Nigeria and the Three Russo-Ukrainian Wars: The Challenge for Tinubuplomacy

Nigeria and the Three Russo-Ukrainian Wars: The Challenge for Tinubuplomacy


Bola A. Akinterinwa 

Buhariplomacy has come and gone with its reactive lack of foreign policy focus. It is now being replaced with BATplomacy, a coinage from ‘Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s diplomacy.’ Shortly put, it is referred to as Tinubuplomacy, but it is still evolving. Tinubuplomacy should not in any way be confused with the diplomacy of the Nigerian State or with Nigeria’s foreign policy. Generally, Presidents and Heads of Governments are considered the Chief of Diplomacy in their respective countries. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs are their principal emissaries, principal implementers, and principal advisers of foreign policy. 

In this regard, the opinion of the Minister and Ministry of Foreign Affairs do conflict at times. When it does, the position of the President often prevails, unless the position of the Foreign Ministry is known to the public and enjoys public support prompting the setting aside the position of the presidency. One good illustration of this point was the proposed or attempt of Morocco to accede to the 1975 ECOWAS Treaty. The Buhari presidency was in favour of Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS but several Foreign Service Officers advised against it. The foreign policy elite similarly kicked against it. This development compelled the National Assembly to organise a hearing on the subject matter. The strong opposition against Morocco’s membership has compelled the suspension of Morocco’s application.

Explained differently, a president can always have his or her own diplomatic mania of handling international questions. President Buhari did not appear to be bothered by any foreign policy question. His Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, simply conducted foreign policy in his own way, supporting the US-led Western world with little regard for Nigeria’s interest. While Buhariplomacy is the personal attitudinal disposition of the president to diplomacy, Nigeria’s diplomacy is as officially adopted, conducted and managed.

Tinubuplomacy is the art and tact adopted by President Tinubu in handling foreign policy. For instance, he has already been reported to be tilting towards France, meaning that he may be very pro-west. Besides, France is Nigeria’s fifth territorial neighbour by the principle of geo-political propinquity while Benin Republic, Niger Republic, Chad Republic, and Cameroon Republic are Nigeria’s neighbour by the rule of geo-political territorial contiguity. As such, Nigeria’s foreign policy must always factor France’s interest in whatever foreign policy calculations contemplated. How does Tinubuplomacy address the deepening Russo-Ukrainian imbroglio?

The Three Dimensions of the War

The Russo-Ukrainian war has a great potential to affect Nigeria’s interests in Africa, in particular, and in the world, generally. The war now exists at three different levels and has the great potential to threaten Nigeria’s Africa policy in different ways. At the first level, which is at the level of the hot war between Russia and Ukraine, Nigeria is already considered a potential enemy of Russia or a member of the Euro-American gang-up against Russia and the rationale for this is not far-fetched: Shortly after the Russian special military intervention, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister was reported to have called on Russia to immediately withdraw its troops from Ukraine. In other words, while many other African countries opted to adopt a neutral approach to the crisis by refusing to vote to condemn Russia at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Nigeria voted to condemn the Russian invasion. 

And most unfortunately, there is yet any reason to show that the Nigerian vote at the UNGA reflected the protection of Nigeria’s national interest. There is no disputing the fact that Nigeria maintained warm relationships with both Russia and Ukraine. In fact, the mere consideration that Russia is on record to have pledged in 2019 to help Nigeria speedily complete the Ajaokuta steel project is enough reason not to be seen to be taking side with Ukraine. The strategic interests to be protected at the level of Russia are greater than at the level of Ukraine. With the current politico-military lull created by the prosecution of the war is such that it now creates challenges for both Tinubuplomacy, especially in terms of how to redress Nigeria’s anti-Russian attitude as adopted under President Buhari. Let us first deal with the three levels of the war.

At this first level of the war, which Vladimir Putin’s Russia has called Special Military Intervention in Ukraine on 24th February, 2022, but which the Euro-Americans have described as Russian Invasion of Ukraine, the global world order is increasingly being criticised. Agitation for a new world order is on the increase. In fact, regardless of the designation, it is simply a hot war that is difficult to describe as having been provoked or non-provoked. True, Ukraine did not start the hostilities. In fact, Russia is on record to have annexed Crimea earlier in 2014. The annexation of Crimea was a resultant of conflicting political interests at the domestic level and the invasion of February 2022 is seen as an escalation of the war begun in 2014. This is the level of the war that is generally discussed and referred to internationally.

The second level of the war is the dimension of the European versus Russia. The war is not hot and strictly military like the first level but economic. It has an indirect military hostility, on the one hand, and soft war, on the other. The aspect of indirect hostility deals with the military logistics and support provided by Euro-American countries to Ukraine while the soft power aspect is about punitive economic sanctions. It takes the format of sanctions not only against Russia but also against countries perceived to have been engaged in any action that undermines or threatens the territorial integrity and sovereign independence of Ukraine. For instance, Belarus is sanctioned reportedly because of its response to the Russian invasion while Iran is similarly sanctioned for its manufacture and supply of drones. 

