.
R

ussia’s army is slowly advancing in Ukraine, but whether the war will end positively for Moscow is still unclear. Even if Russia succeeds in conquering Ukraine militarily, the Kremlin risks defeat unless it resolves some crucial problems. One of these problems is media. 

In order to win the hearts and minds of the local population – a long-term process – Russia will likely try to fully control Ukraine’s media space. This will likely include censoring or shutting down the internet and destroying Ukraine’s ability to produce its own media. An apparent Russian airstrike aimed at Kyiv's main television tower conducted on March 1 is suggestive of Moscow’s strategy, which appears to have some similarities to that which NATO used against Serbia in 1999. 

Control over media and cyberspace plays a crucial role in modern warfare. Russia is already losing its conventional media share in the West. The EU has banned Russian state-owned media outlets RT and Sputnik, with European audiences not even able to access these sites’ online content. Even at home, the Kremlin seems to have a hard time coping with an anti-war campaign, which is why Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told the Russians to sort out their own media.

If the Kremlin’s strategic planners aim to win the media war at home, Russian policy makers will soon have to complete the process of “digital decoupling” from the West, which means that the country’s authorities would have to ban YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media. There are signals indicating that Moscow is already moving against certain media outlets that do not support the official pro-war narrative. According to reports, on March 1 Russian authorities shut down two critical broadcasters — radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow), that has been funded by energy giant Gazprom, and the country’s only anti-Kremlin TV station, Dozhd.  

Similar moves will still not guarantee Russia’s victory in Ukraine. Controlling territory it has already captured will likely prove complicated in the mid-term, given that local populations continue to passively resist the occupation. Even in Kharkiv, Eastern Ukrainian city where pro-Russian sentiment was very strong in 2014, Russia is facing a significant resistance. In other words, locals see the Russians as invaders, not as liberators.

Kremlin strategists seem to have underestimated Ukrainians’ determination not to be part of the “Russian world.” Even if a pro-Russian puppet government is eventually installed in Kyiv, the cost of occupation will be extremely high for the sanction-hit Russian economy. It will be expensive not only to rebuild Ukraine’s damaged infrastructure but also to fight against potential Chechnya-style guerilla warfare. In other words, what Russia experienced during the First Chechen war could repeat itself in Ukraine, where the Russians could also get its own version of America’s Vietnam War.

Russia is already facing huge economic problems. Ruble continues to sink, and former Russia’s energy partners have started abandoning their stakes in Russian oil corporations. Although the EU has imposed severe sanctions on Moscow, the Kremlin hardly has a choice but to continue selling gas to Europe, given that the Russian economy remains heavily dependent on energy exports. It is worth noting, however, Gazprom recently signed an agreement on the construction of the natural gas pipeline through Mongolia to China, with a capacity of 50 billion cubic meters, which is the same amount of gas that Russia now annually supplies to Germany. Thus, Russia's long-term goal seems to be redirection of its energy export from Europe to Asia.

Such a strategy could be part of Russia’s final “decoupling” from the West. Indeed, the Kremlin has been working to expand its economic ties with Asia. Unfortunately for Moscow, China could well now see Russia as being in a vulnerable political situation given its increasing isolation from the West. In the foreseeable future, Beijing could insist on cheaper prices for Russian natural gas. It is worth remembering that in 2014, when the war in the Donbass broke out, Russia and China signed a 30-year gas deal, and according to some reports the Chinese managed to achieve a lower price than the Russians had wanted. Therefore, Moscow, faced with sanctions and isolated from the West, will unlikely have much choice but to make significant concessions to its new “senior partner”, at least in terms of energy supplies. 

For now, Russia is expected to continue selling gas to Europe, especially given the Kremlin’s dependence on European cash. But Western nations seem to prepare for “the worst case scenario” – Russia turning off the taps. For instance, Latvian officials claim that they can purchase gas from other producers, and even Germany, a country that relies on Russia for more than half its natural gas, is reportedly ready for a potential halt of the Russian energy to Europe. 

Finally, it is entirely possible that it will be the West, rather than Russia, that will complete the process of the “energy de-coupling”. As U.S. President Joe Biden stressed, nothing is off the table.

About
Nikola Mikovic
:
Nikola Mikovic is a freelance journalist, researcher and analyst based in Serbia covering foreign policy in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

Russia’s Decoupling from the West Over Ukraine Won’t be Painless

Signs protesting Russia's invasion of Ukraine at a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, DC. March 2, 2022.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra via unsplash.

