It was February earlier this year when we saw the first stages of Russian military move in and eventually seize control of Crimea. This annexation of Crimea has been met with much controversy from the West, who have openly accused Putin of breaking international law and holding illegal and illegitimate secession referendums. International sanctions have been placed on Russia as their takeover of Crimea has been deemed unacceptable and illegal by the UN. However, the sanctions that have been placed on Russia have been referred to as ‘limp, wristed and weak’ as countries like the UK and US still rely heavily on Russia for large proportions of its international trade, with specific interest on Russia’s oil and gas industries.
Russia’s oil and gas companies generate 50 per cent of Russia’s federal government revenue, the two largest state-owned companies being Gazprom and Rosneft. Ed Crooks of the Financial Times described Russia being in a codependent relationship with the rest of the world. Russia relies on the revenue from its oil and gas consumers, predominantly based in Europe, whilst the oil and gas itself remains the most valuable commodity in the world today.
The situation that the West faces is being able to punish Russia for what they see as an illegal annexation of Crimea, whilst at the same time trying not to damage their relationship in a way that would negatively affect their trade with Russian commodities. Recently the US have proposed a round of sanctions that aim to secure global oil supply whilst at the same time prohibit new technology being supplied to Russia’s oil and gas companies. Russian oil and gas companies rely on technology from Western companies in order to stay at the forefront of their industry. Sanctions that are being proposed by the US will prohibit this technology from being made available to Russia, and aim to diminish their oil and gas industries in the long run whilst in turn giving an advantage to other non-Russian finite resource industries.
To date, Russia is accountable for 8 per cent of the global consumption of oil and is responsible for around 30 per cent of Europe’s annual gas demand. Sanctions that have been referred to as weak and morally bankrupt, do aim to weaken the Russian energy industries. However, the success of these sanctions is yet to be seen, and whether or not they will actually serve as just penalty for Russia is still unclear.
Crimea being annexed by Russia does highlight some interesting themes surrounding geopolitics. Essentially what this sovereignty dispute unveils is the complexities behind two powerful bodies that have different political agendas. Putin and the United Russia political party have been openly against the Ukraine passing legislations to bind them closer to the EU. Similarly Europe and the US fear Russia’s control on world energy markets and its growing dominion in Europe e.g., the annexation of the Crimea in February 2014.
Europe and the US rely on Russia’s steady and reliable source of energy and so to impose harsher sanctions would put this valuable trade relationship at risk.
Russia refutes the accusation that reclaiming Crimea had anything to do with increasing its ownership of the Black Sea. Geologists’ research of the Black Sea have concluded that it has the potential to be extremely profitable in its production of oil and gas. So, is this just a sheer coincidence on behalf of Russia or a premeditated judgement to strengthen its grip over the world energy markets?
Annexing Crimea purely to ‘protect’ the Russian nationals is surely not the sole reason behind this sovereignty claim. Looking at this situation from a classical geopolitical perspective does offer some interesting explanations to the actions of Russia. Sir Halford Mackinder, widely regarded as the founder of British geopolitics, focuses on the control of the Heartland (central Europe) as being quintessential to a country’s power, longevity and sustainability. He famously wrote, ‘whom controls central Europe controls the World Island, and whom controls the World Island controls the World’. A classical geopolitical perspective does give explanation to Russia’s recent incentive for European expansion, in the sense that it provides Russia with more power, which in turn increases its global security.
It is without question that Russia violated international law and broke the UN Charter when it seized Crimea. However, was the hysteria from the West really justified, especially how it portrayed Russia in the media?
Whilst Russia violated international law, at least their claim to Crimea could be seen. It was a former region of the Soviet Union and given to the Ukraine by Russia in 1954 to showcase the long lasting union between the two countries during the Cold War. Where are the examples of the West performing criminal acts against humanity and illegally seizing land using military force? One example that is rarely talked about or acknowledged by the public domain is the USA’s military seizing of South East Cuba in the early twentieth century. This is what we know today as Guantánamo Bay and is a crucial naval port of the US marines and houses one of the world’s most notorious prisons.
My question therefore is; why does it seem the West are not held accountable for the very same acts they pin on others as forms of tyrannical outbursts and crimes against humanity? When speaking to Prof. Noam Chomsky he said: ‘The US and UK pay no attention to international law, even its most fundamental principles, such as the sharp restrictions on use of force, which they violate freely, and with impunity, even without much criticism thanks to the treachery of the intellectual classes.’