This is the 30 March 2023 issue of our weekly scan for political and geopolitical risks or, more largely, conventional and unconventional national and international security (open access). Scroll down to access the scan.
As paper.li, the platform we use to create the weekly scan goes down on 20 April 2023, and as alternatives are either not suitable or paying platforms, we shall not continue providing a scan free of charge. Contact us for scans created specifically for your organisation.
Using horizon scanning, each week, we collect weak – and less weak – signals. These point to new, emerging, escalating or stabilising problems. As a result, they indicate how trends or dynamics evolve.
As every week, below the scan itself, we briefly explain what is horizon scanning and what are weak signals.
We call signals weak, because it is still difficult to discern them among a vast array of events. However, our biases often alter our capacity to measure the strength of the signal. As a result, the perception of strength will vary according to the awareness of the actor. At worst, biases may be so strong that they completely block the very identification of the signal.
In the field of strategic foresight and warning, risk management and future studies, it is the job of good analysts to scan the horizon. As a result, they can perceive signals. Analysts then evaluate the strength of these signals according to specific risks and dynamics. Finally, they deliver their findings to users. These users can be other analysts, officers or decision-makers.
Each section of the scan focuses on signals related to a specific theme:
world (international politics and geopolitics);
science including AI, QIS, technology and weapons, ;
analysis, strategy and futures;
the Covid-19 pandemic;
energy and environment.
However, in a complex world, categories are merely a convenient way to present information, when facts and events interact across boundaries.
The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement.
Featured image: Image of the Swedish-ESO 15m Submillimeter Telescope (SEST) at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, located on the outskirts of the Chilean Atacama Desert, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile and at an altitude of 2400 metres. The photo was taken by Stefan Seip, one of the ESO Photo Ambassadors.
On 7 December 2022, China’s president Xi Jinping received a royal welcome at his arrival in Saudi Arabia for a three days state visit. State visits between China and Saudi Arabia heads of state have taken place since 2016.
Furthermore, during this state visit, President Xi was the first Chinese head of state to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council summit. That session, taking place in Riyad, included very high levels representatives from the whole Middle East-North Africa region (“President Xi Jinping attends first China-GCC summit and delivers keynote speech”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 2022-12-10).
Nowadays, China is the main importer of the Saudi oil production. China buys almost 18% of it. Yet, if energy was a major feature of this visit, artificial intelligence (AI) issues were also a central topic of the visit.
Chinese military drones and surveillance technologies’ sales were also part of the signing spree, which is said to reach around 30 billion dollars in value. For example, Huawei, the Chinese AI giant, signed a memorandum of understanding for the development of installations in several Saudi cities (“Xi visit: Saudi Arabia inks deal with Huawei, despite US fears”, Asian Financial, 9 December 2022).
In other words, this state visit was literally a formalization of the convergence of the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) and of the Saudi AI development. This convergence has profound geopolitical consequences. Those are especially important in terms of the reinforcement of Chinese influence in an area that had been so far largely oriented towards the U.S. and of the related transformation of the Gulf states.
Those AI negotiations become de facto a policy when the Saudi minister for information and communication technology and the Chinese minister of industry and information technology signed a common strategic partnership plan (Rawan Radwan, ibid).
It is in this context that Huawei, the AI giant, signed a memorandum of understanding. The latter is about the development of facilities in Saudi cities and of cloud computing. This comes after Huawei built 5G infrastructures in several Persian Gulf countries (Aziz El Yaacoubi and Edouardo Baptista, “Saudi Arabia signs Huawei deal, deepening China ties on Xi’s visit”, Reuters, December 8, 2022).
This dynamic imbues the development of the mega project Neom: the integration of four new cities into a smart urban complex.
Located on the Red Sea, close both to Jordan and Egypt, Neom is going to be a giant laboratory for the diversification of the Saudi economy through innovation. It will notably explore adaptation paths to the raging effects of climate change through the use of AI (“Saudi Arabia ‘not building The Line” but AI is, says NEOM executive”, Arabian Business, November 30, 2022).
In other words, the integration of AI aims at turning Saudi Arabia into a 21st century great power. The Kingdom uses its oil rent to transform from an energy giant into a major digital power.
In this context, the Chinese experience of investing massively to become the world leader in the AI field in 2030 will certainly be a strategic asset for the Saudi party. The same is true of the Chinese experience in installing networks of AI “city brains” (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Chinese Artificial Intelligence Revolution”, The Red Team Analysis Society, November 13, 2017).
The BRI and the Arab states
As it happens, those numerous Chinese-Saudi cooperations in AI appear as a new dimension of the convergence between the Saudi Arabia 2030 grand strategy and the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Saudi Arabia and the Chinese Belt&Road : The Great Convergence”, The Red Team Analysis Society, March 11, 2019).
The BRI, deployed since 2013, is a strategy aimed at ensuring for China the constant flows of energy resources, commodities and products. Those flows are necessary to the current industrial and capitalist development of the 1,4 billion strong “Middle Kingdom”. (Jean-Michel Valantin, “China and the New Silk Road – From oil wells to the moon … and beyond”, The Red Team Analysis Society, July 6 2015). Since then, it has attracted the interest and commitment of numerous Asian, African, Middle-Eastern European and South -American countries.
This is why we qualify some spaces as being “useful” to the deployment of the BRI. And each “useful space” is related, and “useful”, to other “useful spaces”.
From Saudi Arabia to China, and Back
Hence, the Persian Gulf and its states are fundamental “useful spaces” for China. As a result, Saudi Arabia is de facto of great interest for the BRI: Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf states and Arab states become a useful space. Indeed, the BRI increases the Saudi capabilities to respond to the Chinese energy needs.
Coupling China, the Gulf and the Mediterranean world
One must add that the geography of Saudi Arabia furthers the opening of the maritime BRI to the Red Sea, thanks to the Saudi ports, such as Yanbu and Jeddah.
In other words, the BRI improves the access of the Chinese civil fleet to the Red Sea. As a consequence, the Chinese convoys can access the Suez Canal and thus the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, coupling the BRI and Saudi Arabia further open the markets of the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe to China.
From Huawei, with Love
In this context, the Saudi- Huawei deal is of particular interest, because of the company’s expertise in “intelligentizing” pipelines.
Furthermore, Huawei is already active in Saudi Arabia. The company has a contract with the Saudi Railways. It is also building a huge battery energy storage on the Red Sea. The project, based in Neom, complements the installation of a mammoth 400 MW solar plant (Dale Aruf, “China’s tech outreach in the Middle East and North Africa”, The Diplomat, November 17, 2022).
This deployment supports the extension of the Chinese influence in and through the Saudi Kingdom. This whole dynamic is self-reinforcing despite the strong reluctance of the United States to accept this geopolitical convergence.
From U.S. influence to Saudi-China influence
Indeed, the energy and AI Saudi Arabia-China great convergence is a major strategic shift that weakens the U.S. influence both in the Middle-East and in Asia.
As it happens, the digital Silk Road has multiple incarnations, especially through the extension of fibre optic cables networks (Jonathan E. Hillman, ibid).
The most important of these cables is the Pakistan & East Africa cable connecting Europe (PEACE). It connects China to Pakistan then to Djibouti and Egypt, then to Europe. At the same time, Huawei is developing technology centres in eight MENA countries, including Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt. Nine other cables connect MENA countries with China. Meanwhile, Chinese companies multiply high-tech deals with Israeli firms (Dale Aruf, ibid).
The same is true with Beidou, the Chinese global positioning system that competes with the American GPS. Since 2017, China has launched the China-Arab states Beidou Cooperation Forum. Saudi Arabia, Oman, Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco now deploy Beidou (Dale Aruf, ibid).
Undermining U.S. influence
So, from a geopolitical point of view, the Arab choice of Chinese technology is deeply meaningful. Indeed, those countries adopt those Chinese technologies, while the United States ban Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese telecommunication companies from their territory (Diane Bartz, Alexandra Alper, “U.S bans Huawei, ZTE equipment sales, citing national security risks”, Reuters, December 1, 2022).
Meanwhile, the U.S. political and trade authorities ban any export of U.S. advanced technology, including microchips for AI.
However, the Arab states multiply giant deals with those very same Chinese companies that the U.S consider as a potential danger (Rishi Iyengar, “Biden short circuits China”, Foreign Policy, 28 October 2022).
Those Arab strategic choices are also supported by the fact that China does not condition its economic cooperation on political and moral obligations. So, the cooperation between the Middle Kingdom and the Arab states is very fluid (Loretta Napoleoni,Maonomics, Why Chinese communists make better capitalists than we do ?, Seven Stories Press, 2011).
In fact, using the framework devised by Hélène Lavoix, at the level of the normative dimension of the developing war between the U.S. and China, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and other Arab countries are adopting the Chinese technological norms (Hélène Lavoix, “The War between China and the U.S- The Normative Dimension”, The Red Team Analysis Society, July 4, 2022). By doing so, the convergence of the development strategies of China and of the Arab states undermines the U.S. influence in the MENA region.
So, while defeats and dramatic blunders in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan weaken the U.S. influence and power, the Arab states acquire new tools of economic development from China.
In this regard, we have to remember that the whole Persian Gulf region is under the direct U.S. military influence. This influence is exercised through the fifth fleet, the land and air forces and a network of bases. All those forces are under the direct authority of the U.S. Central Command.
How can individuals and small business leaders protect themselves against the crises and upheavals that seem to be imposed on them? Can they take advantage of tools that are generally reserved for state actors, especially security forces, and sometimes for large companies? Can such a tool, early warning, be useful for individuals and small business leaders, and how? How can early warning be made available to everyone?
How can we reduce the plight that so many people face due to the ever-increasing prices of energy and electricity, for example in Europe? How can we mitigate the negative effects resulting from other problems and challenges, such as climate change, war, water and resource scarcity, etc.?
The answer to these key questions lies in the use not only of early warning but also of actionable early warning. We explain first what is actionable warning.
We then turn to a core component of the early warning process, action. With the example of the energy insecurity and more particularly the rise in electricity prices, we explain that actionable early warning must not only look outwards to the world but also inwards to response capabilities. We stress that empowerment of individuals and small business leaders is a key component of a successful actionable early warning process applicable to all. We compare two cases to be able to draw actionable lessons: the broken bakers versus the successful wool manufacturer.
In a concluding third part we outline a roadmap for a realistic and practical use of actionable early warning for individuals and small businesses and stress the importance to embed it at local level.
What is actionable early warning?
Early warning, what is it for?
Early warning, or better strategic foresight and warning, is the art and science to avoid surprise, notably unpleasant ones. It is defined as:
“An organised and systematic process (including analysis, intelligence) that aims to reduce the uncertainty inherent in the future” (Fingar, 2009). “Its purpose is to enable decision-makers to take their decisions early enough to ensure that these decisions are implemented in the best possible way.” (Davis, Grabo, Knight)
Early warning, who is it for?
Most of the time, when we design an early warning system, or make early warning analysis, we do so for state agencies and other international bodies, for governments and officials, or for relatively large companies.
Yet, every human being, every organisation must face the uncertainty inherent in the future, and take decisions to govern its own life and activity, so as to live as best as possible and ultimately to survive.
Thus, if current practice and methodology has been developed and refined for state actors, most often in military affairs and international security, actually, everyone could and should use early warning.
Indeed, often without knowing it we, as individuals, already use early warning systems of a sort. When we consider weather forecast to choose our clothes, or activities, we use early warning. When we look at traffic situation and forecast, similarly, we use early warning.
Hence early warning is for everyone, even though it is knowingly used, most of the time, only by specific actors. Yet, it is also different according to who is using the warning. Why is that so and in which way?
The promise of actionable early warning
It is clear from the definition above that early warning must be practical or rather actionable.
In other words, it must lead to the possibility for actions. When one receives a warning, then one must be able to act to prevent or mitigate the negative impact of the object of the warning or, on the contrary to build upon the positive consequences.
