Essay about the War in Ukraine - Part II Geostrategic challenges for Europe and the World
Part II Geostrategic Considerations
It is not easy to think about geostrategic considerations. There is not even a conclusive definition (Wikipedia): Whereas geopolitics neutrally focuses on the different geographic and political factors and how they interact in different areas of the world, geostrategy focuses on the possibilities of putting national goals into practice or to maintain and increase political and military weight.
It should come as no surprise that there is no consensus. I myself do not see a real example of a 'neutral geopolitics'. In the meantime, it is becoming clearer that the current political systems no longer function properly.
There is the divide between authoritarian/dictatorial and democratic regimes and, as in other social problems, polarization is increasing.
The erosion of political and social support for the American unipolar world as well as for mind-numbing dictatorships and failing democracies is just as much a signal of increased frustration.
For the future, the global power of a financial elite is especially important: the plutocracy.
Kleptocracy the true name for a Plutocracy
It always starts with good intentions: an elite that wants to do something for humanity thanks to its wealth. There is nothing wrong with that. But the urge to do good is replaced over time by a drive for more power. Not just any power, but power over people. Being able to decide who gets opportunities and who doesn't. Power corrupts and then the dividing line between plutocracy and kleptocracy becomes very thin.
Russia and Ukraine are two kleptocracies, the elite is excessively rich, the population unacceptably poor.
When I formulated this reflection, an interesting discussion arose 'among Dwarsliggers'.
Take the following statement: At the root of the plutocracy lies the greed of a ruling elite. Let's take a look at Russia and Ukraine.
We have known for a long time that the Russian population is poor. When I learned that the Ukrainian population is even poorer than the Russian population, I was surprised. As a indicator of the size of the kleptocracy, this is a nevertheless a telling observation.
The plutocratic class, both in Russia and Ukraine, was helped by numerous Western consultancy firms and big companies. For president Yeltsin, none of that was a problem and he let them go. But president Putin determined that this wealthy elite was becoming a political competitor and he began to silence this "gang of thieves" not only figuratively but also literally. This did not work sufficiently, because in the meantime many oligarchs had signed contracts with Western companies over which president Putin had no power. Besides, it did not prevent him from also demanding some share of the luxury that these rich enjoyed.
This situation made him choose Chinese state capitalism, where wealth and political power are held in the same hand.
In Ukraine, Zelensky himself, and with him many "elected representatives," are puppets of the oligarchy. He also fell prey to greed, as evidenced by his US$ 3.8 million US$ villa in Forte dei Marmi. Tuscany is apparently very popular with politicians ...
We could dwell on the question of who is actually in charge in the resource
rich Donbas region. For example, the Azov-steel factory in Mariupol - for which thousands of people lost their lives? The answer easyly can be found via the Internet: the Azov-steell factory in Mariupol belongs to the Metinvest group, which is controlled by one of the richest men of Ukraine, Rinat Akhmetov (owned 100% by System Capital Management Ltd. (registered under HE137516 in Cyprus since 2003) and shareholder in C5 TECHNOLOGIES ApS (Denmark, 18 Dec 2009 with up to 24.99 % of the votes). And so it goes on to the United Kingdom, ...and on…..
What is the difference with the situation in the USA?
In the USA, the oligarchs are excessively rich too, but they have earned the money themselves through their successful ventures, while in Russia and Ukraine the wealth was “acquired” through the chaotic privatization of state property, which was sold far below the real market value. Subsequently no significant taxes on profits had to be paid by the oligarchs.
In the Western world, these oligarchs are the owners/shareholders of the military-industrial-complex, the pharmaceutical complex, high tec-h and climate-industrial complexes, which are intertwined with the financial institutions such as the World Bank, and international organizations such as the UN, the IMF, NATO ... Through donations they influence the chances for a political mandate. Also, parliaments and international organizations are bombarded with lobbyists who have to perpetuate their power. Without problems these oligarchs accept the huge fines that sometimes have to be paid. It even becomes painful for the political elite, when the oligarchs themselves argue for a (minimal) tax worldwide. However, it is merely an attempt to justify their excessive wealth and power.
Was NATO enlargement a mistake?
We can imagine that Russia was not pleased with the enlargement, but this enlargement was not only of interest to Russia. As the Warsaw Pact disintegrated, many smaller countries in Central Europe risked having to choose between sides. For my fellow defense attachés from these countries, NATO membership was the absolute top priority. That was quite understandable given their experiences with the Soviet Union.
