Content may be subject to copyright.
The War in Ukraine
March-April 2022
Edited by Tim Haesebrouck, Servaas
Taghon & Hermine Van Coppenolle
Table of contents 1
TABLE OF CONTENTS .......................................................................................................................... 1
INTRODUCTION ..................................................................................................................................... 2
RUSSIA’S INVASION IN UKRAINE: WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE?................................................... 4
FROM UKRAINIAN INDEPENDENCE TILL ORANGE REVOLUTION (1991-2004) .............................................. 4
FROM ORANGE TO MAIDAN REVOLUTION (2004-2014) ............................................................................ 6
THE ANNEXATION OF CRIMEA AND WAR IN EAST UKRAINE (2014-2019) .................................................... 7
COMPARISON ...................................................................................................................................... 11
GERMANY IN THE 1920S....................................................................................................................... 11
RUSSIA IN THE 1990S .......................................................................................................................... 12
REORGANIZING EUROPEAN SECURITY ................................................................................................... 14
GERMANY IN THE 1930S, RUSSIA AFTER 2000 ...................................................................................... 16
CONCLUSIONS ..................................................................................................................................... 18
BETWEEN IMPERIALISM AND SOFT POWER .................................................................................. 20
RECKONINGS WITH RUSSIAS PAST: ...................................................................................................... 20
RECKONINGS OF RUSSIAS PRESENT: .................................................................................................... 21
THE CROSSROADS OF RUSSIAS FUTURE ............................................................................................... 22
PUTIN IS AFRAID OF EUROPE .......................................................................................................... 23
UKRAINE’S IN-BETWEENNESS: FROM HYBRIDITY TO CENTRALITY .......................................... 25
UKRAINE AS THE EU’S AND RUSSIAS LITTLE SELF............................................................................... 25
UKRAINES LIMINALITY: FROM HYBRIDITY TO MARGINALITY ...................................................................... 27
UKRAINES OWN FACE......................................................................................................................... 29
CURRENCY COLLAPSE? ........................................................................................................................ 32
GLOBAL FINANCIAL FRAGMENTATION? ................................................................................................... 34
THE END OF GLOBALISATION AS WE KNOW IT ............................................................................ 37
FROM LIBERAL PEACE TO WEAPONISED INTERDEPENDENCE .................................................................... 38
THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT ....................................................................................................................... 39
SECURITY-DRIVEN DEGLOBALISATION.................................................................................................... 40
EUROPE’S ENERGY TRANSITION WILL DISARM PUTIN ................................................................ 41
MORE THAN ONE CRISIS ....................................................................................................................... 41
A CHALLENGING BREAK-UP ................................................................................................................... 42
A SMART AND JUST TRANSITION ............................................................................................................ 43
............................................................................................................................................................... 45
THE WAR IN UKRAINE | March - April 2022
Table of contents 1
MAPPING CHINAS DIPLOMATIC STANCES ............................................................................................... 46
UNDERSTANDING CHINAS DIPLOMATIC STANCES ................................................................................... 48
CONCLUSION ....................................................................................................................................... 49
THE KINGDOM IN THE MIDDLE ............................................................................................................... 50
A MULTIPOLAR WORLD ........................................................................................................................ 52
CONCLUSION: ONE WORLD .................................................................................................................. 54
RUSSIA ................................................................................................................................................. 55
ANTECEDENTS ..................................................................................................................................... 55
TURKEYS REACTION TO RUSSIAS 2022 AGGRESSION AGAINST UKRAINE ................................................ 58
THE TURKISH SOCIETAL DIMENSION ...................................................................................................... 61
CONCLUSIONS ..................................................................................................................................... 61
REMITTANCES ...................................................................................................................................... 63
COLLAPSE OF THE ROUBLE ................................................................................................................... 65
RISING PRICES ..................................................................................................................................... 66
POLITICAL REACTION ............................................................................................................................ 67
CONCLUSION ....................................................................................................................................... 67
Introduction 2
Tim Haesebrouck, Servaas Taghon & Hermine Van Coppenolle
Ghent Institute for International and European Studies – Ghent University
On February 24th 2022, the world was
shocked by a blatant act of aggression: in
clear violation of international law, Russia
launched a horrible war against Ukraine. At
the time of writing, April 6 2022, the United
Nations Office of The High Commissioner For
Human Rights (OCHA) has already recorded
3,455 civilian casualties as a direct conse-
quence of the war.1 Unfortunately, given the
difficulty of gaining adequate information from
those places where fighting is most intense,
the actual number of casualties is considera-
bly higher. The use of explosive weapons
caused most of the civilian casualties. How-
ever, Russian troops have also intentionally
murdered innocent civilians, as the shocking
images of executed civilians in the streets of
Bucha painfully demonstrated.2 Out of a pop-
ulation of over 40 million, more than 10 million
Ukrainian citizens have fled their homes. Four
million of these refugees have crossed the
border to neighbouring countries. The other
6.5 million are displaced inside Ukraine. Trag-
ically, many other Ukrainian citizens are
1 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Ukraine: civilian casualty update 3 April 2022”,
United Nations Human Rights, April 3,2022,
2 Simon Gardner, “Ukraine accuses Russia of civilian ‘massacre’; Moscow denies it”, Reuters, April 3,
3 Ellen Knickmeyer, “West, Russia mull nuclear steps in a ‘more dangerous’ world”, AP News, April 2,
2022, West, Russia mull nuclear steps in a 'more dangerous' world | AP News.
unable to leave the areas in which heavy
fighting continuous. Russia’s blatant act of
aggression not only caused a horrible human-
itarian tragedy, it also seems to constitute one
of the most consequential geopolitical con-
flicts of our times (at the very least in Europe).
For the first time since the darkest hours of
the Cold War, the threat of nuclear weapons
deployment looms over the European conti-
Taken aback by the violent intervention
launched by the Russian authorities in
Ukraine, the researchers of the Ghent Insti-
tute for International and European Stud-
ies aim to shine a light on the crisis with a new
initiative: the GIES occasional paper. Starting
from Monday March 21st 2022, contributions
that present the analyses of our researchers
on the Ukraine War were published on a daily
basis. This first GIES occasional paper col-
lects these contributions in an edited volume.
In the first contribution, Tim Haesebrouck
and Servaas Taghon describe the key
THE WAR IN UKRAINE | March-April 2022
Introduction 3
events that happened before Russia’s war on
Ukraine, starting in the immediate aftermath
of the fall of the Soviet Union and ending with
the start of Russia’s aggression. In the sec-
ond contribution, Goedele De Keersmaeker
goes further back in history and draws a cau-
tious comparison between Russia after the
Cold War and Germany after World War I.
From this historical comparison, she draws
two important lessons: “First, take your old
enemies/new friends seriously, do not humili-
ate them and respect their security concerns,
even if their perception differs fundamentally
from your own. Second, take your old ene-
mies seriously once they decide they are no
longer interested in your friendship and will re-
store their old status by their own means.”
John Irgengioro, in turn, looks at Russia’s
past, present and future, arguing that the war
in Ukraine is unravelling “deeply existentialist
questions about the trajectory of the Russian
Federation as a successor state of the
USSR”. His contribution convincingly argues
that Putin has abandoned any soft power ef-
forts in in Ukraine in favour of utilizing hard
power. This contrast sharply with the way in
which the EU exercises power, as shown in
the contribution of Klaas Wauters and Hen-
drik Vos. This contribution draws attention to
the power and attractiveness of the European
project, to which Ukraine is seeking rap-
prochement and which “scares the hell out of
Putin”. Louise Amoris also sees Ukraine
drawing closer to the West, arguing that
“Ukraine has indeed enshrined its future al-
ways more strongly towards the West, and
the launch of the Russian invasion in Ukraine
on 24 February 2022 could well be a deter-
mining stepping stone in this journey.” More
generally, her contribution indicates that
Ukraine has increasingly tried to position itself
at the centre of Europe in the context of Rus-
sian aggression, while also asserting its own
civic identity, one that is neither East, nor
The next three contributions focus on the
(possible) consequences of Russia’s war in
Ukraine and the West’s reaction to it. Mattias
Vermeiren looks at the West’s sanctions,
which seek to completely isolate Russia from
the western-dominated international financial
and monetary system. His contribution dis-
cusses the possible objectives behind the
western sanctions, as well as the possible
consequences of Russia's isolation from the
financial system. Ferdi De Ville, in turn, ar-
gues that the Russian invasion of Ukraine and
the unprecedented sanctions with which the
West has responded will be a watershed in
the trajectory of the global economy. The eco-
nomic isolation of Russia will long outlive the
duration of the war and the sanctions and will
constitute a blow from which globalisation will
never fully recover. Moniek de Jong and
Thijs Van de Graaf argue that the war in
Ukraine will also be a watershed moment for
Europe’s energy politics. Their contribution
focusses on the impact of the war against
Ukraine on Europe’s energy politics, drawing
attention to the long-term benefits of a green
The four remaining contributions look at the
position and reaction of three countries to-
wards the war in Ukraine. Huanyu Zhao and
Jing Yu map the official Chinese position to-
wards the Ukraine conflict. Their contribution
offers a structured and concise overview of
the official Chinese discourse on the conflict.
Sven Biscop, Bart Dessein and Jasper
Roctus further elaborate on China’s reaction
to the war in Ukraine. More specifically, they
argue that, by not fully supporting Russia in
its war against Ukraine, China has avoided
tipping the world into a new bipolar rivalry. In
consequence, there is still a chance to keep
the world together, to maintain one set of
rules that all states subscribe to, because to
pursue its interests, China needs the stability
that these rules create. Dries Lesage, Emin
Daskin and Hasan Yar focus on the position
of Turkey, which as a neighbouring country to
Ukraine and Russia has become indirectly in-
volved in the Ukrainian war in multiple ways.
Last (but anything but least), Karolina
Kluczewska sketches how the first weeks of
the war in Ukraine affected Tajikistan, a coun-
try tied to Russia in many ways: historically,
politically and, most importantly, economi-
Russia’s invasion in Ukraine: what happened before? 4
Tim Haesebrouck & Servaas Taghon
Ghent Institute for International and European Studies Ghent University
On February 24th 2022, Russia launched a
full-scale military invasion into Ukraine, caus-
ing a horrific humanitarian tragedy for the
Ukrainian people and what might become the
most consequential geopolitical conflict since
the end of the Cold War. In this contribution,
we describe the key events that happened be-
fore Russia’s war on Ukraine, starting in the
immediate aftermath of the fall of the Soviet
Union and ending with the start of Russia’s
aggression. We do not aim to look for the his-
torical causes of the war, nor can we hope to
provide a full history of the Russia-Ukraine re-
lationship in this short piece. Our goal is lim-
ited to providing some historical background
to the conflict.
From Ukrainian independence till Orange
Revolution (1991-2004)
The Ukrainian parliament declared Ukraine
independent from the Soviet Union on August
24th 1991, five days after Russian President
Boris Yeltsin had climbed upon a tank in the
streets of Moscow to defy an attempted coup
by communist hardliners.4 On December 1st,
4 Paul D'Anieri, Robert Kravchuk, and Taras Kuzio. Politics and society in Ukraine (London: Routledge,
5 Taras Kuzio and Paul D'Anieri. The sources of Russia's great power politics: Ukraine and the challenge
to the European order (Bristol: E-International Relations, 2018)
a referendum was organised that resulted in
a landslide vote in favour of Ukrainian inde-
pendence. The most important task for the
newly elected Ukrainian president Leonid
Kravchuk was to negotiate a “civilized di-
vorce” from Russia. Russian leaders, Yeltsin
included, were not in favour of a complete
separation of Ukraine from Russia.5 However,
the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the
easiest way for Yeltsin and his allies to get rid
of his political rival, Michail Gorbachev, who
was the president of the Soviet Union and,
hereby, technically hierarchically superior to
Yeltsin. Kravchuk met with his Russian and
Belarussian counterparts to negotiate a new
relationship between the three states on De-
cember 8th 1991. This resulted in the Be-
lovezh Accords, which formally dissolved the
Soviet Union and established the Common-
wealth of Independent States. These accords
were not unambiguously welcomed by the
Russian leadership, who only agreed to the
dissolution of the Soviet Union, and hereby to
THE WAR IN UKRAINE | March-April 2022
Russia’s invasion in Ukraine: what happened before? 5
a fully independent Ukraine, to complete Yelt-
sin’s takeover of political power in Moscow.
Several issues needed to be resolved follow-
ing Ukraine’s independence, among which
the question of control over its nuclear arse-
nal, arguably the most pressing for the United
States and other western states.6 Ukraine
had the third largest arsenal of nuclear weap-
ons on its territory and insisted on binding se-
curity guarantees before it wanted to surren-
der its nuclear weapons. The issue was re-
solved in January 1994 when Ukraine, Russia
and the US signed the Trilateral Agreement
on Nuclear weapons. Ukraine agreed to
transfer the nuclear warheads stocked on its
territory to Russia in return for financial com-
pensations and security assurances. In the
December 1994 Budapest memorandum, the
US, the UK and Russia welcomed Ukraine’s
accession into the Non-Proliferation Treaty as
a non-nuclear state and “reaffirmed their com-
mitment to refrain from the use of force
against the territorial integrity or political inde-
pendence of Ukraine.”7
Another pressing issue was the division of the
Soviet Union’s Black Sea Fleet, which was
linked to the status of the port city Sevastopol
and the Crimean peninsula, where the fleet
was located.8 Crimea had been part of Russia
since the times of Catherine the Great, but
was transferred to Ukrainian jurisdiction in
1954. In the years following Ukrainian inde-
pendence, Russia continued to contest the le-
gitimacy of Ukraine’s control over the penin-
sula, with the Russian parliament challenging
the legality of the 1954 decision to transfer
control of Crimea to Ukraine. The dispute over
6 Paul D'Anieri, Robert Kravchuk, and Taras Kuzio. Politics and society in Ukraine.
7 “Memorandum on security assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the
Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”
jid=0800000280401fbb, accessed on March 28, 2022.
8 Wolczuk, Roman, Ukraine's foreign and security policy 1991-2000 (London: Routledge, 2002).
9 Taras Kuzio and Paul D'Anieri. The sources of Russia's great power politics.
10 Paul D'Anieri. Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War, (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2019).
11 Ibid, 89.
the Black Sea Fleet would be resolved in
1997, when Russia and Ukraine reached a
deal on how to split the fleet among the two
countries. More importantly, Russia was
given a 20 year lease of the port facilities, as
well as the right to keep up to 25,000 Russian
troops at the military base in Sevastopol. The
deal opened the door for the 1997 Russia-
Ukraine Friendship Treaty, in which Russia
and Ukraine agreed to respect each others
sovereignty and reaffirmed “the inviolability of
the borders existing between them.”9
In July 1994, Kravchuk was succeeded by Le-
onid Kuchma, who had won the presidential
elections on a platform of economic recon-
nection with Russia. Under his presidency,
Ukraine would adopt a multi-vector foreign
policy, in which cooperation with Russia and
integration with the West were carefully bal-
anced.10 Relations with the US, NATO and
the EU were strengthened during Kuchma’s
first term in office, with Ukraine becoming the
“most eager participant” of NATO’s Partner-
ship for Peace and adopting an official strat-
egy on EU integration.11 However, because of
Kuchma’s increasingly authoritarian inclina-
tions, the relationship with the West frayed
during his second term in office. The murder
of journalist Gongadze, in which Kuchma’s of-
fice was implicated, and other illegal actions
through which Kuchma attempted to concen-
trate political power, made clear that he was
not willing to implement the democratic re-
forms necessary for further integration with
the West. As the relationship with the US and
the EU deteriorated, Kuchma increasingly
turned to Moscow for support.
Russia’s invasion in Ukraine: what happened before? 6
From Orange to Maidan Revolution (2004-
The highly unpopular Kuchma was constitu-
tionally not allowed to pursue a third term in
office. Prime minister Viktor Yanukovych be-
came the candidate of Kuchma’s Party of Re-
gions in the November 2004 presidential elec-
tions. Yanukovych was strongly backed by
Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. In
contrast, the US and the EU were openly hop-
ing for a victory of his main competitor: Viktor
Yushchenko.12 In spite of suffering from di-
oxin poisoning in the run up to the elections,
exit polls indicated that Yushchenko had won
with 52% of the votes. The official results,
however, gave the electoral victory to Yanu-
kovych.13 Domestic and international election
monitors immediately challenged Yanu-
kovych’s victory and, in response to the bla-
tant electoral fraud, millions of Ukrainian citi-
zens flooded the streets of Kyiv in what would
become known as the ‘Orange Revolution’.