For example, if someone gets a warning about heavy rain during the afternoon then s/he may decide to take an umbrella if s/he has to get out, or postpone getting out if possible. If a state counter-terrorist apparatus receives a warning about a terrorist attack, then it will deploy its counter-terrorist strategy from carrying out a counter-terrorist operation to implementing measures to protect citizens. Now, if a warning about a terrorist attack reaches an individual, for example through the alarm system of a state, then the individual will solely follow the instruction of the state, possibly staying at home, being extremely careful when traveling, paying attention to abandoned objects etc. It will not, however, be able – nor allowed – to carry out most of the counter-terrorism answers endeavoured by a state.
What these short examples highlight is that the types of answers resulting from a warning change according to the type of person or actor receiving the warning. Hence a warning must also consider the range of responses available. As a result the process of early warning, if it wants to be actionable, must take into account the capabilities and possibilities of answers and actions.
The responsibility to warn
The responsibility for warning, and thus for setting up and carrying out the process of early warning, and which process, also varies according to actors and to their normative duties within their polity. As a result, if early warning is fundamentally for everyone, the issues to which one pays attention in terms of warning vary. These issues depend upon the social contract that exists between political authorities and those they rule, as well as upon the capacity of the said political authorities to ensure the security of their citizens according to the social contract.
Now, in an ideal legitimate and efficient polity, political authorities will be responsible for protecting the ruled from foreign enemies, for ensuring civil peace and order at home, as well as for the conditions for material security, including customary security(1). In this ideal case, political authorities are indeed those who are responsible for warning on the issues that constitute their fundamental mission, i.e. the various aspects of security.
However, for many reasons, which are beyond the scope of this article, we live in polities that are far from being ideal. In that case, those who are ruled may also have to start enlarging the domain to which they must apply their own typical early warning. They need to also look at security, from geopolitics to resources scarcity through climate change. When survival is at stake, it is even more important to be able to make this kind of transition – from waiting for political authorities to carry out all actionable early warning to also doing it oneself – as quickly as possible.
In such cases, how can individuals and managers of small companies carry out actionable early warning notably on conventional and unconventional security?
The key is action
The two indispensable faces of actionable early warning
Considering the role and promise of actionable early warning, if we think about the actions that need to be taken in regard to possible future events, then this means that actionable early warning must have two components: one that is looking outward to the world for those coming events and one that is looking inward at one’s capacity for action.
Looking outward to the world and reality
The first component of an actionable early warning process is probably the most obvious and best known. It implies to look at the outside world and to make judgements regarding the future as resulting from future dynamics of world events. This is true whatever the issue of concern.
For example, if we consider the war in Ukraine and the responses to it decided by the U.S., the European Union and its members states, one such still generic warning could have been at the end of February 2022:
“Considering the attempt to transition to renewable resources, the rising effects of climate change, the international need for energy, the tense international context and the war in Ukraine and responses to it, it is almost certain that the prices of energy in general and electricity in particular will skyrocket notably in energy-poor Europe within the next twelve months and that the very high prices will lastfor at least the autumn and winter months 2022-2023, and possibly longer“.
For a proper actionable warning, this still general statement would then need to be refined. It would need to give, notably, an idea of the rise of energy and electricity prices that could be expected, a more precise onset for and then duration of the increase in energy prices, according to various variables and thus scenarios.
These warnings were done in more or less specific and thus useful ways. Indeed to be truly useful, thus actionable, early warning also has to account for a second component, the range of possible actions.
Looking inward, at the range of available responses
Let us imagine that the person receiving a warning similar to the one presented above is an individual or the owner or manager of a very small company such as a bakery or a 10-employees company in any field, or, a craftsman. When these people read about the warning, they may either consider it or refuse it. We shall not look at this second case, as we already explored various possible instances leading to the failure to consider warnings.
Let us, thus, imagine these people decide to consider the warning. The warning can truly become actionable only if those who pay heed to it can envision responses and then carry them out.
If, for example, they only think about a diplomatic solution to a crisis, then the possible response appears as being so far away from what they can actually do, that the warning will be completely useless.
Thus, we need to have a relation between the warning and the responses available. Hence, we need to have decision-makers, here individuals and small business leaders, who not only receive the warnings and pay heed to them, but are also aware of a range of possible responses they can imagine and implement.
Empowering individuals and business leaders
The power of individuals
If you are an individual, your capacity to act, actually your power, is very small compared to a state. Yet, it is not inexistant.
At first glance, in the case of the example we use for this article, it seems that an individual does not have much power to make the war in Ukraine stop, nor to influence any government or supra-national body so that they change their policies and actions. The context appears as quite set and very extraneous. Thus, it seems that, as an individual, you need to take as a fated constraint this very rise of energy and electricity prices that is coming, then, writing in January 2023, that is upon us and is very likely to last, despite possibly temporary decrease (such as the one that started at the end of December 2022).
This means that, apparently, the only actions available to you are to do your best to reduce your energy bills in general, and more particularly your electricity bills. Furthermore, in some countries and geographical areas, you may need to get ready to face shortages.
According to how close your polity is from an ideal polity, you will also tend to expect your political authorities to act in such a way that you are protected from the rise. Yet, the very fact that you need to face such energy prices increase in itself, questions the ideal quality of the system within which you live.
Actually, your power is more complex and stronger than what you think. The power of an individual, most of the time, depends upon its revenues, its material assets, its status, its support social network, as well as on its knowledge, acumen, imagination, strength and faith, which can be seen as immaterial assets. These various elements are often linked, but not always, and not always in an ideal and logical way.
It is thus all these dimensions of its power that an individual can use and combine to answer a threat or, more broadly, future uncertainties.
Meanwhile, the goal that must be achieved through the responses to avoid the threat – initially the surprise – is also more complex than just reduce energy consumption and thus energy bills in general. And in considering complexity may reside the solutions. What an individual needs to do is to reduce the cost of its energy mix, directly and indirectly, through developing a related range of action on the short, medium and long term.
Because now we also have a better perception of the available power of an individual, we can add that the reduction of the cost of the energy mix must be accomplished through actions taken across the various elements of the available individual’s power on different time horizons.
This may mean, for example, moving home and region, taking advantage of home-working and negotiating to see your employer paying for your energy bill. This may also mean joining consumers associations, lobbies, communities of interest and political organisations, taking on new roles within your community, etc. For instance, looking at ways to produce energy through joining collective networks and communities acting in this direction may also become an interesting way forward to handle energy insecurity. We can think to the production of biogaz by collectivities, which could also consider involving individuals as producers (GRDF, “Du gaz vert produit directement par les habitants de Lamotte-Beuvron“, 22 February 2022). Overcoming energy insecurity will imply mixing various solutions according to your power.
In any case, this implies that you must first be aware of whatever power you have, while understanding better the threat(s) and objectives. Power comes first because without awareness of what you can do, then no answer can be imagined and no solution can appear.
The power of small companies and their leaders
If you are a small business leader, the picture is quite similar, but you have more power than an individual.
You have a larger network of relations constituted by your employees if any, your customers and suppliers, the various people with whom you interact at the local political level and within the administration, to which can be added various key social networks such as, for example, chambers of commerce, trade and industry, i.e. the leaders of other small companies similar to yours.
However, because you are a professional, you may also have to face a larger and wider impact of the energy and electricity price’s rise. At worst, this impact may mean getting out of business rapidly, which then, in turn, will translate into impacts at individual level.
As in the case of an individual, you need first to be aware of your power and thus capability and range of answers to be able to imagine and implement responses. Without this empowerment, warnings will be of no use to you as they cannot be translated into action.
Let us now turn to two different cases to draw lessons for an actionable early warning.
Two cases: the broken bakers and the thriving textile manufacturer
The two cases we examine below exemplify two ways to face the new energy insecurity for industries using energy rather intensively.
Unfortunately, energy being at the core of our model of development, indeed being indispensable for any evolution and for survival, most human activities are energy intensive in one way or another, directly or indirectly (Thomas Homer Dixon, The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, Random House Canada, 2006).
Our two cases will first show that a catastrophic situation and possibly ending is not a fatality. Meanwhile by contrasting two ways to face the new energy insecurity, they will help us finding out what must be done in terms of response and thus actionable early warning.
The Broken Bakers
Over the Summer 22, across Europe, multiple cases of bakers going bankrupt because of their soaring energy bills emerged.
Each time the story is the same. Bakeries have a very high energy consumption for cooking and refrigeration. In 2022, they saw energy bills skyrocket, being multiplied up to 10 or 12 times compared with 2021.
In the example given below of a French baker, assuming the electricity consumption remained the same for October 22 and December 22, the price of electricity, excl. taxes, rose from 0,112€ per kWh (837,35/ 7456) on 24 October to 1,372 € per kWh (10735,48/ 7456) on 24 December 2022 (CNews, 2 January 2023).
Meanwhile, bakers must also face the rising cost of the ingredients they use.
Meanwhile, they cannot increase the prices of bread proportionally. Indeed individuals and families purchasing bread and related products also have to face inflation and increase in energy prices. Thus, they would not buy bread at a high price, for example 3 euros a baguette in France (video below, InfoFrance2, “Un boulanger de l’Oise ne peut plus payer ses factures”, 3 January 23) or 5 euros for a normal loaf of bread in The Netherlands (Reuters, “Bread sales can’t cover energy bill at family-run Dutch bakery”, ibid). Bread would become a luxury product and the lowering of the quantity sold would offset the rise in price.
As a result, bakers tried various strategies to mitigate the rise of energy prices, from renegotiating individually their contracts with energy providers to protests and actions through media interviews to obtain help from governments.
How each industry and each company will be able to handle this substantial rise will depend on their energy mix, the share of energy in their production cost, their size, their treasury, other mitigating governmental measures, etc.
Furthermore, this string of events takes place within the framework of the ideology of infinite growth – initially a financial and speculative approach, pervasive within a large part of the Western world. According to this ideology, one must not only make a profit sufficient to see the owner of a company live comfortably of its craft and work, and thus have a sustainable activity, but one must also increase these profits permanently and then make sure there is a lasting growth of the growth of profits. Hence, ideologically, companies such as small bakers who would need to adapt to “only” having a sustainable activity may balk and perceive themselves as being in worst conditions than they really are. They may also face problems with other actors as their activity does not follow the normative ideology of infinite growth.
As a result, domestically, companies are likely to try passing on the largest possible part of the energy and resources price rise on to the buyer, which, at the end, will be the final consumer, i.e. individuals. At country level, we thus find ourselves faced with the spiral of inflation added to an ever rising national debt – to pay for the price of the MWh offered by governments.
Internationally, those small companies that export will also attempt to pass their costs onto their buyers, but there, they will most probably lose markets, as other countries, notably in Asia, but also the U.S., did not have to face the same costs. And if they do not pass on the costs, then they will have less means to invest and thus become also less competitive (if no other measures are taken). Hence at country level, exports will diminish. Thus, the trade balance will also diminish. All together will lead to shrinking current accounts, thus, ultimately to a dwindling income for each country and possibly to involution.
Find out more on consequences at national level in our strategic foresight experiment about the future of the modern state: The Chronicles of Everstate.
The fear of electricity shortage in France in 2022-2023, added to winter times, first boosted the company’s sales and thus its production, by 30% to 40% (BFM TV special crise énergétique, Ibid.). This led the enterprise to hire a further 30 employees, i.e. seasonally a 66% increase of its workforce (Ibid.).
In times of energy insecurity, such an evolution could have had a catastrophic impact on the treasury and finance of the company.
However, the founder of the company truly believes in sustainable economy and has really put respect for the environment at the heart of the enterprise’s philosophy since the creation of the business in 1983 (Missègle, engagements). Hence, since 2007, she has invested in solar energy aiming at environmental friendly energetic independence (Ibid.).
In 2021, the company deployed its new 100kWp rooftop solar power plant deployed with a further 53kWc extension planned (Sirea Group press release, 5 October 2021). Hence with its 1000 square meters photovoltaic panel park, the company aims to reach 70% auto-sufficiency for its production and to sell electricity to the national grid during the week-ends (La Dépèche, “Castres. Missègle…) . Meanwhile, its buildings are not only environmental friendly but also designed to allow for a truly convivial space to live and work (Ibid.).
