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The Impact of the Ukraine Crisis on Russia, Ukraine, Europe, and the United States
Author:ST  Source:Centre for Strategic Thinking  Views:183 Updated:2022-04-27

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is still on-going. The Russia side announced about a week ago that its special military operation in Ukraine has entred into the second phase. The negotiation between the two countries since the conflict began has been processed very slowly, partly because the Ukrainian side still doesn’t appear to be very firm about its position toward the settlement of the conflict.


At the end of March, after a few rounds of talks, and under the mediation of the Turkish President, the negotiation representatives of both Russia and Ukraine managed to make a big breakthrough by having agreed on certain core items, which both sides thought would be conducive to the talks in the next steps. This breakthrough also made many believe that Russia and Ukraine would overcome certain pressure and manage to make a first phase of agreement at an earlier date.


Nevertheless, the improved situation was quickly deteriorated, following the Russian troopswithdrawal from the Kyiv region. The reason behind this was that 400 civilian dead bodies were found in the scene where the Russian troops ever stayed before their departure. The Ukrainian side accused Russian troops of having committed the killing, while Russia denied such doing, and also claimed that the scene of displaying the dead civilians was staged by the Ukrainian side.


The international media outlets had intensive coverage of the incident. In the meantime, the Russian representative to the UN called for immediate discussion of this issue, yet Russias requirement was denied twice by the UK, the UNSC Chairman on duty. After the incident, relevant sides called for independent investigation of this matter. On 7 April, without any investigation result being released, following a vote held by the UN General Assembly, Russias membership within the United Nations Human Rights Council was suspended by a UN resolution.


Overall, when and how the Russia-Ukraine conflict will be ended is still far from being clear. Some observers argued that, from a realist perspective, certain people in the west may not want this conflict to be settled at an earlier date, as postponing the war could have been taken as part of the tactics, in line with which, to drag Russia into a more difficult situation, and to further weaken Russia.


Even though the war is taking place between Russia and Ukraine, yet in reality the U.S. and a number of other NATO member countries have already been involved in the conflict through various means including providing military weapons and other kind of support to aid this war. So, in this case, the Russia-Ukraine conflict appears to have been turned into a proxy war.


Ukrainian officials could have been convinced as well that, as far as the western sanctions against Russia are in place, while, in the meantime, Ukraine constantly receives weapons, postponing the conflict would help Ukraine gain advantage, and further raise the stake for bargaining with Russia.


Therefore, for many in the west and even within Ukraine, their major concern right now is about win and lose, rather than about the situation that Ukraine and the people there are facing. Under this circumstance, Ukraines position in the negotiation would be very much decided by the evolving situation on the battle ground.


Nonetheless, the relevant sides shouldnt be too optimistic about their realism-driven approaches and plans. The war has led to a lose-lose situation of all sides already.


For Ukraine, the war is a disaster for this country. If the conflict cannot be properly settled, from a very long-term, there will be no peace and stability within Ukraine. The European continent meanwhile will continue to be affected as well.



The Losses of Europe


The European countries will bear the consequences of the Ukraine crisis in various ways from a short-, medium-, and long-term perspective. The EU and Russia have had close energy cooperation over the years, and around 40% of the EU countriesgas has been supplied by Russia. The sanctions imposed on Russia recently have, in turn, led to a quick surge of energy prices. The increase of energy prices has a direct impact on the interest of consumers. Some European governments have already received numerous complaints about the rising energy prices. The situation related to this will likely be further escalated in the coming months. A new round of populist movements in certain places of Europe might take place. In that case, the social stability will become a more crucial concern for the governments of European countries.


