The West has declared total victory over a humiliated Putin far too soon

Vladimir Zelensky visits Kherson today

The G20 will show that the idea the whole world is united against Russia is little more than a delusion

Sherelle Jacobs

14 November 2022 • 9:00pm

The West may struggle to resist the notion that a fairy-tale ending for the free world is beckoning on the battlefields of Ukraine. As jubilant Ukrainians take to the streets of Kherson to cry “freedom”, draped in flags and donning yellow and blue ribbons, Russia is reeling from its biggest geopolitical catastrophe since the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is no doubt about it: Putin’s latest retreat is a turning point. His plan to shock and awe Kyiv into regime change and smash the rules-based international order by taking more chunks out of neighbouring territory has imploded. The prospect of a Ukrainian offensive to drive Russia out of Crimea altogether has gone from being the stuff of fantasy to a feasible scenario.

Putin’s court cannot hide its bewildered rage, as the once almost transcendental prowess of Russia’s “Father” withers away. In a recent social-media tirade, the president’s “brain”, the propagandist Alexander Dugin, quoted an excerpt from anthropologist James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, in which a god-king is killed because he failed to bring rain during a drought. Little wonder then that the US has hailed the recapture of Kherson as an “extraordinary victory”. An emboldened Rishi Sunak, meanwhile, is depicting Russia as an isolated and disgraced “rogue state”.

Yet the West should be cautious about pronouncing victory too soon. Operationally, Russia’s defeat is far from assured. It will surely use its withdrawal as a chance to replenish its forces over winter and consolidate its defensive lines. It will continue to test Western resolve through energy wars and, perhaps, also clandestine terrorism. And for every Putin critic in Russia putting their head above the parapet this week, there are hundreds more spinning that this is merely “stalemate”. If anything, Russian pundits are becoming more apocalyptic, as they call on their leaders to “break with their own hands” the country’s “decadent” Westernised society, built by Moscow elites who “grew up on the principles of the market economy and Hollywood cinema”.

Even more crucially, the world is still far from united against Putin. Most developing nations fundamentally do not share the West’s view that the invasion of Ukraine is a perilous existential moment. While the West sees a Manichean war between order and chaos, freedom and imperialism, rules-based stability and expansionist anarchy, a great many world leaders see a battleground, which, beneath the fog of Western hubris, is mottled with shades of grey.

That is ultimately why some of the countries gathering for this year’s G20 have not joined the international denunciation of Putin’s Russia. China remains steadfast in its refusal to condemn the invasion of Ukraine. New Delhi has served to undermine Western sanctions by ramping up its binge on Russian oil and continuing to source 60 per cent of its military equipment from the Kremlin. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia, the most skilled country in the world at diplomatically trolling America, has been accused of helping to fund Russia’s invasion by pushing up oil revenues through Opec+ co-ordination.

Worryingly for the West, this points to a widening global ideological chasm, as much as it does diverging national interests. Many world leaders are downright hostile to the rules-based international order. It is no secret that China broadly shares Russia’s hopes that it will soon fracture into “spheres of influence”, allowing Beijing to extend its authority over the Asia Pacific. But a more flexible approach to borders may also suit other rising powers, from India as it pursues strategic expansion in the disputed Ladakh region, to Turkey, as neo-Ottoman Erdogan deepens his foothold in northern Syria. Nor can Washington necessarily even rely on democracies in the Americas for support – Brazil’s incoming president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, an old-school South American Leftist, has a record of attacking US “imperialism”.

In other words, beneath the surface of the supposed united front, a full-blown mutiny is brewing, as a Cold War-style non aligned movement forms. Western elites must take some share of the blame. For a generation, they have been in the business of evangelism rather than pragmatism – epitomised by the dogmatic belief that the spread of free market capitalism would lead to the world embracing liberal democracy. Now this vision has crumbled, it is not lost on Asia and Africa that the West’s pitch has shifted from expansionist to defensive. Where once it presented itself as an enlightened civilisation heralding the utopian integration of every country into one big homogenising McTheme park, it now more modestly postures as a wise and beleaguered counsel protecting the global “order” from a new dark age.

The problem is that the West’s critics smell not just weakness but hypocrisy in this revised version of the free world’s mission. Western elites have been accused of defying the rules-based order in recent years, not least in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the overthrow of Libya’s Gaddafi in 2011. Europe is also finding it tricky to conceal its own existential crisis over the order it purports to protect. Politicians from Britain to Italy are finding attempts to defend their borders against illegal immigration scuppered by international law. The EU – the aggressively expanding regulatory offshoot of the liberal order – continues to clash with member states on issues from the politicisation of domestic courts to border checks.

If anything, the Kherson victory may coincide with a symbolic moment of strength for China rather than the West. Should the Kremlin once again escalate its offensive, America’s military options are limited. Its plan to break Russian resolve through sanctions has so far failed, thanks in part to the latter’s large foreign exchange reserves, but also the non-cooperation of the West’s allies. Moreover, China, not the West, holds the trump card in terms of averting a nuclear attack on Ukraine. The biggest factor deterring Putin is said to be his fear that President Xi – who has already rebuked the Kremlin for making nuclear threats – could call his bluff and land a fatal blow to the Russian economy by imposing a cap on energy import prices.

While Putin may well be on the edge of oblivion, so is the era of Western supremacy. At this stage, any declaration of liberal triumph is pure delusion.

One comment

  1. “New Delhi has served to undermine Western sanctions by ramping up its binge on Russian oil and continuing to source 60 per cent of its military equipment from the Kremlin. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia, the most skilled country in the world at diplomatically trolling America, has been accused of helping to fund Russia’s invasion by pushing up oil revenues through Opec+ co-ordination.”

    We need to go after these shit countries run by criminals very hard. The BRICS support putler. It’s hard to know how to respond effectively to the chicoms, but Brazil, India and SA can be hurt.

    Liked by 2 people

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