Russia and the West on the brink of war? China meddling with academic independence? An impending energy crisis in Europe? Find your much needed analyses and explainers in the new HCSS Digest.
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Russia and the West have come face to face over Ukraine. A large-scale Russian invasion of that country is no longer considered impossible. So of course the media reached out to HCSS for clarification of this renewed cold war rhetoric – a lot. Like, really a lot.
What are Putin’s real plans? Can he still be stopped by sanctions? And should the Netherlands get involved in the conflict with Russia by sending military equipment? Rob de Wijk discussed the matter on Talkshow M.
“It is certainly not unlikely that Putin will invade Ukraine”, said Tim Sweijs on WNL’s Goedemorgen Nederland – for the first time live from Studio HCSS. “But you have to see it in a broader context, in which Putin has put a number of demands for NATO on the table. He’s increasing the pressure with the troop build-up along Ukraine’s border.”
“You cannot count on him to do nothing, because he has already proven he will act, in the past,” Han ten Broeke analyzed on WNL’s Goedemorgen Nederland. “Think of the bites he took from Georgia and Moldova. The annexation of Crimea. He’s also messing around in the Donbass. So anyone who thinks Putin is not willing to do anything, is naive.”
Where do Putin’s irrational demands come from? How do we keep the conflict manageable? Is Putin even looking for a diplomatic solution? HCSS analyst Lotje Boswinkel analyzed the situation at BNR’s De Nieuwsdag.
Why is Biden so involved in the conflict on Europe’s borders? Shouldn’t the Europeans take care of that themselves? The President has no choice, writes Rob de Wijk in his column for Trouw: if Putin is able to tear the West apart, that is good news for Xi. Because a divided West is a weak West.
The Netherlands has been one of the “doves” until now, but this week suddenly sought to join the “hawks” camp within Europe, taking a tougher stand. Above all, the Netherlands will have to focus on reaching a European compromise – whatever that looks like, Han ten Broeke commented in newspaper NRC: “Unity, unity, unity, that’s what it’s about now.”
On news site NU.nl, Rob de Wijk emphasizes that the outcome is far from certain; he doesn’t think an armed conflict is inevitable. “It’s part of the game. I think Biden and Putin themselves don’t even know how to proceed at the moment. We have completely forgotten how this game is played in Europe. Putin can write off the entire EU, so to speak, because there is too much disagreement.”
What will we notice if Russia invades Ukraine? Are the fears justified, or has Putin overplayed his hand? The new online discussion program Nieuwskamer spoke about the situation with various young experts and journalists, among them HCSS analyst Lotje Boswinkel.
Does Putin have a point? Is NATO breaking promises they made the Soviet Union way back when? “Putin is framing, he’s referring to promises that have never been made at all,” HCSS defense expert Peter Wijninga commented in Algemeen Dagblad.
“Putin is very deliberately out for a confrontation. He has continued to hammer hard on that list of demands to NATO, and therefore cannot just step back without losing face,” Wijninga later said on BNR Nieuwsradio.
HCSS Russia expert Helga Salemon joined the fray as well. “NATO and the US hope Russia will back down if they increase the pressure,” she told NOS news. “Putin is only responsive to tough talk, they think. He has no interest in war, but does want to be right. And now NATO also wants to play hardball.” It’s High Noon and the question is: who blinks first?
Putin doesn’t want a real war, but the obsession with Ukraine distracts the Russians from domestic problems, Helga Salemon also explained on NU.nl and on EenVandaag: the Russian people have been kept in a war mood for years through the news. “He has to constantly keep people on the edge of their seats to distract them from their daily problems For the average Russian, war is something that takes place on television. Since the Crimean conflict in 2014, Ukraine has been on daily TV. People are told about the fascists in Ukraine who are oppressing the Russians. The war has actually already started on Russian television.”
“They are standing on the doorstep of Ukraine, you can only explain that as a threat from Russia,” Peter Wijninga continued in RTL Nieuws. “Putin wants to keep Ukraine unstable, so it can never become a fully-fledged democracy: Ukraine as a buffer state between Russia and the democratic West.”
Are sanctions the solution to the conflict? “Which sanctions will be imposed depends first of all on what you want to punish Russia for. The sanctions and military action must also be in balance. There is always a hierarchy, an escalation ladder,” Rob de Wijk concluded on RTL Nieuws.
What kind of weapons could the Netherlands supply to Ukraine? “They have to be weapons that can also be used without personnel,” Peter Wijninga explained in Algemeen Dagblad. “We are not sending Dutch troops, we’re certainly not going to gift them Patriots.”
