In Geopolitics This Week
Roadblocks to Concerted EU Sanctions on Russian Oil, UK Weighs Decision to Assume Direct Rule of British Virgin Islands, China Proposes Global Security Initiative
Roadblocks to Concerted EU Sanctions on Russian Oil
The European Union has proposed a bloc-wide ban on the import of all Russian oil products, with some member states expressing concern over the implementation of the ban. European Council President, Charles Michel, has pledged to “break the Russian war machine” by convincing EU member states to cease purchasing Russian oil and oil-related products. Yet as all 27 members of the EU began discussions on the new round of sanctions on Wednesday, some member states were quick to stress that an outright ban of Russian oil would be impossible for them to facilitate.
Some members of the EU have expressed serious concern at the proposed ban, and a number have already sought exemptions that would allow their economies to bypass a total ban of Russian oil. Slovakia and Hungary — both of which heavily rely on Russian oil — have expressed stern opposition to the plans, and have asked for exemptions from Brussels that would protect their economies from major supply disruptions caused by the proposed ban. Slovakia and Hungary are both connected to the southern route of the Druzhba pipeline and both countries are particularly dependent on oil flows from Russia, with Slovakia receiving 96% and Hungary receiving 58% of all crude oil and oil-related products from Russia in 2021.
Slovakia's Economy Minister, Richard Sulik, said the country’s only refiner would be unable to immediately switch away from Russian crude as changing out the necessary technologies would take years. Similarly, the Hungarian Foreign Minister, Peter Szijjarto, has said the country will oppose any sanctions which will disrupt the transport of natural gas or oil from Russia. Szijjarto stressed that a reduction in Hungary's energy supplies would make it “physically impossible” for the Hungarian economy to function.
Though far less dependent on Russian oil products than Bratislava or Budapest, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic have also expressed reservations about the implementation of the proposed ban. Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister, Assen Vassilev, announced that Sofia will also seek an exemption due to concerns over the effects that such a ban will have on fuel prices. While acknowledging that Bulgaria could eventually diversify away from Russian oil, Vassilev stressed that doing so too quickly would lead to a harmful increase in energy prices. Similarly, Petr Fiala, the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, justified his country's request for an exemption by stressing the need to first source alternative supplies before such a ban can be applied to avoid causing serious damage to the Czech economy. The requests for exemptions by those EU member states most reliant on importing Russian oil demonstrates how the near-term economic interests of EU member states can trump efforts undertaken by Brussels to cut Russian oil-derived state revenues.
The increasing number of EU capitals now requesting an exemption presents a roadblock to a unified front across the EU in banning Russian oil imports across the bloc. Other EU member states may soon request their own exemptions from the European Commission as difficulties in sourcing alternate supplies and political blowback from rising domestic energy costs compel European leaders to avoid hindering their own economic growth. In such an event, achieving a drastic near-term reduction in the volume of Russian oil products imported into the EU will be difficult, and the continued import of Russian oil by some member states will work to undermine the intended effects of the sanctions as a whole.
UK Weighs Decision to Assume Direct Rule of British Virgin Islands
The United Kingdom is preparing to impose direct rule over the British Virgin Islands. The Prime Minister of the Caribbean territory has been arrested in Miami on allegations of drug running while a simultaneous inquiry has claimed to have found rampant corruption problems tied to his government. After Andrew Fahie appeared before a US judge, a commission led by Judge Sir Gary Hickinbottom published a report urging the UK to dissolve the elected government, suspend their constitution, and impose direct rule for a period of at least two years.
The Virgin Islands are divided between the UK, the US and the US territory of Puerto Rico. The British Virgin Islands — officially designated as one of the UK's overseas territories — has enjoyed limited self-governance under a constitution drafted in 2007. While London decides policies related to defence and foreign affairs for the overseas territory, domestic policies have typically been determined by elected local officials. Now, the UK looks set to impose direct rule on the overseas territory, a move that will constrain self-governance in the name of combatting corruption.
Fahie was arrested by the US Drug Enforcement Agency in an operation which also saw the chief executive of the port authority of the British Virgin Islands apprehended. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) says that Fahie agreed to smuggle narcotics through the territory together with an undercover agent from the Drug Enforcement Administration in exchange for a portion of the proceeds. Fahie’s lawyer has argued that his arrest represents a breach of the diplomatic immunity bestowed upon him as an elected leader of the British Virgin Islands, however the DOJ has said that no such immunity applies because the overseas territory is not a sovereign nation. The arrest and effective ousting of Fahie will mean that Governor General John Rankin is now expected to assume authority over the overseas territory's domestic policies.
A commission of inquiry has said the territory’s elected government should be dissolved and its constitution suspended for two years due to the “systematic dishonesty” demonstrated by local officials. The commission’s report concluded that state funds were spent without appropriate government procedures, and the report claims to have found evidence of widespread abuse in political appointments. The UK's Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, has indicated that the detention of Fahie illustrates the importance of the ongoing investigation, and Truss said that the commission's findings are a call for “urgent action” by the UK government. The suggestions of the commission — together with the statements made by UK government officials in support of the commission's findings — indicate that London is now preparing to return the British Virgin Islands to the status of a territory under the direct rule of London.
China Proposes Global Security Initiative
Chinese President Xi Jinping has proposed a new diplomatic initiative which seeks to establish a regional security architecture based on principles of collective defence. The Chinese leader floated the new initiative as an international security bloc which would aim to uphold principles of “indivisible security” in order to build a “balanced, effective and sustainable” security architecture. Presented as a global public good, the Global Security Initiative's (GSI) stated goal is to promote peace and stability by fostering “equity and justice” among nations.
In outlining the GSI, Xi said the security initiative aims to build a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture which legitimizes the key security concerns of all countries who sign up. While calling out hegemonism and power politics as issues that currently endanger regional stability and “exacerbate security challenges,” Chinese officials have proposed the GSI as a way for countries to establish a regional framework for collective defence without sacrificing their national sovereignty or compromising their unique models of social organization. To do this, Xi stated the initiative would be underpinned by six joint commitments.
First, all members would be committed to a vision of “common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security” as they work to maintain peace and security. Second, members would be committed to uphold the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all constituent countries, uphold principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, and respect the differing development paths and social systems of all members. Third, GSI members would be committed to upholding the UN Charter while rejecting bloc confrontation. Fourth, members will undertake to respect security concerns of all other parties and oppose the pursuit of one state's security at the cost of others'. Fifth, members would commit to peacefully resolving their differences and disputes. Lastly, members would be expected to collaborate on security in both traditional (conventional) and non-traditional (grey-zone) security domains.
The initiative's core concept is that of a shared, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable regional security framework which covers both traditional and non-traditional threats to mutual defence. The proposal also promises to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, uphold the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and function as a platform to resolve disputes through peaceful means. The principles and commitments outlined in the GSI are likely appeal to a broad range of countries, and this is probably Beijing's intention in formulating the framework. By formulating a security framework with broad appeal, Beijing hopes to engage other countries by championing a political vision shared by many other governments. As China looks for ways to persuade other countries to reject what Beijing perceives to be Washington's efforts to isolate China, the proposed GSI can be expected to play an increasingly prominent role in Chinese public diplomacy and foreign policy going forward.