No way out

Image: Michelangelo Pistoletto
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By ALASTAIR CROOKE*

How to carry out a “revolutionary” metamorphosis without going to war with the West

It has already become clear that, where it really matters, the conflict is resolved – however far it may be from ending. It is clear that in military warfare – as in politics – Russia will prevail. This means that what emerges in Ukraine, military actions completed, will be dictated by Moscow on its own terms.

It is evident that, on the one hand, the Kiev regime would collapse if it had its terms dictated by Moscow. On the other hand, the entire Western agenda behind the Maidan coup in 2014 would also implode. (That is why an exit, in the absence of a Ukrainian route, is impossible).

This moment therefore marks a crucial turning point. Ending the conflict could be a possible American choice – and there are many voices calling for a deal, or a ceasefire, with the understandably human interest of ending the senseless slaughter of young Ukrainians, sent to the front to defend indefensible positions and, in the end, be cynically killed in the name of zero military gain, just to keep the war going.

As rational as it may be, the case for an exit misses the big geopolitical issue: the West is so invested in its fantastical narrative of Russia's imminent collapse and humiliation that it finds itself “hands tied”. He cannot move forward, fearing that NATO is not up to the task of confronting Russian forces (Putin has made it quite clear that Russia has not yet begun to deploy its full force). And yet, to seal an agreement, to retreat, would be to break face.

And “break the face” can be loosely translated as a defeat for the liberal West.

In this way, the West has made itself hostage to its unrestricted triumphalism, masked as an information war. He chose this unrestricted chauvinism. Joe Biden's aides, however, reading the runes of war – of Russia's relentless conquests – began to sense the arrival of another debacle about foreign policy.

They view events as far from reaffirming the “rule-driven order” but as starkly demonstrating to the world the limits of US power – ceding the stage not only to a resurgent Russia, but one that also carries a revolutionary message. for the rest of the world (a fact the West has yet to become aware of, however).

Furthermore, the Western alliance is disintegrating as war fatigue sets in and European economies are faced with a recession. The contemporary instinctive inclination to decide first, then think (European sanctions) has put Europe in an existential crisis.

The United Kingdom is an example of Europe's biggest dilemma: its political class, confused and terrified, was at first "determined" to remove its leader, only to later realize that it did not have a successor at hand with the ability to manage the new normal, and now he has no idea how to escape the trap he has placed himself in.

Without the audacity to break the face with Ukraine, it does not have a solution equal to the recession that looms on the horizon (except, perhaps, a return to Thatcherism?). The same can be said of the European political class: they are like a deer in the headlights of a speeding car.

Joe Biden, and a certain network that spans Washington, London, Brussels, Warsaw and the Balkans, sees Russia from a height of 30 feet above the Ukrainian conflict. It is well known that Joe Biden believes he is in an equidistant position between two dangerous and threatening tendencies that are gripping the United States and the West: Trumpism at home and Putinism abroad. Both, he said, are a clear and present threat to the rules-based liberal order that (the team) Joe Biden passionately believes in.

Other voices – mostly coming from the realistic US camp – are not as moved by Russia; for them, the “real men” face China. They just want to keep the conflict in Ukraine stagnant in order to protect their faces if possible (with more weapons) while the Chinese pivot is activated.

In a speech delivered at the Hudson institute, Mike Pompeo gave a foreign policy statement that clearly had his sights set on 2024 and his rise to the vice president position. The bulk of his speech dealt with China, although what he said about Ukraine is also interesting: Volodymyr Zelensky's importance to the US depended on his ability to sustain the war (ie, save face from the West). He did not explicitly refer to sending in troops, but it was clear that he did not advocate such a step.

His message was to offer Ukraine weapons, weapons and weapons; and “move forward” – directing attention to China now. Mike Pompeo insisted that the US diplomatically recognize Taiwan right now, no matter what happens. (that is, regardless of the possibility of this reaction triggering a war with China). He included Russia in the equation simply by saying that it and China should effectively be treated as one.

Joe Biden, however, appears to be motivated to let the moment pass and move forward on the current trajectory. This is also what many participants in this mess want. The fact is, deep state prospects are at odds, and influential Wall Street bankers are certainly unaffected by Mike Pompeo's ideas. They would prefer an easing of tensions with China. Moving on, therefore, is the easiest alternative, as domestic attention in the US has focused on economic woes.

What is at issue here is that the West finds itself completely trapped: it can neither advance nor retreat. Its political and economic structures prevent it. Joe Biden is stuck in Ukraine; Europe is tied to Ukraine and its belligerence against Vladimir Putin; the same goes for the UK; and the West is stuck in its relations with Russia and China. Even more important is the fact that none of them can stand up to Russia's and China's insistent demands for a restructuring of the global security architecture.

If they cannot move on this security plane – for fear of breaking their face – they will be unable to assimilate (or hear – given the ingrained cynicism that accompanies every word uttered by President Putin) that Russia's agenda goes far beyond the architecture of security.

For example, veteran diplomat and Indian commentator MK Badrakhumar wrote: “After Sakhalin-2, [on an island in eastern Russia] Moscow also plans to nationalize the Sakhalin-1 oil and gas production project, expelling shareholders North Americans and Japanese. The capability of Sakhalin-1 is impressive. There was a time, before OPEC set limits on production levels, when Russia was extracting up to 400.000 barrels a day, while the recent production level has been around 220.000 barrels a day.

