Is Vladimir Putin a genius or a madman? Or does he just understand his geopolitical opponents too well?
Whatever the case may be, his actions have revealed the intellectual shallowness of our leadership class.
For the briefest of moments, on February 24 as tanks rolled through the Ukrainian countryside, Russian aggression seemed to have achieved the impossible.
The world stood united against the aggressor.
The European Union, atypically, felt the distant winds of relevance brace her rickety structure.
Indeed, reaching beyond her remit, she would fund arms deliveries to Ukraine.
In turn, Germany pledged to spend 100 billion euros on defense through a one-off “special fund” to bolster Germany’s defenses.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz ushered in a “new era” by promising to spend more than 2 percent of his country’s gross national product on the military .
He added: “President Putin should not underestimate our determination to defend every square metre of [NATO] territory together with our allies.”
The international community would work together to impose the harshest of all sanctions. In short, to use the modern vernacular, the Bear would be “canceled”.
In barely a fortnight, however, the mood changed as the costs of sanctions became manifest.
Energy costs, already high, have skyrocketed overnight.
Oil hit a 14-year high at the beginning of the week. Commodities, from crude oil to wheat and soybeans have risen between a third and a half over the last few days.
Inflation, already extremely high given the absence of interest to offset the monetary value destruction, is set to climb higher still.
This will destroy a great deal of our people’s ability to pay for the essentials of life.
As night follows day, our leading European cicadas started to play a very different tune as the financial winter made itself more apparent.
The beginning of the walk back took place at a discreet gathering on March 4.
That day, Robert Habeck, the (Green) German business minister, notified the world that Germany stood firmly behind Ukraine, with only one small caveat.
We are “strictly against an import ban on oil, gas or coal from Russia,” he said, adding: “I would even oppose it because we would endanger social peace in the republic.”
To clarify the issue, the German chancellor on Monday added that Europe had “deliberately exempted” Russian energy from sanctions because its supply cannot be secured “any other way.”
A week ago, Scholz insisted NATO would not intervene in the conflict, highlighting, rightly perhaps, the dangers involved when dealing with a “nuclear power.”
With half of Germany’s gas supplies coming from Russia, an import ban would have been an act of grand economic self-harm.
In short, Ukrainians could count on Germany to stand shoulder to shoulder with them so long as doing so was deemed cost free—“with friends like these . . .” the Ukrainians might be tempted to think.
At a press conference in the UK, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte repeated the same message.
The “painful reality,” Rutte said, “is we are still very much dependent on Russian gas and Russian oil and if you now force European companies to quit doing business with Russia that would have enormous ramifications around Europe including Ukraine but also around the world.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated the obvious: “The world cannot close down the use of oil and gas overnight, even from Russia.”
In the meantime on the same day, at a press conference 5,000 miles away in Beijing, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi called the Russian-China axis “one of the most crucial bilateral relationships in the world.”
In another blow to Western leadership, India remained silent, along with, irony of ironies, Pakistan, India’s greatest rival. India has a history of non-alignment. It also has very long-standing historical ties with Russia, in particular in the field of armament.
The world then is not united. It rarely is.
What is noticeable is how little desire there is to stand up for Ukraine beyond platitudes, propaganda, and Polish verve.
The reason for this is simply that it has been a long while since our leaders gave any serious thoughts to geopolitics, realpolitik, and strategy.
The dominating view among our superiors has been and still remains the creation of a world without nation-states and, therefore, without borders.
This nirvana would be ruled by a small group of enlightened people through the agency of international bureaucracies, out of reach of the electorate’s dirty grasp—and out of touch with much else besides.
So while the West spent the last couple decades untethering itself from realities, focusing rather on absurd and arbitrary climate targets, disinvesting its own energy infrastructure and capabilities and, criminally, providing no actual alternatives to its people, Russia used our leaders’ distracted mental state to establish a commanding energy supremacy in the West and East.
The world did not change with the invasion of Ukraine.
It remains the tough place it always was. There are some unchangeable truths.
Without energy, nothing in our world functions. We tried to reinvent the wheel from gender to energy, the Russians worked to fuel its spin.
Our established order forgot about its key function: the maintenance and advancement of our way of life.
Instead, they have worked overtime to dismantle our inheritance.
For a brief moment, the world seemed to bask in a new light of international cooperation and enjoying the thrill of imposing supposedly cost-free sanctions on Russia, and as our news media delighted in reporting the crash of the Ruble, the pending default of Russia’s sovereign bonds, and the banning of Russia TV from our screens. Yet, when Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked about Western sanctions, he said his chief was “indifferent.”
Putin perhaps is neither mad, nor a genius. Unlike Western leaders, he might just know what he wants and have planned accordingly over two decades: to bring back Ukraine in the Bear’s embrace
And from a position of ostensible weakness, Putin made Russia indispensable and hard to hurt, regardless of his troops’ performance on the field. Maybe he played chess while our leaders played checkers. And that wouldn’t be the first time.