We are far from the green-washing so cynically spreading in the business world.
Hence, the new energy insecurity is very likely not to hit Missègle negatively (as long as its solar power plant resists extreme weather events for example). The increase in turnover will most probably not only offset any rise in the cost of electricity – for the part it does not produce – but also allow it to further develop and thrive.
Meanwhile, for the country, companies such as Missègle do not weight on the real national wealth – which includes the nation’s natural endowment. Furthermore, through taxes, employment, electricity production and constructive involvement in the local social fabric, such businesses contribute to increase national wealth.
Lessons from the two cases
Which lessons can we learn from our two cases?
On the one hand we have companies that did not use foresight. They obviously did not either use any actionable early warning. Early warning should have, at worst, been received and considered by these companies’s decision-makers in March 2022, or, better, in November/December 2021.
Instead those business leaders waited for the crisis to hit and then started acting rather classically, struggling to force their political authorities to help them in facing the consequences of governance decisions. This is indeed, as we saw, a proper reaction in an ideal polity. Yet, the very decisions the multiple European political authorities took regarding notably the war in Ukraine, obviously without planning ahead for the multiple consequences their own citizens would have to suffer, highlights the fact that we are not in an ideal polity. Hence, businesses and individuals must take this fact into account if they want to minimise the negative impact of governance decisions on their lives and survival.
These business leaders were not empowered, and, as a result, could only consider classical means of actions of the type adequate for an ideal polity.
If a majority of individuals and businesses behave as in our first case, the collective results at country level may be dire, leading straight, as warned by the Medef, to European deindustrialization and, as seen, to involution. Note that in terms of world order, the U.S. might thus find itself with greatly weakened allies, which may have as consequence to favour the strengthening of the very order America wants to subjugate (see Helene Lavoix, “The American National Interest“, The Red Team Analysis Society, 22 June 2022).
In turn, the prospects for bakers, small and large companies, and individuals located in those countries hit by energy insecurity, such as European ones, become more somber with time. Indeed, our fate also depends upon the relative power of our country in the international order. A vicious cycle could becoming entrenched.
It thus fully included strategic foresight – consciously or not, formally or not – on a major issue in its management. Through its strategy to reach energetic independence, it showed an awareness that we do not live in an ideal-type world. It courageously took responsibility for its destiny, increasing its self-reliance regarding worldwide political authorities that are obviously unable to handle efficiently the climate and environmental crisis (Ibid.). It felt sufficiently empowered to act. Furthermore, it did so in a constructive and positive way, embedding itself within the fabric of society at local and national (through the electricity grid as well as through taxes) level.
Once the energy and electricity prices’ crisis hit, this company – and others similar – can take advantage of the new conditions, using – even unknowingly – actionable early warning to adapt, so as to produce and sell more. Meanwhile, it also have the means to further adapt its energy mix to offset adverse impacts of the energy crisis and, on the contrary, to transform them in opportunities.
From outside, in the second case, we do not know how formal, conscious or unconscious was the use of actionable strategic foresight and early warning. Methodology of strategic foresight and warning may very well never have been implemented, and intuition and conviction may have presided to successful management. And this is where one of the strengths of actionable strategic foresight and early warning lies: it gives us the possibility to systematically benefit from what, without actionable early warning, can only haphazardly be achieved through intuition. It helps us supplementing, checking and enhancing natural intuition and acumen.
In the first case, most companies and individuals have very few means of action, and thus little power. Furthermore they limit their power by not using tools such as actionable foresight and early warning and through the use of an inadequate frame of reference (thinking they are in an ideal polity).
In the second case, actionable foresight and then early warning are made possible because means of action are available. Those were created well before the crisis by a proper anticipation, daring to look at reality and not marred in utopian rosy wishful thinking. The whole endeavour was also grounded in strong beliefs, coherent with the company’s foresight, and related commitment. We thus see a virtuous cycle being set up between anticipation and action, a model upon which we can construct a similar virtuous cycle with organised actionable strategic foresight and early warning and actions.
The power available to companies and individuals that would belong to the second type of actors is far greater than what is available to the first type of actors. And this power will grow both in absolute and relative terms, as successfully anticipating actors can better withstand threats and disasters and sometimes turn them into opportunities.
Road map for a realistic use of actionable early warning for individuals and small companies
As seen above, actionable early warning for individuals and small companies will critically need to look both outwards to the real world, for issues related to security, including geopolitics, and inwards to the response capabilities of each.
The warnings delivered will absolutely need to consider the answers available to be truly actionable.
Empowerment will also need to be a key aspect of the early warning process. It can be achieved through, for example, the identification of new possibilities of responses, as well as through re-embedding people within their community, which in turn strengthens the social fabric.
Obviously, in many if not most cases, individuals and small businesses may not be able to afford the cost of an expert in strategic warning specialised in conventional and unconventional security (as average around 1500 € to 2000 € a day excl. taxes and travel expenses, varying widely according to length of mission, to experts and their experience and education level, to the companies providing the consulting… and to available budgets).
However, mutualised solutions at local level of governance and through chambers of commerce and industries and networks of peers can be designed that could allow all to benefit from actionable strategic foresight and early warning. Furthermore, empowerment should also result from collective thinking and then, possibly, action. Embedding the actionable strategic foresight and early warning process at the local level, involving local actors from inhabitants and businesses to those responsible for local governance should also, in itself be beneficial as it will strengthen the social fabric and thus make communities stronger and more resilient.
It will be useful and practical to start first with a specific issue of concern that matters to stakeholders. Then, once first concrete results start being achieved, the process can be broaden to other issues relevant to the community of interest.
The foresight and early warning process will need to start as early as possible, to make sure to avoid surprises. Even if crisis has already struck, it is still beneficial, and even necessary, to carry out early warning. Indeed, this is the only way to make sure current decisions are correct and that further unpleasant surprises will be avoided. In general, the sooner the early warning process starts, the better: the more actions are available, and finally the less power must be spent. Nonetheless, can it be too late sometimes for actionable early warning? Yes, and this is one more reason to start as soon as possible.
Through the use of actionable foresight and early warning adapted to the reality of actors, then a virtuous cycle can be triggered. That cycle will not only be protective but also strengthening, while ripple effects will also benefit the whole polity.
(1) For this last point: “The third obligation of the ruler is to behave in such a way as to contribute to the material security… of the subjects. … security against supernatural, natural and human threats to the food supply and other material supports of customary daily life.” Barrington Moore, Injustice: Social bases of Obedience and Revolt, (London: Macmillan, 1978: 21-22); for more on the theme of the ruler, its obligations, the social contract etc. see also and notably, Max Weber, Le savant et le politique, (Paris : 10/18, 1963) originally «Wissenschaft als Beruf » & « Politik als Beruf » 1919; John S. Migdal, Strong societies and weak states : state-society relations and state capabilities in the Third World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988); John Nettl, “The state as a conceptual variable,” World Politics, vol. XX, N° 4, July 1968, pp. 559-592; Thomas Ertman, Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997; Helene Lavoix,“Identifier L’État Fragile Avant L’Heure: Le Rôle Des Indicateurs De Prévision“, Edited volume, Etats et Sociétés fragiles (Agence Française de Développement and French Ministère des Affaires Etrangères) – January 2007.
(2)We have no affiliation nor link of any kind with any of the companies mentioned in this article. Businesses and companies are only referred to for the sake of examples.
We designed the introductory programme. Then, in Tunis, we trained over two days the General Directors of various Ministries and Agencies of the Tunisian Government of the current promotion of the Institute of Administrative Leadership of the ENA.
The trainees created through their focused attention, interest, commitment and enthusiasm, including for the practical exercise, a fantastic training experience.
Hopefully, this first cooperation will be followed by many others and will contribute to spread the practice and use of actionable early warning and strategic foresight within the Tunisian government and beyond.
This Autumn 2022, from mid-November to early December, we were honoured to deliver various training programs in Early Warning and Indicators in Tunisia.
This cooperation takes place within the framework of the support given to the Ministry of the Interior of Tunisia by the project supporting the rehabilitation of at-risk populations during and after their incarceration in Tunisia – READ of the Civipol expertise programme for the European Commission. It started in 2020 with the European project “Counter-terrorism in Tunisia”.
Tunisia and Tunisians, as always, succeeded in mixing genuine warmth and hospitality, great professionalism, and immensely fruitful and constructive exchanges.
The Ecole Supérieure des Forces de Sécurité Intérieure (ESFSI)
Building on previous sessions of training, we had set up with the management of the Ecole Supérieure des Forces de Sécurité Intérieure (ESFSI) of the Ministry of the Interior of Tunisia an even more complete programme for the 24th promotion of the ESFSI than previously.
The course will last from November 2022 to May 2023. The first part of the programme took place in Novembre 2022.
As usual, the exchanges with the trainees were constructive and extremely interesting. They showed a great capacity to start mastering quickly the fundamentals and practice of early warning processes and analysis.
As their trainer, I am truly looking forward to the remaining part of the programme and to see the trainees becoming fluent in early warning, from analysis and modeling up to the delivery to policy-makers and decision-makers of constructive and actionable warnings.
Introductory session and future programs
Another training session, designed as an introduction to present fundamentals of early warning in terms of process and analysis, methodology as well as software tools, was also organised within the Ministry of the Interior, with their training center.
Meanwhile further programmes related to Early Warning Systems and training within different centres of the Ministry were discussed in-depth with Tunisian actors according to their needs.
I am looking forward to the coming training programmes with and in Tunisia. Most importantly, and I am grateful to be able to contribute to this challenge, thanks to the dedication and foresight of enlightened civil servants, to the humility, intelligence, enthusiasm, and also the hard work of the trainees, early warning and strategic foresight are being established in Tunisia. Thus, these two activities will soon be able to fulfil their true purpose: to serve the best interests and security of the country and its people.
As a result, millions of Ukrainians have to spend the winter without light, heat or running water. Meanwhile, the interplay of U.S. and European sanctions against Russian oil imports and the drastically diminished Russian gas exports to Europe are exposing European countries to winter cold (“Russian oil exports dip 4% in Sep. ahead of EU sanctions – IEA”, Reuters, 13 October, 2022).
The timing of the Russian strikes turns the Winter season into a (Russian) weapon of massive destabilization in Ukraine and Europe. In other words, the Kremlin redefines the military use of winter that is historically inscribed in the Russian strategic culture (Dominic Lieven, Russia against Napoleon, 2009).
As we shall see, this seasonal medium is nothing but the intentional transformation of an entire season into a projection of force outside of Russia in an era of climatic change. This is a major improvement on the Russian strategic history, dominated by the use of winter to weaken invaders (Jean-Michel Valantin, “The Warming Arctic, a Hyper Strategic Crisis”, The Red Team Analysis, 20 January, 2014).
This strategic evolution also reveals itself through the massive reduction of gas exports from Russia towards Germany and the rest of Europe since May 2022.
In effect, from the start of the “gas bridge” between Russia and European countries at the start of the 1960s and until 2022, Russian gas has been used to heat cities and homes, while powering industries all over eastern and western Europe. Thus, the drastic reduction of the gaz exports by Gazprom deprives people and economies of energy at the very scale of the Russia-Europe gaz relationship (Thane Gustafsson, The Bridge – Natural gas in a redevided Europe, Harvard, 2020).
As we shall show, the weaponization of the 2022-23 winter is not the “usual” defensive way Russian strategists and tacticians take advantage from freezing conditions while defending the Russian heartland from invasion, that they know and understand better than their opponents. It is something else: an offensive weather force projection upon Ukraine and the European continent.
Winter as “force projection”
As it happens, what is at stake in 2022 is a literal “projection” of winter inside the very energy, economic and living conditions of their opponents. In other terms, the Russian strategists are literally weaponizing winter, in order to destabilize the intimate equilibria and complex relations existing between energy parameters, national security and economy and the very intimacy and wellbeing of entire societies (Sam Mednick, “Kyiv prepares for a winter with no heat, water or power”, AP, 6 November 2022).
