More than three months have elapsed and there’s no end is in sight for the devastatingly vicious Ukrainian war. In addition to the incommensurable human costs, the economic consequences of the conflict are going to be dire. They will inevitably weigh down the global economy for a long time, with disrupting effects in particular on the supply by Russia and Ukraine of wheat and other cereals, the staple food on which a large part of humanity depends.
The war raging in Ukraine after the Russian aggression, according to the most recent report prepared for president Zelensky by the Kyiv School of Economics, has already caused damages to infrastructures to the tune of $600 billion, the equivalent of approximately 4 times the country’s GDP. Even for Russia’s much larger economy, direct costs of the military aggression are disproportionate and mounting.
According to Sofrep (Special Operations Forces Report), an American media outlet specializing in defense, the Russian invasion is growing at a rate of $900 million per day. With rising evidence that the Russian military has no financial capability to keep up the war in Ukraine, it adds, it has now been reported that Russian citizens have been crowdfunding their army. An analyst projects that as the ruble has collapsed, the Russian economy could be set back by as much as 30 years.
Seen from the outside, the Ukrainian senseless war–with no clear winner and where both parties are trying to bleed one another to death–is a self-fulfilling tragedy that must be immediately stopped before it escalates any further. But the question, with the UN Security Council paralyzed by vetoes of its permanent members is a resounding albeit totally despairing: How?
Two indestructible nonagenarians, the German-born former US National Security Council Chief and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who brought Nixon to China, and George Soros, the Hungarian billionaire philanthropist who bet against the once all-powerful Bank of England and made a killing, both went to the Davos World Economic Forum where Putin used to rub shoulders with the Masters of the Universe who enthusiastically welcomed him to the club. They both were invited to talk about Ukraine, an issue on which they had very different ideas: one decidedly negative; the other more open to making some kind of deal with the aggressor–provided, of course, that the conditions were right.
Let the negativist talk first. “The invasion may have been the beginning of the Third World War and our civilization may not survive it”, cheerfully warned Soros, a dynamic 91-year-old who nine years ago married for the third time, to an American-Japanese pharmacist. “We must mobilize all our resources to bring the war to an early ending. The best and perhaps the only way to preserve our civilization is to defeat Putin as soon as possible”, he added, expressing his conviction that such an objective required reducing Europe’s excessive dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, he concluded, were dictators whose countries represent “the biggest threat to open society”.
Now the supreme architect of high diplomacy and, his detractors would add, the past master of double dealing, Henry Kissinger, who just celebrated his 99th birthday, speaking via video link to the Davos chairman and forum founder Klaus Schwab, was very specific. And controversial, as is his style.
“Parties should be brought to peace talks in the next two months”, he began. “Ukraine should have been a bridge between Europe and Russia but now, as the relationships are reshaped, we may enter a space where the dividing line is redrawn and Russia is entirely isolated. We are facing a situation now where Russia could alienate itself completely from Europe and seek a permanent alliance elsewhere. This may lead to Cold War-like diplomatic distances, which will set us back decades. We should strive for long-term peace”.
Then the wily old man, a revolutionary conservative, launched a blinding flare in the Ukrainian jungle, like an army scout sent out on an exploratory mission. Ideally, he suggested, to achieve long-term peace, Ukraine and Russia ought to negotiate on a potential return to the “status quo ante”. And he hinted that realistically Ukrainians, to make a deal with the Russians, ought to accept a de facto neutrality and be ready to give up some territory.
Zelensky, the wartime president of Ukraine who believes he now has the upper hand on the Russian aggressor, and is strongly (but not universally) supported by the West, was indignant. “Not an inch”, he responded to the preposterous Kissengerian suggestion. But one way or another, Kissinger insinuates, some way of starting an admittedly messy and painful negotiation between the aggressor and the “country of sacrifice,” as Ukraine is outrageously described by strategists who fear the fast-approaching danger of a creeping war by proxy, needs to be found as soon as the opportunity for a ceasefire may arise.
But is there still time or is it too late? The danger, according to Daniel Treisman, a professor at UCLA and co-author with Sergei Guriev of Spin Dictators: The Changing Face of Tyranny in the 21th Century is clear and present already. By attacking the postwar international order and changing his strategy of control at home, the book argues, Putin’s assault on Ukraine fits in his new pattern of strict authoritarian rule.
The lonely Kremlin autocrat, Treisman and Guriev believe, may have already crossed a Rubicon of sorts. He is deeply disillusioned with the US and Europe and faced with an increasingly restive Russian public. Convinced that Western leaders aim to overthrow him, and alarmed by protests that have erupted both in Russia and in surrounding countries, he is less confident than before that he can control Russian society with sophisticated methods. With time not in his favor, if the authors’ assessment is correct, Putin may have already decided that his chances of remaining in power will require an extended conflict.
“Repression at home, the authors assert, did not cause the Kremlin’s embrace of blitzkrieg abroad. But each supports the other. In this environment of insularity and insecurity, war helps justify domestic repression, and the fear of Western influence at home helps justify the war.”
(c) VNY La Voce di New York – Longitude Magazine.