Some theorists, left and right, particularly offensive American neorealists such as John Mearsheimer, justify Putin by pointing out that he has been forced to show his strength in Ukraine to prevent its westernization. Ukraine’s democratization and its request to join NATO and the EU represent, according to this line of thought, an intolerable affront to Russian security. Obviously, this theory has its reasons. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West has been expanding towards the East. In 1999 Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined NATO. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia did so in 2004. Albania and Croatia in 2009. Bosnia, Georgia and Macedonia have been official applicants since 2017. Many of these countries have also joined the EU and are full democracies.
This theoretical construction, which would put part of the blame on the West, forgets the fundamental cause of this Western expansion. Russia lost a war against the West in 1989; the Cold War, which lasted decades. She did not lose it in tank and missile battles, but within the Soviet societies themselves. The populations of these countries and their own stopped accepting the sinister communist regime that made its citizens prisoners. These countries have not been westernized out of obligation, not even because of the propaganda of the US and its allies. They have become pro-Western above all, and precisely, to flee from Russia and its bad practices.
Putin and Lavrov have chosen a moment of great Western weakness to show off their might. The US is exhausted after the racial conflicts of recent years, the pandemic and the surprise end of the previous administration, and more focused on containing China, its true rival, than protecting Europe. NATO seems to be “brain dead” as Macron pointed out. The EU seems unmanageable and discredited after the departure of the United Kingdom. In general, we are disproportionately indebted and our societies have become accommodating and cowardly, frightened after two years of the pandemic. In Europe, and especially Germany, we are increasingly dependent for energy on Russian gas and oil, with a new pharaonic gas pipeline promoted by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (Gazprom commission agent) under the approval of Angela Merkel.
Just a few weeks ago Putin met virtually, like a true czar, with the biggest German and Italian businessmen fearful of losing their exports and increasing their energy bills.
They say that Putin is a chess player, a strategist. Perhaps his failed blitzkrieg is still within the multiple possibilities of his game. But I doubt that the reaction he has unleashed was part of his plan. In two weeks Russia has become an international pariah. Last week the UN passed a resolution condemning the Russian invasion. Only five nations voted against it, an unprecedented defeat for a permanent member of the Security Council. The war has strengthened NATO, it has given wings to the European Union (the extraordinary work of Josep Borrell), it has made President Zelensky a hero and it has reinforced the German defense budget after years of anti-militarist reticence. Russia has fallen from all international forums. Switzerland has taken sides for the first time in its history. The entire Western private sector has turned to Ukraine. Sweden and Finland are considering joining NATO, and Japan acquiring nuclear weapons. Western companies flee Russia. The Nord Stream 2 is paralyzed and the European search for alternative sources to Russian gas and oil will be unstoppable from now on. Of the 620,000 million dollars that Putin had saved to safeguard the Russian economy from any contingency, more than half have flown after the decision of the G-7 to block its reserves in dollars, euros and yen. Russia has been partially excluded from the SWIFT system. The currency has collapsed, the stock market is closed, interest rates have risen to 20%, you can’t transfer money abroad or repay loans. Russian assets have lost 90% of their value. Russia’s debt rating, the world’s tenth largest economy, is today a junk bond.
Russia is likely to win the war. But sustaining the invasion of Ukraine, a huge country of 44 million souls, with the entire population and the international community against it, will be extremely costly. If the war lasts long, Russia will soon find itself in a very delicate economic situation. Of course, a cornered Putin can force deals by showing off his nuclear might. Threatening countries that are already part of NATO, such as the Baltics, and hoping that the tepid Western reaction will allow them to start a perverse game of nuclear coercion against Western Europe in exchange for economic compensation. Perhaps this is also on your chessboard. That is why it is essential that Ukraine resist and Russia break.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
Jaime Malet He is president of Telam and AmChamSpain.
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