I’m pretty sure that February 24th, 2022 is going to be found in the history books of the future; if those books ever get written and we don’t end up witnessing how a nuclear winter really looks like. The predictability of a Europe, and later United States-dominated world, where the ‘West’ ruled and enjoyed unprecedented levels of comfort, material wealth and peace and the rest of the world either suffered or very gradually developed, feeding from the leftovers of Western consumption and interests, is no more.
Like an engine whose gears are slowly becoming loose, one by one the basic mandates that the West-dominated status-quo imposed on the planet are compromised, cancelled, ignored. And that’s a bad, and dangerous thing. Bad, not because of some theoretical impossibility of a better world order that’s not West-dominated, but because, today, there are hardly any alternatives that are even close to providing the world anywhere near the levels of freedom, progress, safety as those on offer in the West. Dangerous, because of the volatile way this change is being realised.
By following the mainstream media of the ‘West’, there is so much talk of Vladimir Putin being reckless, ill, crazy, how Russia is taking heavy casualties on the Ukrainian war theatre, how much the West has supported Ukraine with modern armaments etc. allowing it to defend itself (unless I’m mistaken much of this support is not gratis; Ukraine is effectively ‘borrowing’ huge amounts of money to get this equipment!) If someone wasn’t living in Europe, or, indeed, the United States, they would probably believe everything they read in the ‘newspapers’. But it’s hard to do so when fuel, electricity and natural gas prices are so high, if not the highest they’ve ever been. And with them, everything from transportation, food to industrial and consumer goods are becoming impossibly expensive. Ukraine is not directly threatening Europe’s food supply, its grain is mostly feeding Africa after all, but I suppose if it did, people would be even more sceptical of what they read in the news.
Vladimir Putin is delusional, nostalgic and bitter about the USSR’s demise. He probably thinks of himself as a Russian Great Hero, Vladimir the Great, who is going to restore Russia’s preeminence in the world. He is callous, daring and blatantly against the Western dominated world order. And despite not being anywhere close to a master tactician or strategist, he’s not crazy. Putin’s actions in Ukraine follow his previous actions in Georgia and, indeed, Crimea in 2008 and 2014. Back then the West’s reaction was much more limited and nuanced. Sanctions were largely symbolic, and the relationship between Russia and the West, and by extension the world economy, while strained, was not affected anywhere near what we are experiencing in 2022.
Yet, despite the rapid imposition of sanctions, the reinvigoration of NATO from, to borrow Emmanuel Macron’s characterisation, a ‘braindead’ organisation without purpose, to an active and relevant cornerstone of European security, in light of Russia’s aggression, the collective action of the EU, Britain, US, Australia and Japan (as well as smaller, satellite states that want to play nice with the West) to drastically curtail their dependence on Russian resources, business, money and influence, much of the world hasn’t joined the ‘West’ in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. China, India, many African states, some Latin American states, Turkey, among others, have very openly either abstained from any openly aggressive action against Russia or tacitly supported it.
As a result, European and American consumers are now seeing their electricity bills balloon to impossible highs, despite their governments’ generous subsidies, close to 50% for the month of July in Greece!; they’ve seen their fuel prices soar to impossible highs; titans of European industry, like Volkswagen and Airbus, stopped production lines due to supply chain disruption. They’ve read talk of rolling blackouts in Britain and France, seen inflation reach levels unseen since the early 1990s, layoffs in what were considered some of the most prosperous, well-to-do companies in sectors like technology, which only a year earlier enjoyed unprecedented growth and investment.
By all accounts, Russia is succeeding in gradually making its point, eating away at parts of Ukraine, its infrastructure decimated, its people suffering. Let’s not kid ourselves, few knew or cared about Ukraine before the Russian invasion, even after the latter took Crimea. Few cared about its role in supplying many countries with grain, even in those countries that benefitted the most from it. Few care about the conflict even today, and they would care even less if it didn’t directly affect their wallets and daily lives. Like few still know, read or care about the conflict in Syria, or ever bothered finding out what was happening for almost twenty years in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And this is one of the reasons why the rest of the world doesn’t care about the West’s response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. Because for them, this thing has been happening forever: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq (again), Syria, several African states, several Asian states. The only difference was that European and American households were never directly affected by all those regional conflicts as they are today by the conflict in Ukraine. That the war was never so close to Europe’s heartland. (the brief conflicts in former Yugoslavia successor states excepted.)
The Russian attack in Ukraine is nothing but ‘business as usual’ to them; the fragility of the West’s dominance and its dependence on Russia, China and a few other states, the reaction of the West to the open rejection of its status quo by Russia (and, implicitly, the other states either not taking its side or openly supporting Russia, materially or diplomatically), does not mean much to them, in the same way the conflict in Afghanistan or Syria never really bothered most of the European or American populations.
This is why the ‘West’ is losing. It’s not just its dependence on Russian natural resources, Chinese natural resources and manufacturing capability etc. It’s also its self-centred view of the world that, other things being equal, deprives it of the moral arguments needed to support its causes, even when those are noble. While it’s obvious that Putin’s narrative of the ‘West’ trying to destroy Russia, of NATO’s expansion being offensive in nature (versus a defensive move that Russia’s neighbours feel they cannot afford not to make, given Russia’s aggression and openly stated aspirations), that Russia is ‘entitled’ to a USSR-sized empire and sphere of influence, etc. is completely delusional, irredentist, maximalistic and dangerous for world peace, much of the rhetoric coming from the West often bears no relation to its real motives, and interests. Even if Ukraine, as a sovereign state being attacked, should have every right to defend itself against such aggression.
I cannot see how the West could ever win in this conflict, even if its dependence on Russian resources allowed it to. The root cause is that the ‘West’ does not occupy the moral high ground needed to form a global coalition against Russian aggression and, increasingly, not enough muscle, to coerce the rest of the world to follow suit in supporting it. If anything, Russian economy seems to have managed to sidestep the sanctions, through China, Turkey and its other regional allies, while Europe is struggling with extremely high energy prices, disrupted supply chains and higher than ever defense spending.
I am not one to prophesise, but my hopes are quite low for the prospects of this war. Leaving doomsday scenarios aside, the most likely, largely bloodless (in the wider sense, of course; the Ukrainian people are fighting and dying either way) outcome of this war, is Putin eventually getting what he wants, Russia getting an important part of south Ukrainian territory, with the silent consent of the West and despite the strong protests of Ukraine and the sacrifice of the Ukrainian people. Europe, the US and their allies depend so much on Russian resources, they will not be able to keep Russia isolated for much longer. It could be as early as Winter 2022, when the dependence on Russian Gas becomes even more clearer to Europe and subsidies start becoming an impossibility, that a ‘compromise’ will be reached, even if that means Ukraine’s current government is ousted to make this happen. And that is probably going to bolster Putin and result in further expansionist ‘special operations’, possibly in Moldova.