The general trend of nationalization of American, British, Japanese and European capital holdings in strategic sectors of the Russian economy is crystallizing as its new policy. The cleansing of the Russian economy, freed from Western capital, is expected to accelerate in a future period.

Moscow was aware of the predatory nature of Western capital in Russia's oil sector – a legacy of the Boris Yeltsin era – but had to live with exploitation as it did not want to antagonize other potential Western investors. This has all become history. Relations with the West soured to a breaking point that freed Moscow from such archaic inhibitions.

After coming to power in 1999, President Vladimir Putin set himself the monstrous task of purging the Augean stables of Russia's foreign collaboration in the oil sector. The “decolonization” process was excruciating, but Putin went through with it.”

And that's not the whole story. Vladimir Putin keeps saying in his speeches that the West is the author of its debt and its inflationary crisis (and not Russia), which causes a good deal of headaches in the West. Let Professor Hudson explain, however, why much of the rest of the world believes that the West has chosen the “wrong path” economically. In short, for Vladimir Putin, the West's choices have led him to a dead end.

Professor Hudson (paraphrased and rewritten) argues that there are essentially two broad economic models that run through history: “on the one hand, we see Near Eastern and Asian societies organizing to maintain balance and social cohesion by maintaining their debt ratios and mercantile wealth subordinated to the general welfare of the community as a whole”.

All ancient societies were wary of wealth as it tended to be accumulated at the expense of the general population – and led to social polarization and large inequalities of wealth. Observing the course of ancient history, we can see (says Hudson) that the main objective of rulers, from Babylonia to South and East Asia, was to prevent a merchant or creditor oligarchy from emerging and concentrating land ownership in their hands. This is a historic model.

The great problem solved by the Bronze Age Near East – and which classical antiquity and Western civilization did not solve – was how to deal with mounting debts (periodic debt jubilees) without polarizing society and, in the end, impoverishing the economy by making the majority of the population dependent on debt.

One of Hudson's key principles is the way China has structured itself as an economy. low cost: cheap housing, subsidized education, healthcare and transportation – which means consumers have some surplus disposable income – and China as a whole becomes competitive. The Western model, financialized and based on debt, is, however, costly, with portions of the population becoming increasingly poor and devoid of discretionary income after paying the debt service costs.

The Western periphery, however, lacking a tradition like that of the Near East, “turned” to a rich creditor oligarchy, allowing it to seize power and concentrate land and property in its hands. For reasons ofpublic relations”, it asserted itself as “democracy” and denounced any protective government regulation as being, by definition, “autocracy”. This is the second great model, which, however, with its debt balance and now in an inflationary spiral, is also trapped, without the means to take a step forward.

Events in Rome followed the second model, and we are still experiencing their repercussions. Making debtors dependent on wealthy creditors is what economists today call a “free market”. It is a market without public checks and balances against inequality, fraud or privatization of the public domain.

This pro-creditor neoliberal ethic, argues Professor Hudson, is at the root of today's new Cold War. When President Joe Biden describes this great global conflict that seeks to isolate China, Russia, India, Iran and their Eurasian partners, he characterizes it as an existential struggle between “democracy” and “autocracy”.

By democracy he means oligarchy. And by “autocracy”, any government strong enough to prevent a financial oligarchy from seizing control of government and society and imposing neoliberal measures – by force – as Putin did. The “democratic” ideal is to make the rest of the world resemble Boris Yeltsin's Russia, where neoliberal Americans had carte blanche to end all public ownership of land, mineral rights and basic public utilities.

Today, however, we are dealing with shades of gray – there is no truly free market in the US; and China and Russia are mixed economies, although they tend to prioritize the welfare of the community as a whole, rather than imagining that individuals, left to their own selfish interests, would lead to a maximization of national wealth.

The point is this: an economy inspired by Adam Smith, added to individualism, is inscribed in the Zeitgeist western. It won't change. However, President Vladimir Putin's new policy of clearing the Augean stables of "predatory Western capital" and the examples set by Russia in its metamorphosis towards a largely self-sustaining economy, immune to dollar hegemony, is music to the South's ears. Global and most of the rest of the world.

If we add this to the initiative of Russia and China to contest the West's “right” to define the rules and to monopolize the medium (the dollar) as the basis for establishing exchange between States, with BRICS+ and SCO gaining strength, Vladimir Putin's speeches will reveal his revolutionary agenda.

One aspect remains: how to carry out a “revolutionary” metamorphosis without going to war with the West. The US and Europe are stuck. They are not capable of renewing themselves because political and economic structural contradictions have blocked their paradigm. How, then, to unblock the situation without a war?

The key, paradoxically, may lie with Russia's and China's deep understanding of the flaws of the Western economic model. The West needs a catharsis to “unlock itself”. This catharsis can be defined as the process of release, and therefore relief, of strong or repressed emotions associated with beliefs.

It will be painful, have no doubt, but better than a nuclear catharsis. We may remember the end of CP Cafafy's poem:

Because night fell and the Barbarians did not come.\ And some people who arrived from the border\ say that there is no sign of Barbarians there.\ And now, what will become of us without the Barbarians?\These people were a kind of solution.

*Alastair Crooke, former British diplomat, founder and director of Conflicts Forum, based in Beirut.

Translation: Daniel Pavan.

Originally published on the website Strategic Culture Foundation

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