Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Vladimir the Great and the Ukraine Arena

Vladimir the Great and the Ukraine Arena

Monday, 20 December, 2021 - 08:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The issue is not just about Ukraine. It is beyond and more dangerous than that. Russia must settle its scores at the appropriate time. The appropriate time means the presence of an extraordinary leader who is fit to drive the dangerous turns.

The issue is not just about Ukraine. It is also about the old European dream of taming Russia and taking it down a few pegs. A western dream to force snowy Russia to open up and embrace western recipes that claim victory. It is a duel of civilizations and culture, with weapons of fear and interests thrown in.

Ukraine is victim of a curse called geography. Some of its people dream of joining Europe and leaving behind Russia to its people. Some have resigned themselves to the joint fate of the two countries, as if they are "one people in two countries." Geography is a constant injustice. Ukraine knows this all too well, as do several other countries in the world.

The issue is not just about Ukraine. It is an opportunity to shake the image of Biden's America after it was shaken by the withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is an opportunity to place the United States, which is preoccupied with the "Chinese threat", before a test that cannot be won. Washington will not take the risk of sparking a world war for the sake of Ukraine.

All western threats have spoken of "dire consequences" should Russia invade Ukraine. These consequences mean economic and diplomatic sanctions. The czar is not afraid. Ukraine is likely to collapse from the inside and he doesn't even need to invade it.

He tests the resolve of western leaders and NATO generals. He moves his forces towards the border and awakens fears. He then sets difficult conditions. It is as if he wants to deprive the members of NATO of the gains they achieved after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He also demanded that they return their weapons to where they were, based on the assumption that Russia was no longer a threat.

The game is no longer as enticing. The string of victories ruins the anticipation of celebrations. The lack of danger kills off any excitement. There is no intimidating rival or alarming partner in this vast map. It is as if you play a match by yourself and return with the trophy. You are still met with official applause and smiles of protocol.

The game is under control and the door has been bolted shut against surprises. No one dares to challenge the constitution. All heads bow down without hesitation. Ministers, lawmakers, governors, generals with their medals, and business moguls in their offices. The reports say that no one has lifted a finger in challenge or protest. The weeds have been rooted out early before they can spread. The media follow the orders they have been given. Nothing can be said about him on social media. The opposition has been declawed and given some media exposure to appease the West and human rights groups. When the ruler becomes the uncontested leader, the constitution is reduced to his office manager.

A deep and boring calm. No one dares to commit the dream of residing in the Kremlin. The stay of the current tenant is open-ended. Constitutional dates are transformed into mere formalities. There is only one rival who cannot be tamed or slowed down. Age. The 70s are just around the corner. Age is the only citizen who does not bend to the will of the czar.

The final ten days of the year have a bitter taste, not just because of aging, but because memories sweep in uninvited.

This time 30 years ago Mikhail Gorbachev left the spotlight and the Soviet Union left with him. The collapse also carried the signature of Boris Yeltsin and the leaders of the republics. The "greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th Century" had taken place and Russia was dealt a historic defeat under the banner of the Soviet Union. It is not easy to wake up an orphan, even if you were 39 years old. Your country has been lost. This is the same country that defeated Napoleon and his army and still keeps his cannons on display in the Kremlin yard. The country that broke the insane European call Adolf Hitler, forced him to retreat to his lair before chasing him down and then changed the shape of Europe.

He sometimes struggles with difficult thoughts. He thinks of summoning the elderly Gorbachev to apologize publicly to the citizens of the Soviet Union for the great collapse. He thinks of then sending him to Siberia so that he can spend his days in a frozen cell. He laughs. The hands of time cannot go back. He has an odd thought: What will Gorbachev say to Joseph Stalin if they meet in the other world? He smiles. The 70s help draw up odd scenarios.

A healthy body cannot hide the wounds of the spirit. And the wounds are many. Vladimir Putin was close to the Berlin wall when it collapsed. Before that, he believed that the KGB, which he was a part of, does not sleep and cannot be taken by surprise. He was under the illusion that the Soviet Union was born to remain and to be also victorious. The comrades in Eastern Europe betrayed the years of friendship, They also betrayed the Warsaw Pact. They abandoned the Soviet train for the western dream. Successive tragedies soon followed. The Soviet republics were also treasonous. They seized the first opportunity to abandon the train. The comrades washed their hands clean of Lenin's party and they said that their relationship with the security agencies was a permanent shame. Those who used to applaud the party and its leader have now limited their dreams to appeasing the American ambassador. The ambassador, in his impeccable suit, soon came to have the final say and transformed into a guide on how to come out from under the rubble.

Many wounds in the spirit of a single man. West Germany sends aid in return for Moscow's conceding of East of Germany. It is a humiliating image, like a parent forced to sell their child. Industrial countries are willing to help Russia, but they demand reforms in return. The ruble bows down whenever the country does. The officers of the Red Army sell their uniforms and medals for a handful of dollars. The most painful event was the breaking up of the Slavic bloc that included Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

Putin had previously punished Ukraine and Georgia by severing parts of their bodies. Russia's annexation of Crimea has not been forgotten. The current game means extracting the West's recognition of the Russia's influence. It is a message to Ukraine, other neighbors and the West.

The czar has expanded the arena. Ukraine, Syria, and several Africa arenas. The Russian army or experts or the Wagner Group. Thirty years after the great collapse, the man seeking revenge counts his successes. He is not worried about the present. He is worried about his position in history. Will he take his place alongside Peter the Great and Catherine the Great? And what will he tell Stalin if they meet in the other world?

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks