PUTIN’S seemingly confident expectation of a lightning Ukraine victory has been upended by that country’s valiant resistance and the apparent incompetence of his own troops.
He has therefore resorted to indiscriminate bombing and shelling; everything, military or civilian, is fair game. Schools, hospitals and homes are being levelled, innocents killed. Refugees and internally displaced people number about ten million, nearly one-quarter of the population. He insists he reveres the historical and spiritual ties between Russia and Ukraine – indeed, Ukraine is part of Russia, he says. Yet he is prepared to damage or destroy those ties in his quest to bend Ukraine to his vision and will.
But he is proficient at creating deserts and calling them peace. Remember Chechnya in 2000? Georgia in 2008? Syria today? For him, it’s my way or the die way. War criminal? How does the statute of the International Criminal Court define “war crime?” Russia isn’t a member of that court, however. Neither is the US.
President Zelenskyy of Ukraine has repeatedly advocated a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Improbable, but not impossible. Meanwhile, President Biden has promised US$800 million in new military assistance; other NATO countries are providing additional help. Three EU PMs have paid Kyiv a solidarity visit.
More sanctions have been imposed on Russia; more will come. But with the sharp rise in the price of basics like flour, many other countries are also going to take a beating: doubles in TT may well become singles. I say nothing about the projected cost of fuel. And the septuagenarian Putin should note that anti-war protests in Russia involve mostly younger people, who are not as influenced as their elders by the absurd propaganda of his docile state media.
Even countries that would normally support Russia are discomfited by Putin’s assault. China is noticeably uneasy. The Chinese, always subtle, have been carefully plotting their path to replacing the US as the world’s pre-eminent superpower. What message about the execution of their policy and strategies would invasions by allies like Russia send?
I’m now hearing much talk about a “new world order” following the Russian invasion. But how desirable has been the “order” we’ve had for decades? Have the UN and its charter, and the establishment of a plethora of international institutions following World War II, been enough to justify that term? The world has had no end of conflicts and interventions since 1945. Is it because we haven’t had a global conflagration that we say we have “order?”
Or because capitalism has essentially defeated communism, leading to the dominance of the West and what we are told is “liberal democracy,” a condition that’s often neither liberal nor democratic? Or because former colonies have become politically “independent,” even if their “freedom” is severely circumscribed by economic dependence on once and acquired overlords, and psychological colonialism persists?
Where is the “order” if, as Kissinger said in 2014, the West and Russia don’t really understand each other? How does mutual ignorance conduce to “order?” Rather, did it lead to disorder in Ukraine?
Whatever the result in Ukraine (some think Zelenskyy will prevail), we have to step back and look at ourselves as dispassionately as possible. The US and its allies should begin by re-examining their international stances. That can validly be done only after a proper understanding of the world, which I regret they do not now have.
They are convinced they do, of course, and that has been a core problem – a triumphalist assumption of omniscience and omnipotence, and moral and ideological righteousness, born of decades of economic and military superiority, has too often put common sense to flight. Remember the late Madeleine Albright’s bombastic description of the US as “the indispensable country?”
Russia too must candidly face the mirror. However justified Putin may consider his geopolitical concerns and his feelings of humiliation by the West (in fairness to him, Russian apprehension over Ukraine and NATO had been voiced long before him by Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin), his unbridled ongoing attack is, quite simply, barbaric. It will get worse, because he cannot afford to lose face; he must achieve his objectives.
The so-titled “developing world” is no guiltless spectator. Not when religion is weaponised against women and communities. Or when six-year-olds have to labour in cobalt and diamond mines. Or when a sub-Saharan ice-skating rink is installed where millions lack electricity. Or when black and brown oligarchs regard thievery as a fundamental right.
The world certainly needs a new order; it needed one before Ukraine. Geopolitics, yes. But, above all, equality, equity, justice, genuine dialogue, an absence of condescension. If we can do that – a massive if – the output from Putin’s savagery could yet be of global benefit.