Within two weeks, the electoral results were
declared invalid by the Ukrainian parliament
and the Ukrainian Supreme Court. New elec-
tions were organized on December 26th,
which were convincingly won by Yushchenko.
Another leading figure of the Orange Revolu-
tion was appointed as prime minister: Yuliya
The Orange Coalition did not last long. Old
personnel and political differences between
the two leading figures of the Orange Revolu-
tion quickly re-emerged and Yushchenko
fired Tymoshenko in September 2005.14 Ben-
efitting from the competition between the
members of the Orange Coalition, the Party
of Regions became the largest party in the
Ukrainian parliament after the 2006 elections.
Yanukovych managed to form a parliamen-
tary majority and became Ukraine’s prime
12 Ibid, 127.
13 Adrian Karatnycky, "Ukraine's orange revolution," Foreign Affairs 84, no 2 (2005): 35.
14 Kataryna Wolczuk, "Conflict and reform in Eastern Europe: Domestic politics and European integra-
tion in Ukraine," The International Spectator (2006): 7-24.
15 Paul D'Anieri. Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War
minister. This cohabitation of the two main an-
tagonists of the Orange Revolution resulted in
several political crises and the eventual dis-
solution of the Ukrainian parliament in 2007.
Yushchenko’s ‘Our Ukraine’-party and Tymo-
shenko’ s ‘Bloc of Yuliya Tymoshenko’ man-
aged to secure a small majority in parliament
in the subsequent elections. In December
2007, Tymoshenko reprised her role as Prime
Minister.15 However, this did not mean the
end of the rivalry between the different mem-
bers of the coalition, which continued to suffer
from political infighting.
The change towards a more explicit pro-
Western leadership after the Orange Revolu-
tion did not result in dramatic progress to-
wards EU-membership. Partially because the
EU was disinclined towards integrating a
country of the size of Ukraine at a time it was
suffering from enlargement fatigue, but also
because the necessary domestic reforms
were not carried out by the Ukrainian govern-
ment, the EU did not make a clear member-
ship commitment to Ukraine. In 2007, the EU
and Ukraine did start negotiating on an Asso-
ciation Agreement, which would include a
Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area
(DCFTA) between the EU and Ukraine. Yush-
chenko also did not manage to get a clear
prospect of membership in NATO. In the run-
up to the 2008 Bucharest Summit, the US
supported the idea of offering a membership
action plan (MAP) to Ukraine and Georgia,
which would put the countries on a clear path
towards NATO membership. However,
mainly because of the strong opposition of
France and Germany, the Summit would not
result in the offering of a MAP to either one of
these states. The Bucharest Summit Declara-
tion did include the following statement:
“NATO welcomes Ukraine's and Georgia's
Russia’s invasion in Ukraine: what happened before? 7
Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in
NATO. We agreed today that these countries
will become members of NATO.”16
The relationship between Russia and Ukraine
had become more hostile since the Orange
Revolution.17 The most dramatic events were
the 2006 and 2009 ‘gas wars’, in which Rus-
sia diverted gas shipments away from
Ukraine over allegations that Kyiv was not
paying for its gas supplies. More generally,
Russia had started adopting a more assertive
policy in its neighbourhood since the begin-
ning of the 2000s and, in the Summer of 2008,
it launched an actual war against Georgia
over two breakaway regions Abkhazia and
South-Ossetia. Russia vehemently opposed
any possible accession of Ukraine to NATO.
Foreign Affairs minister Lavrov explicitly ar-
gued that “Russia ‘will do everything possible’
to prevent the accession of Ukraine (and
Georgia) to NATO.”18 At the NATO-Russia
Council, which took place the day after the
Bucharest declaration was issued, Putin re-
portedly told US President Bush: “You realize,
George, that Ukraine is not even a state!
What is Ukraine? A part of its territory belongs
to Eastern Europe, while another part, a sig-
nificant one, was given over by us!”19
With Yushchenko having become highly un-
popular during his term in office, the 2010
presidential elections turned into a standoff
between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych. Ben-
efitting from Ukraine’s economic decline after
the global financial crisis, Yanukovych won
the elections and became the fourth president
of Ukraine. The presidential elections were
generally considered to be free and fair.20
16 NATO, “Bucharest Summit Declaration” last modified May 8 2014,
ive/official_texts_8443.htm, accessed March 28, 2022.
17 Sabine Fischer "Ukraine as a regional actor," in Ukraine: Quo Vadis, ed. Sabine Fischer, Rosaria
Puglisi, Kataryna Wolczuk and Pawel Wolowski (Paris: EUISS, 2008), 119-146.
18 Cited in Martin Malek, "The “Western Vector” of the Foreign and Security Policy of Ukraine: Continu-
ities and Ruptures under President Viktor Yushchenko (20052009)," The Journal of Slavic Military
Studies 22, no 4 (2009): 538.
19 Cited in ibid: 538.
20 Paul D'Anieri. Ukraine and Russia: From Civilized Divorce to Uncivil War, 171.
21 Ibid, 176.
However, after his inauguration, Yanukovych
started concentrating political and economic
power through illegal means, such as bribing
members of parliament and manipulating
Ukraine’s legal system. In October 2011, he
even managed to get his rival Tymoshenko
sentenced to seven years in prison on
charges of abuse of power.
Yanukovych’s foreign policy reconnected with
the multi-vector policy of Kuchma. 21 In April
2010, Yanukovych and Russian President
Medvedev signed a deal in which Ukraine
would get a 30% discount on Russian gas and
Russia’s lease on the Sevastopol naval base
(due to end in 2017) would be extended for 25
years. Negotiations with the EU also moved
ahead, with the signing of the Association
Agreement (which included a free trade area
between the EU and Ukraine) being sched-
uled for EU Summit in Vilnius in November
2013. However, Russia was working on a re-
gional integration project of its own: the Eura-
sian Economic Union. This project, which
would involve a custom’s union between its
members, was not compatible with a free
trade agreement with the EU. Using both car-
rots and sticks, Russia increasingly put pres-
sure on Ukraine not to sign the Association
The annexation of Crimea and war in East
Ukraine (2014-2019)
In line with Russia’s preferences, the Ukrain-
ian government announced that it would not
sign the Association Agreement on Novem-
ber 21st 2013. Following the announcement,
protesters started gathering on Kyiv’s Maidan
Russia’s invasion in Ukraine: what happened before? 8
Square, starting the ‘Revolution of Dignity’.
The Ukrainian population did not back down
in the face of increasingly violent repression
by the Ukrainian authorities. As protest con-
tinued, Yanukovych started losing the support
of the members of his party, the parliament
and the Ukrainian security forces. Seeing his
power base erode, he fled to Crimea, where
Russian forces took him in. On February 22nd
2014, the Ukrainian parliament unanimously
voted in favour of removing Yanukovych from
office and new presidential elections were
Yanukovych’s flight was the trigger for a se-
ries of dramatic events. Only a few days after
the dismissal of Yanukovych, ‘little green
men’ (i.e. Russian soldiers) popped up and
seized different strategic locations in Crimea.
After a gathering of the Supreme Council on
February 27th, Sergey Aksyonov was de-
clared Prime Minister of Crimea and a refer-
endum about the status of Crimea was is-
sued. In the following days, the Crimean pen-
insula became increasingly isolated from
Ukraine, not just physically but also because
Ukrainian radio and television were cut off. In
the March 16th referendum, 97% of the voters
supported the “reunification with Russia”, at
least according to official Russian sources.
However, these results were widely con-
tested.22 Almost simultaneously with Russia’s
annexation of Crimea, fighting broke out in
East Ukraine’s Donbas area, a region where
a large number of Russian speaking Ukraini-
ans live. With support from Russia, two self-
declared ‘republics’ called for separation from
22 Thomas Grant, “Annexation of Crimea,” American journal of international law 109, no. 1 (2015): 68-
23 John O’Loughlin, Gerard Toal and Vladimir Kolosov, “The rise and fall of “Novorossiya”: examining
support for a separatist geopolitical imaginary in southeast Ukraine,” Post-Soviet Affairs 33, no. 2
(2017): 124-144.
24 Anders Åslund and Maria Snegovaya, “The impact of western sanctions on Russia and how they can
be made even more effective,” Atlantic Council, Report (2021). See also Nigel Gould-Davies, “Economic
effects and political impacts: Assessing Western sanctions on Russia,” Bank of Finland, Policy Brief
No.8 (2018).
25 “Ukraine: Council adopts EU-Ukraine association agreement,” European Council, July 17, 2017,
Ukraine: the Donetsk People’s Republic and
the Lugansk People’s Republic.23 In contrast
to its reaction to the annexation of Crimea,
Kyiv responded to these separatist uprisings
by setting up an Anti-Terrorist Operation and
managed to push the rebels in the defensive.
The EU and the U.S. responded to the events
in Ukraine by imposing economic sanctions to
deter further Russian aggression. Initially,
Western sanctions were targeted at the Cri-
mean economy, forcing Russia to artificially
keep it alive with financial transfers. After
Russia initiated weaponized rebellion in the
Donbas area, and shot down the civilian plane
MH-17 a few months later, the sanction pack-
age was substantially extended. In combina-
tion with lower oil prices, western sanctions
significantly weakened Russia’s economic
position.24 Under President Petro Po-
roshenko, who had won the May 25th presi-
dential elections, relations between the West
and Ukraine were strengthened. Ukraine fi-
nalised the Association Agreement with the
EU and the DCFTA entered into full force on
1 September 2017.25 NATO, in turn, has bend
itself to specific Ukrainian needs since the
Russian aggression in 2014. Despite not in-
tervening directly or offering membership to
Ukraine, it has played an advisory role in
Russia’s invasion in Ukraine: what happened before? 9
reforming the Ukrainian army and enhancing
its ability to deal with Russian challenges.26
There were several diplomatic attempts to
stop the fighting in Eastern Ukraine, among
which the Minsk-Agreements stand out as
particularly important.27 The Minsk-Agree-
ments were negotiated by representatives of
the separatist republics and the ‘Trilateral
Contact Group’ (Ukraine, Russia and the
OSCE), with mediation of France and Ger-
many. The Minsk-1 Agreement, signed in
September 2014, aimed at a ceasefire and in-
cluded Russian-requested clauses about the
special status of the Donbas with local elec-
tions and “an inclusive nationwide dia-
logue.”28 These provisions granted greater
autonomy to the two separatist republics.
Nevertheless, the fighting continued and the
Minsk-diplomats gathered again at the start of
2015. Minsk-II brought the unbridgeable dif-
ferences between Kyiv and Moscow very
clearly to the surface. Essentially, Ukraine’s
principal purpose was to stabilise the conflict
in the Donbas and as such regain its full sov-
ereignty. Russia, for its part, was particularly
interested in channelling substantial political
autonomy to the separatist republics to under-
mine Ukraine’s sovereignty and as such
thwarting Kyiv’s western ambitions.29
26 Elyssa Shea and Marta Jaroszewicz, “Opening in times of crisis? Examining NATO and the EU's
support to security sector reform in post-Maidan Ukraine,” East European Politics 37, no.1 (2021): 159-
27 See also ‘the Geneva Agreement’ and the Poroshenko Plan prior to the Minsk Agreements.
28 Duncan Allan, “The Minsk Conundrum: Western Policy and Russia’s War in Eastern Ukraine,” Chat-
ham House, Research Paper (2020): 7-10.
29 Ibid.
30 Cristina Gherasimov, “Rupture in Kyiv: Ukrainians Vote for Change to Consolidate Their Democracy,”
Berlin: Forschungsinstitut der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik. Also see Aram Terzyan,
“From Revolution to Transformation and European Integration: Ukraine after the Maidan Revolu-
tion,” Centre for Studies in European Integration, Working Papers Series 1, no. 15 (2020): 45-57.
31 Viktoriia Demydova, “2019 Presidential Election in Ukraine: How Zelensky was Elected?,” Karadeniz
Araştırmaları, (67), 2020, 581-603.
32 Kristian Åtland, “Destined for deadlock? Russia, Ukraine, and the unfulfilled Minsk agreements, Post-
Soviet Affairs 36, no. 2 (2020): 122-139.
33 Taras Kuzio, “Peace Will Not Come to Europe’s War Why Ukraine’s New President Zelensky will be
Unable to Improve Relations with Russia,” Federal Academy for Security Policy, Security Policy Working
Paper No. 14 (2019).
The election of Zelensky and an increas-
ingly aggressive Russia (2019-2022)
The Poroshenko Administration failed to ade-
quately answer the public’s demand for
higher living standards and handling the
longstanding corruption in the political
sphere.30 In a context of increasing public dis-
satisfaction with the established political par-
ties and elites, an outsider managed to cap-
ture the 2019 presidential elections: come-
dian and actor Volodymyr Zelensky. With a
non-traditional political programme, focusing
on ‘the people’ and contrasting his party
against the ruling elite, Zelensky created an
anti-corruption image that led to a resounding
electoral victory.31 On foreign policy, Zelensky
appeared to be taking a softer stance towards
Russia and revived diplomatic channels by
agreeing to the Steinmeier-formula, named
after the former German Foreign Minister who
simplified the extensive provisions of the
Minsk-Agreements.32 However, the Zelensky
Administration would also not accept the sur-
render of the Crimean peninsula, just as it
could not ignore the wilfully Russian interven-
tion in the Donbas area.33 Meeting with the
French, Russian and German representatives
in 2019, the Ukrainian president reiterated the
stances about Ukrainian sovereignty that had
Russia’s invasion in Ukraine: what happened before? 10
been drawn by his predecessor Po-
In 2021, Russia build up the pressure on
Ukraine and its Western partners to make
concessions. In April, up to 100,000 Russian
soldiers were placed at the Ukrainian bor-
der.35 After retreating these troops, Putin
launched another attempt in November, again
deploying large numbers of troops and mili-
tary equipment at the border.36 In December,
the Kremlin was demanding assurances that
NATO would not expand further to post-So-
viet states.37 However, the West would not
bow down to Putin’s demands, although they
kept diplomatic channels open throughout the
start of 2022. February 2022 saw the further
escalation of the conflict, as the militarization
peaked and the Russian demands were re-
peated with more urge. Despite final diplo-
matic attempts, Moscow declared the inde-
pendence of the Republics of Donetsk and
Lugansk, under the guise of ‘denazyfing’
Ukraine and ‘the protection of Russian citi-
zens’. On February 24th, Putin announced the
launch of a special military operation in
Ukraine. Russian troops and vehicles entered
Ukraine in a blatant act of aggression and in
clear violation of international law, starting a
conflict that, after one month, would already
cause over 2,500 civilian casualties, among
which over 225 children.38
34 James Sherr, “Nothing New Under the Sun? Continuity and Change in Russian Policy Towards
Ukraine,” International Centre for Defence and Security, Report (2020).
35 Reuters, “Russian military build-up near Ukraine numbers more than 100 000 troops, EU says,” April
19, 2021,
than-150000-troops-eus-2021-04-19/ and Gustav Gressel, “Waves of ambition: Russia’s military build-
up in Crimea and the Black Sea,” European Council on Foreign Relations, Policy Brief, September 21
36 BBC, “Russia-Ukraine border: Nato warning over military build-up,” November 15, 2021,
37 EURACTIV with Reuters, “Russia demands US, NATO containment in draft security accords,” De-
cember 17, 2021,
38 News Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Ukraine: civilian casualty update 24 March
2022”, March 30, 2022
Russia after the Cold War and Germany after World War I, a Cautious Comparison 11
Goedele De Keersmaeker
Ghent Institute for International and European Studies Ghent University
In the Winter 1990/1991 issue of Foreign Af-
fairs, Charles Krauthammer published a fa-
mous article that was the start of a whole
school of academic and non-academic anal-
yses describing the world after the Cold War
in terms of American unipolarity, primacy, he-
gemony or even empire.39 Though the article
was entitled ‘The Unipolar Moment’
Krauthammer and his followers were con-
vinced that American dominance in interna-
tional politics was there to stay for many dec-
ades. More particularly he considered the
emergence of a reduced but resurgent, xen-
ophobic and resentful “Weimar” Russia’, as
an extremely formulated speculation. Such
threats to American security could develop,
he acknowledged, but they could not be pre-
dicted in 1990, just as it was impossible to
predict Nazism in 1920.40
Thirty years later we are there. Of course, we
should always be careful with historical com-
parisons. As one commentator wrote: “Joe
Biden is not Neville Chamberlain. Nor is Putin
Hitler or Napoleon or Stalin.”41 History never
39 Goedele De Keersmaeker, Polarity, Balance of Power and International Relations Theory: Post-Cold
War and the 19th Century Compared (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).
