Russia has not been able to swallow the entire country of Ukraine in its attempt to swallow it whole. It has only managed to take over the eastern Donbas region, and a portion its southern coast. The rest of Ukraine is still independent, with Kyiv as the capital.
No one knows the end of this meal. Ukraine is eager to force Russia to disgorge what it’s already devoured, while the still-peckish invader clearly has no interestIn leaving the table.
This may seem like a normal territorial dispute between predators and prey. Ukraine’s central location between east and west, however, turns it into a potentially world-historical conflict like the Battle of Tours when the Christian Franks turned back the surging Ummayad army of Muslims in 732 AD or the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam in 1975.
It is obvious that the current war is pivotal. Ukraine has wanted to join western institutions, such as the European Union, for a long time. Russia prefers to absorbUkraine into its Russkiy mir (Russian world). However, this tug of war over the dividing line between East and West isn’t a simple recapitulation of the Cold War. Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly has no interest in reconstituting the Soviet Union, much less in sending his troops westward into Poland or Germany, while the United States isn’t wielding Ukraine as a proxy to fight the Kremlin. Both superpowers have more narrow goals.
The war has huge implications. What may seem like a spatial war is actually a temporal one. Ukraine has the unfortunate misfortune of being caught between two fault lines: a twenty-first-century of failed industrial strategies, and a possible twenty first century reorganization society along clean-energy lines.
In the worst-case scenario, Ukraine could simply be absorbed into the world’s largest petro-state. Or, the two sides could end up in a stalemate. cuts off the world’s hungriestIt continues to deter the international community’s progress in reducing carbon emissions by storing large quantities of grain. Only a decisive victory of Putinism — with its toxic mix of despotism, corruption, right-wing nationalism, and devil-may-care extractivism — would offer the world some sliver of hope when it comes to restoring some measure of planetary balance.
Ukraine is fighting to defend its territory and ensure its survival. In defense of international law, the West has stepped in to help Ukraine. The stakes in this conflict are much more important than that.
What Putin Wants
Vladimir Putin was once a traditional Russian politician. He enjoyed a complex life, like many of his predecessors. ménage à trois With democracy (his boring spouse) or despotism, his true love. He was a mix of cooperation and confrontation with the West. Not a nationalist, he presided over a multiethnic federation; not a populist, he didn’t care much about playing to the masses; not an imperialist, he deployed brutal but limited force to keep Russia from spinning apart.
He also understood Russia’s limits. His country had experienced a dramatic decline in its economic fortune in the 1990s. He worked hard to rebuild state power from what was below his feet. Russia, after all, is the world’s largest exporterNatural gas, the second-largest. oil producer, and its third-largest coal exporter. Even his initial efforts to prevent Russian regions from leaving the Russian sphere, were limited. For example, in 2008 he didn’t tryTo conquer Georgia’s neighboring Georgia, force a stalemate. This brought two independent regions into the Russian sphere.
Putin continued to pursue strategies that would weaken his perceived adversaries. He increased cyberattacks in the BalticsExpanded maritime provocations in the Black SeaAdvanced aggressive territorial claims in the Arctic, and supported right-wing nationalists like France’s Marine Le Pen and Italy’s Matteo Salvini to undermine the unity of the European Union. He even tried to further polarize American politics via 2016. dirty tricksSupport Donald Trump
Always sensitive to challenges to his own power, Putin watched with increasing concern as “color revolutions” spread through parts of the former Soviet Union — from Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2005) to Belarus (2006) and Moldova (2009). He was in Ukraine at the time of the 2013-2014 Euromaidan protests. began shiftingDomestically, to a nationalism which prioritized the interests and resisted reform ferociouslyDisagreement and ramping upAttaches on foreign critics. His paranoia grew and he was forced to. rely onAn ever-smaller group of advisors is less likely to offer bad news or contradict him.
