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Svitlana Andrushchenko | Discovering the Geopolitics of Energy | Intelligence & Interview N.29 | Roman Kolodii

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Traditional energy resources like oil and gas have long played an essential role in international politics. Nowadays, however, there is a global trend which motivates countries to gradually replace their traditional energy production and consumption with renewables. This raises a question: how would geopolitical ambitions of states affect the harnessing of renewable energy and vice versa? To discuss this topic, I have invited Dr Svitlana Andruschenko, an expert in energy and geopolitics based in Ukraine. She is an associate professor at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and an invited lecturer on geopolitics and geostrategy at Chu Hai College of Higher Education (Hong Kong). Ukraine has been closely associated abroad with the recent Russian aggression since 2014, but its history can say a lot about the challenges of energy security as well. It was in Ukraine’s Chernobyl where the largest nuclear disaster in history occurred in 1986. Ukraine had also owned the world’s third nuclear stockpile before renouncing it in the mid-1990s. Finally, Ukraine has had a long history of conflicts with Russia over gas transit through Ukraine to Europe. This all makes the Ukrainian case study particularly relevant. In this interview with Dr Svitlana Andrushchenko, we will discuss Russia’s energy exports, the Chernobyl heritage in Ukraine’s energy policies, security implications of renewable energy, as well as energy diplomacy as such. On behalf of Scuola Filosofica Team, our readers, and myself, Roman Kolodii, Svitlana: thank you!

1# Dr Svitlana Andruschenko, how would you like to present yourself to the international readers of Scuola Filosofica?

My greetings to the readers of Scuola Filosofica. I am an associate professor at the Institute of International Relations (IIR), which is part of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine. I’m the guarantor of the Master’s Program in Environment and Energy Security in International Relations. Also, I’m an invited lecturer on geopolitics and geostrategy at Chu Hai College of Higher Education, Hong Kong, within the Belt and Road Master’s Program and a fellow at the Center for Defense Studies, a Ukrainian defense policy research organization ( My field of study seems to be rather wide: contemporary geopolitics and geostrategy, energy and environment security, foreign policy of Ukraine and international relations in Africa. But all these international agenda topics are highly interconnected in practice and in scientific research at present.

2# What has motivated you to undertake research on geopolitics, energy and sustainable development? What were key factors that shaped your interest in this area?

I graduated from the IIR in 1998, and it’s hard to believe but we were the first students who studied a course on geopolitics at Ukrainian universities, and that was a really refreshing perspective within international relations theory. For me, it appeared to be the most practical approach to the analysis of international relations as well as policy making. Later, I studied at Hull University (Great Britain), which was the period of my PhD research on security in the Mediterranean region. I chose geopolitical analysis as the basic method of my research and also applied the concept of wider security which goes beyond traditional issues of hard power and military security to include socioeconomic, energy and human security dimensions, which were all within the focus of my research. In 2001, I also undertook an internship at York University (Toronto, Canada) researching asymmetrical relations, and it was at that time that geopolitics of energy and climate change inspired me to create my own course on environment and energy security in international relations.

For me, geopolitics is not a branch of science; rather, it is a practical method of analyzing and doing policy at global, regional and local levels. Nowadays I see geopolitical risk analysis as the most comprehensive tool for policy making domestically and internationally, with energy policy, climate change and sustainable development being highly interconnected within the economy-ecology-energy nexus. This trend is obviously important in geostrategy building as well as for the development of national security policies. In this regard, it is also applicable to the current development of Ukraine, especially its foreign policy and national security.

3# The recent success of HBO miniseries Chernobyl has revived popular interest in this major ecological disaster. How do you think the Chernobyl heritage impacts Ukraine’s current energy policies? How does, in your opinion, this heritage shape global trends in energy and renewables?

Obviously, the Chernobyl disaster revived by HBO miniseries is multifaceted. For me personally it is not only about the environment, but also the lack of effectiveness, reliability and responsibility in disaster and crisis management that was demonstrated by the Soviet government and its successor – the Russian Federation. Chernobyl is about ineffectiveness, inflexibility and, perhaps most importantly, the sheer horror of depreciation of human lives under such political regimes, not to mention the damage to the environment itself.

Nowadays the problem is the polluted area near Chernobyl, the so-called Zone. There is a need for a specific policy toward this area. It’s also about people, youth development, negative consequences for biodiversity and human health, as well as the risk of seasonal fires and their localization. These issues are still open.

And of course, Chernobyl has also pointed to the issue of nuclear safety. It is vitally important in view of contemporary energy transition trends. Nuclear energy is often considered as low-carbon and cheap, but nuclear safety technologies and innovation designed to prevent nuclear disasters are also about the dilemma of whether to invest in the enhancement of nuclear safety or fund innovation in the field of renewables. We have an example of Germany, which declared a goal to phase out nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster, instead relocating investment into renewables, along with Spain, Switzerland and South Korea. This stands in contrast to the French approach, which is about nuclear energy production dominating national energy mix, while China, OAE, Russia and India, in their turn, intend to build new nuclear power plants. Nonetheless, the share of nuclear energy in electricity generation did diminish from 17% in 2000 to 10% in 2017.