Militarily, Ukraine was supported with various arms and weapons to help sustain Ukrainian resistance. The United States is currently considering the deployment of cluster bombs to Ukraine. Economically, individuals and institutions have been identified and sanctioned. Several banks and financial institutions, military institutions, aviation companies, shipbuilding and machine building companies, the Wagner Group, media organisations considered to be responsible for disinformation and propaganda, political parties, as well as the All-Russia People’s Front and paramilitary groups are sanctioned for various reasons: alleged looting of Ukraine’s cultural heritage, engagement of Syrian mercenaries to fight in Ukraine, missile strikes against internationally-protected civilians, forceful deportation and adoption of Ukrainian children, as well as manufacture and supply of drones.

What is noteworthy about the sanctions is that the Russian leadership as a whole is being held responsible for the alleged atrocities being committed in Ukraine. Members of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation, Members of the National Security Council, Members of the Russian State Duma (the lower House of the Parliament), as well as the Wagner Group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin and all commanders of the Wagner Group are listed for sanctions. The sanctions vary from restrictions on trade with Russia and travel bans to bans on crude oil, steel products, seafood and liquor, etc.

The EU stopped the provision of some goods and services to Russia and its businesses: IT Consultancy, legal advice, architecture and engineering services etc. The EU banned the importation and exportation of certain goods, and also suspended work on the accession of Belarus to the WTO. In fact, EU advertising, market research and public opinion polling services, product testing and technical inspection were similarly prohibited. Additionally, Russian and Belarusian road transport operators are prevented from entering any of the EU countries. Russian aircraft are banned from overflying the EU airspace. And perhaps more disturbingly, the EU closed its ports to Russia’s entire merchant fleet of more than 2800, but excepting those carrying energy, medical, pharmaceutics, agricultural and food products, and humanitarian aid.

In the period from February 2022 to date, the EU has banned more than €43.9 billion in exported goods to Russia and €91.2bn in imported goods. An estimated 1,800 individuals have been sanctioned. Russian membership of the Council of Europe has been denounced. Western plenipotentiaries have been recalled. Russia has also been banned from the Swift Messaging System through which more than 11,000 financial institutions do exchange information. By implication, about ten Russian banks have been prevented from taking part in global financial transactions using the Swift System.

And true enough, at this level of soft economic war, it should be noted that no one has the monopoly of sanction-taking. Russia too has been reciprocating. Russia simply took the EU sanctions as a source of blessings. First, Russia introduced a bill on information fakers. The bill provided a 15-year imprisonment for peddling of wrong information. Opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the domestic level is severely punished. Secondly, the Russian currency, Rubble, is made more attractive: increase in interest rate to the tune of 20%, the Rubble was made difficult to sell. The interest on exchange for foreign currencies was increased in order to discourage demand. In fact, the rubble is said to have now witnessed a 7-year high rating.

And perhaps more interestingly, President Putin introduced the policy of ‘Technologically Regressive Import Substitution,’ which, as developed by Dr Branco Milanovic, involves the ‘replacing imported goods with local, inferior old fashioned goods,’ to borrow the words of Ayomiotan Iyinoluwa Alabi of the International Relations Department of the Achievers University, Owo, Ondo State. Russia banned the import of over 200 goods from the West and also blocked the payment of interest to foreign holders of government bonds. In other words, Russia prohibited the payment by Russian companies of overseas shareholders. Additionally, foreign investors, many of whom hold billions of US dollars, worth of Russian investments, were all banned from selling them.

The third level of the Russo-Ukrainian war is the proxy war generated by the first two levels and which must attract very cautious Tinubuplomacy in response.

3rd Russo-Ukrainian War and Tinubuplomacy

The third Russo-Ukrainian war is a proxy war that is believed to be in the making. The proxy war is expected to be a prelude to a general war in Europe with the possibility of its manifestations in other parts of the world. In a news story analysis, “New War Could Start in Europe as 8,000 Troops Cross Border, with Threat of Nukes,” by Yelena Mandenberg and Neil Shaw, the crossing of 8,000 Russian soldiers into Belarus cannot but be a pointer to a larger problem of insecurity in Europe, simply because they are linked to the military contractor Wagner who relocated to Belarus after the failed insurrection by the Wagner leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin in Moscow.

As explained by Mykola Volkivskyi, former Advisor to the Chairman of the Committee of the Ukrainian Foundation of Parliament, and President of the First International Ukrainian Development, ‘the transfer of tactical nuclear weapons to Minsk fits into this scheme.’ With the troops in Belarus, that could spark another conflict, and movement of nuclear weapons. And true enough, many countries have already been heightening their border security and also asking for help from the NATO.

