Ukraine's military control

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By JOSÉ LUÍS FIORI*

The energy crisis, the European choice and the “Russian turnaround”

“If Hans Morgenthau is right [the cause of the 2008 Georgia War] is an open secret: Russia was the big loser of the 1990s and will be the big questioner of the new world order, until they give it back – or she shall resume--all or part of her old territory. For this reason, the Georgian War should not be considered an “ancient war”, on the contrary, it is the announcement of the future. (José Luís Fiori, “Guerra e Paz”. In: Jornal Valor Econômico, on August 28, 2008).

“With the US distracted and Europe lacking both military clout and diplomatic unity, Putin may feel now is the best time Russia will ever have to attack Ukraine” (Financial Times, FT Weekend, January, 15, 2022).

In just one year, the world energy market has faced two major crises that are diametrically opposed: the first, in early 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic became widespread; and the second, still in full progress. It all started with an abrupt drop in world demand and international prices, caused by the instantaneous and universal interruption of economic activity and the exponential increase in unemployment, starting with China and subsequently reaching Europe and the United States.

Business and household consumption dropped overnight, and oil and gas tanks and reservoirs around the world were full and idle; the oil tankers themselves were adrift with nowhere to disembark, causing a drop in prices and an almost complete stoppage of oil production. As a consequence, the world economy regressed in the year 2020 and the energy industry suffered a blow of unknown speed and proportions. Less than a year later, the scenario had already been radically reversed, after the invention and diffusion of vaccines and after the resumption of economic activity.

With the previous dismantling of logistical structures and the interruption of global flows, energy supply was unable to respond to the economic recovery, and a year after the first crisis, oil and natural gas tanks and reservoirs were empty, and the city itself The global supply of coal was interrupted by natural accidents and climate change, which added to strategic planning errors, especially in the case of China and the United States. As a consequence, during 2021, energy prices doubled or tripled, depending on each region; the supply of electricity was interrupted in several countries, and the closure of companies and popular revolts against the inflation of food, fuel and public services in general multiplied.

Some causes of this energy crisis were circumstantial and should be overcome in the course of 2022, as in the case of the extremely adverse weather conditions of the last year. But other causes will remain and should force changes within the energy matrix of the countries most affected by the crisis, redirecting investments and hastening some dramatic choices, as in the more urgent case of abandoning coal, especially in the case of the European continent. Europe is heavily dependent on energy imports, especially oil and gas, and it is also the continent that has been leading the world's fight against the use of coal and all fossil energy sources. In this context, the recent decision of the European Union to consider “natural gas” and “nuclear energy” as “clean energy sources” should already be seen as an immediate consequence of the crisis, but one that should affect the lives of Europeans, in the short, medium and long term.

In fact, Europe is deciding and is being coerced at the same time to transform natural gas into its main source of “clean energy”, and this decision must be maintained and prolonged throughout the period of the European “energy transition”, scheduled for reach the goal of zero carbon emissions in 2050. And by the way, the most likely thing is that, even after reaching this goal, natural gas will continue to be the main component of the European energy matrix until the end of the century, mainly due to the German veto to the use of atomic energy.

Natural gas appeared along with oil in the 20th century, both in the USA and in Russia, but it only began to be used more systematically by the USA in the 30s and 10s of the last century, when the Americans had only 60 gas pipelines. This situation, however, changed radically after the “oil crisis” of the 70s and 25s, when natural gas became “autonomized” and took a leap forward as an energy source, with the accelerated multiplication of gas pipelines in the USA. Today there are about a million kilometers of gas pipelines around the world, 24 times the circumference of the Earth, and natural gas already represents 27% of the world's primary energy consumption, just below coal, with 34%, and oil, with XNUMX%. For this reason, the new energy centrality of natural gas should not be restricted to Europe, but only Europe has taken the decision to privilege gas in the assembly of its energy matrix, in the present and in the future.

This European choice will have immediate geo-economic consequences, all you have to do is take into account that a third of the world's natural gas reserves are found in Russia and Iran, that a quarter of the gas consumed by China comes from Kazakhstan, and that today Russian gas exports already account for 40% of the European market, where Russians compete directly with liquefied natural gas, or shale gas North American.

On the other hand, this simple geographic distribution already speaks for itself of the geopolitical importance involved in all commercial and territorial disputes involving the worldwide distribution of natural gas. It is enough to remember that the “gas crises” of 2006, 2009 and 2014 were directly associated with the interruption of Russian gas pipelines that cross the Ukrainian territory towards Europe. And therefore, also, with the dispute between Russia, the United States and the forces of NATO, around the military control of the territory of Ukraine. A dispute that includes the other countries of the so-called “Central Europe” and which has been going on since the end of the Cold War, but which at this moment is concentrated in arm wrestling between Russia and NATO, around the incorporation or not of Ukraine and Georgia as member countries of the North Atlantic military organization led by the United States.

