Geopolitical Report 2785-2598 Volume 14 Issue 3
Author: Domenico Nocerino
A deep crisis on the eastern side of Europe might lead to a new confrontation between the United States (read NATO) and Russia. If the direct war between the two powers seems challenging to happen, the sense of encirclement perceived by the Russians is dangerously pushing Moscow into the arms of Beijing.
The eastern frontier of Europe is once again inflamed, at least in words. At the end of November, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Oleksandrovyč Zelenskyj, citing Intelligence sources, said during a press conference that a Moscow-orchestrated coup planned “for 1st or 2nd December” would (momentarily) be foiled. In this coup attempt, there would be the hand of the tycoon Rinat Akhmetov Akhemtov, owner of the financial holding System Capital Management and president of the Shaktar Donetsk football team.
Across the ocean, the Washington Post, always citing Intelligence sources, says that “The Kremlin is planning a multi-front offensive as early as next year that will involve up to 175,000 troops”. Commenting on a possible Russian invasion, U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken promised financial retaliation stating that Washington is ready to impose “high-impact economic measures that we have refrained from adopting in the past”.
The Embassy of the Russian Federation in Washington commented on U.S. words stating that:
“Russia is not a threat to any country. Deploying Russian troops on national territory is our sovereign right and nobody’s business. It is NATO and its member states that are recklessly moving their military forces and infrastructure to Russian borders ” (i.e. the recent military exercises in the Black Sea and the supply of military weapons and drones to Ukraine).
Turkey fits into this potentially dangerous situation. Speaking at the Mediterranean Dialogue Forum (MED) in Rome, Erdoğan’s spokesman, İbrahim Kalın, recalled that the tension between Ukraine and Russia has increased and suggested that Turkey, which has good relations with these two countries, can be the card to try to dissolve any tension in the area. Ankara is a spectator interested in what happens in the Black Sea because this strategic point for trade and energy routes is considered a ‘Russian thing’ by Putin. Russia has always conceived the Black Sea as the only way to access the famous ‘warm seas’, and Moscow has badly digested the tour of the U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last October in the region. Indeed, Lloyd Austin spent three days of meetings with Georgia, Ukraine, and Romania representatives to reassure them of Washington’s military support in a possible future military escalation.
On the one hand, we are not probably one step away from a new war. On the other hand, raising the level of verbal confrontation is helpful for all the parties involved.
Undeniably, the United States is using the plausible but not vital Russian threat to justify the presence and expansion of NATO eastward and remind the European Union of how dangerous is Moscow with its visible military manoeuvres and even more with its less visible pressures (i.e. the migrant crisis on the Belarus-Poland border).
Also, the Kremlin benefits from a harsh confrontation with the United States. First of all, Moscow wants to stress that it is impossible for Ukraine and Georgia will join NATO. The installation of missiles in the bases of Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk (which can hit Moscow in 7 minutes) means crossing the red line drawn by Putin and indeed provoking an armed reaction with difficult results to predict. Furthermore, mobilising the troops, increasing the tension and sitting at the table with the U.S. allow the Russian Federation to upgrade from the role of regional power (as the former U.S. President Barack Obama called Russian in 2014 annoying the Russian leadership) to the role of global power capable of controlling its spheres of influence.
The current situation is advantageous also for Ukrainian President Zelens’kyj to increase the pressure on the West to recognise Ukraine as a necessary geopolitical actor for regional stability more than to achieve the promise of membership into NATO or the EU. In this geopolitical game, the Belarus of Lukashenko has its part and national strategic goals considering that Minsk might confirm its loyalty to Moscow by invading Ukraine, at least in words.
Last but not least, Turkey has its interests in the current crisis because Ankara aims at playing the role of peacemaker with the real purpose of taking advantage of Russia and the United States.
Strengthening Europe or China?
From a geopolitical point of view, this instability in Eastern Europe, which has been going on since before the 2014 Ukraine crisis, leads to two consequences that are not easy to solve because these dilemmas would put in serious trouble experts such as Mahan, Mackinder and Spykman.
