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[00:00:00] Yusuf: Welcome to geopolitical horizon. The podcast from geopolity.com. Hundred thousand Russian soldiers are sitting on Ukraine’s freezing border at this very moment. Everyone is getting ready for a Russian invasion of Ukraine. The US the UK and the EU have threatened Russia with serious repercussions if it invades and Russia has called for guarantees and commitments from NATO for it to back down just last month we had seen a flurry of activity on the edge of Europe and since 2022 begun, there’s been an equal flurry of diplomacy and talks. We’ve got Adnan Khan to unravel this for us. How are you keeping Adnan
[00:00:32] Adnan: I’m good, I’m good. How you doing
[00:00:34] Yusuf: I’m doing very well.
[00:00:36] Yusuf: So, the first thing is, could you summarize what has happened to in Ukraine to date and where we stand currently?
[00:00:42] Adnan: Okay so the current tensions we’re seeing, they really began near the end of November last year. So what we’ve seen really is a huge movement of Russian troops to its border around a Ukraine. So we seen a Russia move battalions from the east of Russia. We’ve seen them move strategic units to around Russia. Now this is not cheap. These things cost money. They require oil. They require a spare parts. So at the moment, the figure branded around that are a hundred thousand troops are surrounding Ukraine, according to Ukrainian officials really the 130,000 troops around a Ukraine. So what we found was Russia moved his troops. It moved its equipment all presenting the image that is gearing up for an invasion. And as soon as we got to that point, what we see is Russia reach out to the west and they began talking about wanting guarantees about NATO not expanding towards Russia, about getting guarantees that Ukraine would not join the NATO organisation.
[00:01:50] Adnan: So really this year in the past few weeks, we’ve seen a flurry of diplomatic talk between Russian officials and European officials. And just last week, we’ve actually seen talks between the foreign minister of the US Russia at the same time aswell. Russia has actually now received an official response on its key demands. So in summery Russia presented the image is gearing up for war. And once that was achieved, it then turned to talks and diplomacy in order to get its demands fulfilled. And that’s really where we stand currently.
[00:02:23] Yusuf: Now you mentioned NATO. It seems almost as if Russia is feeling threatened by the west and NATO. Is this actually a real threat or just a perceived one?
[00:02:34] Adnan: So no this is a real threat, this is something, Russia has been feeling since the collapse of Soviet union in 1991. If you take your mind back, the Soviet border went all the way to Berlin in 1991, and literally overnight by the end of 1991. Russia’s borders went 300 hundred or so miles, East all the way to where is Ukraine, where Belarus is today and what we’ve seen throughout the 1990s and 2000s, all of these countries that used to be former Soviet satellite states or former republics, one by one, they’ve joined NATO. As we’ve seen with the Baltics, they’ve joined the European union, as far, the Russian see it this is Western encroachment upon Russia and many of these countries now have American bases. They have NATO bases. So Russia actually feel, this is the historical problem they’ve had with Europe, which is Western or European encroachment, more and more towards Russian territory. So NATO had two really, really large exercises last year. In March and in September where there Navy got involved, they went to the black sea where even in Ukraine, there were very, very large some of the largest military exercises they’ve had. All of this really has sent a message to russia. That NATO really is coming on to it’s border, this obviously isn’t a new battle see during the cold war, we had a similar battle as well. And even prior to the cold war, historically, the European they’ve always tried to push the border more and more towards the East. And Russia has tried to push the border more and more into Europe. In fact, the cold war was about Russia invading the rest of Europe to the west of Germany. Obviously it never happened. It collapsed in the end. So this is a very, very real fear for them. This is something that’s been there now for the best part of three decades, and Putin and the security class. They felt that now they need to really move enough is enough.
[00:04:29] Yusuf: Now with the west, almost expanding towards, towards the east, on the borders of Russia. Russia has always spoken about a buffer zone. What is that exactly? What would that look like?
[00:04:40] Adnan: So, yeah, that’s a very interesting, question for, for Russia, a buffer zone or strategic depth, at it’s officially called it’s where you expand or control territory around your heartland or your core territory and that extra land, it acts as a zone in order to defend or fall back to in the case of war. So in the case of Russia, the, you know, the Russian people, the Slavic people, as they known, they originally from Ukraine and in the 13th century, when the Mongols were invading, they left that area because the Mongols were coming and they went north and they settled in Muscovy, which eventually turned into Moscow. But that a big problem that Moscow sits on the Northern European plane, which is this flat land really that goes from France all the way to the Ural mountains in Russia. And that’s why it’s very easy to move equipment and armies on this particular land. And it’s the reason why Russia has been invaded. So what Russia did historically it expanded north south, east, and west in order to use this extra territory to make sure it never has to fight in and around its core territory. So today, as far as they’re concerned, the Baltics, Eastern Europe, the Caucuses is Central Asia. This is Russia buffer zone. On Russia has a historical claim on these territories. And they also add that these people, many of them are culturally, Slavic as well. Or many of these have Russian minorities to a still living there today. Now interestingly the west at times accept this claim and respect it, at other times they indifferent towards it, as well. So as far as Russia is concerned out of right over these territories and when we mean a right, we don’t necessarily mean that they occupy always. It means that they’re aligned to Russia or they’re independent, then neither Western as well. So the problem they’ve got with Ukraine is that Ukraine is just the latest nation in the battle that they lost when it comes to the Baltic countries, when it comes to Poland, when it comes to, other countries in Eastern Europe. So the buffer zone is the the territories around them, which they believe they have right to.
