Home>The Russian War against Ukraine: Geopolitical Implications


The Russian War against Ukraine: Geopolitical Implications

On Tuesday 22 March 2022, Sciences Po’s Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) gathered experts to discuss the implications of the war in Ukraine on international and geopolitical relations between countries, with a particular emphasis on the EU, the U.S., and China. The discussion was chaired by the Dean of PSIA Arancha Gonzalez and featured Mircea Geoana, Deputy Secretary General of NATO, Pascal Lamy, former Director General of the WTO and President of the Paris Peace Forum, Marie Mendras, Research Fellow at CNRS-CERI and Professor at PSIA, and PSIA student Viktoriia Molnar. In the following article, Natalie McCullough, Master’s student in Environmental Policy, shares the highlights of the event, providing insights and analysis on this important subject.

“Peace is not enough"

Viktoriia Molnar, Ukrainian Master’s student studying International Development at PSIA, began her speech with a fiery defense of Ukraine’s right to a just peace, noting that “many people are calling for peace without specifying that for Ukraine, it might entail the loss of its territorial integrity and sovereignty”. Essentially, this is an argument against appeasement. Molnar elaborated on this by stating: “With invasions which have been taking place, in Moldova, in Georgia, and in Ukraine, the West’s approach has frequently been shaped by fear of provoking Russia”. This argument points to Russia’s decades-long history of escalating aggression in Eastern Europe, referencing the Transnistria War, the War in Abkhazia, and the annexation of Crimea. All of these conflicts involved losses of territory suffered by neighboring states. Consequences for Russia were minimal. 

Molnar concluded by saying that “Russia’s victory would mean the end of a Western dominated world”, and highlighting the need for decisive action.

“It has been 27 days of hell”

Echoing Viktoriia Molnar's ideas, Marie Mendras, CNRS researcher at Sciences Po’s Center for International Studies (CERI) and professor at PSIA, noted that "this is not a war of conquest, it is a war of annihilation", for which it is essential to take into account the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe. She then pivoted to an analysis of Putin’s mentality, stating that “we have tried to not antagonize him, to negotiate with him, but in his state of mind… He cannot listen or compromise”. She elaborated further on Putin’s erratic actions, noting that “I think none of us had anticipated this big invasion and war of destruction, and President Zelensky himself had not expected it, because it was almost impossible to conceive”.

In the same vein, Mendras went on to criticize Western appeasement, arguing that the West has underestimated the “extraordinary danger” Putin poses, as well as overestimated his capacity to act rationally. However, Mendras ended on a positive note, referencing the “failure of the Russian army”, the “formidable Ukrainian resistance”, and “formidable support from the West".

“A Moment of Truth for EU Integration" 

As for Pascal Lamy, former Director General of the WTO, President of the Paris Peace Forum, his speech focused on the role of the EU and how it is perceived. Lamy referred to the EU as “a geopolitical infant”, stating that “if we win, the U.S. wins. If we lose, China wins... Once you’ve reached the line of nuclear deterrence, Europe does not exist”.  Lamy went on to note that this war “pushes Putin into the arms of China'', and exacerbates tensions in American-Chinese relations. He concluded by arguing that “for now, EU strategic autonomy is still a dream”, and expressed his desire for stronger EU integration. 

Finally, Lamy observed that the West’s actions are not necessarily well-received, noting that  “India and China abstained from the UN vote, and half of the African countries abstained”. He elaborated on this, saying that many non-Western countries “buy Putin’s narrative, that Putin is just pushing back, a self defense exercise against NATO”. This references the “Communication War”, and warns of the strength of Russian propaganda. 

“A Fight Between Autocracy and Democracy"

Deputy Secretary General of NATO, Mircea Geoana began with a passionate defense of every nation’s right to sovereignty, drawing a direct line between the war in Ukraine and the stability of the global order. Concurring with the other panelists, Geoana spoke out against appeasement, saying that Russia must not “go unpunished”. 

Following this, Geoana discussed the “the famous no fly zone”. He noted that this “would mean …waging war with Russia”, which is currently off the table. However, NATO is providing support in other ways: training the Ukrainian army, and “helping Ukraine defend themselves”. Geoana then refuted Putin’s narrative regarding NATO expansion, in a two-fold argument: noting that the countries who joined NATO post-1997 were not coerced -- they joined because they wanted to be part of the West and that NATO has “never been a threat to Russia”.He concluded by a call to long-term action, and continued solidarity with Ukraine.

Question & Answer

The main themes which emerged during the Q&A session were: appeasement, sustained solidarity, China, Putin, and NATO.

Mendras re-emphasized the need for “political courage” and swift, decisive action; such as halting imports of Russian gas. More broadly, she argued that economic and geopolitical choices cannot be treated separately, and that doing so is a form of “laziness and arrogance”. Molnar built on this by passionately calling for sustained global attention and support, which she feared may be declining. 

In regard to China, Lamy “cautioned against” drawing parallels between Russia/Ukraine and China/Taiwan, while Mendras argued that China’s abstention in the UN vote is a “polite no”, saying that they have “no reason” to support the war.

Regarding Putin - Mendras argued that “Putin is falling...There can be no way that there can be an end -- a positive end - to this war, with Putin still in power”. She went on to state “we must anticipate this fall, and prepare, and support alternative elites in Russia”. Geoana echoed this, saying that “soon there will be a reckoning in the Russian establishment”. 

Finally, when asked if NATO had any “red lines”, Geoana responded by saying “if there will be any attack against a NATO member, NATO will get involved”, declining to elaborate further and noting that “strategic ambiguity is key”. 

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