In 1991, after the end of the Cold War, there was no signing of a “peace agreement” that explicitly defined the rules of the new world order, imposed by the victors, as had happened at the end of the First and Second World Wars. In fact, Soviet territory was not bombed and its army was not destroyed, but throughout the 90s, the USA and NATO actively promoted the co-option of the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, to the dismemberment of Russian territory itself, consolidated since the beginning of the XNUMXth century, by the Romanov Dynasty. Starting with Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, and continuing through Ukraine, Belarus, the Balkans, the Caucasus and the countries of Central Asia. And after that, the US and NATO took part in the wars in Bosnia, Yugoslavia and Kosovo, and immediately began installing ballistic weapons in the countries of Central Europe that were being incorporated into NATO.

Adding and subtracting, Russia – and not just the USSR –, lost in just one decade, about 5.000.000 km2 of its imperial territory, and about 140 million inhabitants of its Soviet territory. Thus, being able to understand how the disappearance of the Soviet Union transformed Russia into a defeated and humiliated power that set itself the central objective, especially after the year 2001, to regain its lost space by questioning the new “strategic balance” imposed by the USA and NATO, through of its outright expansion towards Russia's eastern and western frontiers.

The same border that had already been attacked and invaded by the Teutonic Knights of the Pope, in the beginning of the 22th century; by the Polish and Catholic troops of King Sigismund II, at the beginning of the 1941th century; by the Swedish and Lutheran troops of King Charles XII, in the early 3,5th century; by the French troops of Napoleon Bonaparte, in the early 20th century; and by the troops of Nazi Germany and its Operation Barbarossa, begun on June XNUMX, XNUMX, involving XNUMX million soldiers, responsible for the death of about XNUMX million Russians, many of them slaughtered purely and simply, with a view to appropriating of the natural resources of Ukraine and the Caucasus.

It was based on this history of invasions and humiliations, and with the German genocide still in its memory, that Russia decided to say enough is enough, in 2008, in the Georgian War that interrupted for some years NATO's desire to set foot in the region of the Caucasus, where a good part of Russia's energy reserves are concentrated. And it is also within this context that the dispute over Ukraine and its intertwining with the current European energy crisis must be read. Especially at a time when the European supply of North American liquefied gas has been affected by the increase in domestic demand in the US market itself and by competition from Asian markets, which are paying up to four times more than their value in the European market.

Adding to the hardships of Europe in this winter of 2022, the never-ending dispute, first over the construction, and now over the release of the Baltic Gas Pipeline, the Nord Stream 2, built between Vyborg in Russia and Greifswald in Germany, with the immediate capacity to deliver to Germans and Europeans over 55 million cubic meters of Russian natural gas per year, which has already become a key part of the diplomatic and military escalation of recent weeks around the military control of Ukraine.

What is certain is that at this moment, in the midst of the European energy, pandemic and inflationary crisis, only Russia has the immediate capacity to increase the supply of gas that Europeans need to heat their homes, lower their production costs and recover the competitiveness of its industry, reducing the degree of dissatisfaction of its populations. It is this exceptional position of Russia that explains its empowerment and its decision to advance its pieces on the geopolitical chessboard of Europe, placing the USA, NATO and all other European countries at the negotiating table, to discuss their own proposal for the peaceful redefinition of the strategic parameters imposed on Russia, by the “force of facts and weapons”, during the 1990s.

Most likely, the negotiations that started in the second week of January 2022 will drag on for a long time, or simply remain frozen. Even because Russia has already won the first round, insofar as it explicitly placed on the table its fundamental and unavoidable condition for stabilizing a new European strategic balance: the non-inclusion of Ukraine and Georgia as member countries of NATO. From this moment on, the “next move” on the chessboard is up to the “Western powers, who are fully aware that their eventual decision to incorporate these two countries into their military organization will represent an automatic and simultaneous declaration of war with Russia.

That is, it will serve as a signal for the start of a massive invasion of Ukrainian territory by Russian military power. And it would not be improbable, under these conditions, that there would be an immediate suspension of the supply of Russian gas to the European countries more directly involved in a conflict that could turn into a new major world war, in the event that it involves direct participation by China, which in a situation like this could feel free and authorized to attack and occupy Taiwan.

* Jose Luis Fiori Professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo).

 

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