[00:06:37] Yusuf: Now, what is, the, the position for the west for Europe, particularly, Eastern Europe, there’s a lot of talk about them coming to the aid of an independent nation who wants to be liberal and democratic. What is the opinion of the European nations?
[00:06:53] Adnan: Their position really is, is Ukraine like many of these former Soviet republics. These are nations that have become independent. So the sovereign nations, so the sovereignty should be respected and they also want to become liberal and become more western. So over the year, the European union has reached out to them. It’s given them funding and it’s even accepted them as a part of europe. So their position is, is they are just defending the right of a nation to be independent. They are defending their right to be liberal and democratic. And it’s Russia whose authoritarian and who wants to turn the clock back to the 18th century. That they’re the problem. They’re the aggressor. So it was in this light, we obviously saw Colour Revolutions in the past in Ukraine, in Georgia, you had it in central Asia as well. So their position really is, is this is the way to expand Europe, and the expansion Europe can really only be Eastward now because all the other countries that already, in the EU, so Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and the Balkans nation. These are really the last remaining nations that are not part of the EU. Now obviously for Russia that’s the final straw. If the whole of Europe joined the European union, then the EU and the west is right up to Russia’s borders. I mean from Ukraine, Moscow’s only about 300 miles way. So the Western European position is the classic we’re supporting democracy. We’re supporting liberal loving people, and we have to stand up against this authoritarian leaders who want to impose their way of life on a people.
[00:08:14] Yusuf: With Ukraine being so important to Russia and Russia has been moving its troops now for the best part of two months, why don’t we see Russia? Why hasn’t Russia already invaded,
[00:08:23] Adnan: Yes that’s a very important, question actually, because if you’re moving a 100,000 troops and keep in mind America had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, you probably are going to go to war its a significant amount of troops to move it, it’s very, very costly, But I’m coming more and more to the opinion now that really, I don’t think the plan ever was war. If you’re moving that amount of troops and you don’t go to war that couldn’t have been the plan. I think the plan was to force to hand the west to talks. And the only way to get that was to show strength by if you’re not prepared to talk to us, then we would just physically make the changes that we want to make, it and it was Russia who called for talks it’s Russia who put out its conditions. Its Russia who said this is our problem. This is why I’m moving troops. And if you can agree to these, then we won’t go to war. So Russia who, yes was the aggressor. It moved its troops. It’s the one that’s actually been calling for talks as well. So it looks as though the movement of troops, really with a political ploy to force the west, to come and talk to them. So, last week, anthony Blinkin of American and Lavrof foreign minister in russia, they met and officially America has responded now to Russia’s demands and their main demands where Ukraine doesn’t join NATO and NATO stops expanding towards Russia. Effectively America’s response has been, anybody can join NATO, NATO than open organization. And what America then did is proposed a few other things. Its proposed starting up the forum that you used to have between NATO and Russia and it’s talked about making some nuclear and missile treaties again. So they skirting around the issue for the moment now, we haven’t received an official Russian response yet to America counter claim. But that’s where we are. You know, although the Western media is ringing the bells of war. That’s not necessarily the case in the Russian media and in the Ukrainian media as well. And I think this seems to be the strategy of Putin which is create the image of war so the west are forced to come and talk to you. And that’s where you try and get your terms.
