You know the story. Aggro between two nations gets a little bit out of hand, the US spearheads a UN/NATO ‘peacekeeping’ force to diffuse all the tension and make everything okay again. It has happened time after time since WWII. Yet in Ukraine, things are different. The Russian Federation has officially annexed the Crimea from Ukraine, and pro-Russian separatist movements are fighting to cede further parts of the country into the Russian Federation. It is, for all intents and purposes (many suspect these pro-Russian militia are actually Russian troops), a Russian military operation aimed at seizing territory from Ukraine. Yet aside from half-hearted threats of embargo and not allowing Russia into the G8 summit, little has been done.
It is not like the West is necessarily afraid of Russia. In 2008, the US and its cronies were more than prepared to intervene in Georgia, when Russian troops fought over the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – both of which are still considered Georgian territory under Russian military occupation. It took delicate negotiation from then EU president Nicolas Sarkozy to alleviate the anger. Yet there are no such movements for Ukraine.
Russia accounts for 25% of global natural gas production. Their major buyers are the EU, and their major supply routes are through Ukraine and Belarus. Russia has already threatened to cut off natural gas to the EU if sanctions continue – and this is why the West is scared of further intervention. Germany, as Europe’s strongest power, has 65% of its energy supplied by Russia (a lasting effect of the Ostpolitik of the 1970s). Italy and France, two of Europe’s strongest powers, Turkey and Hungary are among the other largest importers of Russian gas. Were the power to be cut off, Europe would find itself struggling to keep the lights on.
Alternatives do exist, of course. Iran and the US have both offered to open up pipelines to Europe. But the construction of these would cost billions of Euros, as would a commitment to renewable sources – and this is money European nations do not have right now. And regardless of how energy could be supplied, it would not change the fact Russia is well underway with its annexation of Ukraine. Europe would have to rely on US military intervention, and that is currently not a possibility with Obama’s popularity under threat and the continuing nuclear deterrent – though any possibility of global thermonuclear war seems miniscule now.
This leverage Russia holds over Europe is one the Soviet Union was lacking. Putin is more than aware now that the ball is well and truly in his court. Were he to extend his reach to other former Soviet territories, without a new energy source, Europe could do little but sit and watch. It is time to think about the sovereignty of Ukraine – and a threat to other nations too.