The capitalist system as a geopolitical agent

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By GABRIEL DANTAS ROMANO*

US and Russia dispute Ukraine as a sphere of influence seeking to favor the commercial and economic interests of their own elites

Conventional explanations and public comment that try to explain wars as mere disputes between states seeking power and territory are not enough to understand the international conflicts of the last two centuries. In geopolitical chess, the pieces move primarily to defend economic interests. It is not possible to interpret the objectives of a State as isolated objectives in themselves, but always associated with the economic elite that it represents.

The dispute to transform Ukraine into a sphere of influence (Western or Russian) is not just a matter of seeking power between states, but to favor commercial interests. Of course, states compete for power, influence, and border security, but these goals are subordinated to the economic purposes of specific groups.

The State in the capitalist system is, above all, the political representative of the elite that sustains it and thus always seeks to meet its needs. When the elites of two powers have economic interests that collide with each other, conflicts ensue. In this case, USA and Russia are the main producers of natural gas in the world, Europe is one of the main consumers and Ukraine is part of the gas pipeline route. In the medium term, the US seeks to take Russia's position as the main exporter of natural gas for Europe.

The public discussion about Ukraine has not always been led by people with the competence to do so. They usually evoke Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky in search of vague explanations, but forget to mention the capitalist dispute for the market and the economic roots of the problem.

Um text published by the newspaper Folha de S. Paul seeks to understand the Russian invasion of Ukraine through a summary of theoretical approaches to international relations: the permanent struggle of the State for power, the “global conflict between democracies and autocracies”, and the interaction between the identities of nations are mentioned. But at no time is it considered that the US and Russia are disputing Ukraine as a sphere of influence in order to favor the commercial and economic interests of their own elites.

The capitalist system as a geopolitical agent is emptied of the issue, the pursuit of profit and market dominance is erased. In general, they portray a fictional world absent from the influence of capitalism in which States act by themselves as irrational machines and autocrats in search of power, while in fact the geopolitical game takes place within a capitalist network and its objectives do not even exist in isolation from a elite.

Capitalism depends on the violent pursuit of markets. Russia's “crime” is to threaten Washington's economic interests. The Kremlin represents an impediment to American dominance of the European energy market. The US, as a representative of its own elite, intends to benefit US gas producers to the detriment of Russian producers. If it bowed to US economic ambitions, Russia would no longer be a problem even if it remained an autocrat and violator of political rights.

The acceleration of globalization since the XNUMXth century has not led to the expansion of democracy, the capitalist market has not favored a free, liberal and democratic world. The US is a recognized ally of Islamic extremism, being a partner of authoritarian countries and extremists like Saudi Arabia whenever it benefits their interests. Thus, there is no struggle between autocracy and democracy.

International conflicts in Eastern Europe are not simply conflicts between States, they are not clashes of civilizations, cultures, symbolisms and identities, they are conflicts between economic projects of two powers. Russia today presents itself as a competing and alternative system to the US objectives in Europe. The issue is not cultural, it does not come from orthodox Christianity against the Western world, ideological discourses are mere subterfuges, despite playing an important role and having serious consequences. But the crux of the question is: will Eastern Europe be influenced by the West or Russia? Will Eastern Europe make it easier for American companies or Russian companies to make a profit?

In the year 2018, in a conversation with NATO Secretary General Jens Stolttenberg, then-President Donald Trump emphatically raised objections against Germany's economic rapprochement with Russia, stating that dependence on Russian gas made it hostage to the country. In the event in question, Trump questioned American spending on NATO to “defend” Germany from Russia while Germany itself enriched its rival through the purchase of gas. The logic was simple: Germany should buy gas from the US, to enrich American producers, not Russian ones.

Said Trump: “I think it's really sad when Germany makes a big oil and gas deal with Russia when you should be hedging against Russia and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia. So we're protecting Germany, we're protecting France, we're protecting all these countries and a number of countries go out and do a pipeline deal with Russia where they're paying the Russians billions. (...) I think commerce is wonderful. I think energy is a whole different story. I think energy is a very different story than normal commerce. And you have a country like Poland that doesn't accept gas. You take a look at some of the countries — they're not going to accept it, because they don't want to be Russia's captives. But Germany, as far as I'm concerned, is Russia's captive, because it's getting so much of its energy from Russia. So we must protect Germany, but they are getting energy from Russia.”

Thus, as well said by the professor of International Relations Guy Laron, the dispute over Ukraine as a zone of influence must be understood in the context of competition between the US and Russia to serve energy to Europe. “Russia and the United States have a decades-long history of competing for the European energy market. Often, they used ideologies or concerns of national interest to explain the cause of the attrition. But just as often, the real motive behind countless crises was plain old commercial competition.”

In this sense, the US needs to isolate Russia from the rest of Europe in order to fulfill its objectives. The attempt to boycott Nord Stream 2 was the attempt to boycott Russian gas supplies to Europe so that US gas producers would have more space and sales opportunities. In the same way, controlling Ukraine is controlling the pipeline route that transports some of the Russian gas. A Ukraine close to the West provides the US with incomparable advantages and threatens the interests of Russian producers. A Kremlin-dominated Ukraine would give Russia complete control over the pipeline route itself.

However, with the violent invasion of Ukraine, Russia triggered its isolation from the West. The US will be able to occupy the empty space left by the Russians and thus establish itself as the region's main gas supplier.

Gabriel Dantas Romano is a history major at the University of São Paulo (USP).

 

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