Putin gave up on maintaining even a small degree of good relations with the United States and the European Union in the early 2020s after he was faced with disappointment abroad. Except for Viktor Orbán in Hungary, the European far right had proven a complete disappointment, while his fair-weather friend Donald Trump had lost the 2020 presidential election. Worse, European countries seemed determined and ready to honor their Paris climate accord obligations, which would require them to drastically reduce their dependence on Russian fossil fuels.
In contrast to China’s eagerness to stay on good terms with the United States and Europe, Putin’s Russia began turning its back on centuries of “westernizing” impulses to embrace its Slavic history and traditions. Like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and India’s Narendra Modi, Putin decided that the only ideology that ultimately mattered was nationalism, in his case a particularly virulent, anti-liberal form of it.
All of this suggests that Putin will pursue his goals in Ukraine regardless the long-term consequences for relations with the West. He’s clearly convincedThe West will eventually be forced to accept a more assertive Russia through political polarization, economic sclerosis and a waiver in security commitment to the embattled nation.
He could be right.
Is there a West?
The West has never looked more united since the invasion in Ukraine. Even Sweden and Finland, which were once neutral, are now united. have lined upNATO membership, while the United States and large parts of Europe are mostly in agreement when it comes to sanctions against Russia.
However, things are not going well in the West. In the United States, where Trumpism continues to metastasize within the Republican Party, 64% of Americans are convinced that democracy is “in crisis and at risk of failing,” according to a January NPR/Ipsos poll. In the meantime, a surprising Alliance of Democracies Foundation pollLast year, 44% of respondents from 53 countries rated America, a self-declared beacon of liberty, as a greater threat than either China (38%), or Russia (28%).
The far right continues its challenge to the democratic foundations of Europe. Uber-Christian Viktor Orbán recently won his fourth term as Hungary’s prime minister; the super-conservative Law and Justice Party is firmly at the helm in Poland; the anti-immigrant, Euroskeptical Swiss People’s Party remains the most significant force in that country’s parliament; and the top three far-right political parties in Italy together attract nearly 50%In public opinion polls.
The global economy is still on neoliberal autopilot and has jumped into the flames of stagflation. The World Bank has warned that stock markets are heading into bear territory, and that there is a global recession. recently cutIts 4.1% growth forecast for 2022 to 2.9%. The Biden administration’s perceived failure to address inflation may deliver Congress to Republican extremists this November and social democratic leaders throughout Europe may pay a similar political price for record-high Eurozone inflation.
Although it’s true that the United States continues to dominate the military with its NATO allies, it would seem that this would disprove all rumors about the West’s decline. In reality, though, the West’s military record hasn’t been much better than Russia’s performance in Ukraine. In August 2021 the United States pulled its troops out of Afghanistan’s 20-year-old war. The Taliban regained power. France was the winner of this year’s French embassy. pulled its troopsAfter a decade-long failure against al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants, Mali has been liberated. Western-backed forces did not dislodge Bashar al Assad in Syria and prevented a terrible civil war from engulfing Libya. All the trillions of dollars devoted to achieving “full-spectrum dominance” couldn’t produce enduring success in Iraq or Somalia, wipe out terrorist factionsIn Africa or in North Korea or Cuba to bring about regime change.
Despite its immense military and economic power the West does not seem to be on the same upward trajectory after the collapse of Soviet Union. In the 1990s Eastern Europe and parts of former Soviet Union joined NATO and the European Union. Russia signed a partnership deal with NATO under Boris Yeltsin. JapanSouth Korea and South Korea were interested to pursue a global version.
The West seems increasingly irrelevant to those outside of its own borders today, however. China, whether you love it or not, has rebuilt its Sinocentric sphere within Asia and is now the largest economic player in the Global South. It’s even established alternative global financial institutions that, one day, might replace the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Turkey has turned its back upon the European Union (and vice versa), and Latin America is moving in an independent direction. direction. Consider it a sign that the call was made to sanction Russia. ignored it.
The West’s foundations are becoming more unstable. Francis Fukuyama, a scholar says that democracy is not possible anymore. imaginedIt was the inevitable trajectory of world historical history, in the late 80s. While the global economy is creating inexcusable inequality, and being thrown into chaos by the recent pandemics, it is also exhausting the planet’s resource base. Right-wing extremism as well as garden-variety nationalism are threatening the freedoms that protect liberal societies. It’s no surprise, then, that Putin believes a divided West will ultimately accede to his aggression.
