Putin’s tribal war
The Ukrainian conflict may prove to be the most consequential war of the 21st Century. It may also signal the end of the Vladimir Putin era in Russian politics and the reduction of the once mighty Russia into a glorified Third World country armed with nuclear weapons. That may be the ultimate oxymoron, but it is not far-fetched.
On Monday, Russia and China denied America’s allegation that Russia is seeking military help from China. That this allegation could be made, at all, is a pointer to the terrible straight Russia had found itself under Putin. Without its oil export today, Russia cannot even compete with China not to talk of its old Western Allies with whom it fought Germany during the Second World War.
The Ukrainian War may also signal an end to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), in its old form as a military alliance. Faced with serious challenge from the catholic economic muscle of a resurgent China, the NATO alliance needs to reconsider itself as a military body.
Economics and diplomacy may dominate future conflicts without counting the army divisions of each side. The Western powers may be thinking that it is time to seize the initiatives from the Chinese factory workers who are dominating the world. They have even surpassed the Japanese as the ultimate economic rival to the Western World.
In 1987, I had joined a team of 15 distinguished visitors to Capitol Hill, the home of the American legislature, The Congress. On the corridor were many television monitors broadcasting live on C-Span network, the proceedings of The Senate. All the television sets that we saw were Japanese-made, mostly of the Sony brand.
A female Senator, who hosted our team in her office, complained that Americans were surrendering to the economic aggression of the Japanese.
Few years after our visit to the Capitol Hill, Japanese automaker, Toyota, surpassed General Motors as the number-one automobile manufacturer in the world.
Now both Japanese and the Americans are facing the competition of their lives from the Chinese. These were the Chinese that were so beholding to the Russians in the first half of the 20th Century.
During his 25 years in power, China’s Supreme Leader, Chairman Mao Zedong, travelled outside his country twice. On both occasions, he journeyed to Moscow to meet with Russian leaders.
During the Chinese Civil War that lasted for almost 30 years, the Chinese were the clients of the Russians, beholding to them in every way. Mao knew the Chinese Revolution would have been a non-starter without the help of the Russians and their leader, Comrade Josef Stalin, the famed Man of Steel.
Today, there are not enough steel in Russia to arm its troops and change the map of Europe. Putin’s gamble in invading Ukraine is nothing but a reckless attempt to force the world to reckon with him. Russia still has the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world. Its military is still ranked as second only to America’s.
By igniting another tribal war in Europe, Putin is making a bad situation worse. His victory, if it ever comes, would be very costly and unsustainable in the long run. Instead of having Ukraine as a buffer zone between his country and the West, he is turning almost all former satellite states of the old Soviet Union into anti-Russian countries.
Putin has rightly gambled that the West would not want to confront Russia militarily on the ground or in the sky. Despite the repeated request of Ukraine and its leader, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that America and its NATO allies should declare Ukraine a no-flying zone, America declined to do so. Ukrainians know that if America declares Ukraine a no-flying zone, Russia does not have the capacity to confront America in the sky. The Russian air force is second-rate compare to the air-muscle of the United States and its allies. Though it might be tactically effective to create a no-flying zone over Ukraine, it would be strategically suicidal.
Russia is not just another country with a second-rate air force. It is a nuclear power, the greatest in the world after America. It has enough nukes to destroy the world 10 times over. Russia is also a dictatorship where one man rules. If Putin is humiliated in the sky, he might be tempted to use chemical weapons or even reach for the nuclear button. A thermonuclear war with Russia may not last more than one week, but all the major cities of the world; New York, Moscow, London, St Petersburg, Paris, Washington DC, Rome, would be destroyed. Humanity may be reduced to ground-zero and civilisation returned to where it was 5,000 years ago.
It is evident that the Ukrainians are the losers in this conflict. The young Ukrainian president, who came to power on the wings of anti-Russian rhetoric, refused or was unable to acknowledge the strategic importance of Ukraine to Russia. In recent past, Ukraine had joined NATO forces in staging an elaborate joint military exercise on Ukrainian soil.
Zelenskyy had also upped his rhetoric against Russia by saying he was ready to defend his country’s territorial integrity by all means. He thought his NATO allies would go to war to defend him. He was wrong.
Putin has done enough to provoke Ukrainian hostility. First he seized Crimea, the rich resort of Ukraine. He is also promoting separatist agenda within Ukraine in provinces that have substantial number of native Russians. In truth, Putin was acting as an arch-tribalist, promoting only the interests of his kinsmen. Yet despite these provocations, a more mature leadership would have handled Russia differentially.
There are many things for Ukraine to protect. Its citizens live better than the Russians; they are richer, healthier and have greater access to the good things of life. Ukraine has the best health system in the old Eastern Europe, certainly better than Russia’s. This week, the United Nations Secretary General described Ukraine as the food basket of the world. If the truth must be told, the Russians envy their wealthier cousin, the Ukrainians.
With a more experienced leadership, Ukraine would have avoided this new tribal war. They could have done less with Russian baiting despite the heavy breathing of the Russian bear and the reckless ambition of Putin. By their ceaseless dalliance with the West, they provoked the anger and belligerence of the insecure Putin. It is no consolation that this war is most likely to end badly for Putin and his corrupt and inefficient oligarchy.
There is a lot to learn from the Ukrainian experience. One, war does not give sufficient notice. Two, no one, no matter how much he loves you, will fight your war for you. Three, it is always better to be prepared for war if you want peace.
Nigeria is not at war, but we have seen how unprepared we are even to maintain a semblance of peace. Few weeks ago, some well-fed billionaires imported bad fuel for us and for weeks, queues have resurfaced at fuel stations. No one has been sanctioned or considered culpable. Let the people bear the brunt. There is no strategic reserve for our oil in case of crisis, war or natural disaster. Mere wrong importation by some fat blokes had disrupted the national balance.
Even our trains cannot run its schedule course without running out of fuel and passengers get stranded in the middle of nowhere. Of course, it is normal and no one it to be blamed. How then can we be surprised that a suspected killer had the presence of mind to become the queen of Kirikiri Prison? One wisecrack declared: “If you are living in Nigeria and your BP is normal, then you are not normal!”