[00:10:16] Yusuf: So you’re saying that they creating the image of war rather than actually intending for war. But is Russia even military capable of conducting an invasion. I know in the past, Russia’s been actually struggling quite a lot to modernize their army. So are they in, did they have that capacity
[00:10:32] Adnan: So you know, Russia face severe problems with its military in the 1990s it had lots of outdated military equipment and obviously the 1990 was the decade of depression in Russia as well, since then, Russia tried a few times to modernize its military. And what modernization means in Russia is retiring old equipment and replacing them with more modern equipment and due to the problems in Russia’s economy struggled to actually do that. What Russia has been able to do in is in some certain areas quite limited areas with Russia has made progress. So in the area of heavy fighter jets in the area of bombers in cyber warfare, even it’s got a new tank now. It’s managed to make quite a lot of development, but this type of war it would be facing in Ukraine. Would be of a ground invasion where you try and hold land. So that’s really about your troops having armor, having protection. It’s not really about your air force. It’s not really about your Navy. Now, Russia it’s not really been to war for a long time and the wars it has engaged in, it’s not required a large number of their troops. So in Syria, Russia only had about 5,000 troops there and mainly Russia used this airpower in Syria. Also Russia didn’t really face any opposition from the rebels who didn’t have any air force or America. You find also in Azerbaijan and Armenia, there was a wall last year and Russia performed very badly Russia actually lost. In Crimea, which Russia occupied Russia already has a naval base there. So when Russia went to war in Crimea and it occupied it still and he took it over, it’s already got a naval presence there. So he didn’t have to deploy lots of troops already had troops there as well. So definitely it’s no a walk in the park. I mean, even 135,000 troops isn’t sufficient to pacify an occupy Ukraine, you’re going to need at least 170,000 troops and all of that is based on things going right. You’re going to have to go into Ukraine you going to have to occupy land. There’s potentially going to be an insurgency supported by the West and armed by them. Yes russia has the advantage that it’s only going across the. But the longer any war goes on, it’s going to drain Russia’s resources and Russia’s economy is already in a bad state at the moment as well.
[00:12:39] Adnan: So I wouldn’t say Russia is not capable. Nevertheless, Russia is not in an ideal position to go to war as well, so i would suspect Russia will do what it’s already been doing, which is it would arm the rebels in Ukraine, the Eastern Ukraine and maybe position some troops amongst them and get them to do the heavy lifting. but this isn’t a war where you’re going to be launching missiles from far away. It’s not going to be a Naval war or air war. it’s about a ground invasion and occupying territory. And you know there’s so many issues involved with that. And we saw what that did to America of the last two decades.
[00:13:11] Yusuf: Since the collapse of the Soviet union, it’s always seems like Russia is trying to take back what what they previously had go back to their former glory. so there’s always this idea that Russia is wanting to be a global power wanting to challenge the international order. Does Russia actually have a vision for the world?
[00:13:32] Adnan: So Russia is not the Soviet union today. The Soviet union had an ideology, it had values. It wanted to propagate this to the world it wanted people to embrace this. So it engaged in a cold war with America across the world, to turn countries into communist states and foment revolution and overthrow capitalist governments. That is not what Russia is up to today. Today, Russia believes it should be respected. Russia believes it should be seen as a power.
[00:14:01] Adnan: But Russia is not looking to make people Russian its not looking to make people communist. It just wants to be respected. And that’s why the only area where Russia has
[00:14:11] Adnan: shown it’s prepared to deploy troops and act. It’s really it’s former buffet area. So the caucuses central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Baltic states beyond that Russia does a few things. It shows quite a bit of rhetoric but beyond that, it can’t really do much.
[00:14:27] Adnan: So in Libya, you know, Russia’s the involved but Russia really is supporting what’s already there. It’s not trying to ferment or bring any new solutions to Libya. You see similar Russia’s trying to show it’s involved in Venezuela it’s involved in Egypt by selling them arms. All of these are commercial economic military ties is nothing more than that. So Russia is not trying to recreate the Soviet empire again. What is trying to recreate is a strong Russia that should be respected and with NATO and the EU expanding towards the Russian border, that completely conflicts with it. And that’s why they’re responding the way they are.
[00:15:02] Yusuf: The Ukrainian people themselves. What are their sentiments? What the sentiments on the ground, which way do they swing toward Russia or towards the west.
[00:15:10] Adnan: So the Ukrainian people where most of them want to, you know, as far as they’re concerned, they lived in the Soviet union. It hasn’t been great. They live under Russian inference after 1990s and really the oligarchs dominate the country to the law of corruption. So many Ukrainians see their future in the west. They want to join the European union. They want to become Western. They want to be part of the EU market as far as they’re concerned being a Russian ally doesn’t really help them. You’ve obviously got a large Russian minority in the east of Ukraine. They obviously want more ties with Russia, but really overall, the ukrainian people see the future in the west.
[00:15:47] Yusuf: Now the, this is slightly off topic, off the topic of Ukraine. There’s been a lot of protests happening in Kazakhstan and the government have invited russia in to help them in that, is that connected to the Ukraine issue or completely seperate.
[00:16:05] Adnan: So for the moment Yusuf it doesn’t look as though it’s connected. I mean, the time of obviously interesting, what it seems is there’s actually an internal struggle going on between the former leader Nursultan and then the new leader who’s taken over Tokayev and it seems Tokayev try to use some demonstrations in order to remove the old guard and because of the mass demonstration he called for Russian troops or the CSTO or as they call it, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which is effectively like a, a former Soviet style NATO organization. So I think the timing’s interesting, but that looks really more as though it’s an internal struggle, which does have international dimensions now, because Russia’s got involved, America’s trying to get involved, but from the looks of it at the moment, I think in origin is not actually linked to Ukraine. Although The timing is. interesting.