To respond to the repercussions of the Ukraine crisis in relation to energy, the EU was intended to diversify its partners in energy cooperation. On 25 March, the U.S. and the EU reached an agreement on energy cooperation, according to which, the U.S. promised to work with other partners to deliver at lease 15 billion cubic metre more of liquified natural gas (LNG) to Europe in 2022, the purpose of which is to further diminish Europes reliance on Russian gas. Then in the years ahead, it is expected that the U.S. will keep increasing the supply of its LNG to Europe, and till at least 2030, the volumes demanded by the EU will be anticipated to reach around 50 billion cubic metre extra of the U.S. LNG per year.1


The U.S. side claimed that the U.S.-EU agreement on closer energy cooperation served the common interest of both sides from a strategic footing.2 To this, whether in fact it will be able to better meet the EUs interest in both strategic and economic terms has been questioned.


One of the practical challenges for fulfilling the agreement is about the processing of  LGN. Given that processing the LGN and then exporting it from the U.S. to the European continent should be a more complicated process, compared to exporting natural gas from Russia to Europe through pipeline, whether and in what level the energy agreement between the U.S. and the EU can be implemented from a long-term perspective has been doubted by many.


Apart from the extra long-distance shipping costs from the U.S. to Europe, another major concern for the Europeans is that, for importing the U.S. LGN, European countries need to build a large number of new facilities for receiving and processing the LGN, which certainly takes time, and also needs to inject enormous extra funds . Due to the on-going Russia-Ukraine conflict and the unstable security situation in the European continent, the costs for building the new facilities have kept growing, far more costly than previously estimated.


In addition, long-distance shipping of LGN would also likely bear more risks in contrast to the delivery of natural gas through pipeline.


Upon making the U.S.-EU energy agreement, the U.S. side already claimed that the price of the U.S. LGN will be set in accordance to market supply and demand from time to time. That means the U.S. wouldnt sacrifice its economic and strategic interests to meet that of the European countries.


Under the above circumstances, by combining all the potential costs and uncertainties together, whether the price for importing the U.S. LGN should be lower than the Russian natural gas through the stable pipeline should be an issue concerned by the Europeans.


For the European side, switching Europes dependence on energy resources from Russia to the U.S. mainly carried a purpose of helping generate more certainties for the energy security of Europe. However, apparently Europe will likely face more uncertainties in this case.


More crucially, within an immediate- and short-term, the EU will still need a large amount of Russian energy. Therefore, in the months ahead, how to manage the repercussions caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict will still be a very big challenge for Europe; and it will be of very significance to the energy security, economic security, and social stability of many European countries.


Furthermore, from a strategic perspective, unlike what many European policy-makers assumed, the handling of the Russia-Ukraine conflict by the EU and the U.S.-led NATO appears to have put Europe in a more disadvantageous position, due to the fact that, by allying with the U.S. on this matter, the strategic autonomy of the EU has been further undermined.


Sacrificing strategic autonomy means that the path for the EU to promote the reform of a number of international organizations/institutions in order to better serve the interests of Europe from a longer term will be getting even harder. Over the past years, a number of European countries have been making efforts to promote the reform of the WTO, yet little progress has been made so far, due to the fact that the U.S. plays a dominant role within WTO and has constantly blocked certain reform agendas from being processed.


Further possible shrinking of the European strategic autonomy would result in the lowering of the voices of Europe in international affairs, and might make the European countries more divided. Within Europe, there are at least two groups of people in terms of their relevance to the future status of the European continent. One group of Europeans prefer a stronger and more independent Europe, and expect to regain the renaissance of Europe one day. Another group of Europeans commit to strengthen the Trans-Atlantic relations by allying closely with the U.S.. Given that the possible repercussions of the Ukraine crisis will likely last for years to come. How these two groups will continue to respond to the consequences of the crisis, as well as how they will relate to each other in the coming years are yet to be seen.


Anyway, certain EU and NATO member countries have long been facing a problem in dealing with Russia since the end of the Cold War, yet the issue between these countries and Russia has mostly been about traditional security; and it has never been about strategic autonomy. That means Russia, like many other sovereign nations and entities, wouldnt be able to fundamentally compromise the EUs strategic autonomy, which would enable the EU to have a bigger space to manoeuvre its relations with Russia including the issue of security.



