Asharq Al-awsat English https://aawsat.com/english Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper http://feedly.com/icon.svg

‘Leave Ukraine Now’: A Precautionary Call or Solution to the Problem?

‘Leave Ukraine Now’: A Precautionary Call or Solution to the Problem?

Monday, 14 February, 2022 - 17:30

Military deployments and maneuvers from Russia and the US and its allies are clear signs of further escalation, giving rise to fears of eventual military action.


Russia has Ukraine surrounded from all possible sides, including Belarus and the Sea of Azov. The US and its allies are also deploying and re-positioning. The US makes it seem as if Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent. They have even indicated a date.


Russia on the other side, continues to claim that there is no such plan and refers to US claims as hysterical.


Russia has now been pushed to a point where, it has to take some kind of a military step, unless its demands are met in full. NATO has made it clear that this is out of question. In this case, options range from local skirmishes with local forces, a few missile strikes to an invasion and a wider scale war with Ukraine.


Despite everything, I think that chances of an invasion and war are remote. With all the capabilities and technology, it would be lose-lose, militarily, economically and otherwise, for all sides.


And, we are not talking about Russia invading a micro size country, but a huge one with a population of 44 million, backed by the West and with a much better trained and equipped army than 2014.


Diplomatic efforts and different priorities


On the diplomatic front, leaders who believe that they can or may contribute to defuse the crisis, are either on their way to one of the capital cities of the main actors or are on the phone with each other.


Macron’s visit to Moscow and Kyiv was important, especially for Macron himself and especially at this particular period. As of January, France has assumed the European Union’s rotating presidency and April is the month of elections. The Ukraine crisis presents Macron an opportunity to put his abilities as a respected international statesman into test. He also has the chance to push for “European sovereignty and strategic autonomy”, a concept which is the pet subject or even obsession for France, regardless of who sits in the Elysee. The result of Macron’s efforts may have a bearing on his chances in the elections in either direction. As of now, he has not been able to score.


Germany with its prominent place in the European Union, is a major economic power and has extensive economic dealings with Russia. With all that, the position which Germany will take has been a matter of debate, especially with its present government. After his meeting with Biden in Washington, Chancellor Scholz stated that his country would stand by its allies. Despite this clear statement, Germany continues to be very uneasy.


On Saturday Biden was on the phone with his Russian counterpart. It is reported that he warned Putin of a swift and severe response in case of invasion. At the end of the conversation, two leaders agreed to continue contacts at all levels, which is a good thing.


How will sanctions reflect?


With Russia and China as UNSC permanent members with veto power, the only available option is unilateral sanctions. Sanctions hurt the target. But at the same time they give rise to friction and eventually, may even be self-defeating. Target states and states which believe that they may also be targets in the future, create alternative models to evade or minimize the effects of sanctions. This leads to disruption of world economic system and emergence of parallel economies.


Experience has also shown that usually, countries which are not directly involved with the crisis are the ones most affected. Turkey is a good example. With an economy already in stress, sanctions on Russia would affect Turkey’s economic benefits (trade, gas, tourism) negatively. Fresh frictions with the US and some other allies may also emerge.


Sanctions and hydrocarbons are important:


Russia has the largest natural gas reserves in the world (47,805 billion cubic meters) and is one of the major exporters. As regards to oil, Russia is also among the top three.


Even though each member state has varying levels of imports, around 40 percent of natural gas imports into the European Union come from Russia.


The US and the West have been talking to several Middle Eastern countries for emergency needs. But, no matter how receptive and sympathetic potential alternatives may be, it is not a simple case of pointing the pipeline to a new direction and pushing a button. It is a matter of capacity, logistics, contractual obligations, as well as, bargains which draw in other issues.


Russia on the other hand has similar concerns and is looking for ways of reducing its dependency on European customers. China is the major alternative. Russia is already China’s third largest gas supplier, with 16.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2021. Now with recent agreements, Russia plans to export additional natural gas there.


The crisis around Ukraine must have been a fresh reminder for all countries of merits of diversification of sources, logistics, routes and friends.


Russia-China drawn closer


On February 4, Presidents Xi and Putin crowned their meeting in Beijing with a joint statement. They voiced their resentment against the US and the West for trying to impose their interpretation of democracy everywhere, including Russia and China, without due regard to these countries’ own historical background, traditions and unique cultural characteristics.


The two leaders also reaffirmed their support for each other’s causes. In China’s case, “one-China principle and Taiwan being an inalienable part of China”; in Russia’s case, “attempts by external forces to undermining security and stability in their common adjacent regions, including further enlargement of NATO”.


Russia and China drawn closer is a cause for concern for the West, but even more so for a number of countries in Asia. These countries are concerned that what happens with the crisis in Europe may set a precedent and encourage China in a number of ways in implementing its policies in Asia.


What now:


- Recalling the track records of both Russia and the US, it is not a matter of which side is righteous. There is no such thing with these two. It is a matter of what to do to de-escalate so that the world does not face a new catastrophe and multiple tragedies.


- From the outset, the cause of the crisis has been open to debate. Is it history between Russia and Ukraine? Is it NATO’s expansion? Is it Russia’s security concerns? In my view, the problem is a sum of all these and more.


- In any case, there is a problem which needs to be addressed, hopefully not in a battlefield but around a table.


- Activation/updating of 2014/2015 agreements, renewed confidence and security building mechanisms in Europe and mutual bilateral assurances may be a fair way to move forward in one piece.


Other opinion articles

Editor Picks

Multimedia