40 Charles Krauthammer, "The Unipolar Moment," Foreign Affairs 70, no. 1 (1990/1991): 31-32.
41 Simon Jenkins, "Beware, Boris Johnson: In War, Drawing Historical Parallels Is a Dangerous Game,"
The Guardian, March 3, 2022.
repeats itself completely and highlighting dif-
ferences is at least as important as stressing
similarities. But a comparison with another
era of crisis and war can help us in clarifying
the processes that led to the situation we now
face. We will see that not taking an old enemy
(Germany after World War I, Russia after the
Cold War) serious, either as a partner in a
post-war settlement or later as a re-emerged
threat, can undermine security.
Germany in the 1920s
The end of the First World War left Central
and Eastern Europe in turmoil, with the
breakup of Austrian-Hungary, and civil war
and wars of secession in the former tsarist
empire, that became the Soviet Union. New
smaller but vulnerable states emerged: Fin-
land and the Baltic states, Poland, Czecho-
slovakia. Others, like Romania and Ser-
bia/Yugoslavia, expanded their territory. Ger-
many was territorially weakened but still one
of the largest states in Europe. It lost the war,
though part of the German public never
THE WAR IN UKRAINE | March-April 2022
Russia after the Cold War and Germany after World War I, a Cautious Comparison 12
believed it, misled as it was by nationalistic
propaganda. After all in November 1918 Ger-
many still occupied Belgium and great
swathes of territory in Eastern Europe. This
led to the so-called ‘Stab in the Back’ legend,
which blamed internal socialist, liberal and
Jewish circles for what was considered an un-
necessary armistice.42
After the war the allies imposed heavy repar-
atory payments on Germany, with disastrous
effects on its economy, thus enhancing the re-
sentment against the Western powers. Limits
where put on the German armed forces and
the Rhineland was demilitarised. To add in-
sult to injury the Versailles-treaty put the
blame for the war on Germany. Many Ger-
mans felt humiliated. At the same time, the
Versailles Treaty was innovative in several
ways. With the League of Nations it estab-
lished the first formally institutionalised sys-
tem of collective security. It founded the Per-
manent Court of International Justice, and or-
ganised a system for protecting the numerous
national minorities that ended up on the
wrong side of the borders of the newly estab-
lished states. It even put forward the perspec-
tive of general disarmament.43 But Germany
was excluded from membership, whereas as
a great power it should have had a permanent
seat in the Council of the League.
Many liberal observers, both in Germany and
elsewhere, warned against the resentment
42 Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 (Allan Lane, 2015); J. Adam Tooze, The Deluge:
The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order, 1916-1931 (London: Penguin Books, 2015): 312-
43 Stewart Patrick, The Best Laid Plans: The Origins of American Multilateralism and the Dawn of the
Cold War (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009):12-24; Howard Elcock, Could the Versailles
System Have Worked? (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018): 38
44 For example, Max Weber criticized the victors for not taking into account the interests but above all
the honour of the Germans. Max Weber, "Politik Als Beruf," in Gesammelte Politische Schriften
(Tübingen: Johannes Winckelmann 1988 (originally published in 1919)): 548.
45 Elcock.: 114-124; Tooze.: 462-477
46 "Russian MPs Say Mikhail Gorbachev Should Be Persecuted for Treason," The Guardian, April 10,
2014; W. C. Wohlforth and Vladislav Zubok, "An Abiding Antagonism: Realism, Idealism and the Mirage
of Western-Russian Partnership after the Cold War," International Politics 45 (2017): 411; For an
assessment of Gorbachev's role see Zubok in Vladislav Zubok et al., "A Cold War Engame or an
Opportunity Missed? Analysing the Soviet Collapse Thirty Years Later," Cold War History 21, no. 4
the treaty caused in Germany.44 Keynes’ eco-
nomic critiques are well known. Even after the
reorganisation of the German debt against
the background of threats of a right-wing coup
resentment against Versailles remained
vivid in Germany. The 1925 Locarno treaty
constituted the highpoint of détente between
Weimar-Germany and the West. Germany
recognised its western borders and the coun-
try became member of the League of Nations
and its Executive Council. Yet Germany re-
fused in principle to recognise its eastern bor-
ders with Poland and Czechoslovakia (where
substantial German minorities lived). Moreo-
ver resentment continued: against the occu-
pation of the Rhineland, the still heavy burden
of debt payment, and the severe limits on the
German armed forces. By the time the debt
was again rescheduled, the occupation of the
Rhineland ended and the League organised
a general disarmament conference, Germany
was faced with the consequences of the Wall
Street crash. Hitler rose to power, and quickly
ended the whole Versailles construction.45
Russia in the 1990s
Russia too came highly frustrated out of the
Cold War. Years later this even led to the de-
velopment of a Russian version of the ‘Stab in
the Back’ myth, when some Duma-members
wanted to prosecute Gorbachev for treason
for his role in the fall of the Soviet Union.46 Of
course, the Soviet Union/Russia did not lose
Russia after the Cold War and Germany after World War I, a Cautious Comparison 13
a war; it is even debatable whether it lost the
arms race. The so-called ‘victory’ of the West
in the Cold War was above all an economic,
political and ideational one.47 But the results
in the 1990s were similar to the situation in the
1920s. Again Central and Eastern Europe
was in turmoil. After losing its buffer zone in
Central Europe, the Soviet Union itself col-
lapsed. Russia was more or less reduced to
its borders under Peter the Great. New states
emerged, some peacefully, some through vi-
olent wars and secessions (the collapse of
Yugoslavia, the Armenian-Azerbaijani war on
Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia, Moldova). Rus-
sia withdrew its troops from Central Europe in
a hurry, without proper housing for its sol-
diers, which contributed to the frustrations of
the armed forces. Later, the disarmament
treaties negotiated in the second half of the
1980s by the Reagan-Bush administrations
and Gorbachev/Yeltsin (INF; START I & II,
CFE) were often perceived as ‘unequal trea-
ties’, accepted under pressure in a situation
of weakness. This was particularly true for
START II, with its deep cuts in the ICBM
forces, the heart of Russian nuclear deter-
The economic transition was painful every-
where but especially in Russia due to the col-
lapse of the integrated Soviet economic
space combined with a Thatcherite-
Reaganite market fundamentalism by Yelt-
sin’s young reformers and their Western advi-
sors. They did not realise that reforming a
highly centralised state-led and continent-
wide economy was something of another or-
der than privatising British Telecom. They
also hoped for larger economic support by
Western governments, that did not really ma-
terialise. The result was a barbaric, klepto-
cratic capitalism and enormous hardship for
47 Ibid., 546.
48 Ibid., 566.
49 Ibid., 560.
50 George Bush, "Address before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union, January
28, 1992,"
ordinary Russians. No wonder that by 1993
the communists and nationalists where on the
rise. After some years of recovery the 1998
fall of the rouble constituted a new shock.48
But just as Germany seventy years earlier,
Russia was still a great power. It still had the
largest territory on the Eurasian landmass, a
large population and a massive army. Most
importantly, it remained a nuclear superpower
and in 1994, under American pressure,
Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan even trans-
ferred the nuclear weapons on their soil to
Russia. The international community never
formally denied great power status to Russia,
as happened to Germany. Russia smoothly
took over the Soviet permanent seat in the
United Nations Security Council, the succes-
sor of the League of Nations, that developed
a dynamic it never had during the Cold War
and thus gave Russia an important role in
world politics.
However, status in international politics is not
only defined by one’s formal position in inter-
national organisations, but also by daily prac-
tice and its perception by major players. In
this respect the West and Russian conserva-
tives implicitly agreed that Russia lost the
Cold War and that its great power status had
substantially declined.49 In the West there
was an unnecessary and inappropriate trium-
phalism, that humiliated Russia. Just after the
collapse of the Soviet Union, president Bush
declared in his State of the Union speech: “By
the grace of God, America won the cold
war”.50 The analysis was widely shared by
pundits and academic analysts. Far into the
2000s a large part of the International Rela-
tions literature, whether realist, liberal or con-
structivist, occupied itself with analysing the
consequences of what was considered a
Russia after the Cold War and Germany after World War I, a Cautious Comparison 14
unique American preponderance after the
collapse of the Soviet Union. However, for
many Russian scholars and decisions mak-
ers, all these analyses were seen as a form of
American self-glorification, and a programme
for unilaterally imposing America’s will on a
weakened Russia. 51 All this was not meant to
be particularly unfriendly towards Russia, but
it expressed the overall idea that the United
States were the polar star that had to guide
the world into the 21st century, and that the
rest, especially Russia, had to follow. As a re-
sult Russia became extremely sensitive about
its status as a great power. Ever since the late
Yeltsin years, and even more under Putin, en-
hancing it became an almost obsessive for-
eign policy goal.52
Reorganizing European security
The way European security was reorganized
also played a major role in this. The task was
not easy in the confused years after the fall of
the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. Innova-
tive ideas did circulate at the time. The French
proposed a large European Confederation,
including Russia. The Conference on Security
and Cooperation in Europe was popular both
within the Western peace movement and
Eastern European dissident circles because it
was the only pan-European forum for secu-
rity, combined with a commitment to human
rights and economic cooperation. It was in-
deed strengthened with institutions to pro-
mote democracy and monitoring elections, a
High Commissioner for National Minorities
(reminiscent of the League of Nations’ Minor-
ity System), further development of military
confidence building measures, and related to
51 De Keersmaeker; Tatyana A. Shakleyina and Aelksei D. Boguaturov, "The Russian Realist School of
International Relations," Communist and Post-Communist Studies 37 (2004): 37-51.
52 There is a large literature on status in Russian foreign policy. See for example: Thomas Ambrosio,
"The Russo-American Dispute over the Invasion of Iraq: International Status and the Role of Positional
Goods," Europe-Asia Studies 57, no. 8 (2005): 1189-210; D.W. Larson and A. Shevchenko, "Status
Seekers: Chinese and Russian Responses to Us Primacy," International Security 34, no. 4 (2010): 63-
95; "Special Issue on Status in Russian Foreign Policy," Communist and Post-Communist Studies 47
53 Frank Schimmelpfennig, The EU, NATO and the Integration of Europe: Rules and Rhetorik
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Ptess, 2003); Wohlforth and Zubok.
it, a revised treaty on conventional arms re-
ductions. But despite this, a conservative re-
flex prevailed in the West that can be summa-
rized as follows: ‘let’s stick to NATO and EU
that served us so well during the Cold War’.
Basically this meant a reorganisation of secu-
rity and economic life on Western terms,
though it was fully supported by the Eastern
European states, who considered joining
those organisations a way to ‘return to the
West or to Europe’53. At the same time they
considered NATO membership as a way of
balancing towards an eventual future threat
by Russia. This created a classical security
dilemma: what is seen by one party as a
purely defensive policy is seen by the other as
a form of aggression. Most probably this was
not at all NATO’s intention. A great deal can
be explained by the iron law that makes or-
ganisations look for new purpose once they
achieved their main goal. NATO’s focus
shifted to new tasks: the promotion of democ-
racy, convinced as we were in the West that
peace and democracy are closely interwoven.
Above all, for much of the last thirty years
NATO or its individual member states were in-
volved in military operations outside of its ter-
ritory (the defining interventions in former Yu-
goslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya), often
but not always, as a subcontractor for the
United Nations.
Yet, Russia felt humiliated, cheated and en-
circled by the continued existence and en-
largement of NATO. It claimed that during the
informal negotiations on German unification
Gorbachev received a promise that NATO
would not expand into Eastern Europe, a
claim that was denied by the West. This at
Russia after the Cold War and Germany after World War I, a Cautious Comparison 15
first sight purely academic debate between
historians became a symptom of the growing
tension between the two sides.54
Two things are clear however. First, the idea
that Russia could become a member of
NATO, which would have changed the very
nature of the organisation, was rejected. Al-
ready in December 1991, Yeltsin suggested
this to NATO secretary general Manfred
Wörner. Much later Putin asked Clinton. In
both cases the answer was ‘impossible, Rus-
sia is too big’.55 Thus, Russia was deliberately
left at the periphery of the new European se-
curity architecture, just as Germany was ex-
cluded from the League. Second, once NATO
enlargement was officially put on the agenda,
Russia saw this as a threat. At the 1994 Bu-
dapest summit Yeltsin explicitly and bitterly
made the point. “It is a dangerous delusion to
suppose that the destinies of continents and
the world community in general can somehow
be managed from one single capital,” he
said.56 Clinton responded that no nation was
excluded from NATO membership in ad-
vance, and that no external power could have
a veto on it. 57 This ‘open door policy’ has
been the official NATO line until today. Yet in
1994 the French president François Mitter-
rand for example thought it would be difficult
for the Russians not to see NATO
54 Mary Elise Sarotte, 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe, new - Kindle ed. (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 2009); "A Broken Promise? What the West Really Told Moscow about NATO
Expansion," Foreign Affairs 5, no. September/October (2014): 90-97; Kristina Spohr, "Exposing the Myth
of Western Betrayal of Russia over NATO's Eastern Enlargement," (March, 2nd 2022),; Zubok et al.
55 551; Jonathan Steele, "Understanding Putin's Narrative About Ukraine is the Master Key to this
Crisis," The Guardian, February 23, 2022.
56 Daniel Williams, "Yetlsin, Clinton Clash over NATO's Role," The Washington Post, December
6,1994; Putin almost literally repeated this argument in his infamous speech at the 2007 Munich
Security Conference. Wladimir Putin, "Speech at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy
02/10/2007," Münchner Konferenz für Sicherheitspolitik (2007),
57 Williams.
58 Sylvie Kauffmann, "Derrière la crise en Ukraine se profile un autre foyer de tension: Un possible
redéploiement d'armes nucléaires en Biélorussie," Le Monde, no.february 6, 2022.
59 Wohlforth and Zubok; Falk Ostermann, Die Nato: Institution, Politiken und Probleme kollektiver
Verteidigung und Sicherheit von 1949 bis Heute (München: UVK Verlag, 2020), 106-09; A. Zagorski,
"The Limits of Global Consensus on Security: The Case of Russia," in Global Security in a Multipolar
World. , ed. L. Peral, Chaillot Papers (Paris: EU Institute for Security Studies, 2009).
enlargement as an encirclement.58 But just as
nobody took German complaints about Ver-
sailles seriously, nobody seemed to bother
about the Russian view. That even goes for
the NATO-Russian Founding Act of 1997,
signed on the eve of the first round of NATO-
enlargements. Though approved by Russia,
the text actually expresses Western views on
security and hardly takes into account Rus-
sian security concerns, for example Russia’s
emphasis on traditional hard power, that re-
mained at the heart of Russian security think-
ing. In particular, it rejects the idea of zones
of influence, a concept that is crucial for un-
derstanding Russian policy towards
Ukraine.59 Moreover, the US avoided any
strong, binding promise that NATO would not
deploy Western troops or military installations
in the new member states. But the Russians
thought they did get such a promise. So rather
than easing the tension, the Act became a
new bone of contention between NATO and
Russia. Lastly the 1999 NATO bombing cam-
paign against Serbia during the Kosovo War
without approval by the UN Security Council,
upset many Russians because it deprived
Russia of one of the few power tools it still
had: its veto right in the UN Security Council.
