Last week, as Putin’s army invaded Ukraine, a country with aspirations to become more Western, I asked in a short piece if “the fading flame of the West burn bright again?”, referring to the many ills – political, ideological and economic, as well as the lower moral standing of the West due to past military and financial disasters – that have weakened Western nations and which may have, as a result, emboldened the Russian government to start a war in Eastern Europe.
Since then, the Western world has showed a remarkable unity in its response, answering my question quite clearly with a resounding “Yes!”
Western nations, led by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France and, more hesitantly but still in the same cooperative spirit, Germany, as well as their allies, such as South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, have imposed a range of painful sanctions on Russia and its ruling class. Even Switzerland, with its famously neutral position regarding conflicts, joined the effort against Russia and backed the sanctions.
The response from the West has been swift and decisive, as Westerners rallied around their shared values such as the rule of law, the freedom of individual and national sovereignty, expressing their solidarity via massive protests across the globe against Putin’s war in Ukraine.
However, there are a number of factors that the Western public needs to carefully consider from now on to ensure that its opinion (i.e. public opinion) does not back dangerous propositions that can result in a direct military conflict with Russia which, based on some estimates, has the second largest military force in the world (the first being that of the United States and the third is that of China).
To consider cautiously what we, those who live in the West and have voting power, wish for is not a cowardly position but one of pragmatism, given that Putin made threats of using Russia’s nuclear arsenal (which is the largest in the world according to the Arms Control Association), if NATO (the international military arm of the West) intervenes in Ukraine.
As Saagar of Breaking Points (a US-based programme focused on politics and cultural developments) has highlighted in recent reportages, the appetite for a direct conflict with Russia has increased in the United States. A similar message has been highlighted by Greenwald and Taibbi, the American journalists pointing out that both on both sides of the Atlantic, there is a consensus forming on the ongoing war, naturally against Russia, but with a strong dismissal of voices that are warning against a military involvement from the West.
Needless to say that this is an incredibly reckless thing to suggest, given the potential consequences of NATO’s involvement in Ukraine, which range from the conflict spreading in the area to reaching global proportions and even the nuclear threat materialising. As UK commentator Konstantin Kissin (who is of Russian heritage and has family in Ukraine) stated recently on the BBC, NATO involvement in the conflict should be off the table because Putin, “if pushed”, will use nuclear weapons.
I agree. The West and its allies has done an amazing job with the sanctions which will inflict immense economic hardship on Russia – investment bank JP Morgan estimates that the country’s GDP could contract by 11% as its currency already crashed by c.40%. Here however we see that ordinary Russians, some of who oppose Putin’s war and have protested against (the results of which were 2,000 brutal arrests), are also victims of this conflict started by the Kremlin for ideological, geopolitical or economic reasons.
What Russia is facing now, in terms of a global cooperation from the so-called free world, although one should not forget how many leaders of Western nations have behaved towards their citizens in recent years (for example, only last month, Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, acted as nothing short of a despotic authoritarian wanting to crush peaceful protests – a democratic right), may be sending a strong message to what will happen if China invades Taiwan. However, there are plausible arguments to be made against this position as the relationship between the West and China is more complicated than with Russia.
Not only is China the manufacturing hub of the world, meaning that many cheap goods that Western consumers like to buy are produced by an inexpensive Chinese labour force, but its financial relationship with the most important financial player – the United States – is a delicate one: the USD is still used as the main currency in international trade and this is, in part, displayed by the amount of US Treasuries (American government debt) held by China: 1,07 trillion USD (second largest amount after Japan). As such, sanctions against China are likely to disrupt not just international supply chains of goods but the very foundations of the current financial system.
However, the war in Ukraine did more than just to unite the West around a common agreement that its values are worth protecting: it also showed that enemies of the West also hide within and sit on the extremes of the political spectrum.
The radical Left (the Woke, or Identity Marxists) are gleefully watching the invasion, taking it as a sign that it is time for the West to pay for its sins (Ukraine’s Western aspirations make it guilty, somehow…) or, even more bizarre of an argument for taking Putin’s side, it claims that the West has done far worse than the current Russian military action. This is not necessarily a surprise, as the radical Left has a long history of cozing up to dictators.
If you want to connect these lines of argument in your head, be my guest, but I warn you that you are wasting your time for there is no connection that a sensible person can make. But then again, the Woke are not sensible persons – mostly are mentally deranged, ideologically blinded, uneducated or simply vile.
Meanwhile, the radical Right now hate the West too – because it became too Woke. Therefore, they are watching the invasion with a happy smile on their dumb faces, thinking “that’s what you get for becoming Woke”. Douglas Murray highlighted this faulty line of thinking in a recent article for the Spectator: “We are weak, Putin is strong. We are dumb, he is smart. We obsess over stupid minutiae, Putin gets the big picture.” One must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as the old saying goes.
How are the Ukrainians who are being bombed and forced out of their homes supposed to be, somehow, atonement for the West being too woke? Or how is looking up to an authoritarian that has no regard for the wellbeing of his people patriotic? Not to mention of the censorship and propaganda of the Russian government, practices about which the Right in the West has been bemoaning, and not entirely without just cause, in recent years. Why the double standards?
Leaving aside the irrational political extremes, the majority of people in the West, as they proved during the pandemic, are sane and want to stand with Ukraine not because they want to show the world how morally pure they are but because they see this war as a threat to the values upon which the Western civilisation is built on.
Last week, I asked the West to wake up. It has awakened faster than I expected, more attentive than I thought and more united than I have imagined. Indeed, the flame of the West burns bright again.