Now let me elaborate a bit on Chernobyl’s impact on Ukraine’s energy policy. The Chernobyl disaster galvanized the development of nuclear energy, which was very important for Ukrainian economy, especially in terms of jobs, human development, technology and R&D investments. That was a huge reputational risk: Ukraine was an exporter of experience and knowledge in the nuclear energy area, but its leading expertise and educational basis were undermined substantially. Moreover, after Ukraine gained independence and gave up its nuclear weapon as part of denuclearization process after the collapse of the USSR in early 1990s, it became dependent mostly on Russia in terms of nuclear fuel supplies and nuclear waste management. Nowadays, Ukraine faces the challenge of energy sector reform, especially as regards the role and place of nuclear energy in the country’s energy mix: currently it occupies more than 50% and is the cheapest source of energy. However, nuclear reactors in Ukraine are in a desperate need of modernization due to the obsolescence of equipment, new safety standards, and the introduction of new nuclear fuel technologies.

Finally, the Chernobyl heritage also calls for efforts to reduce dependence on Russia which uses energy as a tool of hybrid war against Ukraine. In this regard, we need to re-equip our nuclear power plants, if not with the current Russian-type equipment, then with that from the US (like Westinghouse) or any other country. All these aspects need precise calculations in terms of their consequences for Ukrainian economy, and Ukraine must decide whether to invest in the strengthening of its nuclear energy or other sectors of energy production, given our commitments within the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and our interest in the attainment of the EU Green Deal targets. In a broader sense, it’s also a geopolitical dilemma for Ukraine.

4# The last decade saw a major increase in the role of renewables and clean energy strategies, ranging from international agreements to fight climate change like the Paris Agreement to the expansion of the market share of electric cars. How can renewables, in your opinion, reshape geopolitics of energy? Conversely, how can existing geopolitical calculus of states facilitate or hinder current clean energy trends?

Renewables are slowly but steadily changing the geopolitics of energy. First, they undermine the role of traditional oil, gas and coal exporting and transit states in some global and regional geopolitics. Here I mean Russia, Middle Eastern countries, Norway, even the United States, Nigeria, i.e. the countries that use energy revenues as a basis for their national budgets. Obviously, this trend is about a changing balance of power in international system due to the vulnerability of traditional fossil fuel suppliers. If fossil fuel revenues decline, these countries will need to rethink their national priorities and strategies. Delays in such re-adjustments could lead to social and economic instability in those countries. At the same time, there has been a growing geopolitical importance of countries rich in minerals and rare earth elements.

Secondly, there has been more and more competition for geopolitical leadership and dominance in clean energy technology, energy transit and innovation, as well as energy digitization for the purpose of increased energy efficiency (smart grids, Internet of Things, energy storages, big data, artificial intelligence, energy tech start-ups). Nowadays there are 40% more investments in these areas than in gas-fired power generation worldwide. Importantly, those countries that do not produce key clean energy technologies may become heavily dependent on the few countries and companies that do. In this context, industrial policy becomes increasingly important – countries will need to create a competitive manufacturing value chain around certain technologies within a fair and rules-based trading system.

Third, energy transit changes vectors of dependencies: the localization of renewable energy production alters economic strategies of states toward more independence, thus changing supply chains of new materials, technologies, and products. Ukraine, by the way, is a vivid example of such transformation with all its complexities. Europe, Japan and China are also heavily dependent on external energy supply and are currently working on new energy security solutions and economic models while considering  climate change targets, job creation etc.

Forth, large companies and organizations relocate more and more investment into renewables. To illustrate, DivestInvest Innovation Group, World Bank, Apple, Microsoft, IKEA, Walmart, TATA Motors have all committed themselves to transform to 100% of their electricity consumption from renewables. Even fossil fuel giants like Exxon Mobile and Shell support the introduction of carbon price.

Fifth, new groups, blocks and alliances, as well as new actors like cities and local municipalities are all becoming part of energy transition trends. Interestingly enough, these new actors are multidimensional in their composition and functions: initiated by governments or intergovernmental entities, these bodies bring together countries, private sector actors and non-governmental organizations to accelerate the adoption of renewables. Some of these include Mission Innovation, the Global Geothermal Alliance, and the International Solar Alliance. Cities and local municipalities are also forming global alliances and networks in the field of renewables, including C40, ICLEI, the global covenant of mayors and California Global Climate Action Summit 2018 etc.

My vision is that states could hardly hamper this process of transformation. Instead, it would be much wiser to embrace these changes like the EU with its Green Deal which aims to solidify Europe’s geopolitical leadership, growing unity and its resolve to address economic, demographic, social and environmental crises. The earlier such an approach takes hold internationally, the more effective and painless these transformations will be.  However, there are still some risks and challenges involved in energy transition, for example: high costs of practical implementation compared to fossil fuels; food security risks in light of redistribution of water and land as an energy resource; retraining and new requirements for education; job creation in new areas; challenges to the paradigm of centrally controlled electricity supply grids due to domestic production of renewables etc.

5# As a revisionist power, Russia resorts to multiple tactics to reshape international order. How does Russia use energy in its foreign policy? What are the security implications of Russian energy exports?

