After Biden's talks with Putin, and then with Zelenskyy, a lot of discussions appeared on social networks and the media on the topic of its results. Estimates range from epic fail to everything is okay. I would like to focus not on the results or the immediate prospects for Ukraine, but on what strategic conclusions in the field of international politics of our country we should make as a result.
A bit of theory
Since we will be talking mostly about foreign policy matters, it will be useful for us to use some theoretical concepts of geopolitical science that have actively entered sociological use at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries. First of all, it will focus on the theory of revolution and state disintegration by the American sociologists T. Skocpola and J. Goldstone. An important addition to it is also the theory of geopolitical dynamics by R. Collins.
Over the past decades, the concept of revolution as a kind of class conflict has been finally destroyed and replaced by a new one, based on rich empirical data on public finances, military structures, economic development, demographic status and the real participation of social classes and strata in revolutionary activities. As a result, several most important provisions of the new concept of the theory of state disintegration were formulated as the forerunner of the revolution. We are interested in 3 components, which together lead to the destruction of the state:
- fiscal and administrative crisis of the state;
- split and conflicts within the ruling elite;
- popular uprising.
If we apply this theoretical concept to the current state of affairs in Ukraine, then we will see the fulfillment of two of the three conditions from the above list (or, at least, we have come very close to their fulfillment). We all perfectly see the financial tension in the state and its inability to fulfill its financial obligations without constant borrowing in the debt markets or without getting into the pocket of a “citizen”. The split and confrontation within the political elite have always been the calling card of our country, but after Zelenskyy came to power, this trend has become simply off scale. Thus, it remains for us to add only mass civil unrest, and the end of Ukraine, as a current state formation, is practically inevitable. Of course, one can be skeptical about the Skocpola / Goldstone theory itself, but I would like to emphasize that it is widely accepted in Western sociology and has been tested on the evidence for and against the contrary, not only on the historical data of Europe, but also of Asia and Latin America.
Collins's theoretical calculations are based on several principles that seem to have no direct relation to our country due to its weak positions in the geopolitical arena. Nevertheless, even acting as a tool, it would be nice for us to be guided by it, to understand the interests of big players, and to try to build our independent relations with them instead of endless "what can we offer to you?". Therefore, I still consider it necessary to cite here some (not all!) of the basic principles of the theory of geopolitical dynamics (with the help of which Collins, by the way, predicted the collapse of the USSR back in 1980):
- Size and resource advantage favor territorial expansion, i.e. more populated and resource-rich states are expanding at the expense of smaller and poorer states. It is clear that such expansion can be carried out both by military means and through “soft power”.
- Geo-positional advantage promotes territorial expansion, i.e. states with enemies in fewer directions expand at the expense of states with enemies on more borders.
- States in the middle of a geographic region tend to divide into smaller units over time.
If we try to apply these principles to Ukraine, we can conclude that they are all “playing” against our country. Both demographically and in terms of resources, it is difficult for us to resist the territorial expansion of Russia. The presence of hostile borders was already a headache for the country, and after the political turn of Belarus, an additional thousand kilometers were added to them. As a buffer zone in the middle of the geopolitical confrontation of several large centers, we are directly subject to the tendency of "division" (how can we not recall Putin's proposal for the division of Ukraine between Russia and the West, similar to the division of Poland at one time). Thus, from the point of view of a historical perspective, the country's position will only get worse.
A bit of realpolitik
Now let's get back to the negotiations between Biden, Putin and Zelenskyy. Although I am not going to discuss its results in detail, I still need to draw several main conclusions for a better understanding of the situation.
First, our hopes of hiding under the NATO umbrella can be finally buried. Although Biden did not give public guarantees that NATO would not expand eastward, such assurances were certainly made non-publicly. This can be seen in Biden's landmark statement about the lack of moral and legal obligations of the United States to defend Ukraine, to which one should add his idea of direct negotiations between key NATO countries and Russia; the instantaneous disappearance of proposals for sanctions against Nord Stream - 2 from Senate consideration; reports of the delay in the 200 million package of military assistance to our country. However, it was not worth expecting anything else from "Grandpa Joe", who is the chick of Obama's nest. Since his election, I was pretty surprised by the naive belief of our politicians and citizens that the democrats in the States will win and they will show Putin where the crayfish spend the winter.
Secondly, all our hope for the support of the West in a direct military confrontation with Russia rests on yet another "blah blah blah" like the Budapest Memorandum. Only if in that case at least a non-legally binding "piece of paper" was signed, then there is not even that. We heard several loud "scarecrows" from Biden and other leaders in the direction of Russia, which, for Putin, are, in fact, just a concussion in the air. How were they going to punish him in the event of day X? Let's take a closer look (the following list is based on reports from various media outlets, there is no official information on this topic).
- Limit transactions with debt securities. At the moment, the state debt of Russia is 56.7 billion dollars, or less than 4% in relation to GDP. Unpleasant? Yes. Is it critical? Absolutely not, especially considering record oil and gas prices. By the way, their budget deficit in 2021 is predicted to be 0.2%, and from next year it will generally be in surplus. So, it will not be more difficult for them to cope with the payments of debt obligations.
- Disable SWIFT. First of all, SWIFT is a European organization overseen by the central banks of the 10 largest Western economies. That is, to disconnect Russia from SWIFT, it is necessary to make the European Parliament to introduce the sanction. Technically, the disconnect operation is similar to cutting the communication cable between banks. But does this mean the termination of banking services? Not at all. To carry out payment orders within the country, the Russian Central Bank created its own analogue of the payment system - SPFS. At the moment, it is little used, since banks and organizations are more accustomed to using SWIFT, but if necessary, they can easily switch to SPFS . The only difficulty will be the implementation of international transfers outside the country.