March 7, 2022

Diplomatic Courier correspondent Nikola Mikovic explores Russia's media and economic decoupling from the West and what that means, both for the future of Ukraine and for the future of Russia itself.

R

ussia’s army is slowly advancing in Ukraine, but whether the war will end positively for Moscow is still unclear. Even if Russia succeeds in conquering Ukraine militarily, the Kremlin risks defeat unless it resolves some crucial problems. One of these problems is media. 

In order to win the hearts and minds of the local population – a long-term process – Russia will likely try to fully control Ukraine’s media space. This will likely include censoring or shutting down the internet and destroying Ukraine’s ability to produce its own media. An apparent Russian airstrike aimed at Kyiv's main television tower conducted on March 1 is suggestive of Moscow’s strategy, which appears to have some similarities to that which NATO used against Serbia in 1999. 

Control over media and cyberspace plays a crucial role in modern warfare. Russia is already losing its conventional media share in the West. The EU has banned Russian state-owned media outlets RT and Sputnik, with European audiences not even able to access these sites’ online content. Even at home, the Kremlin seems to have a hard time coping with an anti-war campaign, which is why Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told the Russians to sort out their own media.

If the Kremlin’s strategic planners aim to win the media war at home, Russian policy makers will soon have to complete the process of “digital decoupling” from the West, which means that the country’s authorities would have to ban YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media. There are signals indicating that Moscow is already moving against certain media outlets that do not support the official pro-war narrative. According to reports, on March 1 Russian authorities shut down two critical broadcasters — radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow), that has been funded by energy giant Gazprom, and the country’s only anti-Kremlin TV station, Dozhd.  

Similar moves will still not guarantee Russia’s victory in Ukraine. Controlling territory it has already captured will likely prove complicated in the mid-term, given that local populations continue to passively resist the occupation. Even in Kharkiv, Eastern Ukrainian city where pro-Russian sentiment was very strong in 2014, Russia is facing a significant resistance. In other words, locals see the Russians as invaders, not as liberators.

Kremlin strategists seem to have underestimated Ukrainians’ determination not to be part of the “Russian world.” Even if a pro-Russian puppet government is eventually installed in Kyiv, the cost of occupation will be extremely high for the sanction-hit Russian economy. It will be expensive not only to rebuild Ukraine’s damaged infrastructure but also to fight against potential Chechnya-style guerilla warfare. In other words, what Russia experienced during the First Chechen war could repeat itself in Ukraine, where the Russians could also get its own version of America’s Vietnam War.

Russia is already facing huge economic problems. Ruble continues to sink, and former Russia’s energy partners have started abandoning their stakes in Russian oil corporations. Although the EU has imposed severe sanctions on Moscow, the Kremlin hardly has a choice but to continue selling gas to Europe, given that the Russian economy remains heavily dependent on energy exports. It is worth noting, however, Gazprom recently signed an agreement on the construction of the natural gas pipeline through Mongolia to China, with a capacity of 50 billion cubic meters, which is the same amount of gas that Russia now annually supplies to Germany. Thus, Russia's long-term goal seems to be redirection of its energy export from Europe to Asia.

Such a strategy could be part of Russia’s final “decoupling” from the West. Indeed, the Kremlin has been working to expand its economic ties with Asia. Unfortunately for Moscow, China could well now see Russia as being in a vulnerable political situation given its increasing isolation from the West. In the foreseeable future, Beijing could insist on cheaper prices for Russian natural gas. It is worth remembering that in 2014, when the war in the Donbass broke out, Russia and China signed a 30-year gas deal, and according to some reports the Chinese managed to achieve a lower price than the Russians had wanted. Therefore, Moscow, faced with sanctions and isolated from the West, will unlikely have much choice but to make significant concessions to its new “senior partner”, at least in terms of energy supplies. 

For now, Russia is expected to continue selling gas to Europe, especially given the Kremlin’s dependence on European cash. But Western nations seem to prepare for “the worst case scenario” – Russia turning off the taps. For instance, Latvian officials claim that they can purchase gas from other producers, and even Germany, a country that relies on Russia for more than half its natural gas, is reportedly ready for a potential halt of the Russian energy to Europe. 

Finally, it is entirely possible that it will be the West, rather than Russia, that will complete the process of the “energy de-coupling”. As U.S. President Joe Biden stressed, nothing is off the table.

About
Nikola Mikovic
:
Nikola Mikovic is a freelance journalist, researcher and analyst based in Serbia covering foreign policy in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.