To answer this question, we asked for the opinion of Mark Geleyn, who was Security Director for the Belgian Foreign Affairs during this period (1992-96), and again from 2000 to 2006 Director for Security and Director General:
“There was absolutely no desire on our part to expand NATO, and a great reluctance to shift military defence, even across East Germany. The expansion of NATO is solely due to the pressure, the desperate pleas of the former (Soviet) satellite countries. They were all looking for a safety umbrella over their heads. Explicitly against possible revanchism from Moscow, which they feared would certainly come. If NATO had not met the requests of those countries, a tangle of small countries would have developed in Central Europe, which would have led to major instability in Europe. The enlargement of NATO and the EU has given those countries new stability.
The whole period of the early 1990s was therefore a search for a new security architecture for Europe, in which many wanted to profile themselves with the friendliest, coolest form of integration. The same euphoria spread over the G7 and the G20. (…) Parallel to that benevolence ran a gigantic consultant machinery to assist Russia, paid for by the West, with a large part of the subsidies flowing back to those like McKinsey and other consortia. That is something the Russians can rightly blame us for, although many elite groups in Russia benefited from it.
Now, looking for episodes that would indicate an aggressive desire for expansion on the part of NATO during that period, or digging up positions of politicians who slowed down such expansion (Baker, Genscher) and looking for arguments to justify a Russian revanchism, is insufficient consideration. with the confusing – but at the same time euphoric – situation at the time: everything was open, everyone had ideas, From NATO itself to everyone in NATO.
If you want to write about the history of the Ukraine wars, I would recommend Kara-Murza's play, of which here is the link. Vladimir Kara-Murza worked for Nemstov and now for Khodorkovsky's Open Russia."
We read Kara-Murza's contribution and can recommend it. Too long to discuss here in full, but these interesting thoughts anyway:
“How and why could such a geopolitical reversal have happened by a major world power - from aspiring to NATO membership to confronting it -? Answering this question is important not only in finding ways to respond to Mr Putin's challenges to the Euro-Atlantic community, but also in drawing lessons that both future Russian leaders and the West should keep in mind for the eventual post-Putin transition.”
The failure of Gorbachev’s political renewal had dramatic consequences for Europe
When President Mikhail Gorbachev opted for an entirely new policy in 1986, based on Glasnost & Perestroika, he unwittingly opened a Pandora's box. Glasnost, openness and perestroika clashed with everything the Russians had known since the Tsars: a dictatorship without openness and established powers that would not let their power be tampered with. The Siberian prison camps (gulags) of Stalin during WWII were still fresh in their minds.
This (over) courageous attempt to turn the Soviet Union into a modern state with an impetus for more democracy would have been the greatest geostrategic revolution and a boon for the whole of Europe. Today there would be no talk of President Putin if Gorbachev had succeeded. But it is not only the fault of the political rigidity in Russia that things turned out differently.
In Vladimir Kara-Murza's featured text, we read the following:
“It would be wrong to blame the West for the political turnaround in Russia in the last quarter of a century. The lion's share of the responsibility rests with Russia itself, especially with the post-Soviet political elite, which in the early 1990s failed to convert the people's genuine enthusiasm for democracy into a political strategy that would enable Russia coming to terms with his totalitarian past. (…) The leaders of Western democracies also bear some of the responsibility for Russia's failed transition in the 1990s—and the newfound authoritarianism at the turn of the new century. For most countries undergoing successful post-Communist transformation, it was, as Václav Havel put it, "a return to Europe" - the prospect of becoming full members of the Euro-Atlantic community - that served as the main stimulus for reforms, enabling them to withstand adversity and make difficult choices. Such a prospect has never been seriously offered to Russia.
"The question of Russia's membership of NATO," raised by President Yeltsin in December 1991, was met with silence. And although Russia was admitted to the Council of Europe (which today gives Russian citizens their only recourse to genuine justice, through the European Court of Human Rights), membership of the European Union is theoretically open to any European country that meets the “Copenhagen criteria” in terms of the rule of law, democracy and a functioning market economy - Mr Yeltsin's Russia was never offered, even as a distant possibility. Such an approach not only denied the Russian political elites a crucial motivation to carry out reforms, but also gave credence to Mr Putin's later claim that the West was unwilling to accept Russia as a partner, even if its political system conformed to western values.”
Another unanswered important geostrategic question is:
What role did the US play in Russia's rapprochement with Europe?
Germany looks to the East…
Since the reunification of Germany, which it initially owed to Mikhail Gorbachev and for which it took on a heavy financial burden itself, the "surrounding world" has expanded. After Helmut Kohl's tenure as chancellor in the early years after reunification, there were only two other chancellors until recently: the socialist Gerhart Schröder (1998 - 2005) and the East German Christian Democrat Angela Merkel (2005 - 2021). That Schröder was subsequently rewarded by Putin for his cooperation with Russia is telling. And Merkel's controversial decision to shut down the nuclear power plants was a guarantee of a long-term reliance on Russian gas supplies. The fact that Merkel, as a physicist, was able to estimate this evolution perfectly makes me think that she consciously chose to perpetuate and deepen the cooperation with Russia.