The persistence of crises in the East (i.e. the migrant crisis, the military risk, the energy blockade, the increase in sanctions) create a considerable distance between Europe and Russia and supports Washington’s first strategic objective since the end of the Second World War. A European Union economically integrated and pacified with the Russian Federation would represent a geopolitical bloc capable of presenting itself as a hegemonic force on a world level. A combination between Europe’s economic strength and Russia’s energy power will threaten U.S. strategy in Eurasia and downsize NATO value in the Old Continent.
Now, this prospect is very far from becoming a reality for various reasons, but in the meantime, the constant pressure is leading to an even more worrying scenario for the United States: pushing Moscow into the arms of Beijing. Moreover, it was the Ukrainian crisis that accelerated this trend. The secession of Crimea is considered illegitimate by the West but not by China, which has always abstained in the Security Council votes relating to the international status of the peninsula for three reasons:
- Beijing needs to protect the Belt and Road Initiative, which fall within the Russian sphere of influence in strategic regions such as Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea and the Arctic.
- China is hungry for energy, and Russia needs to diversify its export markets. Consequently, during the last years, from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov, from Central Asia to Siberia (where through the Power of Siberia gas pipeline, it is expected within 2024 an annual gas flow of 38 billion cubic meters), energy projects are booming.
- Beijing considers Crimea’s situation connected with Taiwan promoting the idea that “we do not intervene in your affairs, and you do the same”. This marriage of circumstance cannot last long because Moscow sees the Chinese demographic pressure on the Russian border along the Amur River as a vital risk. At the same time, Beijing interprets this phenomenon as a future victory against the Russian Federation since ethnic substitution will happen sooner or later. Nevertheless, Russia must be kept alive to ensure that this momentary geopolitical circumstance does not turn into a permanent reality. An eventual Moscow implosion would blow up the Russian world and open the door to Chinese expansion, an eventuality that would give the final blow to the U.S. claims to lead the world. A risk that the Americans had understood since Eisenhower’s time.
The 1991 victory against the Soviet Union, which ended the Cold War, changed the United States’ reality perception, ruining Kennan’s recommendations, and pushed the NATO umbrella to the East in Moscow’s ‘backyard’. A border shift of 1000km aimed at reducing the U.S. historical enemy to a truly sub-regional power, in reality, might result in an enormous risk of creating an area of instability 17,130,000 km² extended. This eventuality would be the end for Russia and the United States.
 Harris, Shane and Sonne, Paul (2021) Russia planning massive military offensive against Ukraine involving 175,000 troops, U.S. intelligence warns, The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/russia-ukraine-invasion/2021/12/03/98a3760e-546b-11ec-8769-2f4ecdf7a2ad_story.html (accessed 10/12/2021).
 Seçkin, Barış (2021) Cumhurbaşkanlığı Sözcüsü Kalın: Rusya ve Ukrayna arasında gerilimi azaltacak adımları desteklemeye hazırız, Anadolu Ajansi. Retrieved from: https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/politika/cumhurbaskanligi-sozcusu-kalin-rusya-ve-ukrayna-arasinda-gerilimi-azaltacak-adimlari-desteklemeye-haziriz/2438335 (accessed 10/12/2021).
 Gli Usa in chiave anti-russa sul Mar Nero. Lloyd Austin visita Georgia, Ucraina e Romania (2021) Opinio Juris. Retrieved from: https://www.opiniojuris.it/gli-usa-in-chiave-anti-russa-sul-mar-nero-lloyd-austin-visita-georgia-ucraina-e-romania/ (accessed 10/12/2021).
 Holland, Steve and Mason, Jeff (2014) Obama, in dig at Putin, calls Russia’ regional power’, Reuters. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-russia-weakness-idUSBREA2O19J20140325 (accessed 10/12/2021).
Analysis in media partnership with Opinio Juris. Original article in the Italian language at the following link: Perché Stati Uniti e Russia dovrebbero parlarsi