Commentary: The Russian invasion of Ukraine
2022 will be for Russia, what 1956 was for the United Kingdom: the clear mark of her relegation from the top rank of world powers.
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,” the poet Tennyson wrote and, I believe, we are witness to the groaning-in-labour of the birth of a changed political order. Mr. Putin, fighting a rearguard action to preserve and revive the old Russian imperial enterprise, on Thursday morning, February 24th, sent his army into the neighbouring state of Ukraine to remove the “far-right nationalists and neo-Nazis” who are in power there.
If the situation in Ukraine were as Mr. Putin described it, it would, perhaps, be a terrible necessity for his country to take urgent action—although it is a little unsettling that a founding, and senior, member of the United Nations Organisation would choose to act unilaterally, without invoking the peace-preserving processes of that world body first. Unsettling, but not quite novel. Mr. Putin’s action has served to highlight the old Cold War fissure, with most of Europe, especially the European Union, and the NATO members across the Atlantic, uniting with strong purpose to support Ukraine with lethal aid, to impose punishing sanctions on the Russian economy, and to force Russia to veto a UNSC resolution condemning it. Indeed, the EU has broken with its pacific tradition and vowed to spend $500 million to arm Ukraine in this fight.
It may be that when empires come to the end of the road they are the last to know about their diminished standing on the world stage, and so it takes one last imperial adventure to show them their underlying weakness.
In 1956 the UK (and France) manufactured the Suez crisis to provide a reason to invade Egypt; in 2022 Mr. Putin has manufactured the Ukraine crisis to give himself an excuse to unleash Russian violence. Plus ca change ….
The Suez crisis happened because the UK & France wanted to reclaim the Suez Canal, which General Nasser had nationalized from Anglo-French ownership. Nasser had offered full payment for the facility but in the capitals of these two pre-war powers, Egypt was thought to have acted with punishable, gross impudence. Israel was persuaded to create a conflict by invading Egyptian Sinai, giving the UK & France the opportunity to save the world by invading the region to separate the belligerents. The plan soon collapsed into a mess of pottage in the hot North African sun when the Eisenhower administration declined to endorse the actions of the European fantasists.
The collapse of imperial ambition had more to do with the disheveled state of the French and British economies than with the natives’ inclination towards the exercise of violence, for while it is easy enough to start a war, successful prosecution over long time is a particular function of economic strength. As it happened, France and Britain had placed their pair of eggs in Uncle Sam’s strong palm by borrowing heavily to weather the economic depredations of fighting two, all-consuming, world wars within thirty years. And thus did Uncle Sam, newly Colossian upon the narrow world, insist that those petty European men walk under his huge economic legs.
In 2022 it appears that PR China’s Xi Jin Ping, in whose palm Mr. Putin had laid his eggs in anticipation of retaliatory Western sanctions, would also rather not share the stage with his country’s old rival for leadership of the Communist world. Communism is gone now, and China’s rival is the United States, not the comparatively petty economy that is Russia.
On Friday, 25th February we learned that PR China had, quite pointedly, declined to endorse Mr. Putin’s adventure in Ukraine. In a five-point plan the Government of China laid out its firm view that countries should respect the territorial integrity of other countries, including Ukraine, and for the centrality of the UNSC as a process, and place, for preserving international peace and security.
Even Kazakhstan, a former Soviet Socialist Republic where, only two months ago, in January, Mr. Putin sent Russian troops to suppress civil disobedience, publicly declined to either recognize the breakaway Ukrainian republics Mr. Putin told us he was acting to support or, indeed, to accept the invitation to join its own troops to Mr. Putin’s misadventure.
As of this writing, on Wednesday 2nd March, Mr. Putin’s war has carried on for a bit longer than the non-invasion invasion was expected to take, the Russian state has held talks with Ukraine, never mind the Putinesque insistence that Ukraine is not a separate nation and, in continuation of his nuclear saber-rattling, has authorised the Russian state to raise its nuclear forces to a “special alert”. We can see the cracks in Mr. Putin’s carapace as the fading Shakti of Russian imperialism leaks out. How long now till Mr. Putin relinquishes his office to better care for his health/spend more time with his family?
Dr. Raymond Greene holds a doctoral degree in Geography, and studies the interaction of nations in the global system.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.
Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.