Putin's Dirty War, Geopolitical Adjustments and Prospects for Future Wars, Part I
Back in March 2020, I commented on the possibility of new civil wars and international armed conflicts. Among the world's most explosive tensions with the potential to ignite into conflagrations I recognized Israel and Iran, India and Pakistan; North Korea and the United States and its Asian allies; and the United States and China over Taiwan. While none of these have burst into war, hostilities intensified in all those cases as well as a few others: civil wars in Ethiopia (spilling over to Eritrea and Sudan), Mali, Myanmar and Yemen; a surge in Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan; and heightened tensions between Israel, Palestine and Iran and between China and India.
While Russia and Ukraine have been technically at war since the Russian invasion and capture of Crimea in 2014, Putin's invasion starting in February 2022 elevated a low-intensity conflict with around 100 casualties per year to a massive all-out war that has brought widespread destruction, military and civilian casualties in the tens of thousands and the displacement of over 12 million Ukrainians. Given Putin's record of expansionist adventures, the war itself was not unimaginable, but the brutality and atrocities perpetrated by Russian troops have been indeed unimaginably barbaric.
Experts have been anticipating Chinese military aggression against Taiwan for several years. And China has, over the past three years, escalated its threatening rhetoric and expanded military exercises aimed at intimidating Taiwan, which it has vowed to bring under its control. On Aug. 1, China issued an ominous threat to the United States: "there will be serious consequences if (Rep. Nancy Pelosi) insists on making the visit (to Taiwan)." The potential for a standoff has increased since Thursday, when the Chinese military began live-fire drills on several locations close to Taiwan's coasts.
The Biden administration had objected to Pelosi's trip to avoid provoking a retaliation. Also this week, the White House announced sanctions against 39 other Putin associates, including Alina Kabaeva, his reputed girlfriend, three decades his junior. Reportedly, the United States had not sanctioned her earlier out of concern that it would bring us closer to a confrontation with Russia. That the United States is trying to avoid war with Russia and China is understandable and wise. But there is also wisdom in applying the playground principle of confronting bullies. It usually works.
GEOPOLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS OF INCREASED RUSSIAN AND CHINESE BELLIGERENCE
The war in Ukraine and China's growing belligerence have accelerated the formation and consolidation of two sets of parallel blocks of nations. On the one hand, two interlocked blocks of authoritarian partners and allies, one built around Russia, the other around China. On the other hand, a democratic North Atlantic block and another in Asia, both anchored by the United States, which remains the only global superpower.
Much has transpired since the end of the Cold War in 1989-1990, that it's hard to remember the time when the United States was the world's only superpower. The former Soviet Union was bankrupt and China, while on the fast track to becoming an economic powerhouse, was still far from becoming a substantial military threat in Asia, much less globally. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, China continued its pursuit of economic growth, quietly watching other countries destroy one another and go into debt in the process. No one even suggested then that the 21st century would be a "Chinese century." That phrase first appeared in its current definition in the title of a 1997 article published in The Futurist: "The Coming Chinese Century," and later in 2004 in the New York Times article "The Chinese Century."
Putin's aggression, particularly his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, responds to positions of weakness: economic, diplomatic, geopolitical. When Russia invaded and annexed the Ukraine's Crimean region in 2014, the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, Japan and some non-EU European nations imposed severe economic sanctions against Russian oligarchs, financial institutions and state corporations. By all accounts, sanctions inflicted serious damage to the Russian economy. Even if a few EU member nations (i.e., Italy, Hungary and France) opposed sanctions, Russia's aggression against Ukraine strengthened bonds among the world's Western democracies and Japan.
By contrast, Russia has endured diplomatic isolation, holding on to a handful of friends and allies, among them Belarus, which allowed Russian troops to cross its border into northern Ukraine; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and other members of the Russian-created Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU); Syria, Myanmar, Iran, Pakistan, China; and an impoverished triad of Latin American leftist dictatorships: Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
To be continued.
Luis Martinez-Fernandez is the author of "Revolutionary Cuba: A History" and "Key to the New World: A History of Early Colonial Cuba." Readers can reach him at LMF_Column@yahoo.com. To find out more about Luis Martinez-Fernandez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www. creators.com.Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate Inc.