Journalists are like grave diggers. They live off the tragedies of the world. They dream of being present at major turns and events that are usually soaked in blood, costly to the economy and beget refugees. They find joy in writing from within upheaval. In that tradition, I am writing this article.
Shortly after my arrival in Berlin, I felt the ‘end of an era,’ the conclusion of a chapter in the life of Europe and the world, and the birth of a chapter bears the hallmarks of the Tsar sitting on Lenin’s throne.
More than three decades ago, Asharq Al-Awsat sent me to this place. Together with an army of journalists, I witnessed the death of the most famous generals of the second half of the last century. Its name was the Berlin Wall.
Experience suggests that journalists yearn for the scenes of violent shocks just as the perpetrator longs for the scene of his crime. Maybe that's why I took my bag to that town. Perhaps I was motivated by the desire to witness the end of the world that was born from the collapse of that Wall.
When I slept near the Wall in 1989, I did not know the name of the man who they say today killed one world and gave birth to another. There was no reason to know his name. He was an unknown man working for a mysterious service and living under an alias.
His task was thorny: detect and recruit spies. He was trained in sensitive activities such as escaping censorship and prosecution, writing in secret ink, and dealing painful blows if necessary.
The colonel was staying in Dresden, that is, in the country of the “comrades” in East Germany. When the Wall collapsed, he burned some papers and left in disappointment to await new directions from his superiors in the “KGB” empire.
Salt was rubbed into the wound when Russia emerged from the Soviet rubble and was betrayed by many republics that were in the grip of the party. The name of the unknown colonel was Vladimir Putin, and in the new century we will spend thousands of hours tracing his footsteps and searching for his fingerprints.
In 1991, the weld keeping the Soviet Union together disappeared. On the last day of the decade, Putin emerged from the Kremlin carrying a revenge project, which many say was cooked in a military-security room that was dismayed by the humiliation of Russia and the amputation of its Soviet limbs.
Putin’s great vengeance plan was born out of suffering, economic decline, and a weaker ruble.
Red Army officers were selling their uniforms in the streets of cities. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's rule faltered to the tunes of corruption. Russia felt humiliated and overwhelmed after the US ambassador became the most powerful man in the country. The US diplomat demanded Lenin's country embrace the Western model that defeated it.
It was necessary to return to Berlin. The fall of the Berlin Wall had announced the birth of a new world with a sole superpower and an outrageous victory for the US. Some believe that the Ukrainian crisis today marks the death of that world and the birth of a new world bearing Putin's fingerprints.
Berlin is a sensitive place to get a good reading about the burden of the Russian war in Ukraine. It is too early to predict what the Russian adventure will lead to. Clearly, Putin has dealt a near-fatal blow to the world that was built on the ashes of the Soviet Union.
Some are confident that Russian tanks crossing the international border with Ukraine heralded the end of stability in the post-Wall world. The Russian war in Ukraine is much more dangerous than the bloody challenges the world has witnessed in the past two decades.
What Putin did is immeasurably more dangerous than what Osama bin Laden did, when he moved the war on terrorism to US soil. And much more dangerous than what Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did when he arose from Mosul, opening the door to a self-proclaimed “caliphate” and a bloody experience that followed.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is also more dangerous than the US’ war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The reason is simple: Putin's war in Ukraine shook the foundations of the international order. After this war, Europe will not be what it was, and the same is true for the whole world.
We are on the verge of a new world. Many are betting that it will be multipolar as the Ukraine war would not have occurred without a growing sense of a decline in US hegemony.
Many are convinced that the US has become incapable of playing the role of a policeman worldwide. They add that the US, after the experiences of China and other countries, is no longer able to claim that the West’s model is the only and obligatory path for technological progress and the fight against poverty. Putin shot the foundations of the “global village.”
What is certain is that the war in Ukraine imposed a major adjustment to the list of priorities in the West. The US was moving to focus its policy and capabilities on containing the rise of China. Suddenly, alarm bells were sounded in the capitals of NATO. The Russian menace is knocking on European doors and re-awakening ghosts that the old continent thought it had buried forever.
Europeans were dumbfounded. Millions of Ukrainian refugees were pouring into neighboring countries. Even at the height of the Yugoslav wars Europeans didn’t face such scenes. Putin went into the war to such an extent that he cannot retreat from it without achieving a coup that is beyond the capacity of the West to bear.
The Russian leader cannot return as a loser, nor can the West see him victorious. The world fell into a big trap. Europeans are watching with concern that a permanent member of the Security Council is imposing forced surgery on the map of an independent European state. The current war in Ukraine is much more dangerous than Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. It is also much more dangerous than Russia's military intervention in Syria the following year.
The assumption is that a multipolar world is being born. But what if the unprecedented wave of Western sanctions ruined the Russian economy? In this case, will Russia's position regress, so that the duality of US-Chinese rivalry perpetuates? Will Putin have to be the younger brother of the Russia-China alliance?
A few hundred meters from the hotel I’m staying at in Berlin, a Ukrainian flag is fluttering. I was surprised by finding pictures of Putin lying on the ground and a woman nearby holding a banner denouncing the killing of children and women in Ukraine.
At first glance, I thought that the lady was Ukrainian. When I asked, she said that she is a German volunteer who is acting on an individual initiative against “the crime that is being carried out on the territory of Ukraine.”
When I asked about the Putin posters lying on the ground, she replied: “This is their normal place in light of his actions. He is a very dangerous man to the world. Silence means repeating the experiences that killed entire peoples.”