Gas lines and Geopolitics: Should Britain be baiting the Russian Bear?

28 Feb 2015

It almost seems inconceivable that any country could possibly want a military conflict with Russia. However the European Union and NATO are playing war games with Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin, which are not set on secure foundations and are at risk of generating geopolitical tremors of catastrophic proportion.  


We are already at a stage resembling a new Cold War with Russia. Only this time there are plenty of fingers on plenty of buttons geopolitically. The consequences of any engagement with Russia are, put simply - grave. Putin's military power and willingness to protect his country’s sovereignty and national interest is being put to the test by his political opponents across the globe. However, despite strong economic sanctions and falling oil prices placing immense stress on the Russian currency, Putin is holding strong on his position over Crimea and Ukraine.  


Worryingly, the tension caused in this geopolitical standoff is beginning to appear on our own doorstep. On Wednesday 18th February, two supposed Russian spy planes flew into International air space off the coast of Cornwall. The RAF scrambled fighter jets in response, but David Cameron tried to suggest that in some way Russia was testing Britain. In a press conference, he said that Russia's actions should not be dignified with "too much of a response."


Mr Cameron then went on to say; "I think what this episode demonstrates is that we do have the fast jets, the pilots, the systems in place to protect the UK."  The Russian Foreign Minister was quick to come out and say that the planes were conducting a "routine patrol of international air space,” implying there was nothing sinister taking place.


Both sides of this potential conflict are playing some dangerous games, and Russia has definitely not left the table yet. With surrounding states such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania containing a significant (albeit minority) Russian population, fears continue to circulate about Putin’s plans for further expansion. But are these fears justified, or does the United Kingdom and EU risk over-reaction to geopolitical sabre-rattling?


The evidence suggests the latter. For example, would it be in the best political interests of Putin to attack a NATO state member? Having already secured Crimea and sustained a key strategic area for Russia's defence interests, it simply doesn't make sense for Putin to invade three countries at once. This strategy is not consistent with the foreign policy we have largely seen from Putin. Russia hasn't invaded and occupied another country since it was at war with Georgia in 2008 over disputed territory in South Ossetia. A conflict which Putin suffered from politically in his country. Would the gains from such a move outweigh the losses presented by increased economic sanctions and decreased political support? Possibly not.  


Furthermore, UK and EU involvement is predicated on an assumption that Putin is funding the rebel forces in Ukraine. According to most leading media sources here in the UK, Putin already has troops and tanks in the East of Ukraine helping the separatists fight the Ukraine nationalists. However, the international community is still basing this assumption on what it has seen from the frontline and through attacks from political opponents. Until proof of Putin’s direct involvement can be ascertained, the foundations for an extended response remain very shaky.  


The picture presented, therefore, is one of a NATO and EU-led campaign against Russia. As we have seen with past conflicts, the true motivations for this conflict may be much more simplistic than global harmony. The ‘dash for gas’ could be seen as a catalyst for increased involvement in this resource-rich area of the world. The Ukraine supplies key gas supplies to Germany and without this energy, it's conceivable that their economy could slow. By getting The Ukraine to join the EU this will give Chancellor Merkel heavier influence in the area, and through the back door, a chance to control the gas supply into her country.  


Putin knows this and has already countered Merkel's move by authorising the purchase of the two largest storage gas centres in Europe via Gazprom. It would seem the Russian President always seems to be one step ahead of the political establishment in Europe. He has shown his pre-emptive political ability before; at the same time Baroness Warsi resigned from government in the summer of last year due to the UK government’s foreign policy, Putin countered the sanctions placed on his country by signing deals on energy and arms with Syria and Iran.  


Putin truly is a canny operator, and although his political record domestically is questionable, his position with regards to Crimea and Ukraine is strong and commands much greater respect and scrutiny from the UK and EU. Britain really needs to reconsider its position against Russia. If Russia is in fact involved in The Ukraine militarily, it is imperative that we see clear and concise evidence of this. It is vital that we have transparency and consistency over policy with regards to economic sanctions to ensure that any further involvement in Russia’s foreign policy is built on solid foundation.


Ultimately this isn't our fight and this author does not want to see Britain entangled in another foreign conflict based on what appears to be questionable at best, and nonsense at worst. It is reminiscent of a previous conflict recently where a certain Prime Minister claimed another country had weapons of mass destruction. Britain can ill afford another result like that due to poorly considered decision-making.

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