In the words of Volkivskyi, ‘that is why Polish politicians are now talking about possible threats and the need to strengthen Poland’s border, especially the one bordering Belarus. Before that, the fence on the Polish side had already been erected. The common border between Poland and Belarus is 398.6 kilometres long.’ And perhaps more significantly, the Prime Minister of Latvia, Mr Artuš Krisjānis Karinš also has it that ‘we keep a very wary eye on everything that occurs in Belarus with Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin there and unknown number of very trained and skilled fighters who presumably will be joining him.’

Additionally, Prime Minister Karinš said ‘that does potentially pose a threat. The threat would probably not be a frontal military threat, but the threat of attempted infiltration into Europe for unknown purposes. So that means we need to heighten our border awareness and make sure that we can control that.’ This statement is self-explanatory: the challenge is simply not the question of a frontal military war but the uncertainty surrounding the attempted infiltration of the Wagner mercenaries into Europe for unknown purposes. This is precisely the reason for the fear and for the speculation that the first level of the Ukrainian war, which is ab initio between Russia and Ukraine, is now being expected to escalate to the whole of Europe.

As reported by Mandenberg and Shaw, ‘the Wagner’s forces are not only scattered around the world, they may also use their position and proximity to cause chaos in other places, from flying in African and Middle-Eastern migrants to staging an artificial border crisis or something less official, but worse, since these soldiers are known for being hardened criminals that are recruited straight out of prison.’ In light of the foregoing fears of an expanding insecurity in Europe, what should Nigeria’s strategic foreign policy calculations be? What precisely should Tinubuplomacy and Tinubuplomats be more concerned with?

First, the Euronews has reported that many countries have asked the NATO to assist them in securing their international borders. There is nothing wrong in seeking international help. However, how do we explain the fact that the same NATO from which help is being sought has not been able to sort out the hot war in Ukraine? Secondly, some of the countries seeking NATO’s assistance are both de facto and de jure members of the NATO. In other words, Article 5 of the NATO Treaty naturally applies to them. Why has the NATO not been able to prevent the infiltration of the Wagner forces in its member states or in their potential member-state? 

In this type of uncertainty, does it make sense for Nigeria to be aligned? What national interest is to be protected by aligning? Current international developments have shown that anti-Westernisation is on gradual increase in international politics. Apart from the well-known Iran-Iraqi’s anti-American politics, as well as the Sino-American sentiments of mutual hostility, the particular new case of the BRICS is noteworthy. The BRICS is non-military oriented but economic. It is working towards an alternative to the dollarized international monetary relations. Without carrying any gun and shooting, the offer of another international currency cannot but undermine the influence of the Breton Woods institutions. In this regard, will Nigeria prefer to subscribe to the old Breton Wood School or subscribe to the BRICS School?

Thirdly, the next NATO Summit is scheduled to hold this week in Vilnius, which is 30 kilometres from Belarus. It is to Belarus that the Wagner mercenaries have escaped and from which likely attacks are expected to be launched in the foreseeable future. At the Vilnius summit, the NATO membership of Ukraine is expected to be raised and officially announced. In this regard, to what extent will the adhesion of Ukraine to the NATO be a solution to the institutional, cultural, political, and military animosity between Russia and Ukraine at the first level of the war? Will Ukrainian membership of the NATO mitigate the Russo-American animosity? Will it put a stop to the US foreign policy objective of neutralising the Russian Federation? Thinking along the line of General Charles de Gaulle’s theory, according to which France lost the battle but not the war, can it be rightly posited that Russia will lose the war and therefore the battle? We strongly foresee a situation in which Russia can lose the battle in Ukraine but not likely losing the war. The war has an entrenched severe grudges. The animosity vis-à-vis the US-led Western world has seriously deepened, meaning that the real war cannot but be for tomorrow. Battles are always fought and won, but the winning does not always end the animosity, even with military surrender. The defeat of Nazi Germany in the First World War did not prevent the making of World War II. There is nothing to suggest yet that the Ukrainian war will not be further internationalised and even globalised. What the French and the Germans have done to prevent fresh war between them was to institute in 1963 a quarterly bilateral summit during which any issue of disagreement is always ironed out before it degenerates into a crisis and conflict. A similar Franco-British summit also exists. Consequently, in the context of Tinubuplomacy, even though the world is the outermost concentric circle of Nigeria’s foreign policy, meaning that the world is the least important in terms of foreign policy operational areas, it is useful to also note that the situational reality of global developments and international politics now requires placing greater emphasis on the world in order to be able to ensure national security in the innermost foreign policy circle which is Nigeria and all its immediate neighbours. A new world order is already in the making and Nigeria should ssssnot be cut unawares.

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