[00:16:57] Yusuf: So going back to the Ukraine issue, we’re finding that there’s, like divergent opinions between US, Germany, France, and the Eastern European nations on actually this issue and how to deal with Russia. Can you go through some of there key positions on outlining the differences?
[00:17:15] Adnan: So I think this is a very important point. One of the reasons why Russia’s able to do a lot of what its done is there are divisions in the Western camp and primarily you’ve got division between America and Europe and then even within Europe you’re getting some differences as well. And a primary reason for that ease is over half of Europe’s energy comes from Russia, even the transportation of pipelines come from russia. And the closer you are on the European map to Russia, the more relient you are upon Russian energy. So Germany for example has a very deep energy relationship with Russia, its built the Nord stream two with them. However, the Europeans are against this. They’re not happy about this because they feel it will circumvent Ukraine. And it was strengthen the Russian position and there influence within europe. So in America, you’ve got one side who doesn’t want anyone to dominate Europe, Russia is obviously a country that wants to dominate Europe. So that’s why America historically has supported Europe. On the European continent itself. You’ve got the UK, you’ve got Germany, you’ve got France and they’ve got slightly different positions. So the UK has taken a very aggressive posture against Russia. And that’s because you know, both country’s are at each others throat anyway, with poisonings and things like that going on. Although the UK seems to be very happy with Russian money coming into the UK. They’re not happy with Russian influence coming with that. Germany is trying to be very pragmatic like it’s always been. On one hand it will sanction Russia for human rights. On the other hand, it will make energy deals with Russia as well. And then you’ve got France who doesn’t want to see America use this to gain more influence in Europe. In any war scenario with russia, Europe will need NATO help. It will need American troops. And the problem with that is is for the French, especially it means America will gain more and more influence in Europe and Europe will not become independent which is the direction France wants Europe to go. So that’s why the French want to see this resolved and there’s no war and America doesn’t get more involved. The Eastern European nations want Europe to take war footing. They want them to teach the Russians the lesson. If that means America coming to help them in America having bases in Eastern Europe, they’re prepared to give it because they are the most threatened by Russian invasion. They’re going to be the first lands that are going to be occupied by, so this division between both countries, this quiet between America and Europe is quite interesting just last week Biden admitted that there’s differences amongst the Europeans. What if Russia doesn’t invade, but it does an incursion so what America is saying, there’s no point in us going to war with Russia, unless Russia does a full-scale envision. Anything less than that is a waste of our resources. And Ukraine was shocked at that. And Eastern European was shocked at that. So they’re saying if Russia destabilizes, if it uses cyber attacks, if it uses a disinformation campaign, you’re not gonna do. And in what America is saying is, unless the whole of the European continent and the threat will intervene. If they do anything less than that, then it’s a waste of our resources really We got more important things to be thinking about. So when you put that all together, there’s a lot of differences in the Western camp, which Russia does take advantage of as well.
[00:20:10] Yusuf: Now, just this week the UK and the US both the UK and the US both threatened Russia with sanctions. If they invaded Ukraine now brings me back to our podcast on the dollar, about sanctions. How effective would the sanctions against Russia?
[00:20:27] Adnan: No sanctions regime is a hundred percent. I mean, Iran, Cuba, North Korea has shown you can get around them. I think with Russia, you got even bigger problems. So there’s even talk that if Russia invade they’re going, gonna remove them from the SWIFT money transfer network. And that’s going to hurt Europe as much as going to hurt Russia because if 50% of Europe’s energy comes from Russia, if Europe’s not going to pay Russia, Russia’s, I’m going to give him oil and gas. And especially in the winter, that’s not a good idea. So really that’s a double whammy. You’re not only hurting Russia well you’re going to even hurt the European union as well. Secondly, how does Germany or France or these countries pay Russia for their energy. They can only pay them by the SWIFT network. And if you cut Russia off in the SWIFT network, you actually hurting them as well. So this is one of those really interesting scenarios where the tools that have been so effective for the west for so long, they’re not coming across or up against a nation who actually has tools which weaken these particular tools or sanction has been a regime the west is used successfully. It’s even still using them against Russia, but Russia also has tools it can use as well and Russia has turned off the gas to Ukraine and Lithuania in the past as well. So the UK and the US may shout this rhetoric, but in practice, it’s not a straightforward there’s repercussions. If anything, the other European countries would be the number one opponents of Russia or removing them from the SWIFT system.
[00:21:48] Yusuf: Thank you for your time today Adnan, if you want to learn more about the issues raised today please check out our website, www.thegpolity.com. You can also learn more on other issues by accessing our website where you find comprehensive insight. Thank you for listening. Goodbye.