Ukraine – military violence, economic violence

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By TADEU VALADARES*

Considerations on the recent developments of the war in Europe

“The future is always backed up” (Augusto Roa Bastos, metaphors)

On March 4th, the site the earth is round circled text titled “Notes on a War in Progress”, my attempt, admittedly precarious – eight days after the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine – to reach some understanding of what was happening, the genesis of what was at stake, what had led Vladimir Putin to decide on the invasion and what that the head-on collision between Moscow and Kiev provoked as an accelerator of the process of profound change in the international system.

In a way, this new text is a kind of dialogue with the previous one, my effort of analysis and interpretation, also under the key of the precarious, which takes into account some of the developments that have occurred since then on various levels, directly or indirectly linked to what the Russian government calls it a “special military operation”.

I know I am oversimplifying, but I begin by noting that since the outbreak of the war, the debate centered on it has diversified and deepened, with at least three groups taking part, two of which see Kiev and Moscow, the West and Russia, from completely opposite lenses. Both, at their maximum limit, tend to Manichaeism. The third seeks, through realistic and more distanced analyses, to critically decipher what is happening in general terms, that is: the complex relationship between the military violence unleashed by Russia on February 24, when it attacked on several fronts; the support, in terms of weapons, training and political-diplomatic and media coverage, received by the Kiev government from NATO member countries and others from the so-called West; the economic-financial violence unleashed by the US-NATO-European Union trio in its attempt to strangle Russia economically; and, furthermore, the outbreak of the so-called New Cold War that all this encompasses, and which points to the emergence of a new bipolar order, at the same time succeeding and surpassing the one that was designed in Bretton Woods.

The debate on the war in Ukraine, in the specific field of the left, has been marked by strong disagreements and clear conflicts of interpretation. I believe that this Babel will survive the war itself, whether the conflict ends in months or years. What the “special military operation” provoked in the left, both in Brazil and on a global scale, is becoming another important watershed, as were World War I and the decision of a large part of social democracy to put internationalism in parentheses. ; the Russian Revolution; the Stalinist degeneration confronted by Trotsky's Trotskyism; and the Cold War itself ended shortly before the dissolution of the USSR.

In this debate, those most passionate or blinded, consciously or not, start from the defense of social democracy, especially the European one, as the only space that would allow the structural changes of the iron cage, as defended by the left – I know that the adjective does not cover the entire universe concerned – social democratic. These defenders see in Russia the expansionism of authoritarian barbarism, Moscow as the heir, at the same time and despite the little argumentative logic, of the Tsarist Empire and Stalinist totalitarianism.

On the other hand, there are those who criticize the West in a complementary and inverse way, the West itself being the true barbarism that has accompanied us since the imperial colonial expansion, from the XNUMXth century until almost the end of the XNUMXth, when the imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism is imposed, today under the name of globalization. Deep down, a part of those who adopt this position in which I most recognize myself, has its weak point in the tendency – in my absolutely mistaken understanding – to be enthusiastic about Russia as if the Federation were socialist, or because, “Realpolitik oblige”, Vlaimir Putin’s Russia is a great anti-imperialist force, as is China. So, Third World/Global South travel companion.

I could be dead wrong, but this is how I see, in structural terms, the ongoing internal debate on the left. You will see that, under this manifest dissonance, the inconclusive duel between civilization and barbarism continues, which, under various guises, marks the Enlightenment and its contradictions, already manifest in the XNUMXth century, emphatically denounced in the XNUMXth century, that Enlightenment that in the XNUMXth century, after the deconstruction carried out by Adorno, Horkheimer and others from the first wave of Frankfurt, it appears to have exhausted its foundations, that is, to be somewhat destitute in the first half of the XNUMXst century.

Leaving this debatein fieri' aside, let's focus on the military conflict in Ukraine. From what I wrote almost two months ago, it seems to me that it is still worth considering the war as the strongest sign that the international system has crossed its Rubicon, that the so-called international order cannot go back to what it was. The immediate post-war world, structured economically and financially in Bretton Woods in 1944, and the multilateralism practiced by the UN since 1945, successor to the failed attempt embodied in the League of Nations, is experiencing an acute moment of crisis. The hegemonic power that played the major role in this dual and convergent construction is being challenged. This is the enduring heart of the matter.

With the outbreak of war in Ukraine, this order and this hegemony, embodied by the US, are daily weakened, despite immediate appearances to the contrary. The geopolitical and geoeconomic fracture is confirmed, with this beginning to float in the Heraclitian or Borgesian river, another type of bipolarity, very different from that established by the old Cold War. On the one hand, the capitalist West, which archives the dreams of the end of history. On the other hand, the capitalist Eurasia that begins in Russia, includes China and it is not known, today, where it ends.

In practice, the unipolar world generated by the dissolution of the USSR no longer holds. Expired. But the scheme in which the USA, NATO and the EU form one of the poles, while China and Russia found the other, is something even more power than reality, its certificate of origin signed last February in Beijing by Xi and Putin, according to all 'technical norms'. It may, the Eurasian pole, come to solidify, perhaps in a medium time. But both poles and the other will always be corroded by the third element, the old mole of multipolarity which, duly incarnated, will ideally allow the former Third World, the Global South of today, to play a relevant role in the future system. In other words, not being reduced to something merely residual.