If we go back to our comparison with Weimar
Germany, we see one major difference. The
Russia after the Cold War and Germany after World War I, a Cautious Comparison 16
Versailles system had definitely a deliberate
anti-German undertone (demilitarisation, uni-
lateral disarmament, exclusion of the League
of Nations). This was not the case with West-
ern policy towards Russia in the 1990s. But
just as the West did not take German com-
plaints serious in the 1920s, it did not take se-
rious Russia’s economic problems, it did not
care about Russia’s perception of its security
interests and it organized a European security
architecture around NATO without Russia.
For the West, Russia became to a large ex-
tent ‘an international irrelevance’, as Kristina
Spohr summarized it.60 But what happened in
the 1990s is now used by Russia in its dispute
with the West on the current security crisis in
Europe. So much so that a 2015 Organisation
for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE) panel was not able to develop a com-
mon analysis on what happened, but just
summarized the different views.61 In any
case, just as the Western policies in the
1920s provided the breeding ground for the
rise to power of Hitler, the 1990s and the early
years 2000 did the same for the Putin regime
Germany in the 1930s, Russia after 2000
What happened in Germany and Europe after
1930 is general knowledge and there is no
need to repeat it here. Moreover, because of
the brutality of the Nazi-regime, its extreme
revanchism, its deeply racist nature, and be-
cause of the horrors of the holocaust and the
Second World War that followed, a compari-
son with Hitler is too often used as an easy
way to end all forms of discussion or debate.
As we already said, historical comparisons
only go that far, but this should not prevent us
from making a comparison between the
Western policies towards Nazi-Germany and
Putin’s Russia, more in particularly when it
comes to foreign policy.
60 Zubok et al., 573.
61 OSCE, Back to Diplomacy: Final Report and Recommendations of the Panel of Eminent Persons on
European Security as a Common Project, (Vienna: OSCE, 2015),
To start with a major difference, Hitler’s rise to
power was sudden. It constituted a clear
break with the Weimar-republic, and he
quickly left the League of Nations, started to
rearm, tried to destabilise Austria and pro-
moted his revanchist ideas. By contrast, after
2000 it took Russia more than ten years to de-
velop from a proto-democracy into an outright
conservative authoritarian regime. This path
was not straightforward, as the Medvedev-ep-
isode illustrates. It can explain why some of
the warnings about Russia’s foreign policy
goals were neglected. ‘Russia needed time’,
the argument went. Moreover, Putin’s foreign
policy was not outright anti-Western from the
beginning. He did try to establish a working
relation with Bush junior, defended the
START II Treaty during the Duma-ratification
debate and supported the US in its war on ter-
ror after 9/11. But in 2002 the US withdrew
from the ABM Treaty, a clear sign that it did
not care at all about Russian security con-
cerns. A new round of NATO enlargements,
now including the former Baltic Soviet repub-
lics followed, despite Russian protests. The
definitive turning point came in 2008 when the
vague promise of a NATO-membership for
Georgia and Ukraine was answered by a
short Russian-Georgian war. Yet even then
the West did not seem to take the whole issue
serious, as it officially continued its ‘open door
policy’. Only after the Maidan-crisis in
Ukraine, the annexation of the Crimea and the
deliberate destabilisation of the Donbass re-
gion by a Russian organized ‘frozen conflict’,
NATO took the Russian threat serious and
Europe imposed sanctions.
Why so late? Why did we not see the writing
on the wall? Maybe we did not read the rele-
vant texts. In the 1930s warnings by Ger-
many-experts in the foreign offices were not
taken seriously. Translations of “Mein Kampf”
were hardly circulated outside Germany and
Russia after the Cold War and Germany after World War I, a Cautious Comparison 17
its content dismissed as hollow rhetoric.62
Similarly, Russian specialists in academic cir-
cles and think tanks have been warning for
years that Putin’s Russia was on a revanchist
track.63 But 19th and 20th century ultra-con-
servative and nationalist Russian thinkers,
whose writings were broadly circulating in
post-communist Russia and clearly inspired
Putin, are totally unknown in the West, except
for a small circle of Russian speaking special-
ists. Influential public opinion leaders in Rus-
sia never recognised the border with Ukraine,
just as Germany never accepted its eastern
border. Even Putin’s repeated remarks that
he did not consider Ukraine a real state or his
long article of July 2021, in which he outlined
his vision on Russian and Ukrainian history,
were considered too grotesque and too out of
touch to be taken seriously.64
Looking back to the 1930s we find several
other reasons for the ‘appeasement policy’.
Memories of the Great War were still fresh, so
people were deeply afraid of a new one.
Moreover the Western powers were con-
vinced they were not ready for a military con-
frontation and the economic crisis made it dif-
ficult to sell higher defence spending to the
public. The French and the British were also
occupied in colonial struggles. The United
States, never a real member of the Versailles
system anyway, focused on its own “New
Deal” and was more isolationist than ever.
There was the rising threat of the Soviet Un-
ion under Stalin. British business circles and
pro-German lobbies promoted good relations
with Germany because of their economic in-
terests and a naïve belief in the merits of
62 Goedele De Keersmaeker and Dries Lesage, Conflict en Samenwerking: Internationale Politiek van
1815 tot Heden (Gent: Academia Press, forthcoming)
63 To give only two examples: Edward Lucas, The New Cold War: The Future of Russia and the Threat
to the West (New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); Dimitri Trenin, "Russia Leaves the West,"
Foreign Affairs 85, no. 4 (2006): 87-96.
64 Michel Eltchaninoff, Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin (London: Hurst & Company, 2018); Cécile
Ducourtieux et al., "Guerre en Ukraine: Face à Poutine, un déni européen," Le Monde, March 3, 2022;
Vladimir Putin, "On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, July 12, 2021,;
Timothy Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. (New York: Tim Duggan Books,
65 De Keersmaeker and Lesage.
dialogue. The extreme right was on the rise
almost everywhere in Europe. It admired Ger-
many and had sometimes a certain influence
on foreign policy, as for example in France.65
We see similar arguments and mechanism
playing out to day. Apart from the fact that a
direct military confrontation with Russia will
always include some risk of nuclear war (a de-
fining difference with the situation in the
1930s), nobody in the West really wanted to
go back to the Cold War, to a new iron curtain
and a new East-West divide. Paris and Berlin
wanted to keep communication lines with
Russia open, partially because of gas de-
pendency and business interests, but also in-
spired by the strong memories of the French
and German ‘Ostpolitik’ of the 1960s and
1970s that had done so much to soften the
Cold War. The 2008 financial crisis consti-
tuted a major challenge for Europe and the
United States. It made American demands for
an increase in European defence expendi-
tures futile. In the meantime, the Americans
themselves made their ‘pivot to Asia’ and fo-
cused on their relation with China. Thus, they
declared Europe a secondary theatre in their
global strategy, without however given up
their dominance in NATO.
There was the new internal and external
threat of jihadi terrorism and war that worried
the West much more than what was seen as
the rather theoretical possibility of Russian
expansion. Indeed, it looks like NATO did not
even bother to develop real plans to support
or defend Ukraine, while it continued to claim
that it could become a member. In the
Russia after the Cold War and Germany after World War I, a Cautious Comparison 18
meantime right-wing populists in the West,
from Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen and Vic-
tor Orbán expressed their admiration for the
Russian leader. Sometimes these people
were in government and thus could influence
the policies of the EU and NATO. Putin also
tried to destabilise Western societies, using
the new internet technologies that made both
Hitler and the Soviets look like propaganda
By 2020, as a result of the combined negli-
gence, or at least tolerance of the West, and
Russia’s moody way to cope with (at least
partially) unnecessary frustrations and per-
ceived threats, the whole post-Cold War Eu-
ropean security architecture and even the
heritage of the 1970s détente years were in
ruins. There were no longer any European nu-
clear or conventional arms control agree-
ments, and even the functioning of the OSCE,
a platform Putin’s predecessors loved, had
been blocked by him and other authoritarian
leaders.66 After the occupation of Crimea, as
a clear example of a self-fulfilling prophecy,
NATO started to look more intensely on how
to defend its eastern member states, and cre-
ated multinational battalions at its eastern
borders. Though they were small, they consti-
tuted even more proof of NATO’s aggressive-
ness in Moscow’s eyes.
With Putin’s war in the Ukraine, we are not
even back in the Cold War, as since 1945
there has been no attack by any European
great power on a smaller neighbour in order
to take its territory, as we saw in 2014 and
again now. The use of step-by-step tactics by
Putin (first invading Georgia, then annexing
Crimea and creating the Donbass puppet
states, now the war in Ukraine) is strikingly
similar to the ones Hitler used. However, the
West took sanctions against Russia. Officially
it always stood by the principle that the inde-
pendence and territorial integrity of Ukraine
was sacrosanct, and that it was free to choose
66 Andrew Lohsen, "Can the OSCE Help Resolve the Russia-Ukraine Crisis?,"
its own alliances. This at least from the moral
point of view spared it a new 1938 Munich af-
front. But at the same time the West, despite
fourteen years of projected NATO-member-
ship for Ukraine, was not able and for good
reasonsnot willing to defend it, thus leaving
Ukraine to the mercy of Putin. Here too the
resemblance with Czechoslovakia, a country
that had an alliance treaty with France and the
Soviet Union, is striking, though there is also
a difference: the West sends weapons to
Ukraine, and thus supports it indirectly.
We have shown that there are remarkable
similarities but also differences between the
way the West did not take German complaints
seriously in the 1920s and Russia in the
1990s. We also have seen that for a long
time, sometimes for similar reasons, some-
times for different, it took some time before
western countries took appropriate measures
against renewed aggressive policies of the
former enemies. When looking at these two
cases, two lessons can be drawn: First, take
your old enemies/new friends seriously, do
not humiliate them and respect their security
concerns, even if their perception differs fun-
damentally from your own. Second, take your
old enemies seriously once they decide they
are no longer interested in your friendship and
will restore their old status by their own
means. Realise in time that at a certain point,
your diplomatic influence on them is limited,
that they not always share your views on how
international relations should be organized
and so that other measures than diplomacy
might be more appropriate.
Many commentators who blame the West for
the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have used
similar arguments as we did. Even the offen-
sive realist John Mearsheimer, who in his the-
oretical works makes the deterministic claim
that great powers wars are unavoidable and
Russia after the Cold War and Germany after World War I, a Cautious Comparison 19
that aggression constitutes the best defence,
has repeated this critical chorus.67 But detect-
ing certain patterns in behaviour and policy is
not the same as making a moral judgment.
Moreover, from an ethical point of view, there
is a fundamental difference between invading
an independent country on one hand, and not
taking the threat of such invasion seriously on
the other. Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, not
the British and French who sanctioned the
Sudeten annexation a year earlier in the hope
to preserve peace. Putin invaded Ukraine, not
the West. It should probably have reacted
more firmly after the annexation of Crimea,
but that does not make it guilty of the invasion.
Nobody forced Putin’s hand. It was his deci-
sion and the thirty years old, though some-
times understandable, frustrations about how
the West treated Russia in the 1990s do not
justify this. This being said, it might be good
to remember what Hans Morgenthau wrote
more than seventy years ago. Despite all the
economic and military might a nation may
have, he argued, it will only lead to temporary
successes if its diplomacy and statecraft is
not up to the task.68 Perhaps in the 1990s the
West, despite all its power, was indeed not up
to the enormous task of organizing a new in-
clusive order in Europe together with Russia.
Ukraine now pays the price.
67 John. J Mearsheimer, "Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions that
Provoked Putin," Foreign Affairs, no. 5 (2014).: 77-89; Isaac Chotiner, "Why John Mearsheimer Blames
the U.S. for the Crisis in Ukraine," The New Yorker, March 1, 2022.
68 Hans J. Morgenthau and Kenneth W. Thompson, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and
Peace, Revised/ brief edition ed. (Boston, Ma: McGraw Hill, 1993), 155-56.
Between Imperialism and Soft Power 20
John Irgengioro
Ghent Institute for International and European Studies Ghent University
The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine tends
to be seen as concerning not only for
Ukraine’s existence, but also Russia’s fu-
ture.69 7071 Although it seemed that Putin sin-
glehandedly ordered this invasion72, his fate-
ful decision is bringing to a crescendo Rus-
sia’s long time reckoning with its own national
idea over the past three decades since the
collapse of the Soviet Union. This war is un-
ravelling deeply existentialist questions about
the trajectory of the Russian Federation as a
successor state of the USSR: how to reckon
itself with its past legacy of the Russian Em-
pire and the Soviet Union, how to
69 Joschka Fischer, “Russia’s Stolen Future” Project Syndicate, February 24, 2022.
70 Harold Cooper, Ryan Meyerson. “Worse Than a Crime; It’s a Blunder.” The American Prospect, Feb-
ruary 25, 2022.
71 Kadri Liik. “War of Obsession: Why Putin Is Risking Russia’s Future European Council on Foreign
Relations.” ECFR (blog), February 25, 2022.
72 James Risen. “U.S. Intelligence Says Putin Made a Last-Minute Decision to Invade Ukraine.The
Intercept, 2022.
73 Marlene Laruelle. “Decoding Putin’s Speeches: The Three Ideological Lines of Russia’s Military Inter-
vention in Ukraine”. Russia Matters. Feb 25, 2022.
conceptualise its national idea of the present,
and what to make of Russia’s paths for its fu-
Reckonings with Russia’s past:
A dissection of Putin’s two speeches immedi-
ately before the war finds a concoction of pure
ideological arguments derived from Russian
imperialist thinking which contends the simple
existence of Ukraine.73 While the specific sup-
port of such revisionist perceptions of the past
among the Russian public as justifying a full
scale invasion of Ukraine is contentious
amongst Russia’s increasingly totalitarian
THE WAR IN UKRAINE | March – April 2022
Between Imperialism and Soft Power 21
environment 74, this war will trigger a funda-
mental soul-searching in Russian society
concerning the broader question of Russia’s
imperial legacy one way or another. Emerging
from the unique historical trajectory of a ‘sub-
altern’ Russian empire75 vis-a-vis the West
followed by the internationalist and rhetori-
cally anti-imperialist project of the Soviet Un-
ion which nonetheless exhibited imperialistic
practices76, while ironically compounded by
both the USSR’s relatively peaceful collapse
and Russia’s subsequently painful decade of
capitalist transition and perceived humiliation,
Russian society as a whole has not only to yet
come to sufficient terms with its imperialist
legacy, but also saw its imperialistic senti-
ments amplified by Putin’s regime in pursuit
of its political trajectory. As a post-imperial na-
tion77, the broader resonance of Russian im-
perialist sentiments thus reaches beyond the
core Russian monarchic circles, especially
concerning the status of Ukraine. Here, the
phenomenon of imperial syndrome78 in Rus-
sia, especially concerning such a closely per-
ceived nation whose status is seen as funda-
mentally linked to Russia’s own identity con-
struction, thus resulted in the current scenario
of a Russian society particularly sympathetic
with such an imperialistic view towards
Ukraine. However, as the devastations of this
war, defiant Ukrainian resistance, and inter-
national geopolitical consequences steadily
dawn on Russian society, the Putin regime’s
identity construction of Russia based on the
political legitimacy derived from the memory
74 Alexei Minialo. “Хотят Ли Русские Войны.” Хроники - Chronicles, 2022. https://www.dorussianswant-
75 Viatcheslav Morozov. Russia's postcolonial identity: a subaltern empire in a Eurocentric world.
Springer, 2015.
76 Francine Hirsch. Empire of nations. Cornell University Press, 2014.
77 Marlene Laruelle. “Marlene Laruelle: Russian Society Is Very Different from Its RegimeReview of
Democracy, February 21, 2022.
78 Emil Pain. “The Imperial Syndrome and Its Influence on Russian Nationalism.” In The New Russian
Nationalism, 30, 2022.
79 Volodymyr Ishchenko. “A Russian Invasion of Ukraine Could Destabilize Russia’s Political Order.”
Truthout, 2022.
of Russia’s anti-fascist credentials of World
War II will be increasingly shaken to its core
by the counternarrative of Russia as a peren-
nially imperialistic power of its own towards its
‘brotherly nations’ like Ukraine.
Reckonings of Russia’s present:
The progress of this war will also provide a
painful reckoning with Russia’s current mani-
festation and what it stands for in the present.
