Europe is criss-crossed by natural gas pipelines, but most of the supply comes from Russia, and flows west into Western Europe.

Europe is criss-crossed by natural gas pipelines, but most of the supply comes from Russia, and flows west into Western Europe.

In my previous post on the violence in Ukraine, The Finlandization of Ukraine?, I discussed Zbigniew Brzezinski’s call for the Finlandization of Ukraine as a way to deescalate the political situation and to arrive at some kind of diplomatic understanding that would leave Ukraine intact.

Strange though it may sound, Zbigniew Brzezinski’s hope for Ukrainian Finlandization was not all that different from Sergei Lavrov’s call for a “neutral and federal” Ukraine. Realistically, whether formulated in Brzezinski’s terms or Lavrov’s terms, the only way to prevent Ukraine from being dismembered and retaining its unity as a nation-state is to allow a great deal of autonomy so that the southern and eastern portions of the country could cultivate ties with Russia while the northern and western portions of the country could cultivate ties with Europe, while the Government in Kiev would have to step gingerly so as to avoid offending Moscow. The possibility of this solution is now probably close to nil, since the rising violence has disillusioned everyone and reduced what little trust there may have been between Russian-sympathizing Ukrainians and European-sympathizing Ukrainians.

What we are seeing is not the Finlandization of Ukraine that Zbigniew Brzezinski hoped to see, because he hoped to see Ukraine remain intact; what we are seeing is not the loose federalism that Lavrov suggested would have been acceptable to Moscow; what we are seeing is the de facto division of Ukraine between regions of majority Ukrainian speakers who look toward closer relations with western Europe and majority Russian speaking regions in which the people look toward their cultural and ethnic ties with Russia. Whether the partition of Ukraine remains de facto or is eventually formalized de jure as the two halves go their separate ways, there is little that can be done in the present climate to avoid partition (which, as I argued in The Finlandization of Ukraine?, is not the disaster it is made out to be).

For all practical purposes, then, Ukraine will be partitioned. But Finlandization is still relevant to the discussion, because the unwillingness of European governments to take a strong stand against Russia — they talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk — reveals that those nation-states that will not be partitioned as a result of Russia’s resurgence many be forced into conciliating the Russian steamroller — i.e., Europe itself already finds itself forced into a gradual Finlandization as it scurries to show its support for Ukraine while not taking any action that would result in Russian using its fossil fuel levers to make Europe pay a real price for “supporting” Ukraine.

Europeans have been found to be quite idealistic when it comes to the criticism of US involvement in regional wars, but Europe is markedly less idealistic when it comes to issues that potentially can inflict direct damage upon the European economy — like supporting Ukraine materially in a way that would negatively impact Russia. Germany has the largest economy in the European Union, so it has the most to lose in any economic war that might come out of escalating sanctions between Russia and the European Union over Ukraine. Germany imports about 35 percent of its natural gas from Russia, and this is already setting the stage for political conflict. (Cf. Debate on Russian energy imports strains German coalition)

Russia has a long history of using its fossil fuel supplies as a political tool, and it has not hesitated to do the same in the present conflict over Ukraine. Ukraine, through which 15 percent of European gas transits, has been put on notice by Gazprom that as of June 01 Gazprom will only deliver pre-paid natural gas to Ukraine, which Gazprom is contractually entitled to demand because Ukraine is late paying for its gas. Gazprom has already raised the price of natural gas from $268.50 per thousand cubic meters to $485.50 — almost double. (cf. Moscow ups stakes in gas dispute by Jack Farchy in Moscow and Roman Olearchyk in Kiev)

Although the western press has contended to see who can be the most vociferous in the condemnation of Putin for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Putin is not doing anything surprising or unprecedented, as I attempted to explain in The Putin Doctrine. Putin has opportunistically expanded Russia’s influence in Eurasia, but he has not attempted to exert control on the ground in any region where the population is hostile to Russia. In other words, and despite the near-hysteria in the press, we aren’t going to see a Russian invasion of the Baltic states or Poland. These peoples have made it clear that they do not want to be part of Russia, and under contemporary parameters of geopolitical force projection, it would be nearly impossible for Russia to establish a security regime in these regions. Similarly, it would be nearly impossible for Russia to establish a security regime in the northwest of Ukraine where the people are unsympathetic to Russia. But southern and Eastern Ukraine are another matter entirely. Where the Russians can use a sympathetic population as a foot in the door for geopolitical expansionism — whether in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, or Crimea — Russia will do so.