One must add that this strategy may know involuntarily “enhancement” resulting from the effects of climate change. Indeed, the current planetary crisis has the potential to turn seasonal weather events into abnormal extreme events. (Mark Lynas, Our Last Warning: 6 Degrees of Climate Emergency, 2020,).
This military use of a season is made possible through a timely use of its arsenal against Ukraine and by the strategically timed diminished gas exports to Europe, that follow international sanctions. This “degrowth” of the Russian gas exports took massively place between June and September 2022.
It follows the first spring exports’ decreases, triggered by the Kremlin’s demand that gas exports were paid in rubles. Thus the end of summer is also the start of a gas crisis that prolong itself during fall and winter (Chestney and Sharafedin, ibid).
In November 22, the different European gaz companies and government had had time to refill their national reserves. However, the question remains to know if those reserves will be sufficient in the face of a harsh winter, and if imports will offset the risk of competition between European nations (Elena Mazneva, “European gas gains as weather risks counter high reserves”, Bloomberg, 6 december 2022).
Winter is coming for Ukraine
During October and November 2022, the Russian military has launched six waves of missiles and Iran Shahed drone strikes. They disrupted or destroyed numerous Ukrainian water and energy infrastructures. Some missiles also impacted urban areas and killed several civilians.
The timing of these attacks corresponds to the beginning of autumn and has not stopped since. It therefore occurs when the cold weather starts and intensifies, approaching zero and then descending into negative temperatures. Thus, the Russian strikes have deprived almost half of Ukrainian cities, buildings and homes of electricity. Citizens loose light, running water, heat and refrigeration (Max Hunder and Tom Balmforth, “Freezing Ukraine gradually restores power after Russian strikes on grid”, Reuters, November 26, 2022).
In other words, the Russian strategy turns Ukrainian housing infrastructures into a nation-wide cold trap through a literal destruction of the protective “heat bubble” that buildings powered and heated by electricity are meant to be, especially during harsh wintertime. And thus, homes cease to be the place of “artificial climate”, which emerged thousands of years ago from the “fireplace”. Instead they become a “cold shelter” (Lewis Mumford, The City in History, its origins, its transformations and its prospects, 1968).
Winter strikes at continental scale
However, Ukraine is not the sole target of this weaponization of winter. This military use of winter may have extremely serious consequences for European countries. It will put economic and social cohesion as well as, as a result, governments legitimacy under pressure.
As we have seen, the interplay of western economic sanctions against Russia and of Russian “counter-sanctions” against the EU translate into a harsh decrease of Russian gas exports towards Europe.
These Russian reactions and their combination with the strange sabotage of unknown origin of the Russo-German Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipe-lines, trigger a massive energy crisis throughout Europe (Joanna Plucinska, “Nord Stream gas “sabotage” – who’s being blamed, and why?”, Reuters, 6 October, 2022).
The missing energy
This crisis is all the more intense and complex that the European national gas and electricity grids, as well as the national economies, are deeply interconnected. As it happens, for example, the loss of Russian gas intervenes while half of the nuclear reactors of the French national utility EDF are down for maintenance or repair (Sonal Patel, “European energy crisis prompts utility take over in Germany, France”, Power, News and technology for the global energy industry, 1 November 2022)
Because of the poor situation of its nuclear sector, France has to import electricity. This reverses EDF’s traditional over-production and foreign sales, especially to Germany and Italy. Thus, the remaining power utilities in Europe have to over-produce, while some countries import via pipe-line and ships American liquid natural gas (LNG).
This translates into a historic inflation of energy, transport, food and health prices, while revealing wildly different situations in Europe.
For example, facing decreasing Russian gaz flows since spring, going from 32 million cubic meters / day to 21 million cubic meters / day, Italy and giant energy utility ENI authorities looked for alternatives, new suppliers and energy economies as soon as June 2022 (Sofiane louacheni, “Italy prepares for a gas shortage”, Energy News, 14 July 2022). However, the inflationary prices in Italy also “heated” social tensions, translating into “energy bill demonstrations” in September (“Italian retailers put their energy bills on display as they fight for survival”, AA Anadolu Agency, 12/09/2022).
The European governments, as well as the EU Commission, sollicitated other countries, such as Algiers, Qatar, Azerbaidjan (Giovanni Sgaravatti, Simonetta Tagliapietra, Cecilia Trasi, “National energy policy responses to the energy crisis”, Bruegel, 11 november 2022 and Eldar Mamedov, “Azerbaidjan and the EU faltering gas realpolitik”, Responsible Statecraft, 21 July 2022).
The continental interconnectivity of the European massive energy crisis becomes the vector of a networked projection of the vulnerability to winter cold at all scales in the same time. It is going to be felt from rural homes to entire megapolis. Winter is not only coming. The Kremlin is literally projecting it in the offices, while severely degrading work conditions and service and production activities in industry and transportation sectors as well as in the “warm climate bubble” of individuals, societies and nations created by interior heating .
So, the latter will be sensibly less protected from it, despite the levels of development they have reached since 1945.
The Russian strategic culture and winter as a weapon of mass disruption
In that regard, this intrumentalization of winter through the destruction of the Ukrainian power grid and the vulnerabilization of the national and European power production appears as an extension of the fundamentals of the Russian strategy.
War is a competition not only between armies, but between the economic, industrial and political national systems behind these armies. The goal is to dramatically degrade the economic, political and social cohesion of the opposite system by fragmenting it.
The aim of this fragmentation is to deeply disrupt the connections between the different systems and institutions necessary to a state to wage a war. As a result, the enemy state becomes materially and politically incapable to perpetuate the war effort.
In this perspective, the use of military forces is to fragment the enemy forces and territory (Stephen Covington, The culture of strategic thought behind Russia’s approaches to warfare, Belfer Center – Harvard University, 2016). The Russian strategy also uses other kinds of forces to disorganize the economic depth of the adversary, while fragmenting the economic and social apparatus upon which it depends. The goal is to degrade the enemy’s fighting means as well as its political fighting will.
“The theory of victory [of the Russian strategy] is premised on degrading the military-economic potential of opponents, focusing on critically important objects, to affect the ability and will of an adversary to sustain a fight, as opposed to ground offensives to seize territory or key terrain.
The calculus is that the center of gravity lies in degrading a state’s military and economic potential, not seizing territory”.
If we use that framework, the Kremlin’s weaponization of winter in Europe becomes a new dimension of the Russian strategic fundamentals. Its goal is to disrupt the depths of the national social and economic systems’ cohesion that underpin the European support to Ukraine, as well as the Ukrainian political will to fight. This supports Hélène Lavoix’s hypothesis in “An Alternative Red Scenario for the War Between Ukraine and Russia”(The Red Team Analysis Society, September 19, 2022).
We must also keep in mind that this strategy is also disrupting and threatening the economic and political cohesion of NATO and, as a result, of the U.S. efforts in favour of Ukraine. In other terms, the winter’s cold becomes a weapon of “mass destabilization” in a time of energy crisis (Mark Galeotti, The weaponization of everything, a field guide to the new way of war, Yale University Press, 2022).
Europe in dire straits
This destabilization may become a chronic feature of the European political landscape during 2022-2023. It will work through the combination of the invasion of the interior of cities and habitats with the atmospheric cold, as well as with inflation and energy, food and health insecurity.
The middle or low income families with young children and elderlies will be especially sensitive to the thermic situation. Being the majority of the population, they are particularly at risk of feeling that the social contract between them and the governments and institutions is under strain, if not broken (Michael Lind, The New Class War, Saving democracy from the metropolitan elite, Atlantic Books, 2020).
Indeed, the Russian “offensive by winter” may exact a significant toll in lives, because of the vulnerability of populations to the cold. According to a scenario by The Economist, this toll, outside Ukraine, could go from a 32.000 excess death in a mild winter to as high as 335.000 extra lives in the case of a harsh winter (“Russia is using energy as a weapon – how deadly will it be?”, The Economist, 26 November, 2022).
Furthermore, weaponizing winter also means instrumentalizing the effects of climate change upon seasonal as well as weather changes. Indeed, because of climate change, the thermic radiant of seasons becomes increasingly irregular. For example, the current trend of the evolution of cold temperatures see them happening later in the winter season than thirty years ago (Jacob Dykes, “As the world warms, seasons are shifting”, Geographical, 7 May, 2021).
However, if this seems like good news in the face of the strategic use of winter, one must keep in mind that weather events are leaving their normal intensity envelop. Because of climate change, they tend to go to the extremes (David Wallace Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth, Life after Warming, 2019).
For example, the disorganization of the Arctic jet stream induces arctic air breaks. Those have the potential to cross entire continental regions. Those “polar vortex” immerge regions adapted to mild oceanic weather or to harsher continental weather to extreme thermic situations that inflict heavy damages. It was the case, for example, in Texas in January 2021 (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Losing Texas to Climate Change and Covid 19 ?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, March 16, 2021).
Cold winds as bombing
This danger is accentuated by the current slowdown of the Gulf Stream. This Atlantic ocean current vehicles heat in less regular way, thus entailing a greater European vulnerability to cold winters.
From a strategic point of view, this means that the Kremlin is potentially leading a revolution in geopolitical and military affairs. It does so by further developing the weaponization of a season. As it happens, as we have seen since our first research with The Red Team Analysis Society, climate change inflicts systems of impacts that have the characteristics and the consequences of a global “hyper siege”’ (Jean-Michel Valantin “Hyper Siege: Climate change versus U.S National security”,The Red Team Analysis Society , March 31 2014).
Here, as the Kremlin weakens or even destroys the thermic defense systems against cold that power utilities and grid are, the hyper siege is turned by the Russian strategy into a “hyper assault”. And the assault has begun.
This means that, potentially, “climate strategies” are emerging and become new dimensions of the management of the current and certainly coming conflicts of a multipolar world on a changing planet.
Starting in mid-September 2022, the Western media and political world has been abuzz with a Russian threat of nuclear Armageddon. Against such evil, the West, supporting Ukraine, may only show outrage, unveil the real malevolent nature of Russia and increase pressure to try to deter Russia, so runs the narrative.
On 27 October 2022, reputable news agency Reuters published a fact-box on the said Russian nuclear threat: “Factbox: Has Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons?“. Because this is a factbox and Reuters publishing it, then we are meant to believe not only what is included in the article, but, also, most importantly, the implicit conclusion: Russia is guilty of unwarrantedly threatening the world with a nuclear strike.
The article by Reuters is a perfect example of what should NOT be done if one wants to have a clear understanding of an escalation process. The way Reuters looks at evidence leads to a biased analysis, be it intentionally, for propaganda motivation or for the sake of political correctness, or unintentionally by lack of analytical skill.
Can you do better than Reuters? With this article we open a competition with an award at the end: re-publication of the best result first received as a complete article and complimentary registration to our online course “Mitigating biases“.
First we shall explain what is wrong with Reuters’ analysis. Out of this explanation we shall highlight what should have been done and what you must do if you want to participate in the competition. Share your chronology with us either as comment for this article or by using our contact form (paste your text in the message box).
To help you we shall stress what we identified in open source as a major starting point for the “Russian nuclear threat”.
What’s wrong with Reuters’ analysis?
When you read Reuters’ article, you immediately notice that only a couple of statements are presented, that they are most often only a sentence extracted from a speech, without context, that the exact references (dates, place, type of speech) are not given and replaced by a link to another Reuters’ article. In the meanwhile, the gist and the reasons for the statements are lost. If the reader does not make the effort to read the other article, assuming the other article is unbiased, then s/he cannot have a proper understanding of the reference used. These are already major flaws for a proper analysis.
Then, and this is the major issue, in the first and last part of the article, only one side’s statements, the Russian one, are highlighted.
Imagine that you are watching a film, and that you only hear what actor A says and see what actor A does. Meanwhile, everything related to the other actors, B, C, D, etc. is muted and blackened. This film would be neither very interesting nor actually understandable.