Putin’s regime, in the pursuit of Russia’s per-
ceived interests in Ukraine, has over the last
eight years since the Maidan revolution cho-
sen to pursue a policy based on coercion and
then, with its initiation of full scale war, on
pure compellence, abandoning any soft
power efforts of winning the hearts and minds
of the Ukrainian people in favour of utilizing
hard power to prevent Ukraine from moving
closer towards Europe and the West at all
costs. Such a logic is hardly surprising con-
sidering the current state of Russia’s soft
power capacities, especially for the Eastern
European countries on its Western flank be-
tween itself and the EU. Today’s Russia,
Ishchenko argues, offers little in terms of at-
traction to the world even compared to the So-
viet Union, whose universal ideology and eco-
nomic achievements, however flawed they
may be, once drew mass movements of ad-
miration. Instead, for countries like Ukraine,
the question of “what can Russia offer” now
provides little except for the violent absorption
of the country into Russia and the denial of
Ukrainians as a distinct people.79 Meanwhile,
Between Imperialism and Soft Power 22
Putin’s war will likely render even the niche
soft power attractions of Russia’s cultural her-
itage and political positioning as a joker on the
international scene80much less effective due
to the negative impact of Russia’s invasion of
Ukraine on its international reputation. Re-
gardless of the military outcomes, this war
thus reveals to Russian society that the ulti-
mate transformation of the Russian idea un-
der Putin is towards the logic of autocratic im-
perialism, formulated with little consideration
for the logic of voluntary attraction at home
and abroad.
The crossroads of Russia’s future
Finally, the reckonings with Russia’s past and
the realization of Russia’s current trajectory
under the Putin regime clearly presents the
crossroads Russia is now facing in terms of
its future as a nation. Provided that a more
global catastrophe does not immediately fol-
low, this war will provide the final acceleration
towards a most repressive form of Russian
imperialism as well as the demonstration of its
limitations. Putin’s regime seems to increas-
ingly abandon its soft power efforts in favour
of solely hard power compellence, but as
Russia’s hard power limitations are increas-
ingly apparent due to the country’s economic
fragility81 and military weakness82, it seems
increasingly likely that Russia simply lacks
the hard power capacities to carry through its
brute force approach to impose its will on
Ukraine, let alone for its other objectives. The
question to the agency of Russian leaders
and Russian society is thus whether they will
ultimately prove to support Putin’s imperialist
legacy, or whether this war will prove the cat-
alyst to shift their country, in light of such re-
alistic constraints, towards another national
idea away from hard power imperialism to-
wards the greater utilization of soft power as
the basis of its global standing. As Kenya’s
Ambassador to the United Nations argue83, it
is normal for countries to want closer relations
with their perceived brethren, but such yearn-
ings should not be pursued by force. An alter-
native path for Russia can thus take inspira-
tion from Germany, where only after the aban-
donment of its imperialistic hard power ambi-
tions faded after World War II did its soft
power successfully manifest, allowing Ger-
many to arguably achieve a greater leader-
ship role in Europe by attraction than what its
preceding imperialist rulers cannot achieve by
compellence. The chances of such a radical
reconceptualization of Russia’s national idea
is uncertain, but such an evolution seems
plausible, even likely in the long term due to
the unsustainability of the current Russian
model. A shift towards the German model
would thus similarly push Russia to abandon
imperialism towards soft power, although the
precise manifestations such a new Russian
regime would be difficult to predict due to the
different geopolitical landscape in the centre
of Eurasia.
80 Marlène Laruelle. “Russia’s Niche Soft Power: Sources, Targets, and Channels of Influence.” French
Institute of International Relations, 2021, 30.
81 Paul De Grauwe. “Russia Is Too Small to Win” Project Syndicate, March 17, 2022.
82 Amy Mackinnon, Robbie Gramer, Jack Detsch. “Where Does Putin’s War Go From Here?” Foreign
Policy, 2022.
83 Bill Chappell. “Kenyan U.N. Ambassador Compares Ukraine’s Plight to Colonial Legacy in Africa.”
NPR, February 22, 2022, sec. Europe.
Putin Is Afraid of Europe 23
Klaas Wauters & Hendrik Vos
Ghent Institute for International and European Studies Ghent University
It is still said here and there, even in academic
circles: we must understand the Russian
president. The poor guy worked for the KGB
when the Soviet empire collapsed. His Slavic
soul was wounded, so he had troublesome
journalists killed or gave opponents tea with
polonium to drink. What would you do in-
stead? Poor Mr. Putin is already happy if he
can give a sympathetic fascist some money
or get compliments from Hungarian leader
Viktor Orban and his clique. Interventions
from extreme right-wing parties in the Euro-
pean Parliament, denouncing sanctions
against Russia and praising the much ma-
ligned leader for his virile policy and generous
election victories, have recently brought a
glimmer of joy to the man's difficult existence.
The nostalgia remained however, and so
Putin decided on historical grounds that he
could invade Ukraine, destroy it and terrorise
its people. Let’s hope that he did not give the
Italians, Turks or Spaniards the idea of teach-
ing a history lesson as well. Next they too will
want to return to their Roman or Ottoman Em-
pire, or restore the Spanish sphere of influ-
ence of olden days. It would be quite some-
thing on our continent. It is hard to believe all
the nonsense that is being sold under the
cloak of geopolitics.
Thirty years ago, the Soviet Union broke up
into a bunch of republics, each going its own
way. Some stayed closer to Moscow than oth-
ers. In many places, the Chinese influence
has grown in the meantime. This does not
seem to bother Putin. It is only when the re-
publics start looking westwards that he be-
comes nervous. The interest of some repub-
lics in Europe is understandable. Here we
moan about the Union, complain about slow
decision-making and whine about every deci-
sion. Those who look at it from a distance
usually see it differently: this is a haven of
peace, stability and prosperity that exists no-
where else on this scale. The European
model is attractive and that scares the hell out
of Putin. If Ukraine really adjusts its compass
to the Union, adopts its way of governing and
living together and benefits from it, this may
inspire other countries in the region to do the
same. Perhaps enthusiasm will grow among
the Russian people too. To keep things under
control then, the President will have to order
a lot of novichok. So therefore Ukraine had to
be smashed up. It looks as if this will be a ka-
mikaze action, not least for Putin himself, but
in the meantime shocking misery will be
Europe is rightly concerned, because there is
not much room for a diplomatic solution any
more. That station has actually been passed.
The next conversation with Putin should take
place in front of a tribunal, not at that much
too long table in the Kremlin. At the same
time, an apocalyptic confrontation between
nuclear powers must also preferably be
avoided. Unanimously, sanctions are being
imposed and weapons are being delivered to
Ukraine in a semi-concealed manner. Almost
as unanimous is the view that we should
THE WAR IN UKRAINE | MarchApril 2022
Putin Is Afraid of Europe 24
invest more in our defence. Diplomacy is for
spineless wimps. In some Member States,
the debate on compulsory military service has
been flaring up. Almost twenty years after
Robert Kagan wrote that Europeans come
from Venus and Americans from Mars, it is
time for Europe to set sail for Mars as well. At
least, that is how it sounds to some.
Would the situation really be different if we
had invested more in military defence? The
countries of the Union spent, albeit in scat-
tered order, four times more than the Rus-
sians. How much did it have to be then to
keep Putin out of Ukraine? Five times more?
Ten times? The four largest NATO countries
put over 900 billion dollars into their military in
2020. Russia spent 62 billion. So is the prob-
lem really a lack of resources? Of course, the
Union is not very efficient because of its frag-
mentation. There are, so to speak, 27 sepa-
rate land forces, naval forces, air forces and
military bands. They each buy their own
equipment, which is often incompatible with
each other. It is a waste of resources, entirely
due to the fact that Member States prefer to
control and decide on their defence them-
selves. Despite this, it is decided everywhere
to spend more on the army.
Yet the European project is powerful and at-
tractive, precisely because it does not adopt
the language and tools of rogue states, be-
cause it does not engage in military bidding,
because it does not install rigid hierarchical
lines of command. Europe talks, consults,
mediates, tolerates opposition, allows media
freedom and, although it has its armies, it also
keeps a budget for fighting inequality and in-
vesting in policies that benefit people every
day. It happens far from consistently, but it
happens more than elsewhere in the world.
And blood is not shed here. That is why
Ukraine is seeking a rapprochement with the
Union. And that is why Putin is getting nerv-
ous. This time diplomacy has failed, and the
armies are on standby. But there is no reason
to throw away our model, imitate dictators and
move to Mars altogether.
Ukraine’s In-Betweenness: From Hybridity to Centrality 25
Louise Amoris
Ghent Institute for International and European Studies Ghent University
“We feel like a part of Europe, but may look
like a part of Russia. With our thoughts, we
are in the West. With our sins, we are in the
The Ukrainian diplomat Olexander Sherba
has described Ukraine as a state that has of-
ten been rather unknown and undervalued
from an outsider’s eye. As many ‘post-Soviet’
states, it has been perceived through the
prism of corruption and uncomplete state-
hood, a marginal actor on the borderlands of
Europe, but also of its former Russian impe-
rial ‘master’ (if we use the postcolonial vocab-
ulary). Since the fall of the Soviet Union,
Ukraine has found itself in a difficult structural
position, in-between two cores, in a state that
could be described as one of liminality. Limi-
nality refers to a state of ambiguity, of falling
in-between existing categories, of being
partly-Self partly-Other, “neither here nor
there”.85 This indeterminacy comes from the
fact that the liminal actor is in a phase of tran-
sition, one that is from a Soviet, unfree, un-
democratic past towards a free, democratic,
European future from a Ukrainian
84 Olexander Sherba, Ukraine vs. Darkness. Undiplomatic Thoughts (Stuttgart: Ibidem-Verlag, 2021),
85 Victor Turner, The ritual process structure and anti-structure (London: Penguin Books, 1969), 359.
perspective. Since its independence in 1991,
Ukraine has indeed enshrined its future al-
ways more strongly towards the West, and
the launch of the Russian invasion in Ukraine
on 24 February 2022 could well be a deter-
mining stepping stone in this journey.
Ukraine as the EU’s and Russia’s ‘little
Before addressing Ukraine’s own subjectivity
and how it has built its identity in relation to its
two big neighbours the EU and Russia it
is worth observing how Ukraine has been
framed by them. After the EU’s wide enlarge-
ment in 2004, Ukraine has become a direct
neighbour (among others) of the community.
This led to the formulation of the European
Neighbourhood Policy, followed by the East-
ern Partnership in 2009, which are policies
that come as a substitution to enlargement, to
reduce the risks of full exclusion. The side ef-
fect of these policies is that they also come to
blur the boundaries between the EU’s Self
THE WAR IN UKRAINE | MarchApril 2022
Ukraine’s In-Betweenness: From Hybridity to Centrality 26
and the Others.86 The neighbours of the East-
ern Partnership are framed as the EU’s ‘po-
tential we’,87 not yet ‘good enough’ according
to the established standards to become full
Europeans, but on their way to do so.88
Through this kind of policies, the EU creates
places of liminality, places of transition in
which the liminars are supposed to adopt the
dominant categories as defined by the core
(e.g. democracy, rule of law, governance etc.)
to reduce the risks of subversion and secure
the EU’s own Self, while still refusing to ac-
cept them fully within the in-circle.89 The rela-
tionship appears as one between a teacher
and a student, the EU expecting Ukraine to
learn and progress towards its model.90 This
representation of Ukraine as the EU’s ‘little
self’91 is in a way reflected in the latter’s re-
fusal to fast-track the Ukrainian application to
join the bloc: its aspirations to join the com-
munity are acknowledged, the EU wants
Ukraine in and considers it as part of the Eu-
ropean family, but it is not yet ‘ready’ to fully
From the Russian perspective now, we can
also note an ambiguous form of Othering,
blurring the lines between the inside and the
outside. The very Russian notion of its ‘near
abroad’ underlines this ambiguity, implying
86 Laure Delcour, "Armenia’s and Georgia’s contrasted positioning vis-à-vis the EU: between vocal cen-
trality and strategic marginality." Journal of Contemporary European Studies 27, no 4 (2019): 439-450.
87 Alena Vieira, "The European Union's ‘Potential We’ between Acceptance and Contestation: Assessing
the Positioning of Six Eastern Partnership Countries." JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies 59,
no 2 (2021): 297-315.
88 Shota Kakabadze, "The East in the West: South Caucasus Between Russia and the European Union."
Polity 52, no 2 (2020): 273-287.
89 Bahar Rumelili, "Liminal identities and processes of domestication and subversion in International
Relations." Review of International Studies 38, no 2 (2012): 495-508; Maria-Ruxandra Stoicescu, "Com-
munitas and forms without foundations: Romania's case of interlocking liminalities." Review of Interna-
tional Studies 38, no 2 (2012): 509-524.
90 Ondřej Horký-Hlucháň and Petr Kratochvíl, "“Nothing is imposed in this policy!” The construction and
constriction of the European neighbourhood." Alternatives 39, no 4 (2014): 252-270; Petr Kratochvil,.
"Discursive constructions of the EU’s identity in the neighbourhood: an equal among equals or the power
centre." European Political Economy Review 9, Autumn (2009): 5-23.
91 Maria Ruxandra Stoicescu, Liminality in International Relations: A Comparative Analysis of Discursive
Articulations in the Geopolitical Visions of Romania, Turkey, and Ukraine (Institute of International and
Development Studies, 2008).
92 Kevork Oskanian, Russian Exceptionalism between East and West: The Ambiguous Empire (London:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).
that Russia considers the former Soviet Re-
publics as not completely foreign, i.e. as
partly-Self. Moreover, referring to ‘the
Ukraine’ has a historical connotation, repre-
senting the Ukrainian territory as Russia’s
borderland, coming from the translation of the
Russian word “Okraina”. Oskanian argues
that Russia articulates its Self as superior in
relation to its constructed subalterns which
are denied any true agency, with diverging
practices depending on whether it looks to-
wards its East or West. 92 Towards its eastern
flank, Russia adopts an Orientalist behaviour,
bearer of a civilising mission. Towards its
Western neighbours, however, the approach
is different, promoting a common Slavic au-
thenticity with Russia at its core, as the big
brother and protector. This fraternal link unit-
ing Ukraine to Russia has been particularly
visible in the Russian discursive escalation,
used as an element of justification for the so-
called ‘special operation’. In the Russian dis-
course, it is only natural for Ukraine and Rus-
sia to be together, they are one people, with
Russia playing the role of a protector, as any
big brother would do. Ukraine is considered to
have no nationhood on its own, again under-
lining this ‘little self’ projection coming from
Russia. We can note a form of differentiation
being made in the Russian official discourse
Ukraine’s In-Betweenness: From Hybridity to Centrality 27
between the genuine Ukrainian people, who
naturally belong with their brother Russia, and
the threatening Other embodied by Ukrainian
authorities, who only are the West’s puppets.
Here, Ukraine’s in-betweenness is framed as
a threat, with the argument that its specific po-
sition is being used by the West to contain
Russia.93 Ukraine’s choice for a pro-Western
liberal democratic path comes as a destabilis-
ing factor of the identity discourse the Kremlin
is trying to build for the Slavic/Eurasian space
around the concept of the ‘Russian world’.94
Ukraine’s liminality: from hybridity to mar-
Where does Ukraine situate itself, in-between
these two cores with each their own percep-
tion of the country, but which share the simi-
larity of framing it within a hierarchical rela-
tionship, as some kind of a ‘lesser’ or ‘little’
self? Identity is never something that is fixed,
but rather always in flux,95 and we can note
changes in how Ukraine has articulated its
own Self in relation to the two cores since the
fall of the Soviet Union.
Since its independence, Ukraine has looked
towards the West, although civil society and
political elites were divided and unstable on
how to relate with their neighbours. Depend-
ing on the time or the political side, the ‘Other’
was changing and the perceptions of Russia
were balancing between the brother and the
enemy,96 while always trying to maintain
93 Vladimir Putin, “Address by the President of the Russian Federation,” 2022, accessed February 22,
94 Dmitri Trenin, Understanding Putin and the Ukraine Crisis. Presentation at Carnegy Endowment for
International Peace, Online, February 2022.
95 Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe Hegemony and Social Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic
Politics (London: Verso, 1985).
