To prevent Russia from invading Ukraine, the United States is threatening to shut down a new Russian gas pipeline to Germany.
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Thus, on his first day as chancellor of Germany, Olaf Schulz had a sensitive foreign policy issue on his desk.
Energy-hungry Europe needs the supplies it can get. But at the same time, the United States and the European Union will use the means at their disposal to deter Russia from advancing into Ukraine.
The German government’s new program warns against taking a tougher stance against Russia. Schultz may be more responsive to US desires than Angela Merkel has been.
As expected, a two-hour video chat Tuesday night between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin made no progress.
The Kremlin describes the conversation as honest and pragmatic. Translated from diplomatic language, it can mean cold and merciless. The only thing they can agree on is appointing representatives who can continue the talks.
Putin repeated the call that Ukraine should never join NATO and that the alliance should not deploy weapons systems in the east that could be used against Russia. Biden reiterated that the United States supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He warned that the United States and its allies would impose severe economic sanctions on Russia if it attacked Ukraine militarily.
But according to the Financial Times, Biden also made a diplomatic confession. He called a meeting between NATO allies and Russia to address Russian grievances, in an effort to “turn the temperature down.”
Earlier, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tried to invite Russia to resume dialogue with the NATO-Russia Council to no avail.
If diplomacy does not work, there will be punitive measures much tougher than those imposed after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. The United States could take measures that affect Russian oil exports. They can impose targeted economic sanctions on the oligarchy in Putin’s immediate circle. They could block the use of Russia’s new Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline on the Baltic Sea.
“If Putin wants gas to flow through this pipeline, he may not risk invading Ukraine,” Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said after the two presidents’ phone call.
Sullivan added that the United States has held extensive discussions with both the outgoing and incoming German government regarding Nord Stream 2 regarding a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Annalena Barbuk of the Green Party criticized Nord Stream 2. She also called for a foreign policy that emphasized democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Nord Stream 2 is ready for use, but it is awaiting approval from the German authorities.
Of course, it is not news that energy is used as a political and economic means of pressure in the conflict.
An example of this is that the oil-producing countries of OPEC in 1973 imposed an oil boycott on Western countries because of their support for Israel in the fourth Arab-Israeli war. Another example from recent years is the US-led sanctions against Iranian oil exports due to the country’s nuclear programme.
Imposing sanctions on Europe’s largest natural gas exporter is a double-edged sword. It will deprive Russia of significant revenue, but it will also exacerbate the energy shortage in Europe.
Norway is the second largest exporter of natural gas. Because of the high demand, the price is already high. It could rise even more if gas becomes a weapon in the conflict over Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin is putting enormous pressure on Ukraine and Western countries by deploying large military forces on the border. He will not accept that Ukraine seeks closer cooperation with Western countries.
Putin’s goal is for Ukraine to be part of Russia’s sphere of influence, like Belarus. The Russian president described in detail how history, religion and ethnicity unite Ukraine and Russia.
But 30 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became a sovereign country. Ukrainians have the right to choose their political path. They do not want Moscow to make this choice for them. Perhaps that is what scares Putin. People with close cultural ties to Russia choose democracy and freedom.
There is no single opinion in Ukraine about the choice of direction. But according to a poll conducted by the Razumkov Center earlier this year, 62 percent want Ukraine to join the European Union. 54 percent want the country to join NATO, while 31 percent oppose it. The survey did not include residents of areas controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
I witnessed the large-scale demonstrations in Kiev in 2014 that led to the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych and his flight to Russia.
I remember very well how Ukrainian youth in particular saw their future through close cooperation with the countries of the West. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian Russia has had no appeal. Today there is a regional head of Ukraine in Volodymyr Zelensky.
There is no prospect of Ukraine joining NATO immediately. Ukraine struggles with high rates of corruption and weak institutions, among other things. Ukraine is not covered by NATO’s security guarantees that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
As a sovereign state, Ukraine has the right to choose its own future, regardless of Putin’s claim that the country be part of Russia’s sphere of influence.
Ukraine participated alongside NATO in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The US military contributed as advisers to Ukraine. The country has equipped itself, including American weapons. The Ukrainians want to confront Russian supremacy, but they are more suited than before to resist.
A military invasion could cost Russia dearly, in the form of very large losses on both sides. This should be a good enough deterrent. But no one knows for sure what Putin is up to. The only sure thing is that he wants to test the United States and its allies. How far will they go in their support of Ukraine’s sovereignty?
Much has been said and written about that the international focus of the United States has long since shifted from Europe to Asia. China is challenging the global leadership of the United States in ways that Russia does not, especially in terms of economy and trade.
But by using Ukraine as a piece in a geopolitical game, Vladimir Putin has really managed to get Joe Biden’s full attention.
When Putin talks about war and peace, he puts Biden and NATO on the line.
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