by Dan Ehrlich
Russia invaded Ukraine six months ago with no end to the death and destruction in sight. It’s a conflict that is impacting much of the world’s population and re-ignited the long-dead Cold War.
The consequences are posing a devastating threat to the global economy. Governments, businesses and families worldwide are feeling the war’s economic effects just two years after the coronavirus pandemic ravaged global trade. Inflation is soaring, and rocketing energy costs have raised the prospect of a cold, dark winter. Europe stands at the brink of recession.
High food prices and shortages, worsened by the cutoff of fertilizer and grain shipments from Ukraine and Russia that are slowly resuming, could produce widespread hunger and unrest in the developing world.
More than this, the re-launching of the Cold-War with Russia is a lot warmer than during the Soviet era of détente with the West. That’s because the Soviet Union maintained a post WW2 empire as a buffer against the West and had settled down to a live and let-live policy highlighted by nuclear arms treaties with the USA.
But that was then. Russia’s current leader (dictator) Vladimir Putin said the collapse of the Soviet Union was one of history’s greatest disasters. Putin was a communist KGB agent, in name only. He was a person who detested the wealth of the West, wealth that he didn’t have but wanted.
Now, he’s arguably one of the world’s wealthiest people with a big problem. His aggression against Ukraine has left Russia so isolated and boycotted, he, along with scores of his filthy rich oligarch robber barons, have nowhere but Russia to spend their money.
For more than 1,000 years Russia had been ruled by various dictators presiding over a largely peasant population of numerous ethnic tribes spread out over 11 time zones. It was the last major nation to end vassalage, freeing its 23 million serfs between 1861-1866.
History shows nations that develop affluent and educated middle classes and strong economies are less likely to chance their lifestyles on the waging of possible disastrous wars. Russia, however, had its development impeded by the communist revolution which wiped out any chance of a budding middle class for the sake of a so-called classless society.
Fast forward 100 years, Putin’s 20 years in power haven’t been spent on developing a consumer society in Russia along with an industrial base that would transform his country into an economic powerhouse populated by happy affluent people.
Russia’s main exports, other than caviar, are weapons, gas and oil. Most consumer goods bought by Russians come from China or the West.
To understand Putin the would-be communist, one must accept that he despises western values and wealth. His mindset accepts that only a select few should be wealthy, including him, of course. And their wealth and position are contingent on their loyalty to Putin.
His desire is not to make Russians upwardly mobile and wealthy, but rather to make the wealthy western nations less wealthy. And barring that, to keep the west at arms length, fearful of his rogue nation’s nuclear arsenal. To this dictator, the best of both worlds is having Russia exceptional internationally while remaining mediocre domestically.
One reason for his devastating war against Ukraine is his dislike for a part of the former Soviet Union that’s economically and socially outperforming Russia. He feels Ukraine’s success should be Russia’s success and if isn’t, he will destroy the country if need be.
Putin’s initial game plan was to occupy the eastern section of the country, assimilate it into Russia, as it did with Crimea, and possibly wait a few years, as it did with Crimea, before re-starting the conflict with the eventual goal to take all of Ukraine, which he regards as part of historic Russia.
What Putin fails to appreciate is that most Ukrainians don’t regard themselves as Russians and will never surrender their Ukrainian identity. A Russian occupation would almost certainly unleash a costly and endless insurgency by partisans.
On a larger scale, Russia, under Putin, feels it can blackmail the West with the threat of nuclear war to achieve its aims of re-establishing itself as a worldwide superpower. But, along with this, it has also re-established itself as the world’s premier rogue nation, the big brother of soulmate little North Korea…a nation that doesn’t always follow the civilized norms of modern developed countries.
The biggest issue for the West in challenging Russia is the possibility of military confrontation. Its size and relative emptiness are a big problem. Russia has one of the lowest population densities in the world, nine people per sq. kilometer…by comparison, the USA has 36 people and Germany 235 people per square kilometer. Russia also has a declining population, currently at 148 million. (At a time of massive Third World migration, it says something that, unlike the US and UK, there aren’t hordes of immigrants trying to get into Russia).
Now multiply this by 30 NATO member nations, soon to be 32, packed full of affluent cities and citizens, and its easy to see why Russia has the upper hand. Any war with the West could be far more devastating to the West than what the West could do to the vast expanses of Russia.
This is a key aspect of Russia’s current success in holding the West at Bay.
This is leaving the world as divided and perilous as it was during the Cold War with the Soviet Union…yet more dangerous due to the imperial aspirations of Putin.
For the US, its almost routine action of boycotting and isolating certain undemocratic states has proved counter-productive time after time. These states just turn to Russia as an ally.
Until Russia grooms a new post-Soviet crop of leaders with an eye on its own population’s well-being, developing a consumer society and genuine affluent middle class, its outsider status will remain and the western world will kept at arms length, fearful of its imperial ambitions and nuclear power,while still depending on it for natural resources.
AP contributed some material to this report