The U.S. Gains and Losses


For the time being, it seems that the only gainer from the on-going Russia-Ukraine conflict is the United States. The Ukraine crisis has resulted in an increasing demand of weapons by European countries. Some have already decided to raise defence spending in the years ahead. So, from an economic sense, the U.S. will likely benefit from some European countriesincreasing order of U.S. weapons. Besides that, the new energy agreement reached recently between the U.S. and the EU - even if the deal might only be partially implemented in the coming years - would enable the U.S. to sell more energy resources to Europe.


From an strategic perspective, through interfering in the Ukraine crisis, the U.S. has further deepened its involvement in the European affairs. Even though the situation will be under further changes when it relates to what the U.S. and the EU have agreed today, an immediate and symbolic gain rather than a substantial gain from a long term perspective should be more of significance for the U.S. administration under the current condition.


Apart from its gains, the U.S. has also suffered some losses, the most noticeable one of which should be that, the U.S. international reputation once again was serious damaged, alongside the disclosure by the Russian side of a biological laboratory secretly set and operated by the U.S. in Ukraine. According to the media reporting, the Ukrainians living close to the lab have been found affected, and some in recent years have caught strange diseases. Apparently the kind of diseases/viruses created and studied by the lab are anti-human, and should be forbidden from both a moral and legal ground.


What Are Going to Happen Possibly for Russia and Ukraine?


As for Russia, carrying out this special military operation has harmed Russias relations with a number of European countries. That can be a big loss for Russia. Even though the sanctions imposed on Russia would, in turn, damage the interests of a number of European countries, Russias losses, as a result of the sanctions, cannot be underestimated as well.


From a long-term perspective, for Russias interest, apart from seeking other options such as cooperation with countries in Asia and elsewhere, keeping a normal cooperative relations with its European counterparts and jointly creating a more peaceful environment are very crucial for Russia, since geographically, Russia and other European countries are close neighbours, they cannot move to elsewhere in the world.


In addition, both Russia and Ukraine shouldnt be too optimistic about what are going to happen next, unless from now on the two countries especially the Ukrainian side start to hold a right position toward settling the conflict, rather than competing for manoeuvring of the situation.


On 22 April, the Russian side revealed the objective of the second phase of its special military operation, which included taking control of Southern Ukraine in addition to of the Donbas region. Apparently, the objective set in the second phase is different from its initial general goal, which claimed not to aim at the Ukrainian territory.


It is assumed that the adjustment of Russias operational objective should be a response to the waving position of Ukraine in the negotiation. It can be considered as a warning to the Ukrainian side. The adjustment also reflects that Russia is intended to raise the stake for itself for negotiations with Ukraine in the coming steps.


Following Russian troopswithdrawal from Kyiv, Ukraine tended to slightly pull back its previous position, upon which, Russia and Ukraine had already agreed on certain core items. If Ukraine keeps waving its position, there could be a possibility that Russia may dramatically adjust the goals of its special military operation, as a consequence of which, an even worse scenario could be that - Russia would give up its endeavour in seeking an agreement with Ukraine, then manage to take control of certain territories of Ukraine, and further turn them into a buffer zone, which is considered strategically important to Russia.


It is expected that the Russia-Ukraine conflict will not be ended that way. Proper settlement of the issue through reaching an agreement will serve the the best interest of all sides.


Another alternative that Russia and Ukraine may need to take into account would be that other parties can be invited to be involved in the negotiation as well through jointly forming a special mechanism. Given that Europe has been directly affected by this conflict, the major European powers are encouraged to take a more active and dominant position toward solving the current Ukraine crisis. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President Francois Hollande had managed to get Russia and Ukraine to sign the Minsk Agreement. There should be a possibility for Russia and Ukraine to reach another agreement under the effective mediation of the current European leaders.



Notes:

1. www.cnbc.com/2022/03/25/eu-strikes-gas-deal-with-the-us-as-it-seeks-to-cut-its-reliance-on-russia.html

2. Ibid.


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