In the above paragraph I wrote of, “contemporary parameters of geopolitical force projection.” What do I mean by this? What I mean is the particular nature and level of intensity of force projection that is accepted in the current international system. This is not anything that has been formalized in a treaty — there are treaties that address this, but they are without real teeth — but an unspoken convention that has emerged from the sociopolitical developments since the end of the Second World War. …

This long and slow development of a de facto set of conventions limiting force projection was one of the parallel threads of the Cold War that was simply not noticed because it was mired in the Cold War dyad, but the anti-colonial struggles under the dyad of superpower competition set the stage for this development, and once the Cold War ended this thread could become a dominant narrative (even if unrecognized as such) in the post-Cold War world. The unspoken convention to limit the use of force both reinforces and is enforced by the devolution of war as this developed from the global Cold War competition to countless local struggles, each unique rooted in the history of the region, and having little or no connection to a global narrative.

There are several contributing factors that have led to the contemporary parameters of geopolitical force projection. One of these factors has been the revolutionary, anti-colonial, and asymmetrical conflicts waged since the end of the Second World War. Asymmetrical conflicts in which poorly equipped, poorly funded guerrilla forces have humiliated much larger and better equipped forces has been the “proof of concept” of asymmetrical efficacy. Peoples all over the world, by reading the news and watching television, have been made pervasively aware that a guerrilla force that can move among a people like fish in the sea (as Mao put it), can exact unacceptably high costs on traditional military forces, especially when these forces attempt to occupy any geography with a hostile population.

In order to establish a security regime on the ground, any occupying force needs the cooperation of at least the majority of the peoples who live in the region, and even, given the ability of an armed minority to exercise a “violence veto” on any peace settlement, in some cases a robust consensus is required. Peoples have to accept the need for order and stability. If the majority of the population rejects the authority of a political power that seeks to establish a security regime on the ground by projecting force into a geographical region, it is nearly impossible to assert political authority in the region with the contemporary parameters of geopolitical force projection.

The level of direct physical force that is necessary to establish order and stability among a population that rejects the force seeking to impose order and stability would exceed the threshold of atrocity, meaning that the world’s attention would be fixed on the particular conflict, and the fact of the world’s attention being focused would change both the perception and the reality of the conflict, lowering the threshold of atrocity and making it all the more difficult to enforce a security regime on an unwilling people. The attempt to enforce order in the teeth of opposition and publicity is possible, but it would constitute a war of extermination, and wars of extermination are so far beyond the threshold of atrocity that even the most supine political regimes in the international system would be prodded into action.

Putin is not about to cross the threshold of atrocity, much less to pursue a war of extermination in southern or eastern Ukraine — or anywhere else. Russia will confine itself to the most civilized forms of economic warfare when it comes to its relations with Europe, and Europe will have to decide whether the conflict in Ukraine is, “a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing,” or whether Europe is prepared to sacrifice on behalf of Ukraine.

In the unlikely event that Russia cuts off natural gas supplies to western Europe — and it is much more likely to reduce supplies, raise prices, and demand pre-payment, as it has done with Ukraine — the European economy would take a major hit. Probably the European Union economy would contract for several successive quarters, if not for several successive years (if, again, the unlikely event of Russia cutting off natural gas could be maintained year on year, which is even more unlikely). The European economy would not “collapse,” though it would have a few bad years. Efforts to shift to renewable resources would be accelerated, importation of Norwegian natural gas would increase, and other sources of fuel and opportunities for conservation would be found. All of this would be painful, but it would also ultimately be a stimulus to the economies of the Eurozone.

As noted above, the extreme scenario of a complete cutoff of Russian gas is unlikely, but it is survivable. Less extreme scenarios of raised prices and reduced supplies would also be painful for Europe, but less catastrophic in effect, and would give the European economies an opportunity to shift their procurement of energy supplies from Russia to other sources under less drastic conditions. But it is the fear of economic pain — economic contraction, recession, unemployment, budget deficits, social unrest — that is enough in itself to dissuade the Europeans, and especially the Germans, from taking a hard line with Putin’s Russia. Russia has already made this calculation, and who can fault them for making it? If the Europeans can be brought into line with the implicit threat of a few years of discomfort, this is a relatively cheap way for Russia to expand its geostrategic scope.

