There will be no ravaging World War III to end all life on earth. But there might be worse: protracted wars on multiple frontlines fought with traditional weapons and run by nuclear powers.
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Even without the prospect of a World War breaking out, the Ukraine crisis stretches far beyond Ukraine itself, with deeper and riskier dimensions than believed. The NATO fears this is only the beginning and knows not what President Vladimir Putin’s plan after Ukraine is. Do the Russians have their eyes set on taking over –or taking back– several former USSR states under the same guises we heard this week, in the name of history, geography, land, religion, debts, protecting national security, responding to NATO expansion, and responding to the mayday calls of a separatist region or an opposition group?
Russia’s military activity in Belarus and Tajikistan reinforces the belief that the Putinian Russia project has just begun. Putin is a Russian Imperial Tsardom man through and through. He dislikes Bolshevik Russia, despite his mantra about taking the Soviet Union as a historical reference in giving back to Russia what is “rightfully” Russia’s. With the annexation of all or most of Ukraine, the world, or my generation, at least, will have seen a global affair come full circle with the return of the Cold War.
So, what could be Russia’s next step? Will Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia be the next prey? There are technically 15 former USSR states that nationalist Russians consider theirs and blame the West for their loss, a theory posited by Putin himself. In a previous speech, the Russian President outlined a political map of utmost importance to grasp what is happening now and what the future may hold, saying: “The leadership of the Communist Party made a lot of mistakes that led to the collapse of the USSR, planting a ‘time bomb’ under the Russian State, at the time called the USSR, by allowing Soviet republics the right to self-determination.”
The deeper dimension of the conflict is Putinian Russia’s determination to expand, at a time when the NATO and the West find themselves in a dire strait: going into a direct clash with a nuclear power is off the table, and entering Ukraine is a political statement that augurs a different world with as-of-yet unknown dimensions, even in other conflict zones across the globe.
A political solution seems far-fetched, such as the Ukraine crisis pushing major powers to seek a new coexistence formula built on the premise of refraining from using force to resolve conflicts, while taking into account the provision of security guarantees. In fact, this is the justification that Moscow reiterates in its objections to the NATO. There is no doubt that since the end of the Cold War, the world has missed the bipolar model. For all its faults, bipolarity at least guaranteed stability on major fronts.
The invasion of Ukraine did not come as a surprise. It was rather expected, as was the use of gas against Europe. Still, there will be no military solution at the level of major powers. As such, it is feared that the West will go for a military option that uses other frontlines in other states, in a bid to warn Moscow that what happened in Ukraine cannot happen again elsewhere.
As for economic sanctions, they are known to be an ineffective weapon, especially when used against systems that are willing to pay the price, dear as it may be. But ironically, the exorbitant costs of Ukraine’s invasion are being borne by the West and the other states of the world, what with the worsening inflation and the price hikes in vital commodities, like energy and wheat.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
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