Four global players will define how our near future will look: the United States (US), the European Union (EU), China and Russia. The relationship between these “four horsemen of the Apocalypse” will – to a large degree – determine the new World Order.
All indications today are that we are moving towards an even more multipolar world. Attempts by Russian President Putin to align with China against NATO could therefore be a turning point. The state of Turkey’s relationship with these four actors will to a large degree determine its position within the new world order.
The four horsemen suffer substantial internal problems. The United States has never been more polarized for decades while the EU is more divided than ever. And similarly, Russia is persuing certain adventurist policies in its own background while China is still licking its wounds trying to recover from the economic externalities it suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to upset political balances as well
While the pandemic has affected the entire world, it no longer is the singular threat mankind is facing. More structural threats such as climate change, the refugee crisis, energy security, income injustices and poverty continue to challenge our future. And while we look to politicians to find solutions to these problems, another global virus, i.e. a very infectious form of populism, is undermining our hopes that they will succeed. While it is painfully clear that we need more international cooperation and solidarity to overcome these challenges, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, instead of learning from the past, are pushing the world towards a new cold war.
The different sides of this next generation war is slowly shaping up. While we have the usual suspects on the West, China and Russia are trying to organize the Eastern block. And the competition in trying to secure a better position is so harsh that it undermines every attempt to cooperate in order to build a more rule-based and just order. At this rate, it looks near impossible to expect any form of order that would ensure global peace and stability.
With us or against us?
With this background in mind, the Ukraine crisis that is currently unfolding, is leaving us little room to be optimistic about the future.
While Russia is clearly the strongest country in terms of hard power on the European continent, it is excluded from taking part in Europe’s security infrastructure which, in turn, causes national security concerns in Russia. This is de facto the catalyser for the current crisis with Ukraine. Contrary to popular opinion today, Russians have no objections against Ukranian sovereignty but it is using Ukraine as a vehicle to communicate its security concerns to the world while ensuring that NATO will not enlarge further towards Russian terrority. As such we might conclude some of Russia’s concerns are reasonable but its methodology is unjust and frightening.
The West is trying to contain Russian agression but is hindered by past mistakes and the clouds hanging over the alliance. The US is trying to coordinate a common response but has lost too much credibility due to the Afghanistan fiasco. Left with little options, the US is threatening sanctions which have already been proven ineffective.
Germany and France are uncomfortable
Despite years of Western sanctions, Russia still enjoys a $600 Billion sovereign wealth fund. And critical US ally, Germany, with an annual gas consumption of 90 billion cubic meters, is understandably reluctant to pull the plug on Nord Stream which is expected to supply 55 Billion cubic meters of gas per annum. Germany’s freshman chancellor Olaf Scholz suggesting otherwise right after his meeting on February 7 with President Biden, shouldn’t fool anyone.
It is also unlikely the Russians will be deterred by French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Moscow a day later. On the contrary, Putin made a conscience effort to humiliate monsieur Macron with the world watching.
Except the Normandy Format none of the international negotiations aspiring to resolve the Ukraine crisis offered a seat to Ukraine itself. Consequently, despite criticism that Mr. Macron faces for his frequent displays of narcissism, his visit to Moscow as the periodic chairman of the EU, should be seen as a legitimate attempt to mediate. However, Mr. Putin’s attitude during the visit, once again made it undeniably clear that he considers mr. Biden as his legitimate counterpart and nobody else. It is likely that this dance between the four horsemen of the Apocalypse will continue as nobody can afford to allow the cold war to turn hot.
Can the Ukranian crisis be resolved without Ukraine?
Continuing a state of crisis with the West is essentially a win-win for Russia. Right after killing any hopes of real autonomy in Belarus, Mr. Putin’s first win derived from the Ukraine crisis without firing a single bullet is that talks of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia are now indefinitely postponed regardless of whether they manage to fulfil the membership criteria. Second, NATO will not be able to station strategic weapon systems in former Soviet countries that are aligned with the West. In fact, as part of a possible deal for Russia to back down, existing military assets might be pulled from these countries. Third, Russia has managed to further widen the wedge between NATO allies which has always been a core objective of Mr. Putin while exposing Germany as its weakest link. The entire world now knows that Mr. Scholz will not be able to fill former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s shoes and that Mr. Macron’s ambitions exceed his abilities. Perhaps the biggest win that Mr. Putin has leveraged out of the Ukraine crisis is an alliance with Chinese President Mr. Xi showing the entire world that Russia has China’s backing. Obviously Chinese support for Russian ambitions in Ukraine is likely to translate into Russian support for Chinese ambitions regarding Taiwan.
Considering the stakes involved, and despite popular opinion, this author believes that the Ukrainian crisis is unlikely to turn hot.
As so often before in history, Turkey finds itself in the middle of the volatility caused by the Ukranian crisis. Not only is Turkey interdependent on Russia from a regional military perspective as well as mutual trade, tourism and direct gas supply, but Turkey is also a decades-old US ally, EU candidate, and a NATO member that enjoys excellent relations with Ukraine.
Perhaps most critically Turkey controls the straits that offer the only access to warm waters for Russian ships under the conditions of the Montreux Treaty. Even under normal circumstances it is difficult to balance all these differing interests but with an imminent war between these stakeholders, it truly is a herculean task.