- Disable Visa and MasterCard . Nothing at all, since 2015 all processing and clearing of domestic payments has been carried out within Russia itself. Let's add to this the presence of its own payment system "Mir". Again, the problem is only when traveling abroad.
- Restrictions against the energy sector. As far as can be judged, in the mild version they can affect only the Nord Stream, and in the most severe they will affect the main enterprises of the oil and gas sector in Russia. Perhaps the most dangerous, but also the least likely, part of the sanctions. The United States has already announced that this will be the most extreme measure in relation to Russia. Moreover, without similar actions on the part of the EU, only the US sanctions, even if they are introduced, are not worth much. But it is Russia that is the main supplier of gas to the EU - 46.8% of total imports, and one of the significant suppliers of oil - 24.7% (Eurostat data for the first half of 2021). Does anyone seriously believe that Europe will be ready to turn off the tap and put itself on a hungry ration for the sake of some kind of Ukraine? And this against the background of the current historical highs in gas prices? Bloomberg has already published the news that Germany, France, Italy and Spain do not want to go for the imposition of sanctions, i.e. everything will be limited to yet another "deep concern" or purely "cosmetic" measures.
Third, Putin has made it clear that NATO expansion in Ukraine is a real red line for Russia. You can relate to his sick fantasies about the USSR 2.0 in different ways, you can laugh at it, twist a finger at your temple. But one thing must be understood clearly: from the point of view of Russia, Ukraine's entry into NATO is unacceptable under any circumstances. And if this line is violated, Putin will start a full-scale war, not for a moment hesitating or thinking about what it will cost him personally and the country as a whole. Anyone who indulges himself with the illusion that he will be intimidated by the flood of coffins or will be afraid of sanctions is a naive undergrowth at best.
A bit of strategy
Looking at the list of all the negative factors above, one gets the impression that the geopolitical position of Ukraine is very deplorable. And indeed it is. The eternal question arises: what to do in order to somehow correct it?
The answer to this question can be partly found in R. Collins. In his reflections on the geopolitical dynamics of Europe, he touches on the special status of Yugoslavia during the post-war USSR. As a buffer state, like Ukraine, but only between the communist and anti-communist blocs, it has placed itself in a unique position as a mediator. The mutual balancing of these blocs led to the significant independence of this intermediate zone, which allowed Yugoslavia to acquire significant international prestige and play the role of one of the leaders among non-bloc countries. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union put an end to such mediation, the need for it disappeared, the country's prestige fell sharply, and the lights of democracy almost instantly shattered it into pieces. This lesson clearly shows what awaits our country if it continues to remain only an anti-Russian buffer. It is vitally important for our state to become just such a geopolitical mediator between Russia and Western Europe, whether we like it or not (hurray-patriots and couch lovers of Drang nach Osten may not read further).
The first step in this direction should be a return to the idea of non-bloc status . What does it give to us?
First, the main trump card is immediately knocked out of Putin's hands in preparing an armed invasion as a response to the NATO threat. It is clear that if he wants to start a full-blooded war, nothing will stop him, but still we will deprive him of a weighty "excuse" both in the eyes of the world community and our own population.
Secondly, it will greatly simplify our relations with the EU countries. They are already tired of responding with a refusal to our "European aspirations" in the face of their leaders. There will be no need for our diplomats to break into doors that are closed to us, and they can focus on more important economic and political issues.
Third, the non-bloc status will untie the hands of our country in the international arena, give more flexibility in relations with different countries, allow us to diversify foreign policy balances, and better defend our national interests. Ukraine will not have an urgent need to adapt to its “allies”, as with the same Motor Sich, when they threaten to impose several billion dollars of fines on us through international courts, and in return we did not receive a cent in compensation for the concession.
Fourth, non-bloc status does not mean neutrality at all, they are completely different things. This status does not restrict Ukraine from concluding the same bilateral or multilateral agreements, including military ones. A country can also (but does not have to) participate in international conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
Fifth, the implementation of the economic potential of the transit hub between Europe and China, about which so much has been said in its time, is much easier to accomplish in a non-bloc status. Moreover, such a status can help in establishing economic relations with our neighbors. You can long and stubbornly hide behind various patriotic slogans, deceive yourself with reverse (seems to be "foreign") gas supplies, push uncertified fuel rods into nuclear reactors and wait for it to explode in the end. And you can look at dry export / import figures to see that Russia is still our 3rd consumer and supplier, and Belarus is 10th and 6th, respectively.
Sixth, although the non-bloc movement has lost its former political influence, it still remains the most massive in terms of the number of participating countries. Full-blooded participation in it, and not just the status of an observer, may well strengthen the international position of our country. By the way, the same Azerbaijan, which so successfully bit Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh, is a member of this organization, and President Aliyev is its chairman at the moment.
And finally, seventh, I would like to hope that the transition to a new "old" status on the domestic agenda will help reduce the intensity of political confrontation within the country. Political centrism based on own powers will clearly find a response among many socio-political forces in Ukraine, and the practical economic results from the transition to a non-bloc status in the pockets of our citizens will contribute to the consolidation of this idea.
Ultimately, all this should lead to an increase in the prestige of our country, to raise its geopolitical role from a pawn to a more significant figure on the big chessboard.