The Ukraine Pivot
There’s never a good time for war.
However, hostilities broke out in Ukraine just as the world was supposed accelerate its transition to clean-energy. In three more years, carbon emissions will increase by 30% must hit their peakOver the next eighteen years, countries should reduce their carbon emissions by half if there’s any hope of meeting the goals of the Paris climate accord by 2050. Even before the current war, most comprehensive estimateThe global temperature rise could reach 2.7 degrees Celsius by the year’s end, which is almost twice the 1.5 degree goal set forth in the agreement.
The world is moving in the opposite direction due to the war in Ukraine. China and India, in fact, are actually increasingTheir use of coal, which is the worst fossil fuel for carbon emissions, was a major factor. Europe is determined to replace Russian oil, natural gas, and countries such as Greece are now looking at increasing their own production. The United States is also doing the same. boostingProduction of oil and gas releasing suppliesFrom its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and hoping that it will persuade other oil-producing nations into importing more of their product to global markets.
With its invasion, in other words, Russia has helped to derail the world’s already faltering effort at decarbonization. Even though Putin was elected to the presidency last fall committed his country to a net-zero carbon policy by 2060, phasing out fossil fuels now would be economic suicide given that he’s done so little to diversify the economy. Despite international sanctions Russia has been making a killing from fossil-fuel sales. raking in a record $97 billionIn the first 100 Days of Battle
All of this could indicate that Vladimir Putin is the last of the failed petropolitics in the 20th century. But don’t count him out yet. He could also be a sign of a future where technologically advanced politicians continue to pursue their narrow political or regional goals, making it harder for the world’s climate change survival.
Putin’s stand in Ukraine is evident. As for Putinism itself — how long it lasts, how persuasive it proves to be for other countries — much depends on China.
After Putin’s invasion, Beijing could have given full-throated support to its ally, promised to buy all the fossil fuels Western sanctions left stranded, provided military equipment to buoy the faltering Russian offensive, and severed its own ties with Europe and the United States. Beijing could have left the World Bank and IMF, as well as international financial institutions, in favor of the New Development Bank (and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), its own multinational organizations. Ukraine could have become a proxy war between East & West.
China, on the other hand, has been playing both sides. Unhappy with Putin’s unpredictable moves, including the invasion, which have disrupted China’s economic expansion, it’s also been disturbed by the sanctions against Russia that similarly cramp its style. Beijing isn’t yet strong enough to challenge the hegemony of the dollar and it also remains dependent on Russian fossil fuels. Now the planet’s greatest emitterChina has been developing a huge amount of renewable energy infrastructure in response to the rising levels of greenhouse gases. Its wind sector generated nearly 30%In 2021, the country will have more power than ever before and its solar sector will grow by almost 15%. Its overall dependence on natural and coal-based energy has not diminished, despite a growing demand for it.
Reliant as it is on Russian energy imports, China won’t yet pull the plug on Putinism, but Washington could help push Beijing in that direction. It was once a dream of the Obama administration to partner with the world’s second-largest economy on clean energy projects. Instead of focusing its attention on China’s numerous ways to contain it, the Biden administration might offer it a greener version. proposalto create a Sino/American economic duopoly. The focus of this time was on making the global economic system sustainable. They could join EuropeIn advancing a Global Green Deal.
In recent months, President Biden was open to the possibility of mending fences and allowing for the previously unthinkable. with VenezuelaAnd Saudi ArabiaTo flood global markets with more oil and reduce rising prices at the pump, Talk about 20th-century mindsets. Instead, it’s time for Washington to consider an eco-détente with Beijing that would, among other things, drive a stake through the heart of Putinism, safeguard Ukraine’s sovereignty, and stop the planet from burning to a crisp.
Otherwise, we know how this unhappy meal will end — as a Last Supper for humanity.