As winter approaches, the Kremlin is instigating trouble in Europe. Its latest machinations include a gas war against central and eastern European countries; a migration crisis along Belarus’ borders with Lithuania, Latvia and Poland; a renewed military mobilization on Ukraine’s eastern border; and agitation for Serbian secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Although this campaign has multiple objectives, a common thread runs through it: the Kremlin’s desire to divide and weaken the EU. That means acquiring Germany’s approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as fast as possible; disrupting the EU gas market, with a view to returning to Soviet-style long-term contracts, with gas prices tied to oil; and weakening Ukraine and forcing Moldova to abandon its European Association Agreement and join Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union instead.
The Kremlin tends to send up trial balloons to see what it can get away with before hitting hard if the opportunity arises. That means the West — the US, the EU and the UK — will need to act fast to head off whatever is coming next. The biggest mistake one can make in responding to Russian provocations is to do nothing, or to react too slowly and too softly. As Keir Giles of Chatham House argues, the West must recognize “that confrontation with Russia cannot be avoided because it is already happening.” History shows that “Russia respects strength and despises compromise and accommodation.”
Illustration: Mountain People
Fortunately, the West already has many effective tools at its disposal, and with the arrival of a new German government that is likely to be less friendly toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, there is an opportunity for new strategic thinking.
The gas war should be easy enough to combat. On July 21, the US and Germany issued a joint statement on Nord Stream 2 declaring “their determination to hold Russia to account for its aggression and malign activities by imposing costs via sanctions and other tools.”
After four months of Russian escalation, US President Joe Biden’s administration should feel obligated to end its waiver of congressionally approved sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and the German government should acquiesce to this. That would swiftly put an end to the pipeline.
However, if the Biden administration does not act, the US Congress still can, by adding new compulsory sanctions to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022.
Europe has insufficient gas stocks because Gazprom has maneuvered to create artificial scarcity. Russia’s state-owned energy giant owns one-quarter of the gas storage capacity in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, and has kept those facilities empty while filling its domestic tanks to the brim. The obvious solution is for the EU to prohibit Gazprom and other foreign suppliers from owning storage facilities in the EU, and to impose minimum levels of stocks on existing storage capacity.
Because the EU is effectively a monopsonist (sole purchaser) of Gazprom’s gas, it should start operating collectively to curtail Gazprom’s monopoly power.
Although the Biden administration has condoned Nord Stream 2 (while prohibiting the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada), it has otherwise refused to involve itself in the European gas crisis. That must change. The US should move to supply Europe with liquefied natural gas (LNG) now that Europe has built the capacity for receiving LNG shipments.
As for the Belarusian border drama, we are witnessing a new type of hybrid warfare, instigated by Belarus’ illegitimate ruler, Aleksandr Lukashenko. NATO and the EU should recognize the situation as such and offer their full support to Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.
The EU Foreign Council was right to sanction all airlines and companies involved in the trafficking of people from the Middle East to the Belarusian border. The US should follow suit by strengthening its own — rather soft — sanctions on Belarus.
Since Biden took office, the US has stood up firmly in defense of Belarus’ southern neighbor, Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s visit to the White House in September was a watershed event.
Moreover, no fewer than three US Cabinet secretaries have already visited Ukraine this year, and on Nov. 10, the US adopted a surprisingly strong US-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership. The document commits the US to supporting “Ukraine’s right to decide its own future foreign policy course free from outside interference, including with respect to Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO.”
On top of these promising developments, the Ukrainian government has just appointed its most respected member, Oleksiy Reznikov, as its new defense minister. Fresh from the trenches in Donbas, he is to visit Washington soon.
However, the EU, NATO, Germany and France need to act. At least they have all spoken up against Russian aggression against Ukraine in the past few days. Impressively, the UK has committed 600 special forces to Ukraine.
If the new German government is serious about ensuring peace in Europe, the single most effective thing it can do is to welcome Ukraine into NATO. Ukraine has been standing up to Russian military aggression for years, serving as a bulwark for the rest of Europe. Germany is not ready to defend itself, so it should help Ukraine do so by supplying it with arms, as the US, the UK, Canada, Poland and Lithuania are already doing.
Finally, there is the Balkan issue. Tensions are rising again in former Yugoslavia because the EU has reneged on its commitment to hold accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. In North Macedonia, a pro-European government has just lost power after making ample concessions to the EU in exchange for nothing.
The EU had better get serious about pursuing the idea of a “Europe whole and free and at peace,” as then-US president George H.W. Bush put it in May 1989. By immediately initiating accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, it can help to deter Republika Srpska from flirting with secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The US and the EU hold many valuable cards, but they will have to play them fast and effectively to fend off the latest Russian onslaught.
Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Stockholm Free World Forum, is the author of Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
Russian President Vladimir Putin is an expert at bluffing and keeping the West on its toes, pushing relations to the edge before pivoting without warning. However, hemmed in and fuming, he is deadly serious about being heard on Ukraine. Those close to the Kremlin said that the Russian president does not want to start another war in Ukraine. Still, he must show he is ready to fight if necessary in order to stop what he sees as an existential security threat: the creeping expansion of the NATO in a country that for centuries had been part of Russia. After years of disillusionment
At a time when China continues its assertive policy toward its neighboring countries, the regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Bhutan last month to resolve a longstanding border dispute. However, this is not the first time China and Bhutan have taken such efforts on this issue. Over the years, China has expanded its claim over territory in Bhutan. China claims over 764km2 of Bhutan’s territory, which includes Doklam, Sinchulung, Dramana and Shakhatoe in the northwestern region and the Pasamlung and Jakarlung Valleys in the central part of Bhutan. Although the two sides held
Among the voices expressing concern for Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai (彭帥) over the past two weeks, one was barely audible — that of her long-time former doubles partner Hsieh Su-wei (謝淑薇). Following their defeat in the WTA Finals championship match in Mexico on Nov. 18, Taiwan’s Hsieh and her Belgian partner Elise Mertens fielded questions via a Zoom call. Chinese state media had just released an incredibly suspicious e-mail, purportedly from Peng, and Canadian tennis Web site Open Court broached the issue. With the entire tennis world chiming in, seeking Hsieh’s opinion seemed obvious. However, the Web site’s reporter prefaced her question
The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) sixth plenary session has ended and from all appearances, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has set the stage to rule for the rest of his life. Some might be tempted to declare that this calls for Xi to do a victory lap, but all is not well on the other side of the Taiwan Strait. To parody a line from Ya Got Trouble, a song from Broadway musical The Music Man: “There’s trouble in River City, (aka, Beijing). Trouble with a capital T, which rhymes with C for CCP.” Why? Taking control of a nation is always much