world domination.

Turkey’s revisionism and its accompanying “blue homeland” doctrine emanate from the same ascendancy and dominance motive described above.

This is implemented through coercive gunboat diplomacy and offensive power projection, reflecting an almost anarchic international system where self-help appears to be the prevalent modus operandi of power politics.

Once again, it is proven that “right is might”.

The current Russia-Ukraine-US-NATO crisis escalating into war is a case in point.

Since, according to Thucydides, “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”, it would have been a wiser choice for Ukraine, given the historical links with Russia, even before losing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, to negotiate the right of entry into the EU, but not cross the Russia red line of NATO membership.

After all, Moscow’s will was demonstrated in its intervention in Georgia in 2008 to back South Ossetia and Abkhazia and Syria in 2015 to save Assad and gain access to the Mediterranean.

Such a prudent and more neutral approach would have preserved the Ukrainian territorial integrity, offered the prospect of a better living standard for all the Ukrainian people and not just the elites, and satisfied Russian security concerns.

Thus, Ukraine would have struck a balance and gained the best of both worlds.

The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War in 1999, the US-led intervention in the region, and the attempt to split this territory from Serbia are arguably comparable to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 with fabricated excuses and the consequent rise of ISIS, and the intervention in Libya in 2011 to topple Gaddafi, without seeking any convincing pretexts, were essentially energy wars that constitute additional examples.

Hence, there is no moral superiority in the western narrative without exonerating Russia.

And this is at a time when the EU is imposing extremely harsh sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine because Russia abhors the prospect of NATO reaching its frontiers via Ukraine.

Energy spike

Severe sanctions were immediately pressed against Russia in full coordination with the US, even though Europe’s energy market is bound to face serious shortages and an inflationary spike.

Russia is the main EU supplier of natural gas, crude oil, and solid fossil fuels and the fifth largest partner for EU exports and imports of goods.

Therefore, the sanctions are a double-edged sword: Russians and European citizens will also suffer and will finance the war through higher energy prices and other commodity costs (metals and food) and general price hikes.

The global supply chain disruption will involve collateral damage, especially for Europe.

Pipelines render the exporter hostage to the importer and give the intermediary states excessive power at the expense of both, as the repeated Russia-Ukraine gas pipeline crises have proven (2006, 2009 and ongoing).

This is an important reason for the long-standing American opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline with a transport capacity of 55 BCM/year of natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea.

It was completed in September 2021, and though not yet operational, it is being used by both opposing sides to threaten each other in the current geopolitical hot and cold war standoff over Ukraine.

Nord Stream 2 certification was halted, while its operation was indefinitely suspended as part of the sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine.

These developments highlight and prove the geopolitical and geoeconomic risks that burden oil and gas pipelines.

The US claim of protecting Europe’s energy security, which relies on Russia for around 40% of its natural gas and about 30% of its oil imports, should certainly be evaluated against the interests of American LNG and oil exporters to the old continent.

Naturally, Russia, whose oil and gas constitute a significant part of its state revenues and budget, has been reacting by opening the “Eastern corridor” for the supply of China and Southeast Asia.

Supplying the Chinese economy with Russian energy raises additional geopolitical and geoeconomic issues for the US to consider.

The inevitably emerging Moscow-Beijing axis will be further reinforced and create additional challenges for the US.

It is also important to note that even though natural gas flows vary and have, of course, recently dropped, about one-third of Russia’s gas exports to Europe ordinarily go via Ukraine.

Also noteworthy is that Germany is among European countries building up its LNG infrastructure to reduce its dependency on piped natural gas.

By Panayiotis Tilliros, senior economist at the Ministry of Finance, and Research Associate at the Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs, affiliated with the University of Nicosia