Ukraine analyses, Vol. 2

Table of contents

David Alexander: The Disaster of War

By convention, when we study disasters we exclude warfare. It is not easy to find a completely logical reason for this. It is more a matter of convenience and a feeling that to conflate the two phenomena would lead to problems because not all generalisations about the one are applicable to the other. At the same time, there is always the basic truth that war is a disaster in its own right because of the casualties, suffering and destruction that it causes. Moreover, as we are seeing in Ukraine and surrounding countries, it is all too often accompanied by a major humanitarian emergency.

In recent years there has been increasing interest in trying to understand the intersectionality between war and other forms of disaster. The other forms are natural hazard impacts (please do not call them ‘natural disasters’ as they, too, are largely the result of human agency), technological failures, social movements (riots, crowd crushes, unplanned mass migrations, etc.), intentional disasters (essentially terrorism) and composite events. Such is the complexity of modern life that the last of these categories predominates. We live in networked societies and disasters tend to be events with cascading consequences.

In recent days, vast numbers of women, children and the elderly have crossed international boundaries as they have fled the fighting in Ukraine in what has become Europe’s fastest mass migration since the 1940s. As a result, we have a humanitarian emergency that encompasses primarily Ukraine itself and six countries on its western borders but potentially the whole of Europe. In Ukraine the challenge is to provide basic necessities under highly dangerous conditions and via an infrastructure that is becoming more and more damaged and fragmentary. Outside Ukraine it is a matter of accommodating hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of whom come from families that have been split up by the war.

Gone are the times when war was fought on a battlefield between assembled armies. There is no room any more for a Napoleon or a Wellington. In modern warfare everyone and everything is a target. Grain, fertiliser, gas, oil and minerals are casualties as well as people, and so are those who depend on these commodities and are deprived by shortage or price rises from accessing them.

In a world that faces grim challenges in dealing with climate change, ecological catastrophe, loss of the carrying capacity of the land and problems with the vulnerability of technology, the last thing we need is a major war. Nothing can compensate for the loss of life and destruction of people’s living conditions that it causes, but it may yet accelerate the transition towards more sustainable consumption and more rational ways of living. Amid the lies and manipulations that lie behind the aggression, there is also solidarity and rationality. Let us hope that in spite of everything these admirable qualities will prevail. We need them so that we can confront the next disaster.

David Alexander is Professor in UCL’s Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction. He is a citizen of Britain and Italy.

Jean-Christophe Mauduit: Science Diplomacy in Times of Crisis

What is happening in Ukraine is a tragedy. Geopolitical lines and international norms are being reshaped in ways which will impact us all. This reshaping of norms extends to the realm of science: over the last two weeks, we have heard calls, mainly from politicians, to stop scientific collaboration with Russia over the war in Ukraine. Several countries have halted bilateral research altogether and Russia’s involvement in international scientific organisations is also under review.

Over the last decade there have been a few examples of countries severing, or threatening to sever, scientific ties or associated funding when political relations sour. For example, the US halted its space collaborations with China in 2011, while the EU blocked Switzerland’s access to the Horizon Programme in 2014. The same year, Russia threatened to stop collaborating in sending US astronauts to the International Space Station in response to sanctions imposed after its invasion of Crimea. Against the backdrop of ongoing disagreements over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the UK’s access to Horizon Europe has yet to be formalised by the European Commission.

However, the scale and scope of action to limit scientific collaboration with Russia is unprecedented in recent times. Governments resorting to banning all scientific collaboration on political grounds risk setting a precedent that others may follow in the future, to the detriment of global science.

We know that international cooperation is crucial to scientific discoveries and advances that serve society in areas from climate change to pandemic preparedness or disaster risk reduction. International scientific endeavors – from CERN to SESAME (the Middle East’s first major international research centre which brings together scientists from Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine and Turkey) – also help to create lasting, stable ties across borders and political divides.

The focus should not be the scientific isolation of Russia, but rather the collective mobilization of scientific and diplomatic communities in support of Ukraine, ensuring the country’s intellectual life can continue – despite the war.

Jean-Christophe Mauduit is Lecturer in Science Diplomacy at UCL’s Department for Science, Technology and Public Policy (STEAPP).

Ronan McCrea: A Jolt to Europe 

The invasion of Ukraine has given a jolt to the European Union. Amidst the shock of the invasion of a sovereign European democracy, the Union has found a sudden unity and decisiveness in its foreign policy and clarity about its values. At the core of the conflict is Ukraine’s desire to reject Russia’s authoritarian model of government in favour of the EU model of liberal democracy, with independent courts, pluralism and individual freedom. With the EU lining up behind Ukraine’s desire to make this choice it will become harder for Poland and Hungary to insist on their right to impose government control of judges and to build what Victor Orban called ‘illiberal democracy’.

In the short-term the need for unity and packed political agenda may make it hard to take action to reduce EU funding to Hungary and Poland using the Conditionality Mechanism. However, with the Court of Justice having indicated in a recent ruling that it would take a sympathetic approach in interpreting measures designed to combat democratic backsliding in Member States and new recognition of the centrality of liberal democratic values to the identity of the Union, in the medium term, the position of Member States unsure of their preference for liberal democracy over authoritarian government may become less comfortable. 

Ronan McCrea is Professor of Constitutional and European Law at the UCL Faculty of Laws 

Denny Pencheva: Racialised Solidarities  

The UNHCR estimates that over 2.5 million Ukrainians have already fled the country, while many more have been internally displaced. The EU’s overall approach could be described as caring but cautious, revealing racialised ideas of Europeanness, as well as discrepancies between “core” and “new” Member States.  

