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Special Military Operation in Ukraine and the Global Balance of Powers

Source: Katehon by Leonid Savin

It is only natural that Russia’s special military operation of demilitarization and denazification in Ukraine has led to a division into opponents, supporters and those taking a neutral stance. This is fraught in any military conflict. We know from the depths of history similar cases of confrontations that started with small episodes of struggle for power and turned into protracted wars ending in the defeat of one of the sides. A prime example is the Peloponnesian War, when Sparta and Athens fought each other for regional influence. Each side had its own allies and commitments, but there were also neutral players. When Persia decided to support Sparta indirectly, Athens was doomed. Obviously, the US wanted to accumulate the same critical mass, but it failed. Now the scales have swung in the opposite direction.

Although back in 2014, after Crimea’s return to Russia, there was a noticeable division in global politics between those who openly opposed Moscow and those who tried to maintain friendly relations, after February 24, 2022, the divergence in assessments of the Russian leadership’s actions became even more evident, contrasting and politically motivated. Most of the condemnation of Russia was due to US and EU pressure rather than its own position. This was demonstrated by the recent UN vote, when the number of critics of Moscow dropped almost threefold, from 141 countries to 54, a very serious figure.[i]
Among those refusing to condemn Russia are geopolitically important countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, the UAE, Indonesia, Myanmar and Mexico.

This shows the failure of the anti-Russian front that the US and NATO were trying to put together. Although many states, especially from the EU and NATO, still maintain an active Russophobic stance. Thus, according to Forbes, the top twenty countries that support Ukraine the most are Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the US, Portugal, the UK, Italy, Spain, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, France, Canada, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Romania and Slovenia.[ii]

The obligatory emphasis here is that this is still the same collective West, although it is safe to say that in some of these countries this position is due to the decision of a puppet government oriented towards Washington and Brussels rather than the interests of the people.

The collective West, especially the NATO countries, are unlikely to change their current policies unless forced to do so by extraordinary circumstances (an energy crisis might be one such circumstance) or by a political regime change in which a new government reverses the old course. However, even among NATO and the EU there are quite adequate politicians, for example Viktor Orban representing Hungary.

The change of attitude towards the conduct of the operation by Russian troops is also linked to a more thorough examination of the issue – officials from many countries have openly stated that Russia’s actions were caused by provocations of the US and NATO, Washington’s unwillingness to come to the negotiating table and the continuation of aggressive policies directed against Russia.

The historical background inevitably leads to the facts of NATO aggression in Yugoslavia and Libya as well as the false promises of Western leaders not to expand NATO to the East. And this once again discredits NATO, the US and the West as a whole.

It is true that the Western media regularly tried to feed hatred of Russia with publications with statistics on the subject of the operation in Ukraine. The Economist, for example, on 4 April 2022 ran an article with an infographic of countries who had and had not condemned Russia’s actions. By the time it was published, there were already ten fewer countries who had taken an anti-Russian stance. It was noted, however, that those who are in opposition to Russia represent only 36% of the world’s population. And about two-thirds support Russia, or take a neutral stance.[iii]

Interestingly, many states with an officially neutral stance have become more engaged with Russia on the economic front. India, for example, has begun to buy more petroleum products due to lower oil prices. Iran has intensified cooperation in a number of areas, ranging from trade and infrastructure projects to military-technical cooperation and the entry of Russian companies into the country’s oil and gas sector.

Some have pointed out that a number of countries that have taken a neutral position are in fact siding with Moscow. They simply voted in this way at the UN in order not to be subjected to Western pressure, indicating that they have nothing to do with the crisis in Ukraine and do not want to interfere in the affairs of other states. Among them are major players such as Brazil and Pakistan, as well as the Central Asian republics, Mali and the CAR.[iv]

Although Serbia voted for the first time at the UN against Russia, President Aleksandar Vucic attributed this to pressure from the EU and the US, adding that Serbia and Russia maintain friendly relations and Belgrade has no intention of joining anti-Russian sanctions. The decision remains in force.

South Africa initially sided with the West and even called on Russia to “withdraw its troops and respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and integrity”. But after some time, South African President Ramaphosa withdrew his statement.

Tellingly, publications on such statistics in the Western media have recently ceased. Because the increase in support for Russia must somehow be explained and commented upon. And then it will be necessary to admit that the West has no power and possibilities to force other countries to vote against Moscow or to join sanctions. Acknowledge that most countries in the world do not agree with Western policies. And to recognise that the world is already a different place. American-centricity has already disappeared, and Washington has no real power, not even symbolic power (the flight from Afghanistan illustrated this fact perfectly, despite the fact that the US remains the world’s number one military spender).

And yet, even among the states that have condemned Russia’s actions, there are pragmatic politicians who did not want to worsen relations with Moscow and limited themselves to formal statements. In addition to the aforementioned Viktor Orban, South Korea’s entry into the deal to build a nuclear power plant in Egypt is evidence of that. The project is being handled by the Russian company Rosatom. Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co of South Korea has been awarded a $2.25 billion contract and will build part of the infrastructure (except the reactor vessels).[v]

Even in the United States itself, not everyone supports the anti-Russian policy of the Biden administration. Tellingly, many veterans of the armed forces and special services criticize the White House and expose the lying propaganda of the US media.[vi]

It should be noted that Belarus, Cuba, Syria, Venezuela, Myanmar, Nicaragua, North Korea and Eritrea initially supported Russia’s actions. Then there is the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Luhansk People’s Republic, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This may speak of the formation of a kind of axis of resistance to Western global hegemony, although it certainly includes other countries such as Iran and China. We can add to this not only the relationships between the countries themselves, but also the factor of friendly ties between the states in question and other actors in international relations. Such a network of ties creates a good potential for conducting pro-Russian and anti-Western diplomacy through second countries. Changing political leaderships will also open new windows of opportunity. In Colombia, for example, for the first time, a representative of the left-wing forces became president and immediately restored diplomatic relations with Venezuela. Obviously, under Gustavo Petro the position on cooperation with Washington and Moscow will change dramatically. His victory has already caused concern in the US State Department.

Even attempts by the West to maintain unity under the guise of new threats and challenges (the characteristic meme is that Putin is to blame for rising fuel prices in the US and rising energy costs in Western countries) may fail miserably. Although attempts are being made within the Euro-Atlantic community to work out a common position on a number of critical areas such as supply chains, new sanctions packages, etc., there is a good chance that some of the proposed measures will not be feasible. The crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic in the EU has shown that there is no real solidarity and that each country is jostling for its own vested interests. So proposals to unite against Russia will remain rhetorical and each state will try to outdo its partners in competition for energy or other vital goods that they are used to getting from Russia and have no