96 Taras Kuzio, "Identity and nation-building in Ukraine: Defining the ‘other’," Ethnicities 1, no 3 (2001):
97 Karina Shyrokykh, "The evolution of the foreign policy of Ukraine: External actors and domestic fac-
tors," Europe-Asia Studies 70, no 5 (2018): 832-850.
98 Taras Kuzio, "Identity and nation-building in Ukraine”, 360.
99 Vera Axyonova and Diana Zubko, “The European Union through the Eyes of Ukrainian Think Tankers:
Studying EU Perceptions Post-Euromaidan,” Kyiv-Mohyla Law and Politics Journal 0, no 3 (2017): 197.
100 Karina Shyrokykh, "The evolution of the foreign policy of Ukraine”.
101 Vjosa Musliu and Olga Burlyuk, "Imagining Ukraine: From history and myths to Maidan protests."
East European Politics and Societies 33, no 3 (2019): 631-655.
limited strategic relations to try and hedge the
risks for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty.97 It
is interesting to note that, before the point of
rupture in the relations between Ukraine and
Russia in 2014, the former could have seen
itself play the role of a bridge between Europe
and Russia, “to ‘return to Europe’ together
with Russia”.98 This underlined Ukraine’s am-
biguous positioning that it had strived to turn
into an opportunity under Kuchma’s presi-
dency (1994-2005), to act as a bridge, to be a
dynamic force of connection and rapproche-
ment. The Euromaidan revolution in 2013-
2014, followed by the annexation of Crimea
by Russia and unrest in the Donbas mark a
shift in Ukrainian political discourse, with a re-
articulation of its identity now firmly embed-
ded in its European choice, putting an end to
the balancing strategy and the perspective of
being a bridge with Russia. “[T]here is no
longer a debate on Ukraine’s geopolitical
choice”.99 Ukraine has strongly framed its
identity as one that belongs in Europe in
terms of its history, identity and values, there-
fore aspiring to be accepted within the pro-
cess of European integration.100 While no
longer being a bridge between Europe and
Russia, it has started promoting its role as a
bridge between Europe and ‘the rest’, being a
model for other countries ‘in transition’ to-
wards democracy.101 The accession to the
EU is often presented as a natural way for-
ward and the EU as Ukraine’s ally and
Ukraine’s In-Betweenness: From Hybridity to Centrality 28
counter-pole to Russia.102 We could argue
that the main objective for Ukraine has first
been to stay away from Russian influence,
more than being a European Ukraine as
such.103 Russia is indeed Ukraine’s most sig-
nificant ‘Other’, familiar but hostile,104 and it
could be contended that Ukraine takes the es-
sence of its identity in opposition to Russia.105
In the literature, a distinction is made between
hybrid and marginal liminality.106 The former
emerges from “the interstices of crosscutting
discourses of identity, which create mis-
matching categorisations”. The latter is “the
product of universalising discourses, where
liminality designates the constant state of be-
coming of an actor in search for a place within
an established structural arrangement".107
Before the 2010s, we could argue that
Ukraine was in a state of hybrid liminality, “a
synthesis of East and West” and “ambivalent
category resting in both”,108 embracing its in-
between position and at times trying to turn it
into strength as a bridge between East and
West. The escalating tensions in Ukraine-
Russia relations leading to the 2014 shift gave
rise to a transformation of Ukraine’s liminality
into one of marginality. It has strived to be ac-
cepted within the European club by engaging
102 Vera Axyonova and Diana Zubko, “The European Union through the Eyes of Ukrainian Think Tank-
103 Vjosa Musliu and Olga Burlyuk, "Imagining Ukraine”.
104 Kornely Kakachia, Bidzina Lebanidze and Volodymyr Dubovyk, "Defying marginality: explaining
Ukraine’s and Georgia’s drive towards Europe," Journal of Contemporary European Studies 27, no 4
(2019): 451-462.
105 Vjosa Musliu and Olga Burlyuk, "Imagining Ukraine”.
106 Dylan M.H. Loh and Jaakko Heiskanen, "Liminal sovereignty practices: Rethinking the inside/outside
dichotomy," Cooperation and Conflict 55, no 3 (2020): 284-304; Bahar Rumelili, "Liminal identities and
processes of domestication and subversion".
107 Maria-Ruxandra Stoicescu, "Communitas and forms without foundations,’ 512.
108 Ivan L. Rudnytsky, 1987, cited in Vjosa Musliu and Olga Burlyuk, "Imagining Ukraine”, 5.
109 Kornely Kakachia, Bidzina Lebanidze and Volodymyr Dubovyk, "Defying marginality”.
110 Christopher S. Browning and George Christou, "The constitutive power of outsiders: The European
neighbourhood policy and the eastern dimension," Political Geography 29, no 2 (2010): 109-118.
111 RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, “Zelenskiy Calls For Ukraine’s Immediate EU Membership But Bloc
Cool On Idea,” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, last modified February 28, 2022, accessed March 22,
2022,; Volodymyr Zelenskyy,
“Interview: David Muir Reporting. ABC News Exclusive.” Accessed March 14 2022,
in reforms, trying to comply with its standards,
without ever being completely successful and
thus remaining of the ‘edges’.109 Marginality
does not necessarily mean weakness how-
ever, and we have seen Ukraine using its
‘marginal’ position to influence the EU’s iden-
tity and foreign policy. Indeed, Ukrainian au-
thorities have endeavoured to frame Ukraine
as central for the EU’s security, linking it to its
future membership against a common Rus-
sian threat.110 It has increasingly projected a
representation of itself as a buffer with a pro-
tective role for European security against the
Russian threat, thus projecting conflictual rep-
resentations to also engage the EU in its con-
frontation with Russia. This discursive strat-
egy has reached its peak in the context of the
current war in Ukraine, with Ukrainian author-
ities emphasising how the Russian aggres-
sion on Ukraine constitutes a great threat for
the whole of Europe, its security architecture,
its values. They are framing the conflict as
one between democracy against barbarism
and authoritarianism, with Ukraine included
within the family of the former, in the front row
as ‘Europe’s army’, therefore asking for the
right to be considered as equal.111 This strat-
egy did receive some resonance, as the per-
spective for Ukraine’s membership has never
Ukraine’s In-Betweenness: From Hybridity to Centrality 29
been erased from the EU’s agenda, and has
been put again on the table in light of the on-
going war, with higher support than ever be-
Recognition is essential in the affirmation of
one’s identity.112 It would seem that, although
the EU recognises Ukraine’s Europeanness
and still does not close the door for future
membership, Ukraine is still not perceived as
‘ready’ to be part of the in-group. EU dis-
courses emphasise the need to support and
reconstruct Ukraine’s still ‘unperfect’ democ-
racy,113 implying that it is still incomplete.
Even if the candidate status finally gets
granted to Ukraine, this will not necessarily
mean that it will leave its liminal status, as it
could still take years before it reaches full
membership. Even then, differentiation from
the ‘real’ core could persist, as we can see in
the case of the Central Eastern European
states which, despite having joined the EU,
still remain liminal in relation to the Western
core. A normative hierarchy persists between
different Europes and Europeans.114
Ukraine’s ‘own face’
The pitfall in seeing Ukraine as liminal in com-
parison to the EU is to miss signs of a new
112 Danijela Čanji and Aliaksei Kazharski, "When the “subaltern empire” speaks. On recognition, Eura-
sian integration, and the Russo-Georgian war," Eurasian Geography and Economics (2022): 1-28.
113 Council of Europe, “Informal meeting of the Heads of State or Government. Versailles Declaration.”,
Accessed on March 14 2022,
laration-en.pdf; Ursula Von der Leyen, “Speech by President von der Leyen at the Munich Security
Conference 2022,” Accessed on February 22, 2022.
114 Maria Mälksoo, "The normative threat of subtle subversion: the return of ‘Eastern Europe’as an on-
tological insecurity trope,” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 32, no 3 (2019): 365-383.
115 Alexandr Osipian, “Украина все же обрела собственное лицо” [Ukraine Managed to Acquire a
Face of Its Own]. Ab Imperio, 3 (2014).
116 Paul D’Anieri, Rethinking Sovereignty. Symposium conducted at TCUP Conference: Beyond Border-
land: 30 Years of Ukrainian Sovereignty, Harvard University, Online, February 2022; Taras Kuzio, "Eu-
romaidan revolution, Crimea and RussiaUkraine war: why it is time for a review of Ukrainian–Russian
studies," Eurasian Geography and Economics 59, no 3-4 (2018): 529-553.
117 Ibid.
118 Vjosa Musliu and Olga Burlyuk, "Imagining Ukraine”; Olga Onuch, Contested Identities and State-
Making in the Post-Soviet Space, Symposium conducted at the Association for the Study of Nationali-
ties, Online, January 2022.
119 Faustine Vincent, “Kyiv satisfait de l’« unité » de ses partenaires face à Moscou,” Le Monde, January
13, 2022.
nation emerging from below, with ‘its own
face’, emancipated to a certain degree from
its two large neighbours, despite still being in-
between.115 These signs were already visible
in the Maidan events and would appear rein-
forced today in the face of the invasion. While
Ukraine has often been perceived as a di-
vided country (between a more pro-European
West and a more pro-Russian East), many
scholars have argued that the Russian ag-
gression has in fact strengthened Ukrainian
identity and united the country.116 In terms of
(geo)political preferences, regional divides
are fading, the question of language is not so
much a determining factor.117 In Ukraine, we
witness the affirmation of a strong civic iden-
tity rather than a nationalist project.118 Before
Russian aggression already in 2014, there
were no strong, virulent anti-Russian senti-
ments in the population according to a 2021
study by the Razumkov Centre.119 Now, how-
ever, Ukrainians are united and consolidating
their identity around the dichotomy of the
democratic Self against the Russian imperial
and authoritarian Other. The Russian inva-
sion of February 2022 most probably marks a
point of no return in Ukrainian-Russian
Ukraine’s In-Betweenness: From Hybridity to Centrality 30
relations. According to Makarychev,120 it will
now be difficult for Russia to reconcile the two
images representing Ukraine in relation to its
own Self: the threatening Other and the
brother. It is also uncertain what will happen
regarding Ukraine’s sense of belonging to the
European community. Faced with the lack of
receptiveness from Western actors to its re-
peated calls for integration and assistance,
there is a growing sense of disappointment
noticeable in Ukrainian official discourses.
This first concerns NATO’s inaction,121 but
also now the EU’s incapacity to “do more”
when they refused to fast-track Ukraine’s
membership application.122 Despite the nu-
merous signs of support and solidarity,
Ukraine stands mostly alone in its fight. This
could lead to a stronger affirmation of the
“Ukraine as Ukraine” narrative identified by
Musliu and Burlyuk, according to which
Ukraine is neither East nor West and does not
need to be integrated into any regional frame-
work “to become”.123 The responsibility for its
present and future would lie in its own hands,
as would demonstrate the strong resistance
we are witnessing today against Russian ag-
120 Andrey Makarychev The Russian Geopolitical Crescendo: Lessons for the International Relations
Theory. Seminar at the Institute of European Studies and International Relations of the Faculty of Social
and Economic Sciences, Comenius University, Online, March 2022.(
121 “War in Ukraine, Day 10: Ukraine disappointed and outraged by NATO’s “inaction”. Euromaidan
Press, March 5, 2022.
122 Volodymyr Zelenskyy, We have already reached a strategic turning point and are moving towards
our goal, our victory, last modified March 11, 2022, accessed March 14, 2022, https://www.presi-
123 Vjosa Musliu and Olga Burlyuk, "Imagining Ukraine", 15.
Freezing Russia’s Central Bank Reserves: Much Ado About Nothing? 31
Mattias Vermeiren
Ghent Institute for International and European Studies Ghent University
Western countries have responded to the in-
vasion of Ukraine with a plethora of sanctions
that seek to completely isolate Russia from
the western-dominated international financial
and monetary system.124 On February 26th,
major Russian banks were cut off from the
Brussels-based SWIFT international pay-
ments system, which provides messaging
services that are needed to send money
across borders. On the same day, jurisdic-
tions issuing key internationally used curren-
cies (especially the US and the EU but also
the UK, Canada, Japan, Australia, and Swit-
zerland) aimed to incapacitate the Central
Bank of the Russian Federation’s (CBRF) use
of its international reserves by effectively
freezing more than half of the CBRF’s assets.
Especially the latter sanction is widely seen
as an unprecedented move that would debili-
tate Russia’s attempt to cushion the blow of
other financial sanctions like the exclusion of
major Russian banks from SWIFT, which
western powers already considered as a
124 For a complete overview and timeline of the imposed financial and economic sanctions, see Chad P.
Bown, “Russia's war on Ukraine: A sanctions timeline,” Peterson Institute for International Economics,
last modified March 29, 2022,
125 Cynthia Roberts, Leslie Armijo and Saori Katada, The BRICS and Collective Financial Statecraft
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
retaliation for Russia’s annexation of the Cri-
mea back in 2014. As president Putin and his
fellow travellers could expect a SWIFT-exclu-
sion in response to the current invasion, they
hoped to rely on the CBRF’s reserves to miti-
gate the direct impact of these sanctions. Af-
ter all, the accumulation of foreign exchange
reserves over the last two decades by Russia
and other emerging powers has been a cen-
tral component of their growing “financial
statecraft”, which is aimed at strengthening
their policy autonomy in the face of western-
dominated international financial institutions
and reducing their vulnerability against capital
flight.125 Russia alone accrued more than
US$630 billion in international reserves by
January 2022, about 79 percent of which con-
sisted of foreign exchange assets and 21 per-
cent of gold (Figure 1). After its annexation of
the Crimea in 2014, Russia stepped up its ef-
forts to build a “war chest” of reserves, which
peaked by the time of its 2022 invasion of
THE WAR IN UKRAINE | March – April 2022
Freezing Russia’s Central Bank Reserves: Much Ado About Nothing? 32
Figure 1. International reserves at the Central Bank of the Russian Federation126
Currency collapse?
Foreign exchange reserves usually allow cen-
tral banks to have immediate access to for-
eign currencies; they are a kind of deposit that
can be deployed during a crisis to bailout do-
mestic banks or defend the exchange rate
against capital flight without having to resort
to the IMF’s emergency loans and implement
its harsh conditionality programs. In February
2022, almost 60 percent of the CBRF’s re-
serves were invested in western currency-de-
nominated financial assets (Figure 2), ena-
bling western powers to freeze these assets
and undermine the capacity of the Putin re-
gime to minimize the destabilizing effects of
126 Central Bank of the Russian Federation
127 Anonymously quoted in Amanda Macias and Thomas Franck “Biden administration expands sanc-
tions against Russia, cutting off U.S. transactions with central bank,”, February 28, 2022,
other financial sanctions on the Russian
economy. One of the key economic objec-
tives of the central bank sanctions is therefore
to bring about a collapse of the exchange rate
of the rouble, as one top official in the Biden
administration openly acknowledged: “No
country is sanctions-proof and Putin’s war
chest of $630 billion in reserves only matters
if he can use it to defend his currency value of
the Russian rouble against major currencies,
specifically by selling those reserves in ex-
change for buying the rouble.”127 In the days
following the announcement of the sanctions,
the rouble plunged by almost 40 percent
against the US dollar and the euro.
2000 2005 2010 2015 2020
Foreign exchange reserves Gold
Freezing Russia’s Central Bank Reserves: Much Ado About Nothing? 33
Figure 2. Composition of Russia’s central bank reserves in February 2022128
The underlying political objectives of the
sanctions remain unclear, however. The most
direct purpose is to limit the ability of Russia
to finance the war against Ukraine by cutting
of its access to foreign exchange markets and
weakening the economic foundations of its
geopolitical ambitions.129 Western powers
might additionally hope that the sanctions will
eventually stoke social unrest and embolden
ordinary Russians to openly contest “Putin’s
war”: a collapsing currency would severely
erode their purchasing power by making im-
ports vastly more expensive and fuelling infla-
tionary pressures in the Russian economy
more generally. If so, it would reveal how
western sanctions no longer only target
Putin’s inner circle of siloviki and oligarchs but
are explicitly designed to impoverish ordinary
Russian citizens who bear no responsibility
for the war. As Nicholas Mulder author of
128 Source: Central Bank of the Russian Federation
129 Carla Norrlöf “The New Economic Containment: Russian Sanctions Signal Commitment to Interna-
tional Order,” Foreign Affairs, March 18, 2022,
130 Nicholas Mulder,The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War (Yale: Yale
University Press, 2022).