In early March EU countries agreed to activate the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD) (2001/55/EC), giving people fleeing Ukraine the right to live, work and study in the EU, initially for one year, without having to formally request asylum. While the implementation of the TPD is still underway, two aspects are noteworthy. First, not all Member States are bound by this Directive – for example, Ireland is but Denmark isn’t –  so there will be discrepancies between national responses. These will depend not only on whether a Member State has a legal opt-out, but also on what social and welfare resources are available on the ground, meaning that wealthier states are less likely to become overwhelmed than poorer ones. Second, the TPD hasn’t been used until now, even though it could have provided humanitarian relief and a fairer burden-sharing during the 2015 migration crisis when 1.4 million people (mostly Syrians) sought protection in the EU.  

Historically, Eastern EU member states have been reluctant to take in asylum seekers from African and/or Muslim-majority countries and have opposed any plans for refugee quotas. In the winter of 2021 Poland also pushed back against non-European migrants trying to enter the EU from Belarus. However, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and other neighbouring countries, have now opened their borders for Ukrainian refugees. Support and hospitality have extended beyond makeshift reception centres as citizens have opened their homes to Ukrainians despite limited state capacity. At the time of writing, Poland alone has taken in over 1.2 million Ukrainian refugees. Solidarity has been promoted on the grounds of ethnic and cultural proximity: Bulgarian PM Kiril Petkov went as far as praising Ukrainians for not being “typical refugees” with murky past and dubious intentions, but highly educated people who are Europeans.  

Notions of shared Europeanness have facilitated solidarity inasmuch as they have demonstrated its underlying racialisation. While the political and humanitarian responses to the war have shown that Ukraine is seen as being part of the wider European realm, it remains to be seen whether Ukraine is perceived as European enough to accede to the EU in the near future. 

Denny Pencheva is Lecturer European Politics & Public Policy (Teaching) at the Department of Political Science 

Catalina Spataru: Reduce Dependency, Increase Diversification

What the numbers tell us

In 2021, European annual gas imports from Russia were about 140 billion cubic metres, according to the IEA. In total, about 45% of the EU’s gas imports come from Russia, largely via the Yamal-Europe route which crosses Belarus and Poland into Germany and via Nord Stream 1, which runs under the Baltics to Germany and through Ukraine to Slovakia, Austria and Italy.

The UK’s reliance on Russia is much less at 3% of imports. About half of the UK’s gas comes from North Sea sources and the rest from Norway.

At this time of geopolitical conflict,  we have seen severe price fluctuations across various energy products. On top of this, Europe’s plans to shift away from coal to meet its climate targets – and the reduction of nuclear availability in Belgium, Britain, France and Germany as plants are decommissioned or phased out – pose significant challenges.

However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has left the US, the EU and the UK determined to curb Russian oil and gas imports, and reduce reliance on Russia in the medium term. Indeed, the EU plans to cut Russian gas imports by two-thirds by the end of the year, and work towards complete independence from Russian fossil fuels by 2030.

What are the backup options in the short, medium and long term?

In the short term, European countries could look to reduce their industrial production at certain times, pay back-up generators to switch on supply, and encourage households to curtail their energy use and bring down their thermostats by 1C. To tackle price rises, governments should put in place short-term measures such as a tax on windfall profits to protect vulnerable consumers. 

In the medium term, the objective should be the deployment of clean energy technologies at large scale, accelerating energy efficiency improvements in buildings and industry, as well as the replacement of gas boilers with heat pumps. With careful planning this could boost domestic producers and employment in local areas.

In the longer term, the expansion of renewables; building new interconnectors; the deployment of a hydrogen economy; maximising power generation from bioenergy; and utility-scale energy storage solutions should all be prioritised. In addition, a circular economy criterion should be applied in supply chains and companies’ operations to reduce waste and improve energy efficiency.

Challenges in diversifying

Reducing Europe’s reliance on fossil fuels will require a sustained effort across multiple sectors and may have considerable knock-on effect on the economies and politics of countries which depend heavily on oil and gas exports. Transparency on this and clear communication from political leaders is key.

Catalina Spataru is Professor in Global Energy and Resources and Director of the UCL Energy Institute.

Albert Weale: The End of Economic Engagement 

The proposition that economic interdependence gives rise to peace between nations is not a foolish one. It is, after all, one of the foundations of the European Union. Merge iron and steel and war will be impossible. But after the Russian government’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, its limits have been clearly revealed, most notably for Germany.  24 February 2022 is one of those dates – like 28 July 1914, or 22 June and 7 December 1941 – after which the world will not be the same again. But in what ways will it change? 

In energy, expect a greater emphasis in the EU on greater self-sufficiency achieved through increased investment in renewables and in the greater networking of energy supply. After all, while there is nowhere in Europe where the wind blows every day, there is no day in Europe in which the wind does not blow somewhere. 

Second, if the European Union is to be secure in its energy, it needs to put energy into its security.  Increases in defence spending are already being planned. But the larger question is how the European security regime relates to NATO.  It would not be wise in security planning to ignore the possibility of Trump, or a Trump-clone, being elected to the White House, and then the winds of decoupling will blow from the west. 

Thirdly, the secular trend may be towards regional economic blocs, in which trade does not run too far ahead of security. The best that the ‘global Britain’ of Brexit can expect is to be one of the bridges between the US and Europe. But for that to happen the UK government needs to mend its fences with the EU – urgently. 

Albert Weale is Emeritus Professor of Political Theory and Public Policy in the Department of Political Science. 

The views expressed in this post are those of the authors, not of UCL nor the European Institute.

Photo by Polina Rytova on Unsplash

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