Yet, this is what readers accept from journalists – and unfortunately often from academics and researchers. This is also what many so-called analysts offer to decision-makers.
Yet, statements in international politics, especially considering the stakes of a nuclear war – mutual assured destruction (M.A.D.), can NEVER be considered without what other actors express and do. Similarly, actions cannot be understood without also looking at relevant others’ actions. Note that domestic politics and interactions should also ideally be taken into account, and here we mean the whole political sphere in the noblest and most complex meaning of the term, not politician politics.
In this exercise, though, we shall only limit ourselves to international statements.
A correct approach to analysis and what you must do
Once we know that international politics is about interactions, then what must be done is easy to understand.
What you will get is certainly not the final resulting analysis. It is however the basis for a good analysis. Once you obtain this foundation, then you can add other elements to refine your understanding. Alternatively, if you do not do this first step right, then everything else will most probably be flawed, however brilliant your other reasonings and well documented your other pieces of information.
We must build a chronological record of relevant statements (and ideally actions) by relevant actors, and read them and understand them as chronologicalINTERACTIONS.
Thus, for this competition, what we challenge you to do is to rebuild this chronology of main relevant statements (with proper references).
To use again the film metaphor, we ask you to make appear major relevant actors B, C, D, E, etc. alongside Russian and allied actors A(s). In doing so, you will give the audience the sound when everyone speaks – and for the bravest among you – the image when everyone acts.
You can post the reconstructed chronology below in the comments, with a valid email if you want to make sure you will be able to win the free access to our online course “Mitigating biases“. You do not have to give your real name if you are afraid to do so, but the email must be valid. You can also use our contact form (paste your text in the message box).
How it all began
To help you, we share what we identified as the start of this newly perceived threat, as highlighted by the media.
If you want to properly understand what is truly happening, the original text of the address must be read, not the commentary by Reuters. Commentaries are best read after the primary material.
If you read attentively both the original address and Reuters’ article verbatim quote, you notice that first President Putin stresses the perception of threat felt by Russia as created by the West, he labels “the nuclear blackmail”:
“Washington, London and Brussels are openly encouraging Kiev to move the hostilities to our territory. They openly say that Russia must be defeated on the battlefield by any means, and subsequently deprived of political, economic, cultural and any other sovereignty and ransacked.
They have even resorted to the nuclear blackmail. I am referring not only to the Western-encouraged shelling of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant, which poses a threat of a nuclear disaster, but also to the statements made by some high-ranking representatives of the leading NATO countries on the possibility and admissibility of using weapons of mass destruction – nuclear weapons – against Russia.”
Address by the President of the Russian Federation, 21 September 2022, reference
It is only after this explanation of the Russian perceptions that we find President Putin’s sentence highlighted by Reuters and others as the threat to use nuclear weapon:
“In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us. This is not a bluff.”
Address by the President of the Russian Federation, 21 September 2022, reference
Thus, first, to read the integrality of a speech chronologically gives us insights into the perceptions and understanding of others, which is truly key for a good analysis and even more important in terms of foresight as well as prevention.
Second, we can note that there is nothing new here in Putin’s statement, compared to the Russian nuclear doctrine, as detailed in the Executive Order of the President of the Russian Federation of June 2, 2020 No.355 – “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence”, notably paragraph 19 (access text through Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation – long upload time – or through Defense Media, St Petersburg; for a Western analysis explaining the Western fear regarding this doctrine, Mark B. Schneider, “Russian Nuclear Threats, Doctrine and Growing Capabilities“, RealClear Defense, 28 July 2022).
19. The conditions specifying the possibility of nuclear weapons use by the Russian Federation are as follows:
a) arrival of reliable data on a launch of ballistic missiles attacking the territory of the Russian Federation and/or its allies;
b) use of nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction by an adversary against the Russian Federation and/or its allies;
c) attack by adversary against critical governmental or military sites of the Russian Federation, disruption of which would undermine nuclear forces response actions;
d) aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.
Many in the U.S., however, tend to perceive the Russian nuclear doctrine as a kind of right to use nuclear weapons in case of any type of defeat against the West. This perception is now largely spread as the reality of the Russian nuclear doctrine, even so it is only an American interpretation of the doctrine. Indeed, even in the U.S., controversies exist regarding this understanding. The American perception and controversies are well described in a U.S. Congressional Research Service’s document: “Russia’s Nuclear Weapons: Doctrine, Forces, and Modernization, Updated April 21, 2022:
“This doctrine has led some U.S. analysts to conclude that Russia has adopted an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, where it might threaten to use nuclear weapons if it were losing a conflict with a NATO member, in an effort to convince the United States and its NATO allies to withdraw from the conflict. Russian officials, along with some scholars and observers in the United States and Europe, dispute this interpretation; however, concerns about this doctrine have informed recommendations for changes in the U.S. nuclear posture.”
Finally, Putin confirms what a regular reading of international news and a bit of memory tells us, other actors related to NATO have made statements or acted in such a way that a feeling of threat related to nuclear deterrence was prompted in Russia.
Since 2007 for the most recent phase, many episodes of heightening tension regarding nuclear threats can be traced throughout historical interactions between the West and notably the U.S., on the one hand, and Russia on the other, as reminded by Schneider (ibid.). For the latest spat, which is of concern to us, President Biden in a one hour interview recorded on 15 September 2022 and aired on 18 September, prompted by the speculations of the journalist, was the first to greatly hype a possible Russian nuclear threat:
Scott Pelley: As Ukraine succeeds on the battlefield, Vladimir Putin is becoming embarrassed and pushed into a corner. And I wonder, Mr. President, what you would say to him if he is considering using chemical or tactical nuclear weapons.
President Joe Biden: Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. You will change the face of war unlike anything since World War II.
Scott Pelley: And the consequences of that would be what?
President Joe Biden: I am not going to speculate–
Scott Pelley: What would the U.S. response be?
President Joe Biden: You think I would tell you if I knew exactly what it would be? Of course, I’m not gonna tell you. It’ll be consequential. They’ll become more of a pariah in the world than they ever have been. And depending on the extent of what they do will determine what response would occur.
Here, President Biden expresses the American pervasive fear and perception created by the 2020 Russian nuclear doctrine. This fear is real. Furthermore, Russia is also perceived as a real danger to the U.S. national interest as we explained previously (see Hélène Lavoix, The American National Interest, The Red Team Analysis Society, 22 June 2022).
This 15/18 September interview, added to the repeated absurdity of accusing Russia to bomb itself on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, may be taken as a possible origin or trigger for the Russian perception of Western nuclear blackmail as expressed by Putin on 21 September (e.g. Jacopo Barigazzi, “G7 calls for return of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to Ukraine control“, Politico, 23 October 2022).
Thus, if we look at the chronology, it is the American fear of the Russian nuclear threat, that is the origin of the near panic regarding that threat, not Putin’s statements. Of course, Putin’s statements in reply then alimented the American fear. we have here a perfect case of escalation.
Meanwhile, the claim by Reuters that “The recent surge in concern over a possible nuclear escalation come after two Putin speeches last month in which he clearly indicated that he would, if needed, use nuclear weapons to defend Russia”, is false.
To examine the right sequence of statements and events, in the right order, shows why there is escalation, how it could be avoided or on the contrary intensified. It also highlights perceptions and thus would help in acting properly to achieve objectives. For example, assuming peace were really the aim, understanding perceptions would show how fears could be assuaged and the situation progressively stabilised. However, up until November 2022, the aim in the Western world appears to have been more about supporting Ukraine so that it achieves victory, than about peace (e.g. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin: ““Ukraine needs our help to win today. And they will still need our help when the war is over”, Speech at Ramstein Air Base, Politico, 26 April 2022 British Foreign Minister James Cleverly : “We will support them [Ukraine] until this war is won. We will support them until their sovereignty is restored”, “UK Vows to See Ukraine ‘Through to Victory’ Over Russia, The Defense Post, 4 October 2022; EU Van der Leyen: “I’m deeply convinced you will win this war… There’s one clear rule: The conditions are defined by Ukraine. It’s your decision,” Oleksiy Sorokin, Kiev Independant, 15 September 2022 – note that in early November 2022 support might be changing towards negotiation, e.g. Missy Ryan, John Hudson and Paul Sonne”U.S. privately asks Ukraine to show Russia it’s open to talks, Washington Post reports”U.S. privately asks Ukraine to show it’s open to negotiate with Russia“, The Washington Post, 5 November 2022).
Can you now reconstruct a proper timeline of statements for all sides on the nuclear threat issue and improve on Reuters’ article? We are looking forward to reading your chronologies.
Featured image: Firestorm cloud over Hiroshima, United States Army, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – 6 August 1945: “This image was identified in March 2016 as the cloud created by the firestorm that engulfed” Hiroshima after the U.S. dropped a nuclear bomb on the city, “a fire that reached its peak intensity some 3hrs after the bomb… Earlier estimates derived solely from the quantity of fuel in the city, and more recently on the height of the Pyrocumulonimbus cloud both point at approximately 1000 times the equivalent energy of the bomb having been released by this firestorm. During the birthing of this cloud, 20 mins after detonation soot filled black rain began to fall on survivors. Climate scientists suggest that 100 of these identical firestorm clouds could cause 1-2 celsius of “catastrophic” global cooling, which is termed a small “nuclear winter”.
From 1 September to 16 September 22, Vladimir Putin, President of the Federation of Russia, presided the Russian military exercises Vostok 2022. Besides the Russian military, the exercise gathered troops from 14 countries, including India and China (Arang Shidore, “Vostok military exercises indicate that Russia is far from isolated”, Responsible Statecraft, September 1, 2022).
On 5 September, he opened the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. There, high level representatives from 60 countries, including, once again, India and China, and numerous Asia-Pacific countries attended the forum (“Putin speaks at forum in Russia’s far east region”, Reuters, September 7, 2022).
On 15 and 16 September, President Putin attended the 2022 session of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), in Uzbekistan, where he met Xi Jinping, President of China, as well as heads of state and governments from 14 countries (“Putin, Xi and Modi attend SCO summit”, Barron’s from AFP News, September 16, 2022).
Most of the countries attending these three international military, economic and security events are also members of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also One Belt One Road – OBOR), which includes 138 member states. Furthermore, some OBOR members are also members of the International North South Transport Corridor that links Russia, Central Asia and India.
As it happens, while the war in Ukraine is raging, the status of Russia in Asia rapidly changes and strengthens, largely because of its growing importance for the energy and food security of China.
We are even going to argue that Russia is becoming a major component of the climate resiliency of India and China. The Russian new status is inseparable of the new continental network of transport infrastructures. Those are composed of the continental networks of railways and oil and gas pipelines that integrate Russia, China, India and the Central Asia countries.
Hence, the convergence of attendance to Russo-Asian military and diplomatic events and imports of Russian cereals, oil and gas by China and India in a time of climate shocks begs the question of the real state of the relations between these three major countries.
The war in Ukraine and Russia’s Asian centrality
The internationalization of Vostok 2022
At the beginning of September 2022, the Ukrainian military started an offensive against the Russian forces in the region of Izium and Kherson. While quite successful, the Ukrainian army claiming to have taken back 9000 km2 by 24 September, it appears that, at the start of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, the Russian President and the highest members of the general staff were in the Russian far east, presiding and leading the Vostok 2022 military manoeuvres (Hélène Lavoix, “An Alternative Red Scenario for the War Between Ukraine and Russia”, The Red Team Analysis Society, September 19, 2022 and “Vostok 2022: Russian military joined by allies in major drills”, DW, 01/09/2022; Ukrainian army has already liberated 9,000 sq.km. in the east, – Ukraine’s President, 24 sept 2022).
In the context of the war in Ukraine, those quadrennial manoeuvres gather troops from fourteen nations that send military units working with Russian military for a highly scrutinized military and political session.