As for multilateralism, nothing indicates that it is doomed to shipwreck. But yes, it will have to adapt to its real substrate, the emerging bipolarity. And it will have to pass the test that will be the destabilizing effects of the great crisis that will last indefinitely. We know, the last great interregnum of this kind, the twenty years from 1919 to 1939, ended by the Second World War. The general and prolonged crisis, triggered in 2007-2008, persists. But since then boosted by the pandemic that appears to be ceasing to be, and by the war in Ukraine and all its corrosive effects, which will not be quelled in two or three more years.

Within this broad framework, what has already arrived, not what is yet to come, is drawn as a tense and dangerous long-term bipolar confrontation, moved simultaneously by the expansive and controlling drive of the USA, NATO and the European Union, by a on the one hand, and, on the other hand, for this still little defined and operationalized Sino-Russian project, whose result will shape much, perhaps what matters most, the new geopolitical and geoeconomic reality resulting from the 'limitless alliance' established between Beijing and Moscow.

This is the general picture that, in my opinion, will be very negative for countries like Brazil and Argentina, to name two Latin American countries; South Africa and Nigeria, to mention two Africans; Iran and India are on the brink, given their pragmatism and their unique circumstances, to name two Asians. All bipolarity harms us, and what is shown in the making will not be an exception to the rule. Every multipolarity favors us, but this construction was never historically carried forward.

It is in this context expanded to its last limit that, in my view, we must insert the war in Ukraine, that box of surprise Pandorians. Among them, the great general surprise is the unexpected duration of the conflict. When the earth is round circulated my notes, I confess: I thought that the conflict would reach its conclusion, with a Russian victory, in a matter of weeks, a month and little more, at the most. As I wrote then, Russia would be the winner, but could 'lose the peace' if Ukraine became, for Moscow, a kind of 'European Afghanistan'. But this hypothesis of the conflict resulting in a 'European Afghanistan' was, for me, extreme. In other words, highly unlikely. Today, I no longer think so.

Another big surprise: the decision taken by the USA, NATO and the European Union to, at a breakneck pace, operationalize the extreme strategy of Russia's economic and financial drowning, however much the measures taken, and which have not yet been exhausted, is revealing itself, by boomerang effect, shot in the West's foot, with a gun of large, but not yet defined, caliber. The risks that this strategy carries with it are enormous. As they gain momentum, they will prolong and accentuate the economic crisis of 2018.

On the military level, if successful, the economic drowning of Russia, the “success” of the Western strategy could lead Moscow to exponentially intensify all military operations in Ukraine, with a view to achieving its objectives in a shortened time, today apparently 'reduced' control of most of southern and eastern Ukraine. The economic drowning of Russia and the transformation of Ukraine into an immense Western arsenal multiplies, along with the profits of the military-industrial complex, the risks and dangers for all those directly involved. This wide range of apparently almost inexhaustible measures will surely be counterbalanced by Moscow, and for that very reason may even lead to European war and the consequent use of tactical nuclear weapons. After that…

The crucial moment of the war in Ukraine, the one that until now seems to be the decisive one, the great battle for Donbass, must start in full force soon, perhaps after the surrender of the Ukrainian forces that still resist in Mariupol. As with all previous stages, the next one will be the subject of a narrative dispute in which the Western mainstream media will continue to predominate globally over the Russian effort. In that field, David faces Goliath, but without help from the Lord God of hosts…. In this regard, only radical changes in the military scenario will be able to undermine, by force of arms, what is one of the great assets of the western alliance, the narrative in which the comedian president, an actor endowed with the qualities of Ronald Reagan, was transformed into a mythical hero' of our people'.

Having outlined the current situation and its possible dynamics, I use, as an illustration of my theses, two recent texts, both written by two former diplomats. One of them, Indian; the other, American. Totally divergent visions, two opposing logics in action, two conflicting matrices of interpretation. In the case of the American, a certainly imperial logic. In the case of the Indian, a logic of the Global South in something irredeemable.

In “The US narrative will not survive the defeat in Donbasss”, MK Bhadrakumar, when analyzing recent speeches by Boris Johnson and Joe Biden, highlights the mismatch between the two, which is ultimately a contradiction. While Biden in a single speech promises everything – “hold Putin accountable for his brutal and bloody war”; “further increase Ukraine's capacity to fight in the east, in the Donbass region”; “repelling Russia's aggression in Ukraine to overcome Putin's savagery”; “increasing pressure on Putin and further isolating Russia on the world stage”; “to further deny Russia the benefits of the international economic system that it enjoyed so much in the past”; and “continue alongside the brave and courageous people of Ukraine” –, Johnson's speech, a day after Biden's catiline, was read as completely contrary to that of the US president.

