Russo-Ukrainian War 7/18/22

European Council President Charles Michel in a phone call with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on July 4th, 2022 (Image via European Council)

The European Union has sought closer ties with energy producers ahead of a grueling winter without Russian gas.

Earlier, Kazakhstan sought to portray itself as a potential partner to the EU, which saw Russia attempt to ‘punish’ the nation for its ‘insubordination.’ Since the war in Ukraine began, Kazakhstan has been breaking from Moscow’s sphere of influence rather quickly. With troops bogged down in Ukraine, Putin has no heavy hands to play, similar to the Russian involvement in Kazakhstan in January due to political unrest.

Most recently, the EU has signed trade deals with Azerbaijan, a move that has worried Armenians regarding the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh, a conflict which Azerbaijan reignited in 2020. Russian peacekeeping forces are slated to leave the country in 2025. Still, Putin could move troops away earlier if he wished to increase pressure on Ukraine without major mobilizations, a step he has so far seemed to take. Despite Azerbaijan and Russia’s ‘alliance’ treaty signed two days before the war, Azerbaijan is likely to remain a slippery partner to both Russia and the West, unlikely to commit seriously to either path until it can guarantee which side grants more leverage for its own foreign policy.

Barring longstanding partners like Norway, Algeria, Qatar, and the United States, the European Union has a long way to go before achieving energy independence from Russia. Despite Russian losses, a possible victory condition for Russia could be achieved using European and American apathy/distress in the winter, as assessed by Alexei Navalny’s Chief of Staff, Leonid Volkov. Unless Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia-so far criticized in the United States, manages to be successful, European resolve will likely be tested by the end of the year. This possibility is a likely factor for Ukraine’s insistence that it can launch an offensive before the end of the year, should it receive the necessary materiel. If Russia is able to de-escalate the conflict, launching an offensive could be far more politically costly for Ukraine, despite the AFU’s ever-approaching parity with Russia’s capabilities.

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