The writer is an Associate Professor of History at Indiana University South Bend.
One of course wonders how Russia’s possible invasion of Ukraine would implicate gas prices and the general gas supply. Everyone here depends on possible scenarios. Still, regardless of all of them, it is unlikely that Europe would cut itself completely off from Russian gas.
To understand the likelihood of each scenario, one needs to assess the nature of Putin’s regime; this will also explain the likelihood of a full-blown war.
Nature of Putin’s regime and chances of a major war
Putin’s regime does not fit well with any clear definition of legitimate power, at least as it is described by Max Weber, the seminal German sociologist. Putin is not a charismatic leader, as was the case with Stalin, Mao, Hitler, etc. He did not acquire legitimacy through a royal pedigree. He has no legitimacy from below, for elections are basically a show in Russia.
He ascended to power mostly because he guaranteed that “privatized” property of the tycoons would never be nationalized, and the economic interests of the elite are still defined his actions. He keeps power mostly because he emerged as an intermediary between various segments of the elite and, as a Renaissance or early modern ruler, he rules by manipulation. If one would use the definition of rulers given by Machiavelli, and later by Vilfred Paretto, he is more “fox” than “lion.” So why does he, all of a sudden, make such audacious demands of the West?
Putin’s sense of the USA’s weakness as the reason for demands
Putin claimed that NATO had moved too close to the Russian border. Still, the Baltic states -all NATO members- had been close to the Russian border for a long time, and Moscow saw no problem with that. Moscow’s demands are motivated by a different set of factors. As an astute “Renaissance” ruler, he keenly felt unmistakable signs of the USA’s weakness, manifested in the defeat in Afghanistan, the events of January 6, 2021, ballooning national debt and scores of other unmistakable signs of the “hegemon’s” decline.
Thus, it was the time to push for concessions, attempts to reverse the process of Western, mostly American, expansion, from the time of the USSR’s collapse, exactly 30 years ago, to almost the present. At the same time, the USA’s response disappointed Putin. No visible concessions followed these threats, and NATO allies, even Germany, mostly followed the USA.
If Putin could get some face-saving concessions, the crisis would be basically resolved. In this case, the gas flow continued without much interruption, and Nord Stream 2 would be operational by the end of this year. As a matter of fact, Germany, the pipe’s destination, recognizes that LNG promised by Biden could not be delivered cheaply and on a permanent basis, despite Biden’s promises. This scenario is most likely. There are still other options.
War could erupt and the scenario here could be manifold. If the Kremlin were to see no visible concessions, it could formally recognize Donetsk and Lugansk as republics, following South Ossetia and the Abkhazia scenario; the Kremlin could note here that Kosovo was detached from Serbia and recognized by the West some time ago. This could lead to a Ukrainian attempt to solve the problem by force.
Some members of the Ukrainian elite apparently view Ukraine’s army as a formidable force, judging at least by their publications. They assumed that Russia stopped its advance in 2014 plainly because the Russian army was on the brink of a crushing defeat. If this view would lead to an attempt to take Donetsk and Lugansk by force, Russia could engage, and the war might lead to the occupation of entire East Ukraine, with mostly Russian-speaking folk, the creation of a “Malorossiia” as a Russian protectorate.
This plan has circulated in the minds of some Russian nationalists for a long time. Alexander Sevast’ianov’s view could be an example. More than 20 years ago, Sevast’ianov wrote an article in the nationalist Zavtra, in which he stated that Russian leaders should look at Hitler’s foreign adventures, and here they should accept his sound decisions and reject his mistakes.
Sevast’ianov argued that Hitler made a sound decision when he annexed lands populated either by Germans (Sudetendeutsche and Austrians) or those who were close to Germans by language and culture, such as the Danes and the Dutch. At the same time, Hitler made clear mistakes when he tried to take over lands populated by people who were alien by ethnicity and language from Germans. Russian leaders should avoid these blunders.
In this reading, Lugansk and Donetsk could well play the roles of enthusiastic Sudetendeutsche, whereas the mostly Russian-speaking people of Eastern Ukraine would play the roles of the Dutch and Danes, who would accept, albeit reluctantly, Russia’s rule. This scenario implies that Russian forces would not venture into the western part of Ukraine, where they could indeed face resistance, as was the case in the aftermath of WWII.
In the case of this scenario, there would be important implications for Russia’s relationship with the West and, consequently, the gas supply. Nord Stream 2 might be shelved, if not for good, then at least for a long time. Sending gas to the West might be further complicated if Russia were to be shut down from SWIFT. Still, even in this case, the desire to get cheap Russian gas would be too strong to avoid it completely.
One shall remember that even in the case of an emergency, delivery of the USA’s LNG, in a “Berlin airlift” fashion, could not be a permanent solution and the delivery of gas would be resumed and possibly even Nord Stream 2 would be activated after some time.
Still, the strong shock from a disruption would provide Moscow with more incentive to send more gas to China and feel the increasing economic and geopolitical gravitational pull of the truly totalitarian Red China giant, despite the Moscow elite’s apprehension and even subconscious hatred of China, due to its resemblance to the Soviet regime, which Russian oligarchs dreaded and hated, as well as racial and cultural prejudice.
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.
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