Bhadrakumar points out that Johnson, "in sharp contrast, tended to follow the prediction of British military intelligence, according to which, at that point, the Russians could beat Ukraine". The former Indian diplomat transcribes a long excerpt from Boris Johnson's speech: “I think, sadly, (a Russian victory) is a realistic possibility. Naturally, Vladimir Putin has a huge army; he has a very difficult political position; the only solution he has now is to keep trying to use his terrifying, shredding, artillery driven approach, trying to shred the Ukrainians. He is now in the process of securing a land bridge at Mariupol. The situation is, I fear, unpredictable. We have to be realistic about that.” "During his recent trip to Ukraine, Johnson reportedly advised President Vladimir Zelensky to effect a withdrawal and form a new line of defense, but Zelensky has no choice but to follow the American advice."

For the Indian, the big and most problematic question to be faced by the West, in particular by the US, would be how to calculate how long the unity of the western arc will be maintained, in case the war in Ukraine goes on indefinitely. That's because “although Western sanctions have hurt the Russian economy, according to current indications Moscow is adjusting to a 'new normal'”. Meanwhile, “European economies are in varying stages of collapse”.

Bhadrakumar paints a picture in which the inevitability that Russia wins the war in Ukraine prevails, in the military field, and the inescapable imposition on the West, by victorious Moscow, of another type of defeat. This is because the most affected by the sanctions that penalize Moscow will be the USA, NATO and the European Union. Ironically, in Bhadrakumar's narrative, the greatest victims of the economic-financial and trade war will be those who, by massively arming Kiev, ensure that the war will tend to become a long-term conflict.

Let us turn to the short essay by Richard Haass entitled “What Does the West Want in Ukraine?”, circulated by Foreign Affairs April 22nd. Bear in mind that Haass holds the presidency of the Council on Foreign Relations, considered by establishment american like think tanks independent, not partisan.

For Haass, Vladimir Putin's initial goals were both clear and maximalist. Had they been achieved, Moscow would have essentially obliterated Ukraine as a sovereign state. Given, however, Russian military frustrations, Putin reduced Russia's objectives. From plural to singular: the Russian goal became what matters most, the domination of eastern and southern Ukraine.

While Moscow or Vladimir Putin, interchangeable terms for Haass, have a defined objective, reduced initial ambitions, the West would not have listed its objectives until now. Instead of elaborating a victorious way out of the conflict, exploring at least theoretically what Kiev and Moscow would have to concede reciprocally to achieve peace, the USA, NATO and the European Union have concentrated since the beginning of the war solely on the means , not on weekends. The main means? Quantity and quality of military aid; increasing extension of economic sanctions (the sixth package is being finalized); and refuses to establish a 'no-fly zone', for obvious reasons. By doing so in the West, the vital issue, the most important objective, how to establish peace, was forgotten, vital though it was. Vital since the beginning of the war and much more now, when the military conflict entered, given the change of objectives effected by Moscow, in a critical phase, geographically centered in Donbass and in the south of Ukraine. The setting heralds a great battle.

According to the American's prescription, the West could adopt a perspective that favored ending the war; and that the sooner it happened, the better. To that end, the West, i.e. the US, NATO and the European Union, should craft terms that “the democratic government of Ukraine is prepared to accept”. Equating the elements of an acceptable peace for Kiev would involve answering at least the following questions: (1) Would Ukraine recover all the territory lost in the last two years? (2) should Russia completely withdraw from the Donbass and Crimea region? (3) would Ukraine have secured its right to join the European Union and NATO? (4) would everything that came to be agreed be the object, once the war was concluded, of a formal treaty, signed by Russia?

Haass defends this scheme for peace, which he explains in detail throughout the essay. The analysis of the proposal is done in a sophisticated way, but always granting Moscow, significant detail, a totally secondary role. The four big players are the US, NATO, the European Union and the Kiev government. Hence the feeling that, once the peace plan has been drawn up by the West and Ukraine, Russia's acquiescence would only be a given, something derivative, the consequence of a well-determined cause, the West's quadrilateral effort. The fifth side of the pentagon is passive.

The conclusion of Haass' essay is illuminating in this regard. The West – that is to say, the US/NATO/European Union trio – should hold internal consultations, and with Ukraine, to define what is missing so far, the objectives of the war. The US and NATO need to refine their deterrence and response plans to possible Russian attacks on other countries, as well as define how to act in case Moscow uses weapons of mass destruction. It is difficult for peace to be formalized in an agreement that marks the real end of the conflict. And finally, it is not to be expected that there will be a regime change in Russia. As a result, the West's possible success in the conflict would be the appreciable (?) decrease in hostilities; the return of Russian troops to the region they already controlled before the start of the special military operation; and Moscow's non-use of weapons of mass destruction.

Still according to Haass's perspective, in the longer term, the West, using the traditional imperial mix of sanctions and diplomacy, would strive to obtain the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from the entire Ukrainian territory. It is impossible for a realist to elaborate more idealistic goals, idealistic because they depend on a complete Russian overthrow.

Equally impossible, especially for a Brazilian reader, not to remember Garrincha's question: did they agree with the Russians?

* Tadeu Valadares is a retired ambassador.

 

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