This is the biggest crisis in world history since World War II, a far cry from the Cuban missile crisis, the chaos of the collapse of the Soviet Union, wars in the Middle East, etc. These kinds of wars go beyond defining the borders and interests of countries to deciding the fate of humanity. Their direct consequences, if extended, would be devastating to weaker nations, as the African proverb goes, “When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.”
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It’s only a matter of time – days or maybe weeks – before Russia takes over Ukraine, unless, of course, an unexpected miracle happens. As long as it is fighting alone, the Ukrainian resistance cannot prevent the inevitable, especially since the NATO will not dare enter into a direct confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia. The massive Western diplomatic, economic, and military pressure aims primarily at making Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine as expensive as possible, so the spoils are not cheap. This will make Russia think twice before moving on to its next target if it has a hidden expansion agenda. The second objective is to drain Russia economically and technically and isolate it politically, as the West hopes to push the Kremlin to retreat in the future or push it towards its collapse within a few years in order to achieve European security.
Russia will take over Ukraine in no time, but can it bear the consequences of the next phase of the crisis that could last for years? It is difficult to assess that today because of the ambiguity surrounding the numerous possibilities that the future holds, including the balance of power or even the conflict with China. The need will arise, then, to either neutralize Russia and win it over as an ally or reconcile with China as Henry Kissinger did back in the 1970s and raise the level of pressure on Moscow.
However, these are different times, and the future is uncertain. No one can claim to know how the Kremlin will respond if cornered. The world has been haunted by the nuclear dilemma for nearly seventy years, with no decision made yet on whether or not to use nuclear weapons. It is a dangerous nightmare. In reasonable political conditions, no one would choose to commit nuclear suicide. But this is not necessarily the case today.
Those who spend their time criticizing “double standards” may need to look at things from a different perspective. In short, the rule is that standards are dropped in times of war, even in wars of smaller scale. The West punished Saddam’s Iraq and Iran by depriving these regimes of aviation, information, media, markets, sports, and art. We must deal with crises realistically.
The state of panic that reigns in Europe, and the West in general, is evident, especially since this is the first direct war to erupt since WWII. In wars, countries fight over resources, such as oil, gas, and wheat, which they consider key weapons in any battle. All three are at stake in the Ukrainian war, and every country in the world –regardless of its distance from the war and Kyiv– is paying dearly. For instance, we may benefit from the rise in oil prices, but on the other hand, we are paying a high price for our purchases of wheat and all imported goods. The rise in the price of oil preceded the Ukrainian crisis, as it came in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis and the recovery of global markets. But naturally, the war and the fears that pervaded the markets did not help with the price hike.
The magnitude of today’s crisis goes beyond the Ukrainian borders, and the goal is not to save Ukraine, but to stop the global deterioration. Good fortune is not having to take sides in a crisis, but neutrality might be out of place here, for even Switzerland has adopted sanctions against Russia. During the UN General Assembly’s vote to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an eagle-eyed Washington was watching for countries voting against it. Russians then announced that their side will not forget the countries’ positions regarding the crisis. Today, our increasingly divided world is living on a knife-edge. Tension is growing, signaling the end of the post-Cold War peace era and the return to war camps.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
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