The Return of Diplomacy?
Ukraine, Palestine, Taiwan: Key Tension Points in 2024

The fundamental difference between the current situation and how things stood at the beginning of the Special Military Operation is that previously, Ukraine had the opportunity to be a subject of negotiations, but today it is no longer such, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

The key participants in the Ukrainian crisis — the USA, the EU, Ukraine and Russia — are now convinced that the conflict will be protracted and that struggle for initiative will be the dominant factor. Russian actions such as the strengthening of the armed forces and military production, effectively redirecting foreign trade to the East, and developing relations with China and otherp allies indicate a readiness to “play the long game.”

The elites of each of the involved parties have solved some of their problems. The United States received a “motivated hurricane” at low costs — Ukraine, ready to fight with Russia, it brought in line a relatively disciplined bloc of allies in Europe; it is trying to link alliances in the East and West into a single system, for example, as part of the project to sell Korean tanks to Poland. Essentially, Americans now “divide and conquer” their allies. There are three groups of countries that exist in Europe — “radicals” (Eastern Europe and Britain), “cautious” (Western Europe) and “opportunists” (Hungary, Austria and Turkey); Americans rely on the first group, which drown out the voices of other European countries. The United States also received an impetus in the development of its own military-industrial complex and secured the European energy market: now American managers will trade Arab oil and gas in Europe, benefiting from it.

Many actors still have a lot of reasons for excitement: they see the crisis as an opportunity to achieve their goals. Amid the current conditions, we can talk about “peace weariness” and a desire to adjust the existing system in order to achieve greater consideration of own interests. Therefore, today the parties to the conflict — the USA, Ukraine and the EU — are in no hurry. Russia is also ready for a protracted conflict. China sees the current situation as an opportunity to benefit materially from relations with Moscow and Washington. Other beneficiaries of the conflict include India, the Arab countries and Iran, which has emerged from its isolation with Russia and intends to use the crisis to build ties with its neighbours. For Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, the Chinese market is becoming the main one. They also play their own game and they can afford to treat Washington more freely.

Modern Diplomacy
What’s Next: The Long Year 2022
Andrey Sushentsov
The year 2022 will be long because none of the actors in this crisis seems to have any intention of laying down arms and starting negotiations. Everyone believes that time is on their side and has some reason for this. Therefore, the long 2022 is the year of guns. Time for diplomacy will come later, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

The countries that suffer the most from the conflict are those close to the war zone, primarily in Europe, as well as countries most closely associated with Russia economically: they face “imported inflation,” logistics difficulties, and secondary sanctions. Nevertheless, countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkey and the UAE are perceived by the Americans as an economic window to Russia, and they themselves often act as opportunists in search of certain benefits in the conflict.

The sustainability of countries in 2024 depends on whether their elites can use this crisis to their benefit. At the same time, some countries are trying to export their internal problems and solve them using the crisis: for the USA and EU countries, it provides an excellent excuse for difficulties at home. The latter do not externalize internal problems, but only solve external ones: for example, during the crisis, Russia has been resolving external security problems, since this situation does not contribute to the resolution of internal problems. The question of which category China and Iran fall into remains open. For Tehran, internal economic and social problems are of paramount importance, but it is impossible to solve them through involvement in the crisis. For China, the most important problem is Taiwan, where the status quo remains, although in the long term this situation is unacceptable for Beijing.

The countries that will survive the current crisis are those that can avoid succumbing to internal instability. So far, no country except Russia and Ukraine has understood the full scale of this conflict: for everyone, this is a “virtual” war, which they are watching from a distance. This will continue until the first real “breakdown” in one of the countries, when it becomes clear to everyone that the conflict has consequences. Therefore, now experts need to predict “stress points.” We see a revival of long-standing conflicts in Eurasia (Nagorno-Karabakh, Palestine, Kosovo, Yemen, Syria), because the conviction has arisen that goals may be achieved through military means.

We see that society is entering a crisis, and the question of whether this conflict can reduce or aggravate it remains open. Moreover, the situation is complicated by the incompetence of the elites in Western countries, which may be replaced as a result of the Ukrainian conflict.

Today we assume that the Western elites will not be able to cope as a result of the crisis, but another scenario is also possible in which the authorities of European countries ride the protest sentiments caused by economic and social problems.

In this still-unlikely scenario, we will witness a new militarisation of Germany and France, and a return of Europe to power politics, which could lead to real strategic autonomy from the United States. At the same time, the British will split the Franco-German alliance, seeking to strengthen their influence. This will be facilitated by the prospect of remilitarisation of Germany, which frightens both France and Poland.

The West is using the current crisis to justify mistakes made long before it: Britain is masking the negative consequences of Brexit, while Germany is obfuscating the consequences of getting carried away with the misunderstood ideas of social democracy and abandoning its independent politics. Similar sentiments have arisen in France, which is also considering the possibility of remilitarisation.

According to Chinese studies, the current crisis began back in 2018 with Donald Trump’s ascent to power and his fight against globalisation. Then came the “physical” crisis caused by the pandemic, and after that Russia initiated a serious conversation about European security with the United States. For both Russia and the United States, internal problems remain the priority, so hostilities will continue as long as they do not overshadow internal issues.

Let’s try to determine objective criteria of victory for the participants in the crisis. From the point of view of Russian interests, Ukraine must be neutralised, demilitarised and deprived of resources it can use to continue its offensive policy, and the coalition of its allies must recognise the legitimacy of Russia’s security interests in Europe. For the United States, a relative victory will be the preservation of the existing front line and stabilisation of the situation: Ukraine will retain its mobilisation potential and industry, and will also be ready to continue to fight Russia. Some in the West are still considering the possibility of admitting Ukraine into NATO: if Kiev retains its industrial potential, it will be valuable to the United States as an instrument of pressure on Russia. In this scenario, it would be in Russia’s interests for Ukraine to transform not into a well-armed “Israel”, but into a sort of “Bosnia” — a divided country, devoid of industrial potential and unable to become a significant counterweight to Russia.

In the eyes of Moscow, the goal of denazification of Ukraine is growing in importance; if at the beginning of the campaign it was more of a psychological nature, today it is becoming an increasingly applied task of eliminating discriminatory legislation in relation to large ethnic groups. It is unlikely that Russia will agree to freeze the conflict. The fundamental difference between the current situation and how things stood at the beginning of the Special Military Operation is that previously, Ukraine had the opportunity to be a subject of negotiations, but today it is no longer such.

Modern Diplomacy
The ‘Long Crisis’ of the 21st Century: What Is the Most Reliable Way Out?
Andrey Sushentsov
Reinventing foreign policy “wheels” brings young states back to reality and to the tradition of a realistic understanding of what your national experience is: foreign policy potential, resources, and vital and secondary interests. The correlation of subjective national experience with foreign policy realities is, in a sense, the key to success in the international arena, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.