131 Interview of Nicholas Mulder by Anny Lowry, “Can Sanctions Stop Russia?” The Atlantic, March 10,
132 Lee Jones, “Sanctions won’t save Ukraine,” UnHerd, February 28, 2022, https://un-
See also Lee Jones’ book on sanctions: Lee Jones Societies Under Siege Exploring How International
Economic Sanctions (Do Not) Work (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).
the recently published book The Economic
Weapon, an economic history of sanctions130
has forcefully argued, sanctions inflicting fi-
nancial damage on entire populations are
morally fraught: “any liberalism worth its
name should support and defend individual
dissent and resistance against oppressive
and dictatorial governments, not punish those
unfortunate enough to find themselves living
under such regimes.”131 Any hope to provoke
popular revolt against the Putin regime would
also be painstakingly naïve, as the sanctions
could even boost societal support for the war
by turning ordinary Russian citizens against
western powers and making their economic
fortunes increasingly reliant on protective ac-
tions of the government.132 If regime change
is the ultimate political goal, western powers
could also prove dangerously reluctant to re-
move the sanctions as a condition for Putin to
Dollar Euro Gold Other Pound Sterling Yuan
Freezing Russia’s Central Bank Reserves: Much Ado About Nothing? 34
stop the invasion and withdraw his troops
from Ukraine.
In the meanwhile, the Russian government
took swift actions to prevent the further fall of
the rouble and bolster its exchange rate, facil-
itated by a major loophole in the sanctions re-
gime: the exclusion of energy imports. Being
the main channels for European payments for
Russian oil and gas, Sberbank and Gazprom-
bank were barred from the SWIFT sanc-
tions.133 Although the US and the UK eventu-
ally banned imports of Russian oil and gas,
EU member states have been reluctant to go
as far for fear of further escalating energy
prices and triggering an economic recession.
Combined with a sanctions-induced collapse
of imports, continued exports of oil and gas at
elevated prices can be expected to boost
Russia’s current account surplus and sustain
its access to new inflows of foreign exchange.
At the same time, the Putin regime responded
to the sanctions by introducing exchange con-
trols that ban Russians from transferring for-
eign currency abroad and force Russian ex-
porters to sell 80 percent of their foreign cur-
rency revenue for roubles.134 Together with
the sustained energy exports and related in-
flux of foreign currencies, these exchange
controls managed to completely recover the
exchange rate of the rouble against the US
dollar by the first week of April. Putin’s deci-
sion on March 23rd to demand “unfriendly
countries” to pay for Russian gas in roubles
was hence largely symbolic, as it will merely
force European importers rather than Russian
exporters to sell euros for roubles.
133 Philip Blenkinsop, EU bars 7 Russian banks from SWIFT, but spares those in energy,Reuters,
March 3, 2022,
134 Katie Martin, Tommy Stubbington, Philip Stafford and Hudson Locket, “Russia doubles interest rates
after sanctions send rouble plunging, Financial Times, February 28, 2022
135 Jon Sindreu, “If Russian Currency Reserves Aren’t Really Money, the World Is in for a Shock,Wall
Street Journal, March 3, 2022,
136 Barry Eichengreen, Ukraine war accelerates the stealth erosion of dollar dominance,Financial
Times, March 28, 2022,
The rouble’s recovery certainly does not imply
that the Russian economy will remain un-
scathed from the central banks sanctions: to
defend the rouble, the CBRF also had to raise
its main interest rate from 9.5 percent to 20
percent in ways that will (together with other
economic sanctions) contribute to a severe
recession and put severe hardship on Rus-
sian citizens (as well as on migrant workers in
Russia and people relying on their remit-
tances). Because of financial and trade sanc-
tions, Russia is also practically unable to use
the foreign currencies it continues to have ac-
cess to via its energy exports to import goods
from western markets. But the absence of a
currency collapse does suggest that a central
mechanism of the central bank sanctions
failed to bite.
Global financial fragmentation?
What about the long-term effects of the sanc-
tions? Freezing the CBRF’s foreign exchange
reserves seems to have eroded the “money-
ness” of these reserves, the perceived safety
of which has always been based on their al-
leged liquidity and ease at which they can be
converted into hard currencies at par.135 By
“weaponizing” foreign exchange reserves,
western powers could give non-western cen-
tral banks an incentive to diversify their re-
serves away from assets denominated in
western currencies: it could, as some ob-
serves like Barry Eichengreen have argued,
accelerate the stealth erosion of the US dollar
as the dominant reserve currency.136 After all,
Russia responded to the 2014 sanctions by
further de-dollarizing its reserves, shifting to
Freezing Russia’s Central Bank Reserves: Much Ado About Nothing? 35
gold and especially euros instead.137 The
central banks sanctions could now even alter
the political calculations of China which cur-
rently holds more than US$ 3.3 trillion in inter-
national reserves and push it to ditch the US
dollar as its main reserve asset.
This raises the question about alternatives.
The perceived moneyness of foreign ex-
change reserves is the key reason why gold
cannot be seen as a plausible substitute: it is
difficult if not impossible to swiftly sell huge
volumes of gold for US dollars or other inter-
national currencies without incurring massive
losses on these sales; even though the CBRF
diversified its international reserves toward
gold, its gold reserves amounting to more
than US$130 billion in February 2022 will
most likely remain largely idle over the next
few months. The unique deepness and liquid-
ity of US markets for debt securities espe-
cially the market for US Treasuries is the
principal foundation of the dollar’s dominance
as the world’s reserve currency: central banks
can easily liquidate these debt securities
and/or use these assets as collateral in repo
funding markets to borrow US dollars at mini-
mum transaction costs. Other currencies are
not backed by comparable markets for debt
securities and lack a similar level of liquidity.
The international role of the euro has been
constrained by the fragmentation of the Euro-
zone’s (sovereign) bond markets and its re-
strictive macroeconomic policy regime, which
curtails the supply of safe and liquid debt se-
curities to the rest of the world by privileging
the interests of the export-oriented growth
models of the northern member states.138 The
cross-border trade of yuan-denominated
137 Daniel McDowell Financial sanctions and political risk in the international currency system”, Review
of International Political Economy 28, no. 3 (2021): 635-661.
138 Mattias Vermeiren Meeting the world’s demand for safe assets? Macroeconomic policy and the
international status of the euro after the crisis”, European Journal of International Relations 25, no. 1
(2019): 30-60.
139 Miguel Otero-Iglesias and Mattias VermeirenChina’s state-permeated market economy and its con-
straints to the internationalization of the renminbi”, International Politics 52 (2015): 684.
140 McKinsey Global Institute The rise and rise of the global balance sheet: How productively are we
using our wealth? November 15, 2021,
assets, in turn, has been impeded by persis-
tent capital controls, which play a crucial role
in China’s investment-led growth model by
enabling the Chinese government to channel
cheap credit to its state-owned enterprises.139
While remaining the world’s dominant reserve
currency, it is perfectly conceivable that the
western sanction regime will somewhat re-
duce the share of the US dollar in global for-
eign exchange reserves by inducing possible
contender states to look for alternatives. The
sanctions will also further encourage emerg-
ing powers to settle their bilateral trade in their
own currencies instead of the greenback.
Both Russia and China have already set up
their own financial messages systems to re-
duce their reliance on SWIFT and US finan-
cial institutions to settle their trade. Even so,
it is essential to remember that the dominance
of the US dollar goes way beyond its role as
the global reserve and trade settlement cur-
rency: the most important source of the global
hegemony of the US dollar and the struc-
tural power it confers upon the United States
is that it is by far the most favoured invest-
ment and borrowing currency for private ac-
tors in global finance. A recent McKinsey re-
port estimated that the total value of financial
assets and liabilities in 2020 amounted to
more than US$1,000 trillion (12-times global
GDP).140 Only the onshore and offshore US
dollar markets are sufficiently large to absorb
the global need for private financial and non-
financial firms to raise funding and accumu-
late liquid financial wealth. The willingness of
the US Treasury and Federal Reserve to
backstop even offshore US dollar-denomi-
nated money created outside the US financial
Freezing Russia’s Central Bank Reserves: Much Ado About Nothing? 36
system in response to the global financial cri-
sis of 2008 consolidated the position of US
dollar as the world’s dominant store of
Wealthy elites in non-western countries might
infer from the current sanctions that “they can
easily fall victim to geopolitics” as Branko
Milanovic has argued pushing them to “find
new havens for their investments … probably
in Asia.”142 Nevertheless, stashing their finan-
cial wealth into US dollars in non-western fi-
nancial centres can still expose them to US
secondary sanctions that punish these cen-
tres from doing business with targeted elites.
The only other option is to invest in real estate
instead of financial assets, pushing up hous-
ing prices in non-western jurisdictions. But
should the United States and other western
powers really care about this “risk”? Rather
than fragmenting the global financial system
around competing geopolitical blocs, the flight
of their money could ease some pressure on
skyrocketing real estate prices in several of
the West’s overly expensive global cities and
ought to be welcomed for precisely this rea-
141 Steffen Murau, Joe Rini and Armin Haas The evolution of the Offshore US-Dollar System: Past,
present and four possible futures,Journal of Institutional Economics 16, no 6 (2020): 767-783.
142 Branko Milanovic “The End of the End of History: What have we Learned So Far?”, Global Policy,
March 7, 2022,
The End of Globalisation As We Know It 37
Ferdi De Ville
Ghent Institute for International and European Studies Ghent University
While it is impossible to predict the outcome
of the war in Ukraine in the short term, we can
more confidently assess its medium-term
consequences. The Russian invasion of
Ukraine and the unprecedented sanctions
with which the west has responded will be a
watershed in the trajectory of the global econ-
omy. The consequences of the economic iso-
lation of Russia will long outlive the duration
of the war and the sanctions. Globalisation
will never fully recover from this blow.
After Russia launched a full-scale invasion of
Ukraine on 24 February 2022, western coun-
tries have responded with exceptionally harsh
economic sanctions143. The European Union,
as Russia’s main trading partner accounting
for 38% of its exports, played a key role. Its
position as Russia’s main export destination
provides it with leverage, but this is partly neu-
tralized by its own dependence on imports of
Russian gas and oil. As a result, the EU has
often been accused of handling Russia with
kid gloves. In response to Russia’s occupa-
tion of Crimea and the downing of the MH17
plane in 2014, the EU reacted mainly with
143 I would like to thank Niels Gheyle and Jan Orbie for helpful comments on an earlier version of this
144 Giorgio Leali, “France not opposed in principle to cutting Russia from SWIFT: Bruno Le Maire,” Po-
litico. February 25, 2022.
diplomatic sanctions and restrictive measures
limited to individuals and specific companies.
The speed and scale of the EU’s response to
the Russian invasion of Ukraine therefore
came as a surprise to many. Germany, often
among the most hesitant EU member states
when it comes to using sanctions in general
and against Russia in particular, decided to
shelve the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The EU
closed its airspace for all Russian carriers.
More significantly, on March 2nd seven Rus-
sian and three Belarusian banks were banned
from the Brussels-based SWIFT financial
messaging system and hence excluded from
international financial markets, a move con-
sidered a last resort “financial nuclear
weapon”144 just a week earlier. At least as
consequential was the ban on transactions
and freezing of the assets of the Russian and
Belarussian Central Banks.
The EU has extended asset freezes to more
Russian individuals, including President Putin
and Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov, and
has broadened export controls in the energy,
transport and technology sector. The Union,
together with other countries, stopped
THE WAR IN UKRAINE | MarchApril 2022
The End of Globalisation As We Know It 38
treating Russia as a most favoured nation
within the World Trade Organisation, enabling
it to further impose restrictions on imports
from Russia.
The goal of these (currently four) packages of
sanctions is to run dry the financial and mate-
rial flows supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The French Economy Minister Bruno Le
Maire even undiplomatically stated that the
objective is to “cause the collapse of the Rus-
sian economy”, a quote from which he later
backtracked145. While stopping the imports of
Russian hydrocarbons seems impossible in
the immediate future, the EU has now made
it an explicit short-term goal. Russia is re-
sponding with its own countersanctions, such
as restrictions on raw material exports and
threats to nationalize western companies.
From liberal peace to weaponised interde-
The events of the past weeks shake some
age-old convictions about the relationship be-
tween economic and foreign policy. It has
long been believed that increased economic
integration would lead to the spread of de-
mocracy to every corner of the world and
make war in the globalised era unthinkable.
This “liberal peace theory”146, popularized by
Thomas Friedman’s dictum that two countries
that both have a McDonald’s would not go to
war with each other147, has been considered
one of the few true “laws” of politics. The law
has now been falsified. Globalisation, or the
presence of McDonald’s, did not stop Russia
from invading Ukraine, but the war has now
145 Davide Basso, “Le Maire backtracks after talking of ‘economic and financial war’ against Russia.”
Euractiv. March 2, 2022.
146 E.g. Michael W. Doyle “Three Pillars of the Liberal Peace.” American Political Science Review 93 no.
3 (2005): 463.
147 Thomas L. Friedman, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization,” (New York:
Picador, 1999).
148 Henry Farrell and Abraham L. Newman, "Weaponized interdependence: How global economic net-
works shape state coercion," International Security 44, no. 1 (2019): 42-79. See also Andrej Krickovic,
"When interdependence produces conflict: EU–Russia energy relations as a security dilemma." Con-
temporary Security Policy 36, no. 1 (2015): 3-26.
forced McDonald’s to stop operating in Rus-
The idea that economic interdependence
guarantees international political stability and
friendship had already lost some of its lustre
before the war in Ukraine. The concept of
“weaponized interdependence” coined by
Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman in
2019148, which argues that asymmetric inter-
dependence can be leveraged by states to
pursue strategic interests, has rapidly gained
currency. The weaponization of SWIFT to try
to choke the Russian financial system is a
crystal-clear illustration of their argument.
Not only academics but also policymakers
have in recent years started to abandon the
idea that trade and foreign policy can be
neatly separated or that their goals are always
mutually reinforcing. In the EU, this view that
was still dominant no more than a decade ago
is now widely considered to be “naïve”. The
shortage of personal protective equipment in
the first weeks after the covid outbreak that
left EU Member States scrambling for masks
and gloves, and the humiliating Chinese
“facemask diplomacy” towards Italy and oth-
ers, drove home the insight that import de-
pendence can be a matter of public health
and national security, not just a desirable fea-
ture of an optimal global division of labour.
More generally, global value chains and just-
in-time business models that were long con-
sidered the high-water mark of economic effi-
ciency now became seen as causes of supply
chain disruption and economic stagflation.
The End of Globalisation As We Know It 39
The European Union responded to the covid
pandemic and its economic fallout by rethink-
ing its trade policy. In its 2021 trade policy re-
view it put forward “open strategic autonomy”
as its new guiding principle. This implies that
the EU’s trade policies should help ensure
that the EU is able to make its own choices
and shape the world in line with its strategic
interests and values, rather than undermining
this ability. But the practical elaboration of this
new principle was far from revolutionary.
Open strategic autonomy was not interpreted
as an imperative to reduce interdependence
but rather as a stimulus to diversify depend-
encies, complemented with the build-up of
production capacities and reserves in a lim-
ited set of strategic goods149.
This time is different
While in the recent past, globalization has
managed to survive blows dealt by not only a
pandemic but also a global financial crisis150,
politicisation, populism, and inequality and cli-
mate change challenges, this time might be
different. Now, an entire economy, the ninth
largest in the world (when counting the EU as
a whole), is being cut off from the global econ-
omy, or at least from its western hemisphere.
Russia, which had prepared for additional
sanctions but not of the scope and severity
that they turned out to be, is now struggling to
rearrange its economy and financial system
to become largely independent from the west
(except for energy, for now), with some help
of countries like China and India.
149 Cfr. Jacobs, Thomas, Ferdi De Ville, Niels Gheyle and Jan Orbie. “The hegemonic politics of ‘strategic
autonomy’ and ‘resilience’: COVID-19 and the dislocation of EU trade policy.” Journal of Common Mar-
ket Studies (2022, forthcoming).
