Not just defense; gas and culture interplay in the Ukrainian crisis

London, 13 Feb. 2022 – Frantic diplomacy: next is German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. He will meet Putin and then go to Kyiv. It would be vital to understand, after the failure of international diplomacy, how the central European country which is refusing to send arms and troops to Ukraine and will only provide Kiev with medical help in case of Russian invasion, will cope with the Kremlin.

The core of talks Scholz-Putin will be certainly North Stream 2, as Berlin is highly dependent on gas supply from Russia and the second Stream is already complete, but gas flow put on hold.

EU Commission has been vocal on the fact that Moscow is using European countries reliance on its gas as leverage to foster its interests in Ukraine and request NATO to step back from eastern European borders. EU import its 41% of gas from Russia.

EU Imports of natural gas by country – © Eurostat

If on the one hand it’s true that it would highly risky for Moscow seeing its gas export to Europe being cut as a form of sanction for invading Ukraine, it’s also true the new Putin-Xi contract for a 30-year gas supply to China, 10 billion cubic metres of gas a year to flow through a new pipeline ready in two/three years, will make Russia less dependent on EU market revenue and more dangerously free to inflict military threats to reach its geopolitical goals: push NATO away from eastern EU borders and from buffer states and keep its control on Ukraine, preventing its NATO (and EU) membership.

But here the issue for Putin is not just related to defense, foreign policy and Russia’s international stand. It’s a matter of domestic control of political power. Smashing down adversaries, a one-party politics with a phantom opposition in the Duma, a tough repressive regime cannot last indefinitely in a fast changing interconnected world. Especially when sharing borders with a Russian mother tongue democratic nation, with deep historical and cultural ties with the former Russian Empire and USSR, as Ukraine.

Ukraine is not just a territorial influence to grab, but an important historical tie Moscow won’t forget: Kyiv is the ancient capital of the Empire from 800dc when the Empire was named after it ‘Kievan Rus’, until XIII sec when Tsar Ivan the Terrible moved the capital to Moscow. Difficult to Putin the Terrible to give it up. Why?

Uniformed cultural differences have always been integral part of the Russian Empire culture, USSR repression and of today’s regime propaganda. It has always been so: a country spanning from eastern Europe to Siberia and China, where hundreds different cultures, ethnicities and languages, have always been uniformed and annihilated; see the repression of ethnic minorities Tatars, Bashkirs, Chechens and, from 2014, the annexation of Crimea and the current threat to Ukrainians.