Those 14 nations are China, Algeria, India, Laos, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Syria and the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It must noted that, during the 2018 edition, there were 300.000 Russian troops. At the time, the “only” other participating nations were China and Mongolia (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Militarizing the Warming Arctic – The Road to Neo-Mercantilism(s)“, The Red Team Analysis Society, November 12, 2018). In 2022, there were 130.000 Russian troops, the other troops being mobilized by the war in Ukraine.
This military gathering reveals that the Russian military and geopolitical influence extends to the whole of Central Asia, to South and Eastern Asia, to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, as well as to Central America. From a diplomatic point of view, this also means that the Chinese and Indian governments wish to be seen training their military with Russia.
Each of those two countries representing 1,4 billion people, their combined demographic weight is of almost 3 billion people, meanwhile their sheer force is far from being light as they are the two mammoth Asian powerhouses (see also Hélène Lavoix, “China: With or Against Russia?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, 28 February, 2022).
In this context, one must note that the maritime side of the manoeuvres took place in the Sea of Japan. The Russian, Chinese and Indian fleets are thus gathered in a region that is in a state of constant dispute between China and Japan (Hélène Lavoix, “From the Diaoyu Islands, with Warning”, The Red Team Analysis Society, March 22, 2022). It is difficult not to see in these manoeuvres a silent challenge not only to Japan, but also to the Western and Asia-Pacific “Quad” alliance of which Japan is a member, alongside the U.S., Australia and Great Britain (Hélène Lavoix, “The East Seas Security Sigils”, The Red Team Analysis Society, March 16, 2022).
On 15 and 16 September, the heads of states and governments of Russia, India and China met during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Samarkand, the capital of Uzbekistan. They gathered with other heads of state from Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizistan, Tadjikistan, and Uzbekistan. The observer states were Iran, Mongolia and Belarus, while the invited guests were Turkey, Azerbaidjan, and Turkmenistan (“Leaders of SCO states sign Samarkand summit declaration”, CGTN, 16 September 2022).
During this diplomatic sequence, it must be noted that if the Prime minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping expressed some political reservations about the war in Ukraine, they also explicitly attended official and private meetings with the Russian president, and reasserted friendship and cooperation.
It is also worth noting that, historically, Samarkand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and in the world. The city has been one of the main points and stage of the Silk Road. During the last 1500 years, it has been a place of confluence, conflicts and exchange between Russia, China, the Mongol empire and the Persian empire (Peter Frankopan, “The Silk Roads, A New History of the World”, 2015).
Thus, choosing to host the SCO summit in this city is also a message in itself by the SCO. This message recalls and asserts the political and economic combined weight of its powerful and internationally strategic member states.
It is important to note that in an article about the summit, the Chinese Government’s sponsored international media Global Times, highlighted that:
“During the summit, Xi said China is also willing to deepen pragmatic cooperation in such areas as trade, agriculture and connectivity”.
Xi called for both sides to strengthen coordination within the SCO, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, BRICS and other multilateral mechanisms to promote solidarity and mutual trust among related parties, according to Xinhua… (and that) … Analysts said the two leaders’ summit is a crucial guarantee for the steady development of bilateral ties, signaling that China-Russia relations will not be affected by external noises. At the same time, China will also be on high alert against attempts by the US and the West to tie China and Russia into a political and military bloc and drive a wedge between the pair and the rest of the world…
“Even before the Ukraine crisis, the US and some Western countries had tried to drive a wedge between China and Russia, fearing the pair would get closer. But after the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out, they tied China and Russia into one camp, playing the pair off against the rest of the world”, Yang said.
China’s interests are worldwide, and it can cooperate with Western countries on economic, cultural and even some major security issues, but there is no reason why China can’t strengthen cooperation and exchanges with Russia, which also has the right to interact with the world, the Beijing-based expert said.”
This vision is what China broadcasts to the world. In other words, Beijing affirms its ties with Moscow and its will to reinforce them. While doing so, China will develop its economic ties with Western countries. Beijing also asserts that the Russia-China relationship is a partnership, however not an alliance.
“The leaders discussed important issues of bilateral cooperation as well as regional and global issues of interest. Discussions also pertained to global food security, energy security and availability of fertilizers in the context of the challenges emanating from the current geo-political situation. In the context of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Prime Minister reiterated his call for an early cessation of hostilities and the need for dialogue and diplomacy…. They agreed to say in touch.”
This was followed by a tweet from Prime minister Modi writing :
Text of the tweet « Had a wonderful meeting with President Putin. We got the opportunity to discuss furthering India-Russia cooperation in sectors such as trade, energy, defense and more. We also discussed other bilateral and global issues. »
In other words, the Indian Premier and Chinese President have reasserted they are going to deepen the relations between their countries and Russia. And the war in Ukraine does not seem to be an obstacle to these plans.
However, this situation begs the question of understanding why giant China and India are so keen on cultivating their relationships with Russia in such a visible way.
The stupendous impact of climate change on Asia is certainly a major factor in explaining the importance of the “Russian pivot” for India. It also helps to explain the reinforcement of the Sino-Russian already strong relationship.
Furthermore, those Asian relationships are strongly bolstered by the series of climate mega catastrophes of 2021 and 2022. Those have hammered China and India, as well as the whole South Asia continent in 2021 and 2022.
China’s and India’s climate shocks
The 2021-2022 agricultural crisis
Well-ordered charity begins with oneself
Since 2021, a growing number of major agricultural countries restrict or ban exports of their own production. The process started in June 2021. At the time, the Russian government imposed taxes on grain exports, trying to stabilize domestic food prices.
Then, since February 2022 and the Russian offensive in Ukraine, the exports of grain from Ukraine and Russia are also largely down. This diminution comes from the blocking of the Black Sea ports.
In May 2022, India, the second largest wheat producer, decided to ban exports. The decision was based on the destructive effects of the massive heatwave that impacted India and Pakistan. The Indian crops yield lost 20% because of a month-long, climate-change driven extreme weather event. (Manavi Kapur, “India’s extreme heatwave is already thwarting Modi’s plan to “feed the world”“, Quartz, 28 April 2022).
In the current strategic and climate context, imports of Russian grain are of special importance for the Chinese food security. This is because Russia is both a major producer and neighbour. Furthermore, since the launch by Xi Jinping, of the Belt and Road Initiative (OBOR) in 2013. Russia plays a central role in this project because the Chinese railways operate through Russia in order to reach Europe.
Hence, the development of OBOR infrastructures de facto augments the shipments capabilities between Russia and China. (Frederic de Kemmeter, “OBOR-One Belt, One Road”, Mediarail.be, January 2018 and Jean-Michel Valantin, “China, Russia and the New Silk Road in Central Asia – The great co-empowerment”, The Red Team Analysis Society, March 17, 2016). As it happens, a new railway bridge between Chinese Tongjiang and Russian Nizhnelenizskoye opened on 27 April 2022 and became operational during the 2022 summer.
It appears that, between January and March 2022, the trade turnover between Russia and China rose 28,7% year on year. It reached $38,17 billion for the first 2022 quarter. (“Russia-China trade surges in 2022”, The Moscow Times, 13 April 2022).
Inflation, energy and resiliency
These agricultural situations are interlaced with the energy needs of China and India. The “post” Covid economic recovery drives a rapid growth in oil and gas demand, thus driving energy prices higher. Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine triggers an overheating of oil prices. The prices err between $96 and $120 since the start of the war. (Scott Patterson and Sam Goldfarb, “Why are gasoline prices so high? Ukraine-Russia War Sparks Increases Across the U.S“, Wall Street Journal, 1 April, 2022).
Meanwhile, given the daily needs of twice 1,4 billion people, India and China both benefit from the lower than market Russian oil and gas prices.
Inflation, energy and India’s resiliency through connectivity
That is why India’s import of oil from Russia have jumped from 2% of India’s oil imports to a staggering 12% in September 2022. Those imports are meant to try to control Indian inflation. This happens while Russia remains the first supplier of defense hardware for India (Aftab Ahmed, “India says it is importing Russian oil to manage inflation”, Reuters, September 8, 2022).
What makes these transactions possible is the International North South Corridor Transport (INSTC).
This 7.200 km transcontinental infrastructure is based on rail-sea-road interconnectivity from the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan and Central Asia, Iran and India and Europe. It links hinterlands, ports and sea routes. The INSTC involves 13 countries, for now. It was established in 2000 and developed ever since. It allows products from Russia to reach India in 25 days instead of 40 days by sea connections only (“The International North South Corridor” Wikipedia and Angelo Mathais, “India Ramps Up Russian trade Volumes via North-South Corridor”, The Load Star, 23/08/2022).
The Great Russia, China, India Connection
Some commentators try to analyse the INSTC and OBOR in terms of a competition of international routes (Eurasian Times Desk, “China and India battle for Global Influence with OBOR and NSTC projects”, The Eurasian Times, January 18, September 2018). Unfortunately, they miss a crucial point. In fact, there are multiple connections between the OBOR and the INSTC. Those interconnections are de facto installed through the countries involved in both INSTC and OBOR and their transport infrastructure, especially Russia, Kazakhstan and Iran.
Russia is especially at the intersection of the two international routes. That is why it is able to rapidly export growing volumes of agricultural and energy products to China and India. This is also the case in other Central and South Asian countries.
As we have seen, Russian exports play a major part in the resiliency of China and India. Those have to face the combination of the international inflationary trends as well as the planetary climate shocks. Their imports from Russia play a key role in their resiliency to these shocks.
So, it appears that China as well as India develop deep ties with Russia, which becomes a major actor of their national resiliency. This “Russ-asian” “triad” becomes a geopolitical new entity. And it is a mammoth powerhouse. Thus, it is hard to think that one of its members could be “isolated” on the international scene.
The September 2022 Ukrainian counter-offensive against Russia is hailed as very successful. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the “true heroes” who allowed for a “very rapid liberation” of 8000 sq km by 14 September 22 “in the east, notably in the Kharkiv Oblast, and the south, notably in the Kherson oblast”, (e.g. BBC News, 12 September 22; CNN, 14 September 22).
With this article we shall first briefly stress why it is important to look at a comprehensive set of scenarios, and why it matters even more in the context of a war where information is degraded by the use of propaganda or psyops. Then, we shall focus not on the scenario favoured in the West, which predicts a victory of Ukraine, as this scenario is well-known, but describe another scenario, different from the most common narrative. We shall call it the Red Scenario, in reference to red teaming (taking the point of view of the enemy). We mainly present explanations rather than scenario narrative (story-telling), using maps tracking the evolution of the control of the terrain in Ukraine by the two protagonists and established daily by the Institute for the Study of War. First we present our key hypotheses and then develop an explanatory narrative according to phases during the war.
The need for alternative scenarios
Useful and actionable scenarios are constituted in a set with evolving likelihoods
Many commentators tend to focus on a single scenario highlighting a Ukrainian victory and a Russian defeat. The current Ukrainian counter-offensive goes hand in hand with the Russian “debacle”, “rout”, “disaster”, “disintegration”, etc. This is indeed one scenario. Its narrative runs more or less as follows:
The current counter-offensive heralds coming successes for the Ukrainian army while showing deep seated problems within Russian forces that will lead to a string of defeats, until Moscow is vanquished.
However, proper foresight must consider all possible scenarios (see FAQ on scenarios), even those that are unlikely, contrary to one’s objectives or unpalatable. Actually those scenarios are even more interesting because they are those that allow for the best planning, for truly countering the enemy and finally for victory and success.
The likelihood of seeing a scenario taking place actually is something that is separated from the narrative of the scenario itself. The key variables for a set of scenarios are used both to craft the narrative and then to assess the probability of the scenario. Yet, to create a specific scenario for this set does not mean that this scenario is more likely than another. A good set of scenarios must consider all possible scenarios. Then according to reality the probability of each scenario is assessed, varies and evolves. This is where scenarios become most useful, because they help steer policy. However, to be able to reach this lofty aim, we need first to have a complete set of scenarios, and not only a couple of pleasant scenarios that fit our aims, beliefs and wishes.