Even in this climate of avoiding confrontation with Russia, that is to say, in the climate of the Finlandization of Europe, we will see increased efforts in Europe to shift away from dependence upon Russian natural gas, but the more gradual and extended the transition, the more people are likely to forget the Ukrainian crisis and to once again look favorably upon Russian natural gas. The more that alternative supplies and sources are found, the price of Russian natural gas will drop as demand drops, and there will be a great temptation to become reliant of Russian natural gas once again. This is the virtue of a forced, rapid, and uncomfortable transition from dependence: the shift is decisive, and few are likely to forget the cause of it.

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Russian President Putin holds hand of German Chancellor Merkel.

Russian President Putin holds hand of German Chancellor Merkel.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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ukraine map

Even as the eyes of the world were fixed on Sochi for the Winter Olympics, events in Ukraine eclipsed the closing ceremony and the world turned its attention instead to the tumult in Kiev as protesters battled with police and (now former) President Viktor Yanukovich fled the capital, leaving behind a palatial home with a private zoo (shades of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who, like other autocrats, also had a private zoo). I met a friend of mine in Starbucks on Sunday, and as we talked about the situation in Ukraine and some of its likely outcomes, I had occasion to explain the term “Finlandization.”

Ukraine Ethnolingusitic_map

As it turns out, I was not the only one to have Finlandization on my mind. Writing in the Financial Times (Monday 24 February 2014), Zbigniew Brzezinski explicitly endorsed the Finlandization of Ukraine, in his opinion piece, “Russia needs a ‘Finland option’ for Ukraine,” as a prerequisite for Ukraine making a peaceful (or relatively peaceful) transition to the European fold:

“The US could and should convey clearly to Mr Putin that it is prepared to use its influence to make certain a truly independent and territorially undivided Ukraine will pursue policies towards Russia similar to those so effectively practised by Finland: mutually respectful neighbours with wide-ranging economic relations with Russia and the EU; no participation in any military alliance viewed by Moscow as directed at itself but expanding its European connectivity.”

This Finlandization of Ukraine would be necessary because…

“…Russia can still plunge Ukraine into a destructive and internationally dangerous civil war. It can prompt and then support the secession of Crimea and some of the industrial eastern portions of the country.”

Brzezinski is correct that Russia could still cause great problems for Ukraine, and evidently a Finlandized Ukraine seems to Brzezinski a reasonable price to pay to avoid potential chaos. Ukraine is a deeply divided country, with ethnic and cultural loyalties pulling toward Russia in the East and the Crimea, and toward Europe in the western part of the country. Given these social conditions as the background, it would be a relatively easy matter for Russia to stir the pot in Ukraine for decades to come.

ukraine 2004 election

During the Cold War, “Finlandization” came to mean subordinating a nation’s priorities to a foreign policy designed to appease the Soviet Union, without actually surrendering sovereignty, and certainly without becoming merely another absorbed “republic” among the Soviet Social Republics. Here is one definition of Finlandization:

“Behaviour of a country whose foreign policy and domestic policies are strongly conditioned by a conscious desire to mollify and maintain friendly relations with Moscow, at the expense if need be of close ties with formal allies and traditional friends or of its own sovereignty.”

George Ginsburgs and Alvin Rubinstein, eds. Soviet Foreign Policy toward Western Europe, New York: Praeger, 1978, p. 5.

It sounds a lot less menacing to call this a “good neighbor policy,” which is what Finland’s policies vis-à-vis the Soviet Union were sometimes called, and truly enough the Finns successfully negotiated a very tricky tightrope between Europe and Russia. It must be said that the Finns were also successful in retaining their sovereignty and independence. Finland is among the wealthiest countries in Europe, and it does not resemble in the least those former Soviet republics (like Ukraine) still struggling today to free themselves from the influence of the Kremlin. Thus if Finland made any existential compromises during its Cold War Finlandization, it does not seem to be suffering from them today.

Can Ukraine pursue the “Finland Option” and can they do so successfully? The example of Cold War Finland seems to suggest that, yes, Ukraine can move toward Europe while placating Russia. The question then becomes, “Is Ukraine different from Finland?” Obviously, yes, Ukraine differs from Finland in thousands of ways. Really, then, the question is, “Does Ukraine differ from Finland in any essential respect that would prevent it from being able to pursue a policy of Finlandization?”

