Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The Coming Days in Ukraine Will Change the World

The crisis in Ukraine has preoccupied all of our time. It is as if a new world is being born there. From Ukrainian blood, Russian blood, the wailing from burnt down houses, the rubble of international law and the specter of nuclear terror.

A treacherous world that is open to all dangers.

The Germans will be forced to sleep in chilly rooms. The British will learn some humility. The French must turn off the lights at museums and at homes. Other people will have to make do with less food on the table. Governments must inspect their arsenals and provide missiles and drones to their generals.

We are now witnessing very dangerous times. There are no questions over the results of the referendums in “separatist” Ukrainian regions. It is obvious that the people will vote in favor of breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia.

The holding of the referendum amid the Russian military deployment leaves no chance for the West to accept its results. Moscow is forging ahead firmly. Days after the results are announced, the lost regions will become part of Russian territory. Moscow will not hesitate in using its entire arsenal if these Russian lands are attacked.

Russia is acting as if everything is already set in stone; that the world will surrender to the new facts and that the master of the Kremlin does not have the luxury to go back on what he has done. The crisis took on a new terrifying turn when the Russian army was dealt surprise defeats that damaged the image of its country and leader.

The cause of the wounds is well-known. It is the NATO weapons and American intelligence that allowed the Ukrainian army to raise the flag of their country over Russian tanks that were left strewn on the battlefield.

Confronted with the painful scene, Vladimir Putin had to take a difficult decision: limit the damage and find a way out or go further and make the crisis more dangerous to Ukraine, the world and Russia itself.

Putin opted for the second choice. The first was out of the question anyway. Russia is only ever ruled by a powerful leader. During the Cuban missile crisis, the generals and party did not forgive Nikita Khrushchev for showing leniency in confronting John Kennedy. They pushed him into retirement and isolation.

Russia always needs the strong leader. That is why it did not like the “weak” Mikhail Gorbachev and did not embrace the “indecisive” Boris Yeltsin.

Faced with the losses, Putin took the decision to gamble his entire hand. He declared partial mobilization and called up hundreds of thousands of soldiers to battle. Putin’s tone sounds like someone headed towards a holy battle like the major national battle waged by Stalin.

It is a war from which there can be no turning back or loss. That is why the threats of resorting to nuclear arms are repeated.

The rise in Putin’s popularity does not erase the image of droves of Russians fleeing to neighboring countries. They don’t want to be fuel in the “holy war”.

The most dangerous crises are the ones where those involved are demanded to offer what is beyond their capacities. In days, the Ukrainian separatist regions will be declared indivisible parts of Russia and Putin will embark on the road of no return. He won’t be able to turn back.

It is also hard to believe that Volodymyr Zelenskyy will be prepared to sign off the annexation. It will also be very difficult for Europe to see the maps of the continent changed by force. It will also be difficult for the United States to accept that Putin’s revolt against the world order would have granted him gains that would only encourage him to pursue more goals in the future.

It is a handful of days that may change the entire world.

If Russia has the right to annex parts of Ukraine, then why doesn’t China have the right to reclaim Taiwan? Is it fair to surrender to the right of the powerful to use force under the pretext of deterring dangers that are allegedly threatening them? What about border disputes around the globe? What about countries that are confined to borders narrower than their former empires? What will Iran, Türkiye and Israel do in our region?

Some fear that we are approaching the most harrowing chapters of the Ukraine war. The world is gripped by concern. The crisis has shaken two main arteries of what was known as the “global village”: energy and food. No one can claim that this crisis does not concern them. The old world is breaking apart and the new one is being born through bloody labor.

The Ukraine crisis has pushed major countries to reconsider policies, positions and calculations.

Those who believed that the Arab Gulf is no longer as important and can be walked away from have been proved wrong. This applies to the Biden administration and other western governments. The visit of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar is clear evidence of this awareness.

Saudi Arabia is acting with a high degree of international responsibility in the Ukrainian storm. It played a major role in the energy field, but its arsenal of international relations and partnerships, woven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in recent years, allow it to play a greater role.

It has the ability to speak to everyone in spite of the wide gaps that divide them. It has the ability to take decisions that align with interests and international responsibility. We can here understand the mediation led by Crown Prince Mohammed and that led to the release of prisoners of various nationalities. The move was praised in Moscow, Kyiv, Washington, London and other capitals.

It is not a stretch to say that the coming days in Ukraine will change the world.

It will be difficult to envisage a meeting between Putin and Zelenskyy – as aspired to by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - after Russia annexes Ukrainian regions. Putin’s return to the European or western fold also seems unlikely. It is also not easy to speak of Russia facing an Asian future.

The coming days in Ukraine may hold painful blows to Europe’s role and cohesion. This is why we are hearing more talk about China, which hasn’t been as supportive to Putin as he wanted, in Samarkand and New York.

The world needs someone to help it out of the Ukrainian fire. It cannot walk the Ukrainian tightrope for so long without falling in the blaze. Who can reassure the fearful Putin? Who can stop the fearsome Putin?

The Ukrainian map will change in a few days and with it the world. The post-Berlin Wall chapter has been closed. The coming days will witness the birth of the “Ukraine Wall” and the formation of new alliances and alignments.