Overcoming potential propaganda
Furthermore, a swift Ukrainian victory by heroes in the framework of a Russian rout could also be a way to narrate events that is part of the information operations (I/Os – psyops) of Ukraine and its allies (see Helene Lavoix, “Information Warfare and the War in Ukraine“, The Red Team Analysis Society, 24 May 2022). More surprisingly but not impossible, it could even be part of Russian I/Os and deception, as Russia is meant to be a master at using “reflexive control” (refleksivnoe upravlenie / рефлексивного управления).
As during war information is degraded and as we shall not know with certainty what is truly taking place on the ground until archives are opened – i.e. in 30, 60, or 100 years according to cases and countries, we need to rely on scenarios. Scenarios allow to make hypotheses and to take into account uncertainty, which is key when information is lacking or of dubious quality. Furthermore it will help us stretching our minds, asking inconvenient questions and thus think out of the box.
A Red Scenario – Main hypotheses
Our first hypothesis for this scenario is that Russia has two major territorial aims in Ukraine and only two.
The first territorial objective, as declared when Russia launched its “special operation”, is to free and protect the territory of the two separatist Republics of the Donbass: the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) (Address by the President of the Russian Federation, February 24, 2022, 06:00, The Kremlin, Moscow).
The second aim can be inferred from the same Russian Address, and consists in protecting Crimea (Ibid.). This means creating strategic depth for the peninsula, which would allow protecting it from any Ukrainian threat.
The importance of that goal is highlighted by one of the first actions of the Russian army on 24 February 22, thus at the very beginning of the war. It restored water flow to the North Crimean canal (Pivnichno-Krymskyi kanal) between the Dniepr River in Ukraine and Crimea, which had been cut off by Ukraine in 2014 (Reuters, “Russian forces unblock water flow for canal to annexed Crimea, Moscow says,” 24 February 2022).
These territorial aims are shown on the map below. The size of the necessary strategic depth for Crimea is an estimate and may vary according to other factors. It is against this map that operations elsewhere will be evaluated.
The second hypothesis is that the Russian leadership is neither mad nor stupid, nor completely out of touch with reality, nor any of the extreme epithets and ungrounded emotional assertions that have been made about the Russian political authorities. This does not mean that leadership cannot be surprised. As for any system, analyses and evaluations may be flawed. Actions may not go as planned. The fog of war operates.
The third hypothesis or rather principle is that if something cannot be explained or understood when using prior reasoning and framework for understanding, then it is likely that the initial line of thinking is flawed.
A Red Scenario – Phases in the war
Phase 1 – 24 Feb 2022 to 29 March 2022
Creating the conditions for the conquest of the South (outside Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts)
Considering the Russian territorial objectives for this scenario, all operations carried out outside Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and the southern part of Zaporizhzhia oblasts are either “decoy” operations or “negotiation” ones.
They aimed at focusing the attention and effort of the enemy and its allies on non-essential, indeed false aims. At best, if gains are achieved, they will be used for exchange during negotiation, against the territory that constitutes the real aim, or against other key objectives such as the neutrality of Ukraine.
This phase ended on 29 March 22. Then, in the framework of the negotiations taking place in Istanbul, Russian Ministry of Defence announced to “fundamentally reduce military activity in the direction of Kiev and Chernihiv” in order to “increase mutual trust for future negotiations to agree and sign a peace deal with Ukraine” (DW; Asia Times 29 March 22).
As far as its territorial objectives are concerned, in one month, the Russian side succeeded in creating strategic depth for Crimea by taking a large part of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. It made the junction with Donetsk Oblast or rather, from a Russian perspective, the DPR. It gave the latter its connection to the sea. Finally, it conquered a large part of Luhansk.
However, hardly any progress was made in the western part of Donetsk Oblast, which remained strongly in Ukrainian hands. There, the 2015 “contact line” acts as a quasi border where an attrition war started and would last.
All other territorial gains and operations – which includes Kiev, despite Western beliefs – were secondary or part of Russian psyops and could be abandoned to consolidate the territory taken that is part of the objectives.
Withdrawal from the north and repositioning of forces on real territorial objectives with, as potential “decoy area”, Kharkiv Oblast
Throughout April, the Russian forces withdrew from all northern territories as stated at the end of March. They repositioned their forces where territory matters in terms of main goals and started consolidating what they had already conquered. Meanwhile they also began the slow grinding progress to conquer or free according to side the territory of Luhansk oblast for the LPR and of Donetsk Oblast for the DPR.
The only remaining territory not belonging to their main goals is in Kharkiv oblast. This area could then be used as “decoy” or way to pin down Ukrainian forces on areas that did not matter to the Russian side. The slow withdrawal from Kharkiv region started then.
Phase 3 – May 2022 to date
Attrition warfare, freeing/conquering Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts territory, keeping as much as possible of the southern oblasts.
Phase 3-1 – The conquest of Luhansk Oblast – Attrition warfare elsewhere
Kharkiv Oblast remains a zone that is dispensable and does not belong to true Russian objectives. It is partly in Russian hands, but by mid-May, Ukrainian forces have regained a small part of this territory, east of Kharkiv (city).
Elsewhere, the frontline hardly moved compared with previous periods. Attrition warfare settled, with rather offensive objectives in Donetsk Oblast and defensive aims in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts.
Assuming the new weapons Ukraine received from Western allies, notably the U.S., as well as intelligence and special forces support, and consequent Ukrainian actions do not change the strategic situation for Crimea, it is likely that Russia will mainly seek to consolidate its gain in the south.
The western part of Donetsk remains, however, apparently stubbornly out of reach. As it is the last objective that needs to be met, then it should be the focus of the next phase.
Hypothetical Phase 3-2 – Conquering Donetsk, Keeping what was taken and Ending the War?
Reflexive control again?
Russia must find a way to conquer what remains of the Donetsk oblast, which represents a large part of territory and demands overcoming entrenched Ukrainian defense. Meanwhile, it must also preserve what matters, the territory conquered that corresponds to its real objectives.
By 14 September, Ukrainian troops have re-conquered 8000 sq km of Kharkiv oblast (DW, “Ukraine stabilizes counteroffensive gains in northeast“, 14 September 2022). Notably the Ukrainian army could mobilise enough men, with a smart strategy to surprise “the rather small Russian forces of the 144th Motorised Division reinforced with disparate independent units” (Michel Goya, “1918 en Ukraine ?“, La Voix de l’Epée, 11 September 2022). Russian forces did not really fight and the “massive Russian forces stationned in Izium retreated eastwards” (ibid.). Izium was re-taken by Ukraine (Ibid.). Actually, according to the maps below, the territory liberated seems to have stabilised on 12 September, and even up to 18 September with different declarations however (see below).
Whatever the rhetoric used to explain Ukrainian successes in Kharkiv oblast, be it withdrawal of Russian troops for repositioning elsewhere (Russian MoD Telegram) or plain defeat in losing a territory (by Western analysts and Russian nationalists military bloggers and discussions in the Duma as stressed by the ISW “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 13“), it remains that the territory held in Karkhiv was not part of the main Russian objectives. This area could, of course, have a tactical, operational and strategic use, but yet it was not part of the Russian aims. Furthermore, its value in obtaining territorial gains in Donetsk may not have been that high considering the absence of results of the previous months. Hence losing it may not be as crucial as commentators, whatever their nationality, including Russian, may think, if – and this is a key “if” – a new front line along the river Oskil, or along the border of Luhansk oblast is established.
The Russian “recognition” of defeat in Kharkiv that is hailed in the West as something new (see details in ISW, “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, September 13“) may not matter that much either, as long it is not followed by other defeats or series thereof in areas corresponding to main territorial objectives. In that light, the loss of a very small part of Luhansk oblast on 10 September may be far more important, if it were to be followed by other losses.
Moreover, considering Russian practice of reflexive control and psyops, we should not forget the possibility that not only the change of rhetoric regarding the Ukrainian victory in Kharkiv – i.e. Russia recognising defeat there – but also, most importantly the very swift loss of territory could actually be part of an information operation.
This could be a Russian version of Operation Fortitude, when the allies deceived the Germans about where they would land on D-Day. In terms of reflexive control, we may imagine that the Russians acted in such a way that they prompted the decision by Ukraine and its allies to attack militarily on Kharkiv oblast.
One possible indication that deception could have been at work comes from an inconsistency highlighted by military experts. Specialists wonder about the inability of the Russian army to detect “five armoured-mechanised brigades near the front in Zmiv”, despite all the Russian intelligence capabilities (Goya, “1918 en Ukraine ?“). The only explanations that are offered are a failure of tactical assessment in the chain of command and failure of understanding at highest level (e.g. Goya, “1918 en Ukraine ?“). Of course, these explanations may very well be correct. Yet, one possibility is not envisioned: would it be possible that detection took place and that nothing was done, purposefully, because something else is at work, indeed deception.
The questions we would need to ponder would then be: what would be the interest of the Russian leadership in not defending and thus losing territory? Then in acknowledging defeat? Which goals could this serve? Answers to these questions are multiple. For example, as far as acknowledging defeat is concerned, the ISW details some of them, notably in terms of Russian domestic politics with bearings on Ukraine. To these, we should also add answers, for example, that would be related to really repositioning Russian and pro-Russian forces on major objectives, to pinning down Ukrainian troops away from main Russian objectives, as well as answers related to creating conditions that could favour over-confidence in Ukrainian forces.
Of course, an alternative would be that indeed the Russian tried to focus their war effort elsewhere considering that Kharkiv oblast was not part of the main aims, that American and Ukrainian intelligence spotted it and that they smartly took advantage of the Russian strategy. If ever a “Reflexive Control” operation was at work, then in would have backfired.
Whatever the explanation, the Ukrainian advance also signals the disappearance of the last non-key position held by Russia, while a large part of Donetsk oblast remains to be conquered. A new line of front must be established that will be a defense line to protect Luhansk oblast, i.e. from a pro-Russian perspective, the LPR. This new front line could run along the Oskil River with as main cities Logachevka-Dvorichana -Kupyansk-Boroza-Lyman, possibly joining the Siverskyi Donets river. It would allow Russia to keep use of the railway, and protect le LPR “border”.
If Russia proved unable to construct and hold that new front line, or if it considered the threat has now increased considerably considering the support given to Ukraine, then Russia might resort to escalate longer range attacks behind the front line to disrupt Ukrainian advances, as signaled by attacks during the first part of September (e.g. The Guardian, “Russian strikes knock out power and water in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region“, 11 September), or to other means. This could mean a change towards enlarging the scope of war. Russia could justify these attacks by a similar strategy used by Ukraine that now utilises longer range armament besides support such as intelligenceprovided by its allies, notably Americans, as well as foreign “mercenaries” and “advisors”.
Once the retreat, plus holding of the new front line, and repositioning are done, Russian and pro-Russian forces will likely focus on their main objectives, Donetsk oblast, while defending elsewhere, with the right bank of the Dniepr in Kherson Oblast – which includes Kherson – as potential focal line of defence for the south.
The choice of an offensive on Donetsk oblast could be supported by Russian advances south of Bakhmut over the second week of September, as shown on the maps below. Fighting also takes place in Spirne, Adviivka and south of Marinka. Russian advances are still small in terms of area, and the moves forward have only taken place on less than one week. We are thus more in the realm of signals than of certainty.
Ending the war? Patience and length of time…
Finally, we may ponder the following hypothetical situation. Let us imagine that Russia would conquer the whole of Donetsk oblast, and succeed in keeping what it has conquered elsewhere. How would it then end the war?
If we assume that the Russian leadership is well aware of this key pitfall, then we may wonder if one possible Russian strategy is not to buy time or to be ready to wait until international conditions have changed.
The key actors which positions would need to change are Ukraine’s allies. The latter, from a Russian point of view, need to favour stopping the war and reaching a negotiated settlement recognising the territory conquered by Russia, the DPR and the LPR, plus probably the neutrality of Ukraine.
The Russian political authorities may thus position themselves for a kind of “intense frozen war” that would last at least over the winter 2022-2023.