Gas, Oil & Energy
Why have we been confronted with such high gas prices in recent months? Can we build a new zero carbon energy system at the same rate as we tear down the old system? Watch this short Studio HCSS Explainer about energy, gas and geopolitics, with energy expert Jilles van den Beukel.
The Netherlands has never given much thought to the strategic implications of turning off the Groningen gas tap. Should Russia switch off the gas tap, the Dutch government might have to choose between the collapse of the economy and the collapse of even more houses in Groningen, Rob de Wijk wrote in his column for EnergiePodium.
One of the tools that Russian President Vladimir Putin has is the supply of gas to Europe. What awaits us in the EU if Moscow ‘turns off the gas tap’? “Technically, gas extraction in Groningen can be scaled up, but it should be clear to everyone that this is the very last thing you would want,” Jilles van den Beukel commented on NU.nl.
“Europe is dependent on Russian gas for some 35-40%,” says HCSS energy expert Lucia van Geuns at NOS news. The extra liquid gas arriving by ships now will not be enough. According to van Geuns, such a scenario is already being considered behind the scenes. “Of course politicians are looking at what the crisis measures are if Russian gas is no longer supplied to Europe.”
With all the attention going to Putin, we almost forgot China. Almost, that is, until news hit that a research center of the Free University (VU) in Amsterdam conducting studies on human rights, is funded by a Chinese university.
Raising questions about academic independence, Rob de Wijk commented on NOS news: “There is no such thing as academic freedom in the field of human rights in China. If you deviate too much from the party line, you will no longer get any money. The center’s director’s appearances on Chinese television legitimize an autocratic regime. They can say to their own people, see: in the West they support our views.”
On Politico, Rob de Wijk added: “We do not have a clear image of how often such influence operations occur within academia, but we can definitely say that this is a clear case of attempting to exert ‘soft-power’ by the Chinese Communist Party.” De Wijk warned, however, against generalizing all instances of Chinese-backed research, and said there was still a need for dialogue between academic institutions.
But wait, there’s more…
China was also the focus of the first episode of the year of our BNR podcast De Strateeg. In recent decades, China’s military strength has increased rapidly and that could have major implications for security in the Indo-Pacific, but also for ours. Featuring MEP Ruben Brekelmans and HCSS analyst Joris Teer, author of a recent HCSS publication on the implications of China’s Military Rise for Europe.
Media and politicians have focused on Russian influence across American and European arenas, putting little attention towards China’s political influence. But how is China influencing our political elites, media, civil society and academia? Join us Feb. 22 for our online panel discussion on Chinese political influencing efforts, and response options both at the national and European level. Speakers include HCSS analysts Lotje Boswinkel and Louk Faesen, with opening remarks by French ambassador Luis Vassy.
Defense & Intergalactic Security
HCSS director of research Tim Sweijs spoke at the Kick-off of the Strategy Days of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Over the course of two weeks, strategic foreign policy issues are discussed in depth with international experts in more than 20 virtual sessions. Sweijs spoke about “Transition, Erosion, Implosion? Conflict and Crisis in the System” and the implications for Dutch grand strategy.
To bolder go where no man has gone before: listen to a new episode of our BNR podcast De Strateeg on laws and norms in space this Sunday morning, featuring Patrick Bolder, HCSS strategic advisor on military space, and Marten Zwanenburg, Professor of Military Law at the University of Amsterdam and the Faculty of Military Sciences of the Netherlands Defence Academy. This is the way.
Deterrence for small and middle powers
What options do small and middle powers have to deter the military threat from Russia and China? A very relevant question, in light of what’s happening on Europe’s eastern borders today. HCSS is proud to present a new paper series on deterrence for small and middle powers, edited by Paul van Hooft and Tim Sweijs.
Find the complete series here:
- Pick Your Poison: Comparing the Deterrence Problem in Asia and Europe, by Eric Heginbotham and Richard J. Samuels of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
- Raising the Costs of Access: Active Denial Strategies by Small and Middle Powers against Revisionist Aggression, by HCSS analysts Paul van Hooft, Nora Nijboer and Tim Sweijs.
- Strengthening Taiwan’s Integrated Deterrence Posture: Challenges and Solutions, by Jyun-yi Lee of Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR).
- Deterrence in the Baltic Sea Region – a View from Poland, by Wojciech Lorenz (Polish Institute of International Affairs)
- Deterrence and War Initiation Decisions, by Dr. Jeffrey H. Michaels
- Strengthening deterrence against nuclear, conventional, and hybrid threats: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Insights for US Allies in Europe and Asia, by Tim Sweijs, Paul van Hooft and Philip Geurts
Job & Internship Alert: HCSS is hiring!
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And with that, I bid thee a fine weekend. Time to pour myself a White Russian.