The scenarios linked to an aggression by Russia are not unique: events can still branch out in many different ways. For now, a rapid return to détente in relations between the two countries seems distant
The scenarios linked to an aggression by Russia against Ukraine are not unique, neither for the countries involved nor for the rest of Europe, because events can still branch out in many ways different. But if we still don’t know what can happen, we begin to have a clearer idea of which are the roads that now seem closed towards a return to full normalcy.
The first scenario is now increasingly distant that of a rapid return to relaxation in relations between Russia and Ukraine and, consequently, between Western governments and Russia. For the very small circle of elderly former KGB agents who, with President Vladimir Putin, lead Russia’s moves, it is now impossible to step back. Moscow has moved 190,000 soldiers out of an active army of half a million close to the borders of Ukraine. the largest military mobilization in Europe since the end of the Second World War. It seems entirely unlikely that a retreat will take place now without the Kremlin men boasting of having at least some strategic success. Even if the invasion or dispatch of a self-styled Russian peacekeeping force into Donbass does not take place in the coming days or weeks, international tension and partly a state of military siege around Ukraine are at least doomed to stay for at least many months. A cascade will also have direct consequences for Italy and the rest of Europe: even in the best (or less dramatic) scenario, the price of natural gas and oil they are destined to remain higher than would be the case under conditions of peace on the eastern front. For a long time we will not review the favorable energy cost conditions of the past years. The price shock maybe – just maybe – will be less intense than in the last couple of months, but it won’t dissipate anytime soon.
Donbass: the situation
In political-military terms, the scenario that at this point appears more probable – albeit in a picture that evolves every day – is that of one or a series of accidents artfully triggered by Donbass rebels piloted by the Kremlin. The explosion of a gas pipeline, the forced displacement of the Russian-speaking civilian population in neighboring Russian regions and the numerous violations of the truce in recent days all have one goal: to provoke a response from the Ukrainian militias or army that justifies the entry of the armed forces of Moscow in Donbas. But the favorite model of Putin and his small circle of elderly former KGB agents is that of hybrid warfare, undeclared and possibly not fought (on the example of the conquest of Crimea in 2014 without firing a single shot). Under this project, the Russian-speaking rebels in the eastern Ukrainian Donbass region would call the Moscow army to the rescue for alleged Ukrainian violations of the truce. The accusations of genocide against the Ukrainians of the Donbass, without any proof and without any likelihood, have already been formulated by Putin himself and detailed by the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry.
The government in Ukraine
The proximate reason for the hybrid war with the dispatch of an alleged peacekeeping force may be to maintain order during an independence pseudo-referendum that detaches the Donbass from Ukraine and joins it to Russia (as happened in Crimea in 2014 ). But the profound reason twofold: destabilize the government in Kiev and then replace it, in the long run, with a pro-Russian government like in Belarus; create an ambiguous situation in which Europeans and Americans could be divided on whether to approve particularly harsh sanctions. Putin is aware that Western European public opinion does not want to risk a downturn in the economy in the name of Ukraine and will try to gain strength on these aspects. Naturally, that of the Russian dictator is a very high risk bet for. The entry of his army into Donbass can trigger a military response of the Ukrainians which can make the state of open war between the two countries inevitable. In that case, the Euro-American sanctions against Moscow would be very harsh and Russia can react by cutting off natural gas supplies to Germany, Italy and France. And we would not be able to quickly replace all Russian gas with other sources: we would have to apply some energy austerity reducing consumption.
Italy and the crisis in Ukraine
Certainly Italy specifically has a lot to lose if the crisis triggered by Putin gets out of control, because it is the third largest economy in the European Union in terms of export turnover to Russia and the tenth in the world. Sanctions could stop much of these exchanges. In 2020, Italy sold $ 10 billion worth of products and services to Russia, according to data from Trading Economics, with a prevalence of industrial machinery (including nuclear reactors), electrical or electronic appliances, fashion and pharmaceuticals. It would not be the first time that Italian exports have suffered setbacks due to the sanctions against Russia. Made in Italy towards Moscow was worth over 14 billion dollars in 2013, but in 2016 it had already halved due to the measures taken by the European Union (with the support of Rome) forannexation of Crimea.
Other difficulties would come above all from the possible, drastic collapse of gas supplies from Russia via Ukraine. The three regasifiers present in the country today are unable to completely replace Gazprom’s shortfall in volumes with liquefied gas that could come from Qatar or the United States. And the infrastructures of the European gas pipelines, due to the bottlenecks between Spain and France, do not allow Italy to access the services of the Iberian regasifiers. A war in Ukraine would therefore have a very severe impact on Italy, forcing the country to rapidly contain consumption. It would be a shock not very different from those already experienced in the 70s due to the OPEC embargo after the Yom Kippur war or after the Komeinist revolution in Iran.