Relatively, Russia may suffer less of the sanctions it faces, all the more so it benefits from the rise in energy prices. Indeed, for example, a Russian economy ministry document expects to see “Russian earnings from energy exports to $337.5 billion this year, a 38% rise on 2021 revenue from oil” (Reuters, 17 August 22). However, Russia still has to face recession and probably long term economic damage (Bloomberg, “Russia Privately Warns of Deep and Prolonged Economic Damage“, 6 September 22).
This situation generates strategic tensions between NATO and Russia that spill into the Arctic. One of the major strategic effects of the Ukraine war is the Sweden and Finland bid to adhere to NATO. As it happens, the Swedish and Finnish decision to adhere to NATO triggers a strongly adverse Turkish reaction (Abdullah Bozkurt, “Turkey’s “divide and conquer” plot for Sweden and Finland in their bid for NATO failed”, Nordic Monitor, 8 June 2020) .
These tensions take pace within the framework of the rapid warming of the region, a powerful variable that destabilises the Arctic regional and international geopolitical equilibriums (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Is the West Losing the Warming Arctic?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, 7 December, 2020).
Furthermore, the Arctic is already fraught with proliferating tensions between Russia and NATO since 2018. They happen through the multiplication by Russian as well as by NATO members of sea and air military exercises, weapons systems tests and manoeuvres (Thomas Nilsen, “Three Nations, One mission- The New NATO in the North”, The Independent Barents Observer, 3 June 2022 and “Russian Navy Launched Hypersonic Missile from the Barents Sea”, The Independent Barents Observer, May 28, 2022). Meanwhile NATO manoeuvres in the Arctic interact with the Russian militarization of the region.
However, the extension of tensions in the Arctic generated by the war in Ukraine has far deeper and larger ramifications. Over the course of the last decade or so, Russia has been developing the “Northern Sea route”. This new maritime corridor links the Bering Strait to Norway and the North Atlantic.
As it happens, the Northern Sea route attracts a growing number of Chinese convoys. By using this road, the Chinese ships and tankers reach the Northern Atlantic, turning China into a North Atlantic economic powerhouse. Meanwhile, the energy development of the Russian Arctic is the template for numerous Sino-Russian joint ventures in the field of offshore oil and gas (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Arctic China: Towards new Oil Wars in a Warming Arctic?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, September 14, 2020). In the same time, Russia exports growing volumes of Arctic oil and gas to China and India.
Those multiple cross-dynamics mean that the tensions the war in Ukraine generates in the Arctic take place in an already geopolitically and geophysically turbo-charged environment. However, what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. Thus, we are going to study the different dimensions of these new tensions and the way they interact with the warming Arctic changes.
This move drastically turns upside down the Arctic regional strategic equilibria. Indeed, since the end of the Cold War, the Russian federation opposes NATO’s expansion in Eastern and Northern Europe. Furthermore, Sweden and Norway were neutral countries. Thus, they were avoiding the “hammer and anvil” status of being caught between NATO interests and Russia’s security interests.
Finland’s “national insecurity” and Sweden’s fear
The Finnish decision is backed by a parliamentary due process. It also follows a massive shift in public opinion. Indeed, in January 2022, only 24% of the Finnish citizens were in favour of a NATO membership. On 28 February, 4 days after the start of the Russian offensive on Ukraine, 68% of Finns were in its favour. This shift may be explained by Finland historical context (Steven Lamy, ibid).
One must remember that, for Finland, the twentieth century collective experience is defined by its two bloody wars with Russia. The first one occurred in 1918. At that time the Russian revolution and the rise of the Bolshevik regime triggered the Finnish civil war. This civil war opposed “White Finland” to the “Finnish socialist workers Republic”. The latter was supported by the nascent USSR and the Bolshevik power (Stephen Kotkin, Stalin, Paradoxes of power, 2014).
Then, in August 1939, the signature of the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the USSR installed Finland, as well as the Baltic states, in the Soviet sphere of influence. In 1939-1940, the ferocious Finland-USSR war ended with Finland losing 10% of its territory (Stephen Kotkin, Stalin vol II- Waiting for Hitler, 2017).
So, Finland allied with Nazi Germany in 1941. It participated in the assault on the Soviet Union, in order to take back the lost parts of its territory. After the Allies victory in 1945, the USSR imposed the status of neutral country on Finland.
This historical background certainly shapes the collective Finnish perception of Russia (Helene Lavoix, ‘Nationalism’ and ‘Genocide’: the construction of nation-ness, authority, and opposition – the case of Cambodia (1861-1979) – PhD Thesis – School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), 2005).
The will to join the NATO alliance happens at a time when Russia uses its military might on its western borders for the third time since the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. This situation triggers a strong collective feeling of “national insecurity” towards Russia (Lamy, ibid).
From the Swedish point of view, the military support to Ukraine started at the very beginning of the war: Sweden shipped more than 5,000 anti-tank weapons, 5,000 body shields, 5,000 helmets and 135,000 field rations (Lamy, ibid).
However, Turkey, a historic NATO member, contested those Swedish-Finnish NATO candidacies. Between May and 29 June 2022, President Erdogan’s government opposed the adhesion of the two Scandinavian countries. It did so on the ground of their numerous declarations and policies denouncing the Turkish policies against the Kurds.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that the warming of the Arctic has very concrete consequences for Turkey.
Indeed, the opening of the Northern Sea Route by Moscow necessitates the building of a new fleet of nuclear icebreakers. Those icebreakers need to dock in Murmansk, where the historic dock sank in 2018. As a result, Russian Rosatom launched an international bid, that the Turkish KuzeyStar won in June 2021. The Turkish company is supposed to deliver the new giant floating port at the end of 2024. It is a 4,9 billion rubbles (55 million Euros) investment by Rosatom (Polina Leganger Bronder, “Turkish yard wins bid to build nuclear icebreaker dock”, The Independent Barents Observer, June 13, 2021).
Moreover, Turkey also benefits from the Russian oil and gas development of the Arctic. For example, in 2021, there was a 63% increase of the Turkish gas imports from Gazprom. This increase is coupled with the 10% increase from Germany and 20% increase from Italy, as well as from “abroad countries” (thus labelled by Gazprom). This global increase is only possible through the massive Gazprom operations in the Arctic (Ate Staalesen, “As Moscow Prepared for War, State company Gazprom sold Arctic gas worth almost 140 $billion”, The Independent Barents Observer, 3 May 2022). It is especially true of the mammoth Yamal fields, on the façade of the Kara Sea.
Thus, the warming Arctic becomes a place where the Russian, Turkish, Swedish and Finnish national interests unexpectedly entangle.
Arctic energy and trade development
The Sweden-Finland application for NATO membership is inseparable from the fact that, since 2018, the warming Arctic has become a major attractor for NATO. This results from the rapidly retreating summer sea ice and of the growing instability of the Arctic sea ice and consequences for Russia.
Indeed, since the end of the 2000s, the Russian government has been adapting to this geophysical change by opening a new maritime causeway along the Siberian coastline.
This “Northern Sea route” links the Bering Strait, thus the Pacific and Asia, to the Barents Sea and the Norway sea, thus to Northern Europe and the Northern Atlantic. In the same dynamic, Russia develops several on- and offshore oil and gas deposits, such as the Yamal I and II LNG projects.
Using the Northern Sea route, Chinese convoys save several days on travel time to reach northern Europe major ports. Meanwhile, Beijing systematically signs bilateral trade and technology agreements with Northern Europe governments (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Arctic China 2- The Chinese Shaping of the North”, The Red Team Analysis Society, June 9, 2014).
In other words, thanks to the Russian development of the climate change consequences on the Arctic, China becomes a major economic power in Northern Europe and in the North Atlantic area.
These manoeuvres mobilized 50.000 soldiers, 150 planes, 10.000 land vehicles and 60 warships. They were centered on Norway, where landing, deployment and combat exercises took place. They were led to demonstrate the reaction capability against a hypothetical and unnamed adversary that would endanger a fellow NATO member in the Arctic region.
Since then, Russia has sped up the militarization of the coastline and of its maritime economic zone. Meanwhile, in 2020, NATO has created its Arctic command at the U.S Navy Norfolk base (Levon Sevuts, “NATO’s new Atlantic command to keep watch over the European Arctic”, The Independent Barents Observer, September 18, 2020). During the same period, the Scandinavian countries and Russia have multiplied military air, sea and land exercises (Thomas Nilsen, “Increase in NATO scrambled jets from Norway”, The Independent Barents Observer, and “US warship returns Barents Sea”, September 14, and October 2020).
Then, on 5 June 2022, while the war in Ukraine raged and NATO members support Ukraine in a military, financial, medical and humanitarian way, NATO implemented its annual Baltic exercise, BALTOPS 22 (Anadolu Agency, “Largest-ever NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea ends”, Dayly Sabah, June 12, 2022).
The exercise gathered 45 warships, 75 planes and 7500 serving men and women. Among them were Swedish and Finnish troops, invited to participate following their NATO application. The Russian ministry of defense reacted by deploying a 60 strong maritime force. This deployment was the occasion for a maritime and land exercise involving Russian forces from the Kaliningrad enclave.
As these exercise take place, so does the Madrid NATO summit of the 27-30 June 2022. Then, the Organization published its new strategic concept, that includes Russia and China as systemic threats (Hélène Lavoix, “The War between China and the U.S. – The Normative Dimension“, The Red Team Analysis Society, 4 July 2022). As far as the Arctic is concerned, it specifies that:
“In the High North, its (“Russian”) capability to disrupt Allied reinforcements and freedom of navigation across the North Atlantic is a strategic challenge to the Alliance. Moscow’s military build-up, including in the Baltic, Black and Mediterranean Sea regions, along with its military integration with Belarus, challenge our security and interests.”
In other words, NATO officially integrates the warming Arctic to its strategic doctrine, while identifying China and Russia as being its competitors in many areas, including in the Arctic. This also means that the Russian and Chinese development of the warming Arctic and the capabilities they could derive from this approach are clearly understood by Washington D.C ( Sean Monaghan, Pierre Morcos, Colin Wall, “What happened at Madrid ‘s NATO summit ?“, CSIS, July 1, 2022).
Kaliningrad is located between Poland and Lithuania and faces Sweden across the Baltic Sea. Being the Russian Baltic fleet port, Kaliningrad is very highly militarised, and hosts an Iskander missiles facility. Iskander weapon systems have the capability to carry nuclear weapons if so equipped.
Lithuania involves itself in the sanctions systems imposed by the G7, the EU and the US. As Finland’s, this policy has roots in its painful history with the Soviet Union. Since 2004, it is part of NATO and of the EU.
However, more recently, it is also under the direct pressure of Belarus, that, since 2021, literally “projects” migrants from Middle East, Africa and Central Asia on the borders of Poland and Lithuania, in order to destabilize them. Belarus does so as reprisal against the sanctions imposed by the EU since the contested reelection of president Lukashenko. (Jean-Michel Valantin, “Belarus and the weaponization of migration“, The Red Team Analysis Society, 7 February, 2022).
However, in the meantime, on 17 June, the Russian new nuclear icebreaker Sibir sailed towards the tricky Viltitsky Strait. In the same time, the LNG carrier Nicolaï Yevgorov left the Sabetta port, where special Arctic carriers load up with the LNG that the giant Yamal operation produces (Atle Staalesen, “As Russia turns towards Asia, this year’s first vessel heads east on Northern Sea Route”, The Independent Barents Observer, 17 June 2022).
The Sibir will certainly escort the Nicolai Yevgorov along the Northern Sea route towards the Bering strait. Thus, it will ship LNG to the ravenous Asian market, especially the Chinese one.
In other words, the war in Ukraine increases strategic tensions that were already growing since 2018 in the nexus of international relations that the warming Arctic attracts. The Arctic attraction also reveals that the Russia-China-Turkey-Asia nexus is deepening through trade and energy, while NATO projects itself in this rapidly changing and “polarizing”region.
It is in this tense context that the war in Ukraine “spills” into the Arctic and accelerates its strategic changes. We must now see if the rapidly changing geophysics of the region are going to “overheats” this new state of things.