Federico Bordonaro: 3-Russia’s global position, Eastern Europe and energy policy

Introducing Federico Bordonaro

Federico BordonaroDr Federico Bordonaro (1972) has studied in Rome and Paris, where he achieved his Ph.D. in European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

He is professor of geopolitics at COESPU (Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units, Italy) and at various Master courses in Italian universities. Dr Bordonaro is also Europe Editor with PINR and Equilibri.net. He currently works on a study on the Anglo-American geopolitical thought.

This interview with dr Federico Bordonaro addresses his views on Russia, focussing on its global position, its influence in former member states of Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union and its relationship with NATO and EU (including potential of prolonged energy conflict). Other parts are:

Interview

In his latest book “The next 100 years”, George Friedman predicts “the collapse of Russia” in the 21st century. How do you see the global power prospects of Russia?

Since Friedman does not provide a clearly defined theoretical model for his predictions, it is difficult to judge his forecast. However, he introduces interesting and well-thought arguments based on history, military affairs, geography, and demography. His prediction is based on the fact that Russia’s power strategy in Eastern Europe will fail because Poland and Turkey, backed by the US, will prove an insurmountable obstacle to Moscow’s ambitions in the Baltic-Black Sea isthmus. Moreover, Friedman maintains that Russia’s demographic crisis will hamper its military and economic restructuring.

Personally, I think that Russia is way too dependent upon its hydrocarbons exports in the first place. Rapid sinking of oil prices has traditionally spelled troubles for Moscow. From a geopolitical point of view, however, two variables must be closely monitored: the first one is the relationship between demography and the territorial power of the Russian state; the second one is the risk of yet another political-military overstretch. A scientifically credible forecast could be derived if the following hypotheses are tested:

  • Following Jack Goldstone’s “demographic-structural” model (“Revolutions and Rebellions in the Early Modern World”, 1991), we should be able to predict the capability of the Russian state to cope with population pressure over the economy, and its political implications;
  • We should analyse the dynamics of ethnic (im)balance within the Russian federation, as a factor that may hamper Russian geopolitical unity;
  • We should be able to predict the risks of politico-military overextensions in case Russia will be deeply enmeshed in the Ukraine, in Transcaucasia, and in the Baltic region.

This would require a long analytical work indeed. As for iii. I just want to add that Russia is not bound to overextension and politico-military confrontation with NATO. A new start in Russia-NATO relations is possible, albeit certainly difficult. Russia’s elite wants to negotiate with the US, and if you read the opinion of an influential adviser like Sergei Karaganov, you discover that Russia’s main strategic challenges are not the US and NATO, but China and the rise of a Central Asian/Caucasian militant Islam. In order to contain such threats, Russia needs a strategic partnership with the West.

Of course, if such a partnership will not see the light, then a Russo-Western confrontation becomes more probable, and Russia will hardly prevail against a US-led Western bloc.

To what extent will Russia be able to bring back into its sphere of influence those former Warsaw Pact/Soviet-Union countries that are currently part of EU and NATO?

Russia is using energy as a political tool in order to rebuild its sphere of influence. This is possible because Europe’s energy market is not a common one, and the natural gas issue proves politically divisive. Moscow will try to maintain its grip in Serbia, while trying to regain as much influence as possible in the economically important Baltic region. My prediction is that as soon as the US and NATO will be less engaged in the resource-consuming missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia will face a politically and diplomatically stronger West in Eastern Europe and especially in the Baltic region. Sweden may also join NATO. And I don’t think that Russia will become the dominant power in the region like it was during the Cold War…

In the Black Sea region, I don’t think that Russia is very much interested in having Romania and Bulgaria back into its sphere of influence; I think instead that Russia will continue to concentrate on Ukraine and Georgia, i.e., on countries that are not yet integrated into NATO. And, according to me, Russia has good chances to maintain a strong political influence in both Kiev and Tbilisi.

How likely is a protracted energy conflict between Russia and the EU?

I think that if Europe will build a single, common energy market, Russia will lose its capacity to use energy as a political tool. But it’s difficult to predict if and when Europe will make such a move. Having said this, if the current talks between Russia and NATO will give some positive results, the general political climate between Russia and the West will improve, and the energy conflict will remain sporadic and manageable.

In the end, I don’t see the energy conflict to be between Russia and the EU, but between Russia and certain European countries, which proves divisive for Europe. For instance, Germany is much more favourable than Poland to certain Russian projects like the Nord Stream pipeline. France isn’t as dependant upon Russian gas as Slovakia. Italian energy major ENI is in much better relations with Gazprom than some other players are.

In sum, Europe is the real problem: it is not yet a unitary actor, and therefore it’s vulnerable to blackmail and leverage via-energy security matters.

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