Omer Onhon

A World of Diplomacy and Multi-dimensional Moves to Counter Challenges

Important back to back international summit meetings have been taking place; in Asia (the BRICS Summit) and in Europe (EU Council and the Group of Seven Summit). The last of the series, 2022 NATO Summit, will begin Wednesday.

All these meetings are held in the midst of what almost everyone refers to as the re-shaping of a new world order and against the backdrop of Russian invasion and the ensuing war in Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine (and its supporters) are engaged in a war of attrition.

Both sides have weaponized all means possible, including, energy, tourism, food and trade. This war is creating new problems and additional, worsening crisis at a global level almost every day.

The supporters of Ukraine led by the US are aiming to reduce to the extent possible the revenues (from gas, oil and other sources) of the Russian state, squeeze it’s so called oligarchs so as to create pressure on Putin and awaken the Russian population at large about the damage that the policies of their president has caused for Russia.

Russia has been negatively affected by sanctions but is not backing down, as it has the means and political will to fight back.

When recently Lithuania stopped railway transportation of sanctioned items to Kaliningrad (Russian enclave with a population of 480,000 located between Poland and Lithuania, home to Baltic Fleet), Russia threatened unspecified appropriate measures at a time of its choosing. Whatever that means, Lithuania, unlike Ukraine or Georgia or Moldova, is an EU and NATO member and is covered by Article 5.

On June 22, Russia cut the flow of gas to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 40% of capacity. European countries are actively engaged for seeking alternative sources to fill their storages and to ensure a winter without shortages. Some deals have been reached such as between Germany and Qatar, between the EU, Israel and Egypt. But time is needed to feel on safe ground.

Global food security, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East is a serious concern. Food shortages, high prices and social unrest are nightmare for countries which have certain weaknesses and have limits to their ability to sustain government subsidies. Efforts to move grain unhindered from Ukraine and through the Black Sea have not yet yielded results.

Despite all setbacks, delays and losses, Russia is making progress on the ground. Donbas is almost entirely under Russian control.

Russia is also getting more reckless with more actions amounting to more war crimes. Last couple of days Russia struck civilian targets in different Ukrainian cities, an apartment block and a shopping mall and killed civilians. In a just world, these war crimes should not go unpunished.

Even though the Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought a sense of unity in NATO and the EU and a seemingly better communication in transatlantic relations, there are still serious challenges. The longer the war in Ukraine, the more frictions within the Western camp. Just recently, the Foreign Minister of Italy resigned because of a disagreement over providing arms to Ukraine. There is also a concern that the US may once again make one of its sharp U-turns as in Syria and later in Afghanistan.

Russia is banking on such developments which may also lead to the collapse of governments and to political crisis in the West.

The other favorite issue; China.

China is more assertive under President Xi Jinping but its fighting tools are different than Russia. China prefers to use its soft power and almost endless economic capabilities.

What brings out the military in China is Taiwan and this is when the Chinese dragon shows its face.

The BRICS group (China, Russia, Brazil, India and South Africa) held its Summit a week ago. Presidents Xi and Putin demonstrated defiance against the US and its allies.

Russia has found new trade partners in China and India which are buying huge quantities of Russian oil at very competitive prices. Official figures show that, compared to last year, China is buying around 55% more oil from Russia.

G7 came up with the “Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Development Initiative” where the aim is to come up with 600 million dollars over the next five years for infrastructure projects in various countries. This initiative is a counter measure to China’s Belt and Road Initiative which was launched in 2013.

At the documents which will be adopted by the NATO leaders at the Summit, most probably, China will once again be referred to as a challenge and at the same time, as an opportunity. A firm stance but at the same time extending a hand.
Membership problems and peculiarities;

At its Council meeting, the EU granted the status of candidate to Ukraine and Moldova. But membership issues in the EU are complicated and peculiar. Anyone who thinks that once candidate status is approved membership is imminent is wrong.

As President Emmanuel Macron clearly stated back in May on the occasion of the Europe Day, even if candidate status is given (to Ukraine and others) the process would take several years and even decades.

Turkey has been kept in the waiting room since 2005.The six Western Balkan countries (Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, and Kosovo) which are all at different stages of the process for becoming a member are also in waiting.

Bulgaria (a NATO member) has been blocking accession negotiations of North Macedonia (another NATO member), demanding North Macedonia to recognize that certain national characters of the country including language and the name of the nation are not of its but of Bulgaria’s. Macedonia has to satisfy Bulgaria to begin accession negotiations to join the EU. (A day after the EU Council meeting Bulgaria's parliament voted in favor of a proposal that could lead to the lifting of its veto).

In NATO, Turkey conditioned its acceptance of membership of Sweden and Finland to being strict on combatting terrorism. A way forward is likely to emerge which will pave the way for membership. On the other hand, one should not overlook the fact that becoming NATO member is a process and the final phase of this process is the ratification of accession protocols by all 30 member countries.

In conclusion; Conflicts and challenges are costly and damaging but they also bring about new opportunities, friendships, alliances and business partnerships. With that, (hopefully and ideally) without neglecting principles, international politics and diplomacy have a lot to do with changing circumstances and ability to adopt. We will see whether all these important meetings one after the other will lead to developments in this direction.