I will try to be concise and precise here. Russia is one of the largest gas and oil producers in the world, and it uses this as a geopolitical tool. Specifically, Russia seeks to control the economies of the so-called post-Soviet states like Ukraine and also European states by exploiting their reliance on its energy supplies. The construction of gas pipelines like Nord Stream I and II, as well as Turk Stream, is also a part of Russia’s geopolitical game. Moscow uses gas and oil to build blocks and influence global energy politics. Currently, Russia uses energy as a tool to strengthen its relations with China in exchange for Chinese loans.

Any dependence is risky, especially when we deal with energy, because it can affect socioeconomic and wider political stability. Russia, by the way, was the first state that used the term “gas war” in relations with Ukraine in 2006, when it clashed with Kyiv over the price of gas and sought to tie it to the issue of the prolongation of the stationing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea. However, Russia’s overreliance on energy resources makes it vulnerable, as oil and gas rents are a vital component of the state budget, accounting for around 40% of its fiscal revenues. To reduce Russia’s influence in the field of energy exports, it is important for the targeted states to promote diversification of energy resource supply and increase domestic energy production.

6# Globalization and rapid technological development have challenged the dominant role of nation-states in international politics. The increasing commercialization of emerging sectors, like renewable energy and space exploration, deepens this trend. What is, in your opinion, the role of non-state actors in energy politics nowadays? Are there any risks attached to the expansion of their influence in the energy sector and what are the ways to mitigate them?

Partially I have mentioned this trend previously when talking about the growing role of non-state actors during the energy transition process. Moreover, energy sector used to be the example of special relations between the state and businesses for centuries: states are highly interested in the consumption of energy for stable economic development, while investments in the extraction and distribution are the matter of concessions between the state and businesses.

The decentralization of energy power generation and control leads to the dispersion of state power, which has implications for modern nation state. The point is that non-state actors are important part of energy policy nowadays, so there is a growing need for effective instruments and tools for cooperation between states and businesses to ensure that national interests in the energy sector are preserved.

7# What are the accomplishments of Ukraine in energy security sector? Could you share some lessons learnt by Ukraine that might be useful for other countries as well?

Ukraine has long been a negative example of overreliance on one energy resource supplier – Russia. Today my country goes through the energy sector reform as the result of geopolitical reorientation after Russia`s annexation of Crimea and its military occupation of eastern territories of Ukraine. The first step in this reform is the diversification of gas and electricity supply. In this regard, Ukraine seeks to join European ENTSO-E system in contrast to United Electricity System with Russia. This is a highly important project for Ukraine’s national security, but it is still in progress with some political and technological constraints in place.

At the same time, there are some other real accomplishments of Ukraine in energy security sector, most notably its rather effective introduction of energy market since 2019. It was achieved through wide market liberalization, engagement of various energy market stakeholders, enlargement of Ukraine’s energy enterprises and retraining of energy specialists. Another positive trend is digitization of energy sector processes, including the delivery of services, support for market and technical operations and increased transparency in energy supply sector. Finally, a really important accomplishment of Ukraine is the completion of the unbundling procedure according to the requirements of the 3rd Energy Package of European Energy Community. Through this procedure, Ukraine had to separate production, transportation and storage of energy resources. With it being done, Ukraine’s energy market now operates according to the European standards which can help the country attract investments and facilitate the energy sector reform. In this light, Ukraine can start implementation of EEC 4th energy package with substantial experience and awareness.

8# You were a lecturer in the School of the Young Ukrainian Diplomat project. How would you define energy diplomacy and its role in international politics nowadays?

Energy diplomacy is a set of tools designed to strengthen national energy security through the means of foreign policy. Global energy policy encompasses several dimensions: economy and market (energy system as a basis for developmental strategies), foreign policy or grand strategy (as a tool for foreign policy), national security (heavy dependence on energy resources), climate change agenda and sustainable development (energy transit). The countries with diverse energy resources and innovation technologies for their storage and transportation, as well as a developed energy supply network, have more capacity to successfully pursue their geopolitical and geoeconomic interests on regional and global scale. And within this context energy diplomacy has a special mission of consolidating global energy policy stakeholders to ensure stable development and global cooperation in energy sector, accumulate additional resources for countering global security challenges, increase cost efficiency and affordability of energy resources, meet climate change targets and protect national interests using a wide range of foreign policy instruments (negotiations, lobbing, sanctions, embargo etc.).

And all these dimensions need articulation, vocalization and implementation. Currently, countries approach energy diplomacy in three ways: 1) as part of economic diplomacy, 2) as part of security and political agenda, and 3) as an element of climate diplomacy. All these approaches to energy diplomacy require involvement of professional diplomats and are vitally important for the establishment of stable relations between exporters and importers of energy resources, services and technologies. And to succeed, modern energy diplomats need to rely on a flexible and clear system of decision making, implementation, opinion making and communication strategies designed by the states and tailored to specific energy security agenda.

9# How can our readers follow you and your organization on social media or elsewhere?

Mainly via Facebook:

10# Could you list five words that characterize you?

Responsive + adaptive + life-long learning + communicative + high organizational skills.

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