By John Erath
One of the major benefits to working at the Center is the variety of experts and issues to which one can be exposed. Sometimes, it can be possible to make connections between disparate themes that can lead to new insights on some of the problems facing the world. I recently experienced this while planning for an upcoming briefing for Congressional staff.
We have been thinking for some time about the possibilities that climate change could fuel regional conflicts, including between states that either have nuclear weapons or are thinking about developing them. During a discussion of the subject, one of the participants noted that Russia had vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution that would have integrated climate-related security risk as a central component of United Nations conflict prevention strategies. It should have been easy to get agreement that such conflicts should be prevented, but the initiative failed.
A little later, I had a meeting to plan an upcoming briefing for Congressional staff with two experts on the former Soviet Union, Mariana Budjeryn and Center Board Member Togzhan Kassenova. They recently authored an article on the effects of Soviet and Russian nuclear policy on the non-Russian Soviet successor states and their peoples.
Given current events, the discussion turned to the situation in Ukraine and what Putin wants. Dr. Budjeryn made the point that Russia is not necessarily trying to recreate the Soviet Union, or to create an empire set on conquering and holding territory for economic extraction. Rather, Russia wants to lord over its neighbors as vassals, with a prerogative to limit their sovereignty as it sees fit and receive their loyalty as unquestioned tribute.
The connection is this: Russia funds its military adventures, and its nuclear program, through exports of carbon-based fuels — major concerns to those fighting climate change. If, to answer the threat of climate change, more countries promote the use of alternative fuels, this would be bad news for Moscow.
Already facing uncomfortable demographics, Russia needs to look for new ways to preserve its great power status should the use of fossil fuels decline. Dominating the former Soviet space could provide a means. By acting as a neo-colonial overlord, Putin would be able to try to exploit the resources and peoples of its neighbors to maintain what many Russians believe to be their natural role. With nuclear weapons to deter consequences, the connections between Russia’s climate policy and how it treats its neighbors are troubling indeed.