George Friedman of Stratfor has argued repeated that Ukraine is, indeed, different, though I don’t recall if he has explicitly compared Ukraine to Finland. In Ukraine: On the Edge of Empires (from November 2010) Friedman presented Russia’s strategic dependence upon Ukraine in the strongest terms:

“Ukraine is as important to Russian national security as Scotland is to England or Texas is to the United States. In the hands of an enemy, these places would pose an existential threat to all three countries. Therefore, rumors to the contrary, neither Scotland nor Texas is going anywhere. Nor is Ukraine, if Russia has anything to do with it. And this reality shapes the core of Ukrainian life. In a fundamental sense, geography has imposed limits on Ukrainian national sovereignty and therefore on the lives of Ukrainians.”

“From a purely strategic standpoint, Ukraine is Russia’s soft underbelly. Dominated by Russia, Ukraine anchors Russian power in the Carpathians. These mountains are not impossible to penetrate, but they can’t be penetrated easily. If Ukraine is under the influence or control of a Western power, Russia’s (and Belarus’) southern flank is wide open along an arc running from the Polish border east almost to Volgograd then south to the Sea of Azov, a distance of more than 1,000 miles, more than 700 of which lie along Russia proper. There are few natural barriers.”

While I haven’t been reading Friedman lately, so I don’t know his take on the recent Ukrainian crisis, he has repeated this reasoning in several pieces, and I don’t think that Friedman would assert that Finland is crucial to Russian national security, or that it anchors Russian power in Fenno-Scandia.

One fly in the ointment of this analysis, and one that points toward larger and more interesting questions, is that, at the time of this writing, one of Friedman’s examples — Scotland — is considering succeeding from the UK. And this, as I said, points further afield.

One of the constants we find in the discussion of the present crisis in Ukraine is the dire warnings that Ukraine might split apart, notwithstanding the fact that the geographical region we now call Ukraine has been split up in many different ways in the past. One of the most obvious solutions to the present crisis would be to partition the country, allow those who wish to be part of the idea and destiny of Europe to join Europe as West Ukraine, and allow those who desire to have closer relations with Moscow to do so and become East Ukraine.

Zbigniew Brzezinski makes a point of emphasizing, “national unification and political moderation.” Many others have gingerly touched the question of the possibility of a rupture of Ukraine’s national “unity” only to recoil in horror. (Cf. Ukraine crisis: Turchynov warns of ‘separatism’ risk and Ukraine revolution: Where on Earth is Viktor Yanukovych? stated that, “Mr Putin has not yet spoken publicly about Mr Yanukovych’s ousting, but in a phone conversation with German chancellor Angela Merkel he agreed that the ‘territorial integrity’ of Ukraine must be maintained, suggesting Russia may not intervene.”) Truly enough, if it came to a fight, a civil war would be disastrous and bloody. But it need not be fought over. We know from the example of Czechoslovakia that a “Velvet Divorce” is possible if both parties want the same thing. West Ukraine would not want to give up the industries in the east of the country or the ports and coastline, and East Ukraine would not want to give up the capital, Kiev, but there is much to be said for partition in the case of Ukraine.

Why is Finlandization considered a more palatable alternative than partition? If Ukraine were partitioned, West Ukraine would join Europe, and its people would enjoy greater freedom and economic opportunity. The economy would grow after an initial shrinkage due to the split, but from there, under the umbrella of the European Union, West Ukraine would experience a better future than anything in its past should give it a right to expect. East Ukraine, on the contrary, would slip into an economic twilight, and under Russian influence the country would stagnate (except for a few economic centers) and the quality of life of the people would likely decline.

In time — perhaps in several decades — East Ukraine might also be ready to join Europe when they see their former compatriots doing rather better than they are doing. Is there any reason to hold back West Ukraine when its people are ready to forge ahead on a path different from that chosen for them by Russia? Foreign policy “realists” like Brzezinski and Friedman will say that it shouldn’t be done or it can’t be done, but history shows us otherwise. No matter how ossified the international system of nation-states, some do splinter, and it is rarely a pretty sight. But a peaceful partition is yet possible, and better than many other options. If mutually policed by Russian, EU, and UN forces, it could work better than the other alternatives.

The borders of a partitioned Ukraine have already been drawn by the unambiguous results of the 2004 election (see the map of the poll results above). While it is true that the example of Finland shows us that Finlandization can work, so too the example of Czechoslovakia shows us that a Velvet Divorce can work. Czechoslovakia is also Exhibit A for failed appeasement, and it could be argued that Ukraine has tried Russian appeasement unsuccessfully since the Orange Revolution. Finlandization, as we have seen it to date in Ukraine, has not served the people of Ukraine well, and perhaps it has failed due to the essential differences between Finland and Ukraine mentioned above. Another solution is needed.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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