The first episode of FeniksPod’s Atlantic Series, hosted by Mehmet Yegin, welcomed Mathieu Boulegue, a research fellow at Chatham House – The Royal Institute of International Affairs.
During the episode, Boulegue commented on the recent escalation of tension between Russia and the West over the crisis in Ukraine.
“I think we in the Western community have woken up to the fact that we are dealing with one of the worst European security crises in a long time, probably since the Cold War,” Boulegue said.
According to Boulegue, the situation in Ukraine has multiple security and policy implications.
“So far this has been a crisis manufactured by the Kremlin to extort potential concessions and force the West into making accommodations regarding Ukraine, the security of Europe, and more widely the future of NATO,” Boulegue continued.
He added that the Kremlin is pushing for such concessions in order to create a space between Russia and NATO.
The extent to which the West might be willing to bend to Russian demands in the name of ‘a secure Europe’, is still up for debate.
At the time of the interview, Russia had been building up its military presence along the Ukrainian border for months, causing many Western leaders to suspect its upcoming invasion of Ukraine.
Forecasting future events, Boulegue pointed out that “Russia has proven ready to use military force as a foreign policy tool in the past,” reminding listeners of Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 and its illegal Annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The West should be ready with plan Bs “if the Kremlin uses force,” he said.
Speaking on the Russian threat, Boulegue also highlighted that the Kremlin has created and promulgated many myths and misconceptions about Moscow in the West, the first being “that Russia has a sphere of influence”.
“Because of the nature of the post-Soviet order, […] Kremlin leadership believes that it has a very specific buffer zone and sphere of influence in the former Soviet countries,” Boulegue said, using Putin’s rationale that Ukraine is less independent and less sovereign than other European countries as an example.
Boulegue said that the second myth is that NATO promised in 1991 that it would not expand so as to not threaten Russia.
“This feeds the besieged fortress narrative: a great power being potentially attacked by NATO in terms of territorial integrity, security, and defence,” Boulegue concluded.