150 Ferdi De Ville and Jan Orbie, "The European commission's neoliberal trade discourse since the crisis:
Legitimizing continuity through subtle discursive change," The British Journal of Politics and Interna-
tional Relations 16, no. 1 (2014): 149-167.
151 Cfr. Tobias Gehrke, “Putin’s critical raw materials are a threat to EU economic security,” Egmont
Institute, March 15, 2022,
152 Ron Bousso and Dmitry Zhdannikov, “BP quits Russia in up to $25 billion hit after Ukraine invasion,”
Reuters, February 28, 2022,
Since the war in Ukraine and the sanctions
against Russia, governments and firms no
longer have the luxury to ignore geopolitics in
their decision-making. Governments will be-
come increasingly less tolerant of overde-
pendence on imports of strategic supplies.
This will not be limited to fossil fuels or Rus-
sia. The dynamics that unfolded in the past
weeks will amplify concerns among policy-
makers about relying on (potential) strategic
rivals for the imports of medicines, critical raw
materials151, microchips, and the like. Inward
and outward investment will be scrutinised
even more critically for security risks. Govern-
ments will try to escape networks in which
they find themselves in a vulnerable position.
Already, China and Russia have been explor-
ing alternatives to SWIFT and are considering
joining forces in this respect.
Private firms as well will have to factor in the
higher plausibility of disruptive conflict and
sanctions in their investment and supply
chain decisions. Many western multinationals
have pulled out of Russia in recent weeks to
escape the collateral damage of sanctions or
to protect their corporate image. The costs of
dismantling operations in Russia from one
day to the next run high. The loss for BP of
selling its 20% stake in the Russian oil com-
pany Rosneft alone is an estimated $25 bil-
Even if the war would be peacefully resolved
soon and sanctions on Russia would be with-
drawn, it is unlikely that foreign companies
would be as willing to risk investing in the
The End of Globalisation As We Know It 40
country as they have been in the past. This
logic exceeds Russia. Investors and compa-
nies can be expected to factor in a much more
significant probability of conflict, followed by
disruptive sanctions, such as after a Chinese
incursion into Taiwan153.
Security-driven deglobalisation
It is not fanciful to imagine that the war in
Ukraine and the sanctions of the west against
Russia will increasingly split the world econ-
omy in (at least) two parts. Global value
chains, which have always been more re-
gional in nature than their term suggests,
might be rewired within a western and an
eastern hemisphere. The war in Ukraine
could in this way succeed in bringing about
some degree of deglobalisation, a goal long
pursued by social justice activists.
Security-driven deglobalisation might bring
some positive side effects. It could lead to a
reinforcement of efforts to decarbonise the
economy to reduce dependency on autocratic
fossil fuel exporting countries, like the Euro-
pean Commission has proposed with its RE-
PowerEU plan, announced less than two
weeks after the start of the war. It may result
in more transparency about financial transac-
tions and do away with “golden passport” pro-
grams with which cash-strapped countries
tried to lure oligarchs. It might shorten supply
chains, decrease transportation costs and as-
sociated negative externalities and curtail
regulatory competition as firms’ opportunities
to outsource and relocate are curtailed.
But deglobalisation that is driven by a mutual
suspicion about the threat that interdepend-
ence could be weaponised should not be un-
equivocally welcomed. When the economy
and trade become predominantly perceived
through a geopolitical lens, this could lead to
a prioritization of security and defence not
only over efficiency but over sustainability and
social justice as well. Moreover, we should
not succumb to the logical fallacy that be-
cause interdependence did not prevent war,
autonomy will guarantee peace. Decoupling
between major powers would make the eco-
nomic weapon of sanctions obsolete, leaving
standing by or responding with military means
as the remaining options.
Finally, countries in the global south will watch
the west’s change in trade course with bitter
irony. They have since long warned that free
trade threatens their security, not in military
terms but to ensure sufficient food for their
populations. The response that they received
is that food security is better guaranteed
through cheap imports than via domestic pro-
duction support or stockholding. Now, the war
in Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia
risk causing food shortages in some of the
poorest countries in the world, many of which
depend heavily on Ukraine or Russia for
wheat imports. The world has an obligation to
prevent famines as another tragic conse-
quence of this war. And when the link be-
tween trade and security is redefined, the
global south’s interests and views cannot be
153 Hudson Lockett and Edward White, “Investors in Taiwan seek to hedge against risk of conflict with
China,” Financial Times, March 15, 2022,
Europe’s Energy Transition Will Disarm Putin 41
Moniek de Jong and Thijs Van De Graaf
Ghent Institute for International and European Studies Ghent University
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a watershed
moment for Europe’s energy policy. Prior to
the invasion, Russia was Europe’s biggest
energy supplier. The EU buys from Russia
some 45% of its imported gas, around a third
of its oil and nearly half of its coal. Europe’s
energy reliance on Russia dates back at least
five decades, to the early 1970s, when the
first East-West gas pipelines were laid from
the Soviet Union to Western Europe. In Ger-
man political elites, there was a strong belief
that this Ostpolitik, fostering economic inter-
dependence across the Iron Curtain, was a
contributing factor to the peaceful end of the
Cold War. That perspective is now completely
in tatters.
Berlin finally placed the contentious Nord
Stream 2 gas pipeline on ice. Even though the
EU has (so far) refrained from imposing any
sanctions or ban on Russian oil or gas, it has
announced that it wants to become independ-
ent from Russian fossil fuels well before 2030.
It wants to move especially fast for gas, aim-
ing for a two-thirds reduction in Russian gas
exports before the end of the year. In the com-
ing months and years, we will witness a great
energy decoupling between Russia and Eu-
rope. This process could very well mean the
end of Russia as an energy superpower and
give a shot in the arm to the energy transition
across Europe. The task for Europe is to look
beyond fuel diversification (say, replacing
Russian gas with US LNG), but to accelerate
the drive to energy efficiency, electrification
and renewables.
More than one crisis
The 1973 oil crisis triggered a major energy
shift. An oil embargo and high oil prices saw
the ideas on abundant oil supplies change
overnight. At that time, a decision was made
to become less reliant on Middle Eastern oil
sources. In response, we diversified our
sources of oil (e.g. Russia and Norway) and
diversified our energy mix by increasing nu-
clear and coal capacity. The 1973 crisis also
saw the first calls for energy conservation
(e.g. the introduction of car-free Sundays),
energy efficiency, and increased research
into renewables. These measures had a mas-
sive impact on our energy use and subse-
quently the emissions associated with this
burning of fossil fuels.
Recent crises, related to Russia, have not had
the same impact. In the winters of 2006 and
2009, Russia temporarily halted gas flows to
Europe due to disputes with transit country
Ukraine. The 2014 Crimea annexation, the
downing of flight MH-17 and continued Rus-
sian support for Ukrainian separatists were
further causes for concern. Although the EU
sought to diversify gas suppliers by promoting
the construction of LNG terminals and gas
pipelines (for example, the Southern Gas
THE WAR IN UKRAINE | MarchApril 2022
Europe’s Energy Transition Will Disarm Putin 42
Corridor), these diversifications efforts had lit-
tle impact on the share of Russian gas in Eu-
rope. Instead, the share of Russian gas in-
creased from 30% in 2014 to 40% in 2021.
The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to limit global
warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. In order to
reach that goal, we need to stop burning fossil
fuels (oil, gas and coal), as they are responsi-
ble for 80% of all the CO2 emissions. This en-
tails that the majority of fossil fuels should be
kept in the ground. The urgency of the climate
crisis has since become more readily appar-
ent, as extreme weather events become more
frequent in Europe and impact Europeans.
The 2021 heat waves in the south of Europe
have costs lives, and last year’s floods in Ger-
many, Belgium and the Netherlands resulted
in the loss of life and billions of damages.
The COVID-19 pandemic provided green
growth opportunities with the economic down-
turn and decrease on fossil fuel consumption,
but instead economic recovery continued with
the use of fossil fuels. The COVID recovery
led to high gas and power prices in the
months preceding the invasion of Ukraine.
This pushed even more European house-
holds into energy poverty (in 2021 31 million
European lived in energy poverty).
A challenging break-up
Since the start of the war, the International
Energy Agency (IEA) has introduced a 10-
point plan to reduce European dependency
on Russian gas. Additionally, the IEA sug-
gested that an extension of the operation of
coal power plants or reopening recently
closed coal power plant could also contrib-
ute.154 The high gas prices and tight energy
market have made coal an interesting
154 "A 10-Point Plan to Reduce the European Union’s Reliance on Russian Natural Gas," IEA, March
155 "REPowerEU: Joint European action for more affordable, secure and sustainable energy," European
Commission, March 8, 2022,
156 Ben McWilliams, Giovanni Sgaravatti, Simone Tagliapietra & Georg Zachmann, "Can Europe survive
painlessly without Russian gas?" Breugel, January 27, 2022,
alternative and substituting gas with coal
would be a quickly band-aid for our gas de-
pendency on Russia. Just months earlier, a
new commitment was made to phase out coal
power. This resurgence of coal is bad news
for our climate ambitions and our energy in-
dependence. Coal is the most polluting fossil
fuels and increased use of coal could lead to
more emissions. Additionally, most of our coal
imports comes from Russia, so our energy
dependency would not change.
There have also been calls to delay the
phase-out of nuclear power plants in Ger-
many and Belgium. Germany, which plans to
close all of its nuclear power plants by the end
of the year, has indicated that regulatory is-
sues prevent it from extending the operational
stage of these power plants. In Belgium, a de-
cision was made to delay the phase-out of two
of its seven reactors, although many issues
As announced in the REPowerEU plan,155
the European Union is counting on LNG and
non-Russian piped gas to reduce Russian
gas imports into the EU with two-thirds by the
end of the year, but this might not be the best
solution. Berlin has announced the construc-
tion of two LNG terminals, has engaged in ne-
gotiations with the emir of Qatar to secure
LNG imports and signed contracts for blue hy-
drogen (hydrogen produced from gas). There
are many problem with this European plan.156
Filling up gas storage will provide security
against Russian gas deliveries, but the cur-
rent high gas prices do not make a commer-
cially sound case to do so. Excess LNG ca-
pacity is located in Spain and infrastructure to
transport gas from Spain to gas markets such
as Germany is limited. LNG provides less
Europe’s Energy Transition Will Disarm Putin 43
dependency on a single supplier than pipe-
lines, but brings with it its own set of prob-
lems. Europe would have to compete with
other LNG consumers for gas supplies. This
would imply that these higher gas prices are
here to stay and the risk of gas price fluctua-
tions are taken for granted.
For years, the horrible living and working con-
ditions for foreigners in Qatar has been high-
lighted in the run-up to the World Cup,157 and
not to forget that Qatar is an authoritarian re-
gime. Europe would also become more vul-
nerable to the geopolitics of the Strait of Hor-
muz and the bottleneck that is the Suez Ca-
nal, as Qatari LNG would have to pass
through both. A similar geopolitical concern
can be raised for piped gas from Azerbaijan,
which has to transit Turkey. Shifting our en-
ergy dependency to these countries would
not be an improvement.
Besides human rights and geopolitical con-
siderations, there are also concerns on how
this would impact Europe’s Green Deal ambi-
tions. The European Green Deal seeks to
make Europe the first climate neutral conti-
nent by 2050. The building of new LNG termi-
nals and expanding of capacity of pipelines
counters this goal and brings risks of carbon
lock-in. Carbon lock-in “occurs when fossil
fuel-intensive systems perpetuate, delay or
prevent the transition to low-carbon alterna-
tives”.158 Additionally, the production of gas is
associated with the releasing of methane, a
potent greenhouse gas that contributes 84
times more to global warming than CO2 in the
first twenty years after emission. This means
that the continued usage of gas has massive
impacts on our climate goals. Our shift from
piped gas to LNG will contribute to more emis-
sions, as LNG needs to be cooled to minus
160 degree Celsius. Furthermore, US LNG is
produced using fracking, a method that
157 "Qatar World Cup of Shame," Amnesty International, 2022,
158 Beth Elliott, Ichiro Sato & Clea Schumer, "What Is Carbon Lock-in and How Can We Avoid It?" World
Resources Institute, May 25, 2021,
pumps a mixture of water, sand and chemi-
cals into rock formations to release gas. This
production method has been criticized for its
environmental impact and this has also con-
tributed to the lack of fracking in Europe. De-
spite the risks of earthquakes, the pressure to
increase the production from the Groningen
gas has been growing.
A smart and just transition
A green transition can help Europe end its
fossil fuel dependency and rid it of all the neg-
ative externalities that come with fossil fuels.
The high energy prices make renewables,
such as solar and wind, attractive and more
competitive. Renewable energy has low oper-
ating costs, as they do not require the input of
costly gas, oil or coal. A renewed focus on a
green transition is also evident in many Euro-
pean countries, as a surge of investments in
clean energy have been announced. Ger-
many, Italy and the Netherlands have pro-
posed the building of new wind turbine farms.
Germany committed 200 billion euros to com-
bat climate change. Germany has also ex-
tended deadline for subsidies for new solar
panels and France has cut subsidies for gas
heaters in an effort to boost heat pumps.
Generating power from domestic sources will
also minimize our vulnerability to global en-
ergy geopolitics. Europe would become less
dependent on other countries and this would
increase Europe’s strategic autonomy. Alt-
hough supply and availability concerns can
be raised about the need for rare metals for
the production of clean energy technology.
Compared to conventional energy sources,
clean energy require, for example, more cop-
per and zinc and batteries for electric vehicles
or storing electricity need cobalt and
Europe’s Energy Transition Will Disarm Putin 44
lithium.159 These sources are mostly found
outside of the EU and the green transition will
create new trade relations. However, the
green transition still leads to a system with a
decreased role for geopolitics. A supply dis-
ruption will not result in immediate shortages.
In the future, green hydrogen (hydrogen pro-
duced from renewables) will not create similar
dependencies as fossil gas does today since
green hydrogen is not an energy source; it is
an energy carrier, which many countries will
be able to produce (including importers).
While these long-term benefits of a green
transition are attractive, they do not help us in
the short-term with our dependency. Instead,
we should be looking at energy consumption
and aim to reduce our energy demand by re-
assessing our behaviour and through energy
efficiency. The IEA introduced a 10-point plan
to reduce our oil consumption.160 These
measures include the promotion of public
transport and lowering the speeding limit (as
the Netherlands did a few years ago), but also
a reintroduction of car-free Sundays. Gas
consumption can be reduced by lowering the
thermostat and lowering our usage of hot wa-
ter (e.g. short showers and more efficient use
of washing machines). These measures can
have an immediate effect on our energy con-
sumption from Russia, but also provide some
much needed financial relieve to households.
Admittedly, this green transition will not solve
the war in Ukraine, neither will finding new
gas suppliers. The decisions and actions
taken today will however ensure that Russia’s
energy weapon is effectively disarmed while
avoiding a future in which Europe remains
locked in to a dependence on authoritarian,
oppressive regimes.
159 "The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions," IEA, May 2021,
160 "A 10-Point Plan to Cut Oil Use," IEA, March 2022,
Understanding China’s Diplomatic Stances Vis-à-vis the Russia-Ukraine Crisis 45
Huanyu Zhao and Jing Yu
Ghent Institute for International and European Studies Ghent University
As the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis is in
flux, China’s diplomatic stances and reactions
vis-à-vis the Crisis are puzzling for many ob-
servers. Russia's military actions in Ukraine
have sent Beijing into a diplomatic scramble.
Beijing’s stances and reactions vis-à-vis the
crisis were mainly criticized on three fronts.
First, China's refusal to condemn or even ad-
dress Russia’s military actions as ‘invasion’
undermines its long-standing diplomatic prin-
ciples of mutual respect for sovereignty and
territorial integrity. China abstained from vot-
ing on a draft U.N. Security Council resolution
that would have deplored Moscow's invasion
of Ukraine161. Washington blamed such a
stance and reaction as irresponsible due to
not actively preventing Russia from violating
the universal principles of the United Nations
161 “Security Council Fails to Adopt Draft Resolution on Ending Ukraine Crisis, as Russian Federation
Wields Veto,” United Nations, last modified February 25, 2022, (accessed 25 March).
162 See e.g. Edward Wrong and Julian E. Barnes, “Russia Asked China for Military and Economic Aid