Wednesday, January 26, 2022
School’s out in St. Petersburg, courtesy of Omicron(Interview) Fyodor Lukyanov breaks down the Ukraine crisis for Vladimir PoznerAn explainer from Reuters about Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and why now is a lousy time for disruptionsUnited Russia floats military aid to Ukraine’s breakaway regionsHBO’s distributor in Russia won’t broadcast a new documentary film about Navalny’s poisoning
🏫 St. Petersburg announces new restrictions for minors following spike in coronavirus hospitalizations (2-min read)
After noting a marked increase in the number of local children hospitalized with COVID-19, the St. Petersburg authorities have announced additional public health restrictions for minors. With the Omicron strain running rampant, Russia has recorded record-breaking daily increases in coronavirus cases over the past few days. In St. Petersburg, an increasing number of classes have been forced to switch to distance learning in order to quarantine schoolchildren with COVID-19 and other respiratory infections. The additional restrictions for minors will enter force on January 28 and remain in place until February 13.
📺 (Interview) Lukyanov explains Russia’s position in Ukraine to Pozner
In an appearance on Vladimir Pozner’s state television program, foreign policy expert Fyodor Lukyanov fielded roughly 45 minutes of broad questions about the current tensions between Russia and the West. At the show’s outset, he admitted that observers logically conclude that Moscow risks appearing weak if it deescalates the situation without forcing concessions from Washington, but he added that international relations aren’t always logical. Furthermore, Lukyanov said, the democratization of information flows has reshaped aspects of diplomacy, perhaps allowing new responses to old problems.
Pozner then asked him if “certain forces” in Ukraine might deliberately provoke Russia into a war on the assumption that an expanded conflict would hurt Moscow more in the long run. Lukyanov acknowledged that Ukraine’s political system doesn’t exert strict control domestically or internationally, which raises the risks of a provocation in the Donbas, but he insisted that ultimate decision-making power in the crisis belongs to Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden.
Lukyanov offered mixed comments about Biden, speculating that the U.S. president knows privately that he won’t win a second term in office, which grants him the freedom to pursue unpopular but geostrategically necessary foreign policies, such as the embarrassing U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. On the one hand, this underscores America’s weakness relative to its days as an uncontested hegemon in the 1990s and early 2000s, but Biden has also demonstrated his resolve as a leader.
Asked why Mikhail Gorbachev and his team didn’t negotiate a better post-Cold War peace for Moscow, Lukyanov said Soviet leaders genuinely embraced utopian ideas about a new welcoming European community, failing to conceive of any alternatives, but the principal factor was the USSR’s sudden dissolution, which the West viewed as capitulation that freed it even from vaguely implied promises about NATO expansion. By the time the Russian Federation arrived at the negotiating table, says Lukyanov, the Kremlin was simply too weak to assert its interests. He recognized that the current dialogue between Moscow and Washington has led to no concessions, but he argued that the talks themselves have kickstarted a mainstream discussion in the United States about the utility of NATO expansion. (He cites Michael Kimmage’s January 17 “Time for NATO to Close Its Door” essay in Foreign Policy.)
Echoing others like Carnegie Moscow Center director Dmitry Trenin, Lukyanov insisted that reintegrating the Donbas into Ukraine by compelling Kyiv to implement its obligations under the Minsk agreements would deescalate today’s tensions by giving Russia what he says would amount to a safeguard against NATO expansion into Ukraine. (Unlike Trenin, Lukyanov says it is self-evident — even visiting aliens would see it — that NATO’s presence in Ukraine constitutes a military threat to Russia.)
Potential diplomatic breakthroughs, said Lukyanov, include the United States agreeing to discuss Ukraine’s future structure (though it wouldn’t offer what Russia wants here) and perhaps a nonbinding statement that negates no standing policy on NATO enlargement but at least indicates the alliance’s new willingness to review the principles of European security differently. Also, there is room for Moscow and Washington to reach new agreements on arms control and other military limits.
Though the Kremlin enjoys escalatory dominance in Ukraine, given that it is a core interest for Moscow but not Washington, Russia’s biggest challenges are still domestic, concluded Lukyanov.
⛽ Reuters explains Europe’s gas ‘bind’ over Ukraine
In an overview of Russian oil and gas exports to Europe, Reuters journalist Edmund Blair explains why U.S. efforts to help Western allies find alternative supplies “may be mission impossible.” The EU relies on Russia for a third of its crude and gas, the latter of which is mainly pumped mainly Ukraine and other Eastern European states. This is how much of Europe heats its homes and powers its industry, despite expanded terminals for non-Russian LNG and pipelines from North Africa. The pandemic recovery and Europe’s green transition have also made now an especially bad time for a disruption to Russian supplies. Washington, meanwhile, cannot turn to America’s own producers to fill a Russian gap in Europe. In the event of supply disruptions, oil prices would surge almost immediately, but a lag in how prices change between wholesale gas and utility bills would “prolong the pain” here for as long as nine months.
📦 United Russia asks Putin to start supplying military aid to Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’ (lawmakers say Western weapons shipments to Ukraine justify the assistance to Ukraine’s self-declared breakaway regions)
📽️ HBO’s distributor in Russia says it has no plans to buy rights to new documentary about assassination attempt against Alexey Navalny (the film reportedly isn’t included in the content already sold to Amedia)