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Russia, Ukraine and the American Boxer

Russia, Ukraine and the American Boxer

Monday, 18 April, 2022 - 06:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

It was November 1989. The Berlin Wall had fallen. Asharq Al-Awsat dispatched me to cover the events there. I saw western journalists celebrate wildly. The event was huge, important and unprecedented.


When I returned to the hotel, which was located close to the wall, I - the journalist from the terrible Middle East - felt a little worried.


The Berlin Wall marked the border of a country and the border of an empire. History attests that the changing of the borders of empires paves the way for bloody costly feasts. When the Soviet Union was relegated to the history museums, I smelled the stench of heavy defeat in Moscow. Russia could not surrender to this defeat forever. It knows how to wait under the snow, while grappling with its siege mentality.


Would the Kremlin have allowed the collapse of the empire's border had its master at the time been Vladimir Putin, not Mikhail Gorbachev? Is today's bloody feast a substitute to the one that did not take place the day the Soviet Union was flayed and all its republics jumped off Lenin's train?


Does the empire that was victorious the day of the Berlin Wall's collapse shoulder some of the blame of what is happening today because of the way it ran the world post-collapse?


The United States boasts massive capabilities. It has the most prestigious universities and research centers. It is the world's top economy. It holds the keys of successive technological revolutions. It also boasts history's most advanced military. American might can reach any location in the world, but American policy has fallen short in demonstrating its ability in understanding all parts of the world.


I sensed a deep misunderstanding between the US and several parts of the world as I watched developments unfold in Iraq. Let us set aside the unconvincing justifications for the invasion, including Saddam Hussein's regime's ties to terrorism and al-Qaeda and his biological weapons.


Over the years, I tried to find the reasons for the American occupation's disbanding of the Iraqi military. I particularly asked this to supporters of the invasion and the ouster of Saddam. None of them gave me a convincing answer. Was it possible that a country as mighty as the United States did realize the danger of eliminating the Iraqi army from the Iraqi-Iranian-Turkish equation that lies on historic balances and open wounds?


Let us set aside the Middle East given that it belongs to a different culture and that its territories have been the arena for historic grudges. Does the US have the right to undermine the extent of Russia's concern at seeing NATO move its weapons towards its borders? We, the journalists were aware that Putin carried a bleeding wound called the Soviet Union, but how could this have escaped the architects of White House and American foreign policy?


I don't want to go so far as to say that Putin, who arrived in the Kremlin on the eve of the 21 Century, carried with him the corpse of an empire, but he definitely blames the West for assassinating the Soviet Union.


Putin resided close to the wall when it collapsed. He was a mere officer who dreamed of climbing up the KGB ladder. He knew that the assassination of the wall and empire took place without a single shot being fired. NATO did not fire its rockets at the Soviet empire. It struck it instead with the attractiveness of its example. The attractiveness of technological and economic progress, parliaments and freedoms.


Perhaps this is what led to Putin's aversion to colored revolutions. He saw them as a dangerous element in the program of deploying weapons to besiege his country.


Putin's battle isn't with Joe Biden or Boris Johnson. Above all, it is a battle with the example that came out victorious in the last decade of the 20th Century and believes itself the only cure and necessary passage towards progress and the future.


In wake of the assassination - or suicide - of the Soviet Union, the US emerged as the great boxer. Terms such as sole major power, single pole, end of history and others, peppered the media.


History shows that resounding victories allow pride to take over the victor. A massive victory can lead to arrogance. The great boxer could also fail in listening to the demands of other boxers, telling them instead to just follow his example. It slips his mind the need to listen carefully to the concerns of the other and their justified expectation to build a relationship based on balanced interests and deep understanding.


The great boxer is tempted into imposing his rules that are inspired by his interests, setting aside the traditional rules of the game. He tends to view his victory as constant and permanent, not a product of a moment.


He reaches the point of failing to acknowledge the rise of new boxers and their right to take the position that suits their current abilities. It sometimes occurs to him to contain the new boxers, exhaust them and force them to abide by the rules he imposed during their time of weakness.


Did it slip the mind of decision-makers in Washington that the American boxer has, over the past two decades, exhausted a considerable amount of his abilities, specifically in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, not to mention the War on Terror?


Has it also slipped their mind that Russia under Putin is not the same as Russia under Yeltsin? And that Xi's China is not the same as Mao's China, which Henry Kissinger visited in the early 1970s to use the "Chinese card" against the Soviet Union? Did it slip their mind that India's traditional fear of China doesn't mean that it will unconditionally yield itself to the US?


Several changes have taken place in economies and arsenals. Countries are not charity organizations. They have their interests and concerns. They too can remind others of the cards they hold.


The Russian war in Ukraine is the earthquake that brings up the issue of leading the world.


February 24, 2022 is the most significant and important date in recent decades. It is the day Russian tanks moved in to invade Ukraine, as if to declare that the world post the collapse of the Berlin Wall had come to an end and that the new world should be led by several parties. What is taking place in Ukraine is definitely much greater than Ukraine.


The American boxer must reconsider his views and style. He must accept the arrival of new boxers to the ring. The world has changed. The enemies and allies have changed. We may be on the way to a new world order and Ukraine's bad luck would have it that it would begin on its ruins.


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