Tuesday, 22 February 2022 14:54

The Brief, powered by UNESDA – Prisoners of geography

Listening to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s revisionism on Monday evening (21 February), one could be forgiven for believing that time machines do exist. But it’s really Putin’s next move that should give headaches to European diplomats.

In 1994, Russia signed an agreement to respect Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty.

Last year, Putin wrote an op-ed describing Russians and Ukrainians as “one nation”, and now he says that modern Ukraine was entirely created by communist Russia.

Let’s not fool ourselves, Soviet nostalgia, or the feign of it, does not fully explain Russia’s historic lust for Ukraine. But geography might.

Now Putin’s decision to recognise the independence of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics has brought a paradigm shift to the geopolitical table.

How far will Russia go?

Much of the attention is on the east, where Russian troops could soon be on the ground.

While the West has anxiously looked towards the Donbas, Russia’s silent grab of Belarus has effectively encircled Ukraine. With up to 190,000 Russian troops close to the country’s borders, there’s little sign Moscow will back off easily.

Strategists fear the latest developments could mean Putin might be tempted to go for the ‘full monty’ and attempt to devour all of Ukraine.

Ultimately, he might be satisfied with a stretch of maritime territories to turn Ukraine into a landlocked country.

When there was a pro-Russian government in Kyiv before 2014, Moscow was happy about its de-facto buffer zone. A pro-Western Ukraine, however, with ambitions to join EU and NATO one day might be too much for Putin.

And this for a simple reason: access to ports.

The Russian navy would not be able to get out quickly to the Baltic Sea, since NATO members control the Skagerrak Strait and GIUK Gap (Greenland, Iceland, UK), while NATO member Turkey controls the Bosphorus as per the Montreux Convention of 1936.

Putin’s biggest nightmare, however, might be a Ukraine that could one day host a NATO naval base.

Russia’s only warm-water port, Sevastopol, located on the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula, gives Moscow a strategically important base for its naval fleet.

In case Russia desires to create a land bridge to Crimea, key Ukrainian port cities of Mariupol, where much of the steel and other industrial products of the Donbas have been exported, and Kramatorsk, where Ukraine’s army has its eastern HQ, are a tempting prospect…

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The Roundup

Alternatives to Google Analytics could stand to benefit if the rest of the EU decides – like the Austrian and French data protection authorities already have – that the tool can no longer be used because it does not comply with EU privacy standards.

Germany has put a halt to the certification of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline in response to Russia’s recognition of the two breakaway regions in the Ukrainian Donbas and announced that it would revaluate the procedure.

Biogas production has been earmarked as a key way to help fortify the EU’s struggling farm sector against burgeoning energy costs, according to a draft of the European Commission’s communication on energy prices due to be published next month.

As tensions run high between the West and Russia over the situation along the Ukrainian border, EURACTIV France analyses the positions of April’s presidential election candidates on Moscow.

Europe’s energy system cannot rely solely on renewable electricity and will need back-up from other energy carriers such as hydrogen, according to officials involved in mapping Europe’s future grid infrastructure.

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić and his ruling right-wing SNS party seem set to win another mandate in the presidential and parliamentary elections due on 3 April, even though the opposition is mounting the most serious challenge to his rule since he came to power in 2014.

And don’t miss our Transport Brief, the weekly roundup of weekly news.

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