The movement of troops on the border between Russia and Ukraine has put the world on alert. In a more recent context, the conflict recovers disputes that took place in 2014, when the territory of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula, was incorporated into Russia. There are, however, geopolitical and historical dimensions related to the confrontation, dating back to the Cold War. THE Brazil Agency heard researchers explaining the roots and possible developments of the situation in Eastern Europe.
“It’s basically a question of geopolitics, playing with the chessboard of international politics. It is as if it were a triangle with three vertices: on one side Russia, on the other side the United States and the third vertex would be Europe itself. And, in the midst of all this confusion, there is a relatively small country, which is Ukraine”, summarizes retired professor of Contemporary History Antônio Barbosa, from the University of Brasília (UnB).
He points out that the moves of Vladimir Putin, Russian president, have to do with the purpose of showing to the world that the country “continues in the game of the great powers”. Barbosa recalls that, with the end of the Soviet Union, in 1991, in the years that followed, the apparent world power was concentrated in the hands of the United States. “Putin is managing to show that, despite the Soviet Union no longer existing, having lost control over Eastern European countries, Russia remains a great power, even keeping its nuclear arsenal intact”, he analyzes.
Professor Maurício Santoro, from the Department of International Relations at the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Uerj), agrees that “the ultimate cause of all these conflicts involving Ukraine is to define the sphere of influence of Russia, the United States and of the European Union in Eastern Europe”. He recalls that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was an expansion of Western influence in the states that orbited the communist government or even in the Soviet republics. “They became part of the European Union, NATO [Organização do Tratado do Atlântico Norte], or both at the same time.”
Santoro adds that Russia puts pressure on Western countries because it understands that the United States is going through a period of instability. “There is a reading, both by Russia and by China, that this is a moment of decline for the United States, in which the American government has shown itself to be more fragile and with greater difficulty in achieving its objectives”, he evaluates. . He cites issues related to the pandemic as a reflection of fragility.
Barbosa also highlights the domestic North American context. “If we take into account internal issues, the fragility in Joe Biden himself [presidente norte-americano] and world conditions today, the United States is in an uncomfortable position. Especially because any more incisive decision by Washington does not require the unanimous agreement of Europe”, he evaluates.
Santoro explains that the expansion of NATO is seen by Russia as a military threat. “A threat to its own territorial integrity”, he points out. For the Russians, as the professor explains, Ukraine is a territory with which they can prevent the advance of Western military forces. He compares it to the Baltic countries — Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania — which were incorporated into the military treaty and the European Union. “But they are countries that historically have a strong relationship with the rest of Europe, very close to the West, in terms of trade, in terms of culture. The Russians could not resist.”
The situation is different in Ukraine. “Basically, the eastern half of the country has a history closely linked to Russia and a very large presence of Russian-speaking people of Russian ethnic origin, that is to say, the historical ties there really are all aimed at Russia”, he explains. The western half, however, has a more Western history. “It is a territory that, at various times in history, was part of the Habsburg empire or was part of Poland. It’s another culture, another historical tradition, so Ukraine itself is very divided as to where it goes.”
Santoro recalls that the Russians also managed to maintain their sphere of influence in the former Central Asian republics, such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and in the Caucasus countries, such as Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Barbosa points out that many European countries depend on Russian natural gas supplies. “In the event of an armed conflict in that region, Russia could suspend the supply of this vital gas. One of the countries that would suffer the most from this is Germany, which perhaps explains the fact that, unlike the United Kingdom and unlike France, Germany, until now, has not opened its mouth to challenge Putin,” he highlights. .
Santoro raises a point of doubt, however, over the new government of Olaf Scholz, the German prime minister who took over by criticizing predecessor Angela Merkel for not paying enough attention to human rights issues in Russia and China. “To what extent are they able to change what has been traditional German policy?” asks the professor at Uerj.
In the case of the United Kingdom, Santoro highlights two aspects that make the country assume a more warlike stance. “One of them is because the economic tie is not that strong, so they can afford to speak harshly. The other is the political moment that the British government [do primeiro-ministro Boris Johnson] currently face”, he points out.
The prime minister faces an internal political crisis and has been pressured to resign due to parties at the government headquarters during the covid-19 pandemic, in breach of the country’s rules. “It would be a way to counterbalance all these difficulties at home.”
Reflections in Brazil
Negative economic effects should be the main reflex for Brazil in the event of a war of world proportions in Eastern Europe. “It is a strictly globalized economy. The effects will be felt. Want an example? In the price of a barrel of oil. Russia is one of the three largest oil producers and exporters in the world”, exemplifies Barbosa.
Santoro recalls that the eastern region of Europe is not commercially relevant for Brazil. “We don’t have any great national interest directly involved in Ukraine, in these border disputes. Now we are affected by the impacts to the global economy of everything that is happening there”, he points out. For him, Brazil must maintain a diplomatic posture of mediation and the search for peaceful solutions.
The professor of International Relations, however, raises two aspects that can change the scenario in relation to the Brazilian position. One of them is the fact that Brazil has returned to the United Nations Security Council, where the issue will be debated, the country will have to take a stand. “The second reason is because Bolsonaro is on a trip to Russia. A trip that had already been planned before the current conflict, but he will arrive in Russia at a time of great tensions”, he highlights.