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UAE and Ukraine A Test of the Global Political Order


Dr.Kenneth L. Wise

Senior Non-Resident Fellow -Public Policy

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The events in The Ukraine and Crimea  a continent away  have import for the United Arab Emirates. Implications of these events are large and small, with consequences near term and longer term.  All are complex.  
One aspect of the situation the United Arab Emirates will note is the network of Russian gas pipelines that runs through the Ukraine to supply about half the needs of central and western Europe.  That Russia can stop the flow of gas in this network, cutting off the rest of Europe raises questions: 
--How fast could the UAE and other GCC states extend and build new pipelines to Europe to offset a loss of supplies from Russia? 
--How many additional LNG vessels in the region could commit to supplying the European Union? 
--What will the United States decide in its current debate about exporting its growing production of natural gas? 
While Russias cutting off supply sounds ominous, Russia loses income when it cuts off gas supply to Europe as it did temporarily in 2009.  Russia depends heavily on selling energy in order to earn foreign currency to use to pay for its imports. 
Thus an important related question is: 
How willing is Russia to pay that price  lost sales  to send the west a message to that Ukraine was a step too far?  
The Russian Street strongly supports Putins initiative to protect compatriots and to bring the Crimea back to Russia. But Russian Oligarchs do not want to face the sanctions the US and EU will apply against them and their western holdings.  They also do not want to lose Russias market share of gas sales. 
Thus this first consideration on gas sales is complex in its implications.  While it is probably not of high or immediate risk for the UAE, the UAE keeps it in mind for longer term planning. 
Second, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said a Crimea vote to return to Russia would close any space for diplomacy. To underscore that message the United States and NATO have stepped up maneuvers on the ground in Poland and in the air over the Baltic States. 
The greater the NATO involvement in Ukraine becomes, whether inside the country or only at the borders, the higher will be the pressure on U.S. naval and air assets to move out of the Arabian Gulf into the Mediterranean Sea and Central Europe.  This shift would increase the UAEs defense burden.  It will also roll the dice on current high level negotiations on the role of Iran in the Gulf and on Syrias territorial integrity. 
This brings up a third point: 
Russian cooperation in managing the situation in Syria and the future of Iran in the region is crucial.  Face to face political and potential military action in Ukraine would cause Russia to see advantage in reducing or ending that cooperation. 
This would quickly impel the UAE to recalibrate its plans to assist in stabilizing politics in Egypt.  The UAE would need to do this to increase its involvement in geopolitics that affect both Syria and Iran -- as well as future security in the Arabian Gulf.  
The current situation in Ukraine fuels a Russia that is trying to overcome its loss of spirit in having given up its empire at the end of the Cold War. 
It fuels a U.S. President who is trying to preserve his authority at home and U.S. soft power abroad.  Barack Obama faces noisy charges that he is weak, has not defended U.S. interests, and even cannot be trusted to stand up to the worlds new Hitler  Russias Vladimir Putin. 
* * *
U.S. options are few and none is reassuring.  
Some in the United States want full-scale NATO occupation of Ukraine up to the Russian and Belarussian borders (short of Crimea, however, one presumes). 
While that bluff might work for a few months, internal disorder in Ukraine will become intolerable for NATO occupiers.  Russia knows this and might be patient enough to wait for NATO to suffer from that implosion. 
Meanwhile Russia will hold onto Crimea. 
Some suggest introducing U.S. Special Forces or NATO troops in Ukraine imitating the Russian act of standing up surreptitious forces in Crimea. 
However, NATO lacks the linguistic capacity and sureness of command to execute a similar tactic.  Poles and Lithuanians might actually volunteer for such an assignment.   But their presence would breed the opposite of calm -- in the unfriendly Russian-speaking political waters of eastern and southern Ukraine. It would equally roil the political waters among nationalists in western Ukraine. 
Finally, an attempt to get the U.N. Security Council to bless international peacekeeping in the Ukraine would face a guaranteed Russian veto.  While the U.N. Secretary General will preach and plead for international peace and conflict resolution, few anywhere will listen.  The United States has diminished the organizations reputation too far. 
Dr. Kenneth Wise is a current Professor at Creighton University in the US, and continues to consult b'huth on issues of public policy and media analysis, with experience in the field for 40 years. He joined  b'huth 10 years ago as Director of the Public Policy Division.

Image credit: Nessa Gnatoush, Wikipedia.

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