… and the US doesn't like it
One does not have to be a clairvoyant to realize that a political rapprochement between Germany (EU) and Russia, including extensive economic cooperation, would mean a geostrategic revolution that could not leave the American position as 'sole ruler' untouched.
We should not have been surprised that the US no longer trusted Angela Merkel and the CIA tapped her phone. It was a signal that was taken to heart by Berlin, and it certainly didn't bring political Germany any closer to unilateral US policy.
It is not too bold to say that the US doesn’t approve much of an independent geostrategic role for the EU.
We must indeed not forget that we owe the US a lot of thanks for their role in WWII and the subsequent recovery support, but apparently that debt can never be 'paid off'.
On the role of the US I can recommend two interesting articles:
The Crisis in Ukraine Is Not About Ukraine. It's About Germany by Mike Whitney • February 11, 2022
The Dollar Devours the Euro by Michael Hudson
“It is now clear that the current escalation of the New Cold War was planned more than a year ago. America's plan to block Nord Stream 2 was really part of a strategy to prevent Western Europe ("NATO") from seeking prosperity through reciprocal trade and investment with China and Russia.”
One more thought about Nordstream II: The dependence on Russia is already a fact and has not necessarily increased by this new pipeline. Only the security of supply increases because the other supply options can be blocked in the transit countries, such as Ukraine (which it already had done).
Perhaps some other EU Member States would also view a German political rapprochement with Russia with suspicion. As long as Germany obediently keeps the EU afloat financially and means nothing further militarily, there is no problem, but what if Germany deviates more from those expectations?
A European Defence
The American accusation that Europe - and Germany in particular - invest too little in their security is justified. That NATO has always deliberately overestimated the conventional capabilities of the Russian Federation is also correct and is now proven by the difficulties Russian forces are experiencing in Ukraine.
Modern defensive weapon systems and more money for an operational personnel reserve, for training capacities and sufficient war stocks are required.
The fact that, in the given situation, people are thinking again about a European defense is positive. In any case, the development of a European army is not achieved overnight.
Therefore, it would be pragmatic to work on a reorganization of NATO first in order to change the current unhealthy internal balance of power. A more balanced distribution of power could be achieved once NATO is no longer a sum of individual member states-without-relevance and an all-powerful US, but would consist of three components: the US, the EU and the individual countries that do not wish to join one of these two components.
We need to make it clear to the US that NATO is no longer a branch of Washington or Bethesda. Only then money for defense will not be not wasted.
It is therefore important that the EU also provides opportunities for its own defense industry. France and Germany already have a lot of knowledge in house and Sweden's membership will ensure that their advanced fighter, the Gripen-E, has a real chance in Europe.
Just imagine that after Turkey – a NATO member after all – the EU would also have the Russian air defense system S400 at its disposal.
In Syria, this defensive capability is so important that countries like Israel have to make agreements with the Russians to attack their targets in Syria without being taken out of the air by this high-performance system. A spicy detail, in exchange for this agreement, Israel did not supply any defense systems to Ukraine. This deal was recently jeopardized when Russian foreign minister Lavrov declared that the biggest anti-Semitists were Jews. A lot of noise, but still think for a moment: should someone say that Belgium's biggest opponents are Belgians ... and aren't Russia's biggest opponents Russians too?
Ukraine candidate for EU membership?
The enthusiasm of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who waved Ukraine's accession papers during her visit to President Zelensky in Kiev, is pure profiling, ill-considered and, to say the least, premature.
One of our Dutch correspondents listed ten reasons why an EU association/membership of Ukraine is not an issue. He wrote the following about corruption in 2016:
“In 2015, Ukraine took a dubious 130th place out of a list of 167 countries, in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. The lower the ranking, the more corrupt.
To give you an idea, Ukraine is number 130, only completely dictatorial countries or "failed states" such as Zimbabwe, etc. score worse. Greece is then already a relatively “fine” country (number 58), just like Romania (number 59), South Africa (number 64) or Bulgaria (number 69). To finish 70 places lower you really have to perform a lot worse than, for example, Greece or Romania (which is already a disaster).
Earlier in 2013, the accountancy firm Ernst & Young stated that Ukraine was one of the 3 most corrupt economies in the world.
Some figures from such studies (2008-2010):
- Over 54% of vehicle inspections involve bribery; this is how they compete with our transport companies.
- About 49% of court decisions are made in a corrupt way
- Bribes are paid in 67% of transactions with the government
- About 47% of university/HBO students pay money to influence exams, a good idea to recognize their diplomas later?
- About 30% of business-to-business transactions involve bribes
- Since 2010, more than 500 politicians have been charged with corruption
- Of the total economic production, 45% takes place in the shadow economy (= black money economy), without payment of taxes.”
On April 1, 2022, senior journalist Rik Van Cauwelaert wrote the following about President Zelensky in De Tijd:
“Even before the war, Zelensky was already struggling with political reality. Ukraine slowly went bankrupt. Since his election as president in 2019, capital flight has increased and his government has had to dig deep into foreign exchange reserves to survive. Investors, put off by an opaque tax system, moved away. Only the local oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, friend and financier of Zelensky's election campaign, who mainly resides in Israel, was always fiscally unaffected. Zelensky's name also surfaced in the Pandora Papers at the head of offshore holdings with large real estate interests in London and partnered with Ivan Bakanov, the current chief of Ukraine's security service.
Without the war, corruption-starved Ukraine never stood a chance of being admitted to the European Union. It's just bad political taste today to remember that."
Is it from this regime that some Western politicians are so over the moon? Do they really think that Zelensky became a statesman on his election day?
Will globalization continue or will it become a multipolar world?
There are quite a few people who consider themselves very important. People with a lot of money who, with the best of intentions, think that humanity cannot function without them. Who even think that our planet, without them, is doomed to die. These are the plutocrats, an elite that sees itself as the solution to governing humanity: a world government.
The promotion of a world government by undemocratic forces is regularly discussed in the traditional media as the solution to all those nationalist wars. The sublime goal of this select elite, who make agreements in undemocratic bodies such as the WEF, and the opaque political-industrial complex, is a world in which every national power is reduced to a minority. Whether it is the richest country (the US) or the largest in population like China and India, they are all becoming a minority to the pretended enlightened world dictatorship with a nomenclature that has never been more powerful and undemocratic.
Fortunately, anyone who dreams of this will have to live a very long time.
For this coup for power, the modus operandi is simple but effective: they do not tolerate contradiction. In fact, they are no better than the enlightened despots who have always surrounded themselves with bribery performers: opportunists and weaklings. Just in the USA – which sees itself as the moral world leader – this plutocracy already has a foothold and uses or abuses politicians for their power dreams. This is a signal that we should not ignore.
Perhaps globalization is a better alternative for the USA than a struggle with China for hegemony. In any case, numerous signals (including military ones) show that the USA does not just want to share its power with China.
A large number of countries are less enthusiastic about this globalization because they want to determine their own future. In my opinion the ratio between pro and contra can be synchronized with the countries that are in favor of sanctions against Russia and those that do not. In any case, it seems to me better to evolve towards a multipolar world than towards an undemocratic plutocracy.
In any case, in the near future there is a good chance, that we will be faced with an economic struggle between and a rearmament within the power blocs. A dangerous time, where may be expected that political leaders keep a cool head. So, I am not optimistic.
The real battle is for world hegemony
Despite all respect for the courage with which Ukrainians defend their country and the empathy for the great suffering of innocent civilians, this war will at most turn out to be a neighbours' quarrel. A harbinger of the true struggle for world hegemony.
What we are talking about today is the transition from US hegemony to multilateral power-sharing with China as the main player. If the neighbor dispute between Russia and Ukraine perhaps achieves something, it will be the strengthening of the Chinese (and Russian) opposition (to western hegemony).
And for those wondering how people in China view the war in Ukraine? Our correspondent needed few words:
“China fully supports Russia, albeit officially not too exuberantly. As in all geopolitical conflicts, the government is very moderate, but the Chinese population is very fierce. Every day on Chinese social media, I see dozens of TikTok videos of Russians chopping Azov soldiers, handing out food and being warmly welcomed everywhere.”
Western Europe, which through its own incompetence has never been more than a follower and will no longer be an essential part of the new order in the making. We don't even need 'enemies' for that, our own complacency and a total lack of geostrategic thinking and acting will result to irrelevance.
Although this is a long article, the feeling remains that we were still unable to absorb a lot of information. Simplistic war rhetoric is not enough to represent the complexity. Texts that take us out of our 'comfort zone' can do that. It is enough to listen, read and above all keep hoping with an open mind!
Finally, a personal thought:
Only a democratic political system offers opportunities for individual freedom and development, but no guarantees.
I prefer a multipolar world in which several players, including the EU, balance each other.
Colonel ret. Pierre Therie
Former Defense Attaché in Vienna with accreditations for Austria, Switzerland, Croatia and Slovenia.