A warm-up act?
It is probably by now rather tedious to point out the number of times the West (chiefly the USA) has invaded other countries or backed coups against legitimate (and some illegitimate) governments. These interventions may well feature in Putin’s current reasoning—and in a dog eat dog world, the question ‘If they can do it, why can’t I?’ has some merit. He may also have been encouraged by the growing disunity in the West, especially with the advent of Trump and Brexit. He will also be emboldened by his growing alliance with China, which will become his replacement fossil fuel customer. And looking to the East, China will be closely following these events as it eyes up Taiwan. All the while Europe especially will be struggling to meet its energy needs which will lead to more civil unrest (a la gilets jaunes).
So the idea that Putin can only be accommodated on our terms seems a little passé and it would be very welcome if western politicians shed their old assumptions borne of global domination and adjusted to realities as they are. These realities are not merely about military adventurism (the BBC has trotted out more retired generals than could fit in the Army and Navy Club) but deep seated if narrow, unforgiving views of historical injustices. Reading a piece on Crimea on Russia Today you get a quite different history of its legal status, i.e. never constitutionally part of Ukraine. Putin got away with his occupation there, so it doesn’t seem surprising that he feels other bits of Ukraine can be peeled off too. Whose version of history is indisputably correct? Was Taiwan not originally part of China? What about Tibet? Alaska would still be part of Russia were it not for a simple financial transaction. How do we know that deal was watertight (I suppose it was, but let’s not set Putin off on that one)? How many treaties have been simply ripped up and simply forgotten? Israel’s occupation of Palestine land is another example of the ability of a nation state to pursue ethno-nationalism without much, if any retribution.
Sadly we live in a world where these continuities still pervade politics. Rather than aiming for a form of global awareness served by a vision of our isolated, fragile planet—which surely would unite people wherever they live—we have a pervasive medieval mindset which will only get worse as the depredations of climate change set in. Climate change is not known as a threat multiplier for nothing. I fear the current skirmishes are merely a warm-up act even if today one cannot say they are related to the climate crisis. But the same was said about the increasing number of storms.
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