With tensions mounting at the Ukrainian border, representatives from around the world are in pursuit of diplomatic solutions. The threat of military action and the shockwaves that its aftermath would bring have spurred global efforts to de-escalate the situation before it comes to a head.
On January 26, 2022, representatives of the Normandy Format met in Paris to discuss the current state of the Russo-Ukrainian crisis. After a grueling 8 hours of dialogue, it was made clear that while the countries still disagree on many key points, attempts are being made on both sides to avoid an escalation of the conflict. While the specifics of the peace settlement are far from established, the representatives of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France all agreed to “unconditional compliance with the ceasefire” for the time being.
The Russian representative of the Kremlin, deputy chief of staff Dmitry Kozak, stated that while their meeting left many things to be solved, he hopes that future dialogue can narrow their differences in opinion. A French diplomat echoed his position, admitting that while things were far from settled, the meeting Wednesday was a “good sign” for the pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the conflict. The Normandy Format is set to reconvene in Berlin on the second week of February to continue the dialogue.
In addition to the meeting of the Normandy Format, The US and NATO also addressed Russia’s demands via written responses on Wednesday. Both entities have stated that they’re open to dialogue with Russia but have stressed that any acts of aggression on Ukraine will not be tolerated.
If Russia ignores the West’s warnings and launches an attack on Ukraine, the most likely immediate response will be heavy economic sanctions. In a Joint press conference, President Macron of France and Chancellor Scholz of Germany made it clear that any acts of aggression toward Ukraine would come at a “very high” price to Russia. Western powers have already begun discussion on the extent of these hypothetical sanctions to ensure their threats are both credible and dissuading.
Despite the unity of the West and their combined power might financially cripple Russia, Russia’s own strength cannot be dismissed. As one of the highest suppliers of trade and energy to European countries, hefty economic sanctions have the potential to be a double-edged sword.
Earlier this week, several of the top Italian business leaders held a two-hour long video meeting with Putin. The meeting included, but was not limited to, representatives for top Italian banks, energy suppliers, and insurance companies. As far as trade is concerned, Italy is in a massive deficit with Russia. In 2019 the value of Russian imports was nearly double that of their exports to Russia, giving Russian trade a heavy influence on the Italian economy. With varying levels of reliance on Russian trade, it may be difficult for all of Europe to come to an agreement on sanctions in response to Russian aggression toward Ukraine.
Another concern is Russia’s grip on the European energy supply. As the top supplier of oil, coal, and natural gas to Europe, Russia could choose to severely cripple the energy supply in response to economic sanctions. To circumvent this threat, the US has begun searching for alternative means of supplying Europe with its energy needs if the situation escalates. The White House announced on Tuesday that President Biden will meet with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar on the 31st of January. Through this meeting, Biden hopes to ensure that the global supply of energy does not become strangled by Russia in light of economic sanctions.
Although it’s good to be prepared for the worst, we can hope for the best. The abundance of dialogue between leaders and their intentions to continue these talks in the near future is a good sign. It appears that all sides would prefer to find a diplomatic solution, but those hopes have not prevented them from preparing for an escalation of the conflict.