Europeans should avoid stoking an East vs. West conflict

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September 09, 2022

Europeans should avoid stoking an East vs. West conflict
Russia has halted gas deliveries to Germany via the Nord Stream pipeline for an indefinite period. (AFP)

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A few months ago, a large number of politicians and analysts in Europe were calling for a total boycott of Russian energy. They were all loudly stating that the money paid to Russia was used in the war against Ukraine. This message changed last week, when Russia’s Gazprom shut down Nord Stream 1, the main gas pipeline to Europe. Russia did what these politicians were requesting, yet they are now all claiming that Moscow is using energy as a weapon and threatening the well-being of European citizens. So, which is it? Do they want it off or do they want to receive gas from Russia?

The fact is that the pick-and-choose sanctions system that has been applied since the beginning of the war in February does not make sense. It basically revealed the weaknesses of Europe and how Moscow could hurt it. In short, the message was: We sanction where we want to hurt you, but we keep taking what we need from you. Although seemingly aligned with Ukraine defending its territory, the Europeans did not properly assess the conflict’s repercussions and strategic meaning. Or maybe they did but did not want to admit it.

The fact is that the latest news underlies the main question Europeans have not yet answered: Are we directly at war? Indeed, they seem until now to have taken the Ukrainian war as a faraway crisis that should not impact their citizens’ lives, especially after two years of pandemic lockdowns, soaring inflation and a grim economic outlook. It also implies that they do not know how much support they can give Ukraine before being directly — and I mean militarily — dragged into the conflict.

It is undeniable that, on the ground, the war has revealed a militarily weakened Russian power. Ukraine has bravely defended its territory and Russia seems to have been surprised by this. Yet not all wars are won on the battlefield and this is probably what Moscow aims to achieve. Russia has used the sanctions as a reason for stopping the flow of gas to Europe. Hence, this means that Russia requires the lifting of these sanctions to reopen the pipeline. The timing of autumn also does not seem to be a coincidence. Moreover, Russia is developing its market to the east, while looking to forgo the use of US dollars in its trade agreements. This is another way of pushing forward.

The pick-and-choose sanctions system that has been applied against Russia since the beginning of the war does not make sense

Khaled Abou Zahr

I believe that if the situation worsens on the ground in Ukraine, the risks of destabilization closer to Western Europe will increase, especially where Russia has influence and is popular. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has stated that East and West are engaged in a proxy war in his country. When listening to this statement, one can easily remember the horrors of the last European war in the former Yugoslavia, which ended in 2001. After a difficult period of healing, the new countries that formerly composed Yugoslavia were all eager to join the EU. Is this all at risk today? Time will tell.

The leaders of Western Europe are also caught in this East versus West frame, even the post-Brexit UK. The fact is that, for many years, they have been complacent. They have not evaluated the risks and have lacked a clear common defense strategy aimed at creating a true European regional security agreement. There is a grave contradiction between the German-Russian energy agreements and Berlin’s commitment to NATO. It is this contradiction that Europe is now paying for or is about to pay for.

The key question is what does Europe do now? How did Europe, which conquered the world, reach this level of a total lack of planning and vision? First, the European leaders need to convey to their own citizens the dangers of the world and the need for realistic policies, whether on energy or security. For example, the total abandonment of nuclear and fossil fuel energy sources to abide by idealistic and unachievable environmental requirements cannot continue. This transformation needs to be thoroughly planned and not only wished for. Giving way to the anti-nuclear power voices was also a big mistake. France is the exception to this, as more than 70 percent of its electricity comes from this source. Finally, one cannot build one’s own truth. This is what the situation in Ukraine is telling Europeans.

As in all crises, there is no doubt that this will not happen again and, after the pain, solutions will be brought forward and the European economies will adapt. It will take some time, but it will probably be even longer until Russia sells its energy to Europe again. This exacerbates the divisions and the breaking of supply chains between East and West. This crisis is also a warning for the Europeans to design a defense strategy, which means a clarification of their roles and responsibilities with regard to the US.

We can still avoid entering these unknown and dangerous times. The best solution cannot be to divide the world into two once again. Indeed, the framing of an East versus West conflict simply means a new set of never-ending proxy wars, whether in Ukraine or in similar key areas. This new path can only come from the Europeans as, for the first time in many years, the center stage and its associated risks are in their own garden.

• Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point of view


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