The war in Ukraine is one of the most profound tragedies of the 21st century. But not only is it the largest continental war since World War II, it is also a crisis that could have far-reaching implications for the key players. For Ukraine, the outcome could define its fate for generations to come.
With Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent “partial mobilization” and intensified nuclear threats, the Kremlin leader could be running out of chances for the survival his own regime. He has revealed himself as panicked and desperate. But it isn’t only Putin running out of lives:
- While the West has been developing economically, it has also shown itself to be at risk of disintegration from within. With the help of “Russian friends,” or even without them, the concept of the European Union (EU) trembles, while European bureaucracy and corruption are widespread contaminants of its professed values;
- Across the pond, the U.S. is rife with corrosive wealth inequality, infrastructure decay, and, while in a significant minority, right-wing constituents are working on a complete break from objective reality, dedicated to creating an American Orbanism;
- Ukraine, a sovereign and democratic nation, has been viciously torn between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces and sentiments for decades, all the while battling stubborn corruption and struggling to define its direction;
- In the East, China is on the precarious edge of a damaging mortgage crisis – potentially (in a worst-case scenario) tempting economic collapse.
In other words, the world table has been perfectly set for a revisionist war and, sadly, given the totality of conditions, it is unlikely this war could have been averted. Prior to the fall of 2021, the only remaining question was who would pull the trigger?
As Russian armed forces gathered ominously around the borders of Ukraine, the world had its answer. But at whom is the gun really pointed?
While economists might go on deluding themselves, let’s not be naïve; the single bullet in the revolver is not Russian gas, but the Russian bomb.
Blinding neon signs advertising the Kremlin’s main message to the world are there for all to see. These include continuous use of nuclear threats in Russian propaganda and state TV, recent deployment of hyper-sonic nuclear missiles on its ships, tactical nukes stationed in Crimea, the nuclear blackmail surrounding the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and the recent deployments of nuclear convoys near Ukrainian borders.
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In the absence of any real economic and scientific development, Russia’s nuclear arsenal is the only bullet the terrorist state can fire in its rapidly collapsing Potemkin state. To the prosperous West, this apocalyptic threat is more disturbing than for a starving and suicidal Russian population.
Having failed to gain a decisive advantage on the battlefield, Russia is now resorting to terrorism, torture and assassinations. It is also threatening Moldova, Poland, and the Baltic states. With Finland and Sweden joining NATO, and Ukraine and Moldova getting candidate status in the EU, Russia is successfully maneuvering towards self-destructive global isolation. That being the case, all Russia can do is clutch its nuclear card in its sweaty grasp, waving it at the world.
But Russia offers the ultimate nihilist’s bargain; if it goes bad for us, it will go just as bad for you.
He who controls the present controls the past and the future – so the saying goes.
Most nations, even those regarded as wealthy and democratic, are pestered by nationalistic and authoritarian movements. Real economic development and freedom of expression are becoming prohibitively expensive in a world reckoning with the indiscriminate growth of previous generations. The Age of Abundance is surrendering to the Age of Scarcity.
However, in this new and gathering world of surveillance capitalism, the outlines of a new coalition are beginning to form.
This new coalition, whatever its composition, will control the agenda, assign the speed and direction of the world’s economic, social, and political development, and will create the framework for surviving the most ominous threat to human existence so far – the exhaustion of the planet’s human-sustaining resources.
If Russia had not attacked Ukraine, membership in this burgeoning world order might have been determined differently. However, the behavior of the Ukrainian people and the strategic and tactical performance of its army, unexpected around the world, have made Ukraine a key participant in the Russian Roulette initiated by the Moscow regime.
Player #1: Russian elites
In the presence of crippling sanctions and in the absence of economic growth, combined with a deteriorating quality of life for the average Russian citizen, it is only a matter of time before domestic opposition becomes impossible to eliminate. As a result, the time for a new nation-unifying “external enemy” has arrived in Russia yet again. In addition, military mobilization in Russia is creating new and unpredictable stresses on an already-precarious domestic peace.
As “threats” to Russia, Chechnya, and Georgia have been liquidated. Kazakhstan has been set up as the next “enemy.” However, successful intervention by China, having accumulated substantial interests in the region, has granted Kazakhstan a reprieve from outright Russian aggression.
Russians, having been nurtured on an endless diet of nationalist lies and propaganda, believe that Ukrainians are venomously anti-Russian. Never mind that nearly the entire history of Ukrainian/Russian relations is a dark tale of Russia working to exterminate Ukrainian identity. To the Russians, Ukrainians are offensive merely because they refuse to be Russian.
Even if the occupation of destroyed territories looks like a Pyrrhic victory, it can still be of use to the elites, fueling Russian pride and unifying the masses around their conquering leader. Equally, the “restoration” of these lands, coupled with the promise of fresh, warm territories for living, will provide a justification for new and exorbitant taxes (or, more accurately, an even higher level of government corruption).
Looking at this from the point of view of the Russian people… well, they have never had a say to begin with. Their point of view is irrelevant now.
But for how long?
Sham referendums and illegal annexations notwithstanding, with every acre of its own land that Ukraine reclaims from the occupiers, the fragile scaffold of Russian social obedience becomes shakier and shakier. Forceful mobilization aiming to recruit at least “300,000 conscripts” but in fact targeting at least 2 million completely unequipped and unprepared civilians does not help the regime.
Player #2: The West
Despite systemic flaws, the liberal democracies of the West have been doing well for themselves.
Nevertheless, the West is not invincible. Plagued by populism and other problems, including slowing economic growth, inflation, rising debt and inequality, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many of the dependencies and weaknesses of unregulated globalization.
Unrestrained money printing is tempting many world economies towards the biggest recession since 2008. Most importantly, the supremacy of the liberal and democratic order may face an existential threat if China wins the artificial intelligence (AI) and biotech race.
To be clear, geopolitical stability, the rule of law, and the respect of sovereign borders is a much better way forward than the path preferred by feckless dictatorships such as Russia.
If Russia brings only tragedy, misery, and death, then the West must bring the defeat of nihilism, and the creation of freedom — freedom from oppression, freedom from corruption, and the freedom to thrive.
As it stands today, the West has bet on Ukraine, in large measure due to Ukrainians’ unwavering support and embrace of Western liberal values — an embrace that Russia fears the most.
It may seem presumptuous, but through its sacrifice and its determination, Ukraine has not only led the West into the role of unconditional ideological and economic supporter, but has given it the chance for the reset it urgently needs.
In failure, Ukraine will represent a major blow to the unchallenged leadership of the Western liberal model. In victory however, Ukraine presents the West with what it needs most – the moral leverage with which to beat back an authoritarianism resurgent around the world.
To be continued.
Kate Levchuk was born and raised in Odesa. A Futurist with a background in International Relations, Geopolitics and Venture Capital, she is a frequent guest lecturer advocating for science and progress. Kate lives in London.
David Dodson is an American film director and editor. He has edited ten Volodymyr Zelensky movies and directed Zelensky in three, including his last film, the most successful movie in the history of cinema in independent Ukraine. He lives in Los Angeles
The views expressed are the authors’ and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.
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