Ukraine, Gas, Bubbles and Geopolitics

Elections in Ukraine are over, old problems start hurting again. The optimistic bubble blown up during election campaign bursts. And the public goes back to normal, defining its role in a armed society.

The situation in Donbass is not that different. Elections were held after opposition was excluded; the men in charge were confirmed, positions consolidated; the threat of outside enemy downgrades internal rivalries on the list of priorities.

Donbass and Ukraine still wait for their big brothers in order to change the regional balance of power. But Russian Federation (RF) and NATO / EU have different priorities or limited capacities.

RF will think twice about the economic and political consequences of an annexation of Donbass region. Militias shouldn’t be surprised if RF draws back support as the result of a trade on another board (Iran, Syria, Arctic).

EU will not integrate Ukraine in their framework without reforms, but reforms would erode the position of the men in charge. The chances for NATO membership isn’t that high either since Ukraine would have to clear its open border conflicts before joining.

The hope (and need) for outside help is something Ukraine and Donbass have in common. ‘Help is coming, we need to try harder and wait a little longer.’ Bubbles… ‘France has no friends, only interests’ (de Gaulle).

Gazprom needs capital, know how and buyers for its natural gas. EU needs gas and markets. Gazprom prepares for switching exports to asia (liquid gas) and European countries discuss building liquid gas terminals to import gas from overseas.

Since gas is a long term business, a change in gas flows reflects to some degree expectations of the quality of future relations. So far politics’ impact on streams were limited. In the next two years contracts in the Baltics need to be renewed, then we have further data.

Meanwhile US is busy domestically, deals with IS and cooperates with RF on that issue.

The situation in Ukraine and events in the east reflect to some degree this volatile geopolitical bargaining. It is not the case that Kiev, Donetsk or Lugansk are side players in their own conflict, but to take profit from it, they would need to re-evaluate their options – realistically.

It is said that new governments enjoy a ‘honeymoon’ of 100 days. During that period criticism is low and the ability to act is high, due to some goodwill within the population and since political rivals need time to regroup.

There is still the option to stop playing cards for political survival and start playing chess on the geopolitical board for the nation’s interest. This option is gone after the country has fallen apart. The results of the actual coalition talks might give an indication on further developments.

The coalition might agree on relations to EU and NATO, but they have disparate perceptions on other issues (Russia, Donbass, Crimea). The political standstill might be explained as a feature of democratic systems for some time, but this is no excuse, it will be accepted less and less.

The Ukrainian civil society faces the situation that it is going to lose its tool of vetoing politics. Going go to Maidan once more (in order to reset power) could end up very contentiously since parts of civil society are under arms.

The geopolitical actors and its global political audience have good reason to hold on to the bubble created by the Minsk-Protocol. It works as a kind of safety net, preventing a situation, that is mainly driven by military planing and procedures. It is said the cease-fire in East Ukraine aims to freeze the conflict. Whose conflict?!

Bubbles are comparable to cognitive frames of how collectives perceive the world, defining good and evil, friend and foe, benefits and costs. Bubbles might be illusions, but they are relevant since they determine people’s routines and actions. Blubbles include and exlcude to the same degree -‘wars make states, states make wars’ (Charles Tilly).

If we would confront a eight-year old with this simplistic summary of Ukraine and its context, the child would probably see rather solutions than problems. This is because children are naive and do not know hardball politics. Is it?!


Further readings:
* David Snow, George Lakoff and many others did research on frames and their application to politics.
* Researchers around Dough McAdam or Sidney G. Tarrow (Power in Movement) give an idea about how frames shape the outcome of a movement and highlight mechanisms within movements.
* The Oxford Institute of Energy Studies (  reports on the gas situation, highlighting technical, economic and political aspects. Simon Pirani ( and Jonathan Stern were speaking at IMEMO, Moscow on that issue recently. The slides of their presentation provide data, maps etc.
* Hromadske reports on Ukrainian events on the ground for the English speaking audience (