AS THE WORLD LURCHES TOWARDS ARMAGEDDON …
By Femi Olugbile
It would be a shame if the world as we know it were to come to a screeching halt in a haze of post-nuclear detritus over a battle to see who blinks first, between a comedian just lately come into Politics and a dour, macho former spy and practising bully who has a vice-like grip on his nation. It would be an even worse tragedy to know that neither of the two men is telling ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’ as they stand at the arrowhead of destructive forces such as the world has never seen. One man directly commands the largest nuclear arsenal in the history of mankind, with power to extirpate almost all human life. The other, wringing the emotions of the Western world artfully with a show of righteousness and an exclusive ownership of ‘just cause’, has the arsenals of Europe and America ranged on his side, and maintains his grip on their conscience by continually reminding the world of his victimhood. So well has he succeeded so far that it is virtually impossible to have a reasoned debate in the public space without the dissenter being howled down by a passionate mob of well-meaning Ukrainian supporters.
There is already a low-level ‘World War’ out there. A creaky Russian conventional military machine has been confronting a Ukrainian army that has given as good as it got, or even better, in several months. Ukrainians, with an army of two hundred thousand, have proved a doughty fighting force, worsting their more numerous foes with courage and tactical brilliance on the field. Their successes, such as they are, are not only down to courage and brilliance. They are also due to the hi-tech weapons and high value intelligence they get from their backers in Europe and America. Ukraine has morphed from a local conflict into a proxy war between East and West.
The public rhetoric may be sanctimonious, especially on the part of Ukrainian President Zelensky and his cohorts. But some of the symbolism used by those in the know is highly instructive and reveals the flaw in the high-minded pretensions of some of the most fervent supporters on either side. The head of the M16, the Intelligence agency of the United Kingdom, is reputed to have once said on his Twitter account that that war with the Russians was over ‘LGBTQ rights’. For his part, the Russian strongman has been heard to say that the conflict would sound the final death knell to a ‘Unipolar World’. In the context of such symbolism, the territorial assaults over which the Ukrainians have been whipping people all over the world into righteous indignation seem almost to fade into insignificance.
There are some inconvenient truths surrounding the conflict. Armageddon is in evolution, as two nuclear forces – which do not include Ukraine, by the way, begin to square off. The closest parallel to the scenario remains the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when a tough, hard knuckled Communist Nikita Khrushchev, at the head of the mighty Soviet Union, faced off against a young, inexperienced President John Kennedy of the USA. The issue was the Soviet Union’s decision, ostensibly at the behest of Fidel Castro’s government, to install missiles in Cuba. The prospect of having Russian missiles on its doorsteps was totally unacceptable to the USA, of course. Resolution came, after some days of high tension. Both men blinked. Nobody lost face. The world was saved. The USSR took back its missiles. America took down some missiles it had installed in Italy and other places. Khruschev might have been a godless Communist, but fresh-faced John Kennedy, symbolising an America that invaded Cuba, killed Lumumba and authorised countless assassinations across the world, was no saint or knight in shining armour, either. To some, Putin is the reincarnation of the Khrushchev-Brezhnev era of the he 1960s, at the head of ‘un-democratic’ Russia. These days powerful 24-hours-a-day news media which penetrate to all corners of the globe are selling the narrative that he is the devil incarnate, craving death and destruction. In that atmosphere, it is hard for any voice of reason to say – ‘Wait a minute. Where did this come from? What does Putin want? What does Zelensky want? What was the story of Ukraine before the invasion? Most important of all, what is the way out of this dangerous passage?’
Rather frighteningly, all the talk is about ‘teaching Russia a lesson’. There is economic warfare, with ‘sanctions’ which seem to be more detrimental to the sanctioner than the sanctioned. Zelensky is in everybody’s face, urging them to boycott everybody who supports or arms Russia. To some, it sounds like an unbalanced narrative, because nobody is talking about ‘sanctioning’ those who support and arm Ukraine.
There was already a long-running civil war in Ukraine before Russia invaded. A significant number of Ukrainians do not want to be part of Ukraine. These are some of the uncomfortable truths that have been drowned out in the popular din. The politics of Ukraine before Zelensky, with armed insurrection on the streets to overthrow an elected government, was not taken out of the culture of Westminster. And Ukrainians talk, alarmingly, of ‘defeating’ Russia.
If John Kennedy did not want Russian missiles in his backyard, why should Putin not feel the same about a NATO presence in his neighbourhood? This alone does not justify Russia’s territorial ambitions, to be sure, but it provides context for a necessary effort at resolution.
The CNNs of the world present a picture of universal support for Ukraine and the ‘Western’ position. However, the ‘BRICS’ nations, the Saudis, and several others who oppose the ‘Western’ position, or at most are tepid in their support, are bigger in population numbers and aggregated wealth than Europe and America combined.
Realpolitik may be hard, and sometimes may seem unfair, but it is what it is.
Who will save the world by beginning the negotiations to end this back-water war before it is too late for everybody?