Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Kremlin Time and Beirut Time

The world is living on Kremlin time. The decisions of its master leave their mark on the security of the planet and the prices of energy and grain.

Experts agree that another year of the Russian war on Ukraine will be catastrophic to the world. Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he was stationing tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus was the latest evidence that the man is in a complicated crisis that he has also dragged the world in.

The announcement is a reminder that he cannot come out defeated from the war. Defeat in Ukraine could ultimately lead to the loss of the Kremlin. It may also lead to the fragmentation of the Russian Federation itself because only a powerful man can put its parts together.

The world is also living on the time of Chinese-American relations. The dispute over the future of Taiwan is a massive mine, whose explosion the world cannot withstand. The global economy will be plunged into a fatal crisis if conflict erupts in and around Taiwan.

China is currently a powerful country ruled by a powerful man. The new China is being ruled by the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. It is fortunate that the man has not yet been lured into embarking on an adventure that would be destructive to the economy of both his country and the world.

The most dangerous aspect of the current crisis in Ukraine is the difficulty in coming up with an acceptable solution, even if the mediator were someone as powerful as the president of China. Putin had blocked the possibility of a solution by declaring the annexation of Ukrainian regions he believes are part of Russia. He cannot withdraw from them. He cannot yield to holding a UN-monitored referendum with the absence of his forces.

Meanwhile, the West cannot sign an agreement that would declare the birth of a new Ukrainian map drawn up by Putin and Russian and Ukrainian blood. The ongoing bloodbath in Bakhmut is a sign of the current impasse and just how fierce the confrontation is.

Russia’s stationing of nuclear weapons in Belarus is a message that it is prepared to take catastrophic decisions to avoid defeat.

Given such a dangerous global situation, governments everywhere must properly assess it. They must see to their security and internal situation. They must provide the needs of their people to prevent unrest that could lead to instability that may go beyond borders.

The Middle East is concerned with the global situation. American forces are deployed throughout the region. Russian forces are present in Syria. The Iranian-American clashes in eastern Syria are additional evidence of the tensions.

However, one positive signal arrived in the region from Beijing. The Chinese-Saudi-Iranian statement was very significant, not simply because it spoke about restoring relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but because it also stressed the need to respect the sovereignty of nations and refrain from meddling in their internal affairs.

Even though we are now waiting for the agreement to be carried out and for intentions to be tested, the general impression in the Middle East is that it may be presented with a serious opportunity to resolve tensions, conflicts and violations that have plagued it over the past four decades. Some believe it is a golden opportunity for fragile countries to catch their breath and launch an effective effort to strengthen their maps that now look like ships that have capsized in a storm.

Strengthening maps begins by first deriving lessons from policies that led them to their current dire condition in the first place. They must strengthen national unity, bring citizens back to the state and its institutions, revive the economy and improve levels of education and healthcare.

The Lebanese map is not a capsized ship. It is a hole-ridden ship that needs to be retrieved from the bottom of the ocean where it has been driven by the system of corruption, failure and factional squabbles over the corpse of the state. Even if we were to assume that the Lebanese politicians don’t have time to preoccupy themselves with the Kremlin and Taiwan, the regular Lebanese citizen has the right to demand them to seize any opportunity to extract Lebanon out of the labyrinths of Hell where it has been for too long.

Out of all the broken maps, Lebanon’s is in the most precarious situation. The situation has become so dire that doctors will soon be scarce, that is if the sick can even afford treatment. More dangerous than the image Lebanese people searching in piles of trash for a scrap of food is the broken bridges between segments of society.

Factional rhetoric has taken over, with complete disregard of the constitution - the only reference that one can turn to. The abhorrence of the constitution and constitutional deadlines and imposing of practices that go against the spirit of the Lebanese fabric itself and dragging Lebanon towards agendas and conflicts that are beyond its ability to withstand are all factors that have led the country to one abyss after the other.

The battle over the time in Lebanon is painful. It exposes the extent of the massive destruction that has befallen relations between Lebanese segments. It exposes the collapse of bridges and alienation between people. Alienation between small maps inside the map of a small nation. It exposes the extent of the differences in reading the past, dealing with the present and looking towards the future.

It exposes the fear over balances of power, over identity, over the Lebanese people’s way of life and over the political, social and demographic changes. It exposes fear over the regional and international position of their country. Best evidence of the above is the lethal impact caused by emigration. The Lebanese people have grown so despairing of their country and people that they are willing to throw themselves in “death boats” to leave.

The battle of time is painful. Will the Lebanese seize every opportunity to declare that they are not one people, but a group of peoples that have been confined together by geography? Do they want to say that they have given up on trying to build a state that can accommodate all segments and colors and where peace is nothing more than a truce in wait of a deadlier war? Do they want to live forever in the shadow of a failed marriage and impossible divorce?

For how long can they live with vacuum in the presidency and in a geographic space where justice is meaningless, and the police are ineffectual? The same applies to the parliament and government. Why do the Lebanese people forget experiences and refuse to learn from them? Have they forgotten what time has proven: That every choice that is greater than Lebanon is costly, and every choice less than it is also costly?

The world is living on Kremlin time and Lebanon is working on the time of fear and spite. Some believe that resolving the Ukraine crisis is possible despite its challenges, but that the Lebanese crisis is part of Lebanon’s fabric.

The battle of time is scary. Two capitals with two times, institutions with two times, buildings with two times. At what time will the country die?