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Taking Stock of the Ukraine War

by David Webb

We are told we are democratic; we have freedom; we have civil society. Yet what we are living through is the clearest refutation of this. Just as, early in the pandemic, the edict came down from on high that the virus did not escape from a laboratory, and instantaneously the media all parroted that line, and any other view was suddenly unavailable in the free press, and indeed was scraped from social media, so, early in the Ukrainian war, the entire Western media fell into line with the CIA foreign policy line. You can find some other views online, but not in the mainstream media. A different and more judicious analysis is required.

I don’t want to repeat Kremlin talking points either. But there is much food for thought in three areas: military, economic and geopolitical.

The performance of the Russian military

I don’t think anyone is going to claim the Russian military have done as well as expected. This war was expected to be wrapped up in three days, and yet, here we are, a year on, and Russia is trying to dig itself out of a strategic defeat. Russia did not seek to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure in a shock-and-awe campaign early in the war, like the US does (the media pretend they don’t know this). This was a classic mistake. Even when they began bombing power infrastructure, it seems Russia focused mainly on substations and distribution infrastructure—which can be repaired in two days—rather than taking out power-generating facilities. Isn’t this pointless? They have not shot down US satellites over the Ukraine, despite the fact the US is actively participating in this war. They did not seek to interdict Western supplies (difficult to do, but a line through Zhitomir from Belarus to Transnistria could maybe have been taken and held?). They promised a severe response to any attack on the Crimea—and then did nothing when the Crimea was attacked. They said they might attack decision-making centres in Kiev, and said they knew which building the CIA operated from in Kiev—but have never sought to attack it. Putin is clearly a cautious guy, although written up in the Western press as “Hitler” (a rather tired meme). But here are a few less negative takes:

Russia’s economic resilience

Some Western analysts claimed Russian GDP would plunge by 20% in 2022 as a result of the sanctions. The final result was -2.1%. Unemployment is low, at only 3.7% in December. This is a recession, but not the cataclysm the West thought they were imposing on Russia. President Biden thought he had reduced the rouble to rubble, but by requiring foreign oil and gas purchasers to pay in roubles, Putin shored up demand for the rouble so much that interest rates had to be slashed to prevent the currency from soaring too rapidly. From 20% in April 2022, Russian interest rates have been slashed to 7.5%.

Russian inflation peaked at 17.8% in April 2022, but declined to 11.8% by January 2023. This is around the same level as the UK and much lower than in some EU countries. We were told that banning iPad exports to Russia would crush the economy and/or public morale, but who was that sanctioning? Wasn’t it Western IT firms that bore the brunt? It now transpires that Russia has circumvented sanctions, and has managed to import semiconductors from China. McDonald’s pulled out, in what the Western press imagined to be a bitter blow for Russia. Surely Russia couldn’t manage to run burger joints? A Russian firm took over McDonald’s franchises, and now sells the exact same food under a different label. Who knew this could even happen?

We are told that Russia has lost US$300bn in foreign-exchange reserves frozen in the West. This is widely quoted, but no source for the exact figure is ever given. in fact, the Atlantic Council has researched this figure and found the real number less than one-third of that (see Given high oil and gas prices, Russia’s foreign exchange reserves were US$597bn in January 2023, down from US$634.9bn in February 2022. Despite the war, Russia is holding up. Of course, a long war could challenge this perspective—and if China chose not to buy Russia’s oil and gas then things might deteriorate quickly. But Russia was not supposed to be this resilient to sanctions.

Destabilisation of the global political system

Whether or not Russia manages to eke out a victory of sorts, the most interesting development is that the US, by conducting a proxy war against Russia in a country that Russia simply cannot allow to fall in the arms of NATO, has destabilised the entire global system of international relations. Claims that “the whole world” is against Russia are nonsense. At the UN, few countries overtly support the war, but many more have abstained on resolutions condemning Russia, and those supporting Russia or abstaining combined have the majority of the world’s population. The only countries to impose sanctions in Russia are the core Western countries. The Global South is quietly praying for a US defeat.

Defending a “rules-based order”?

We are told the West is fighting for a rules-based order, but in fact Britain and America are the leading powers opposing a genuine rules-based order.

In fact, the whole of the Global South is alarmed at the rules-based order, which means one or two countries make the rules. No country in the developing world likes the secondary sanctions regime, or the freezing of financial assets, which could easily happen to any of them too. US financial hegemony has become a problem for all nations. But by so openly abusing their position of power, the US is hastening the day when the Chinese yuan replaces the dollar. This can’t happen overnight, but planning an alternative has now become urgent.

So, yes, Russia has not done as well in this war militarily as it hoped to, but the US has blundered by getting overly involved in this war, and many US allies in the developing world are openly questioning the value and purpose of US hegemony. This war isn’t really about the Ukraine, but about the future of US control of the world. Hegemony slides into tyranny, and an alternative to hegemony must eventually arise. Britain is condemning itself by siding with a vindictive declining hegemon. We need to adopt a course of neutrality and agree a trade deal with China, and yet our leaders are so fond of the US/EU summitry we are moving back under globalist control. We are desperate for a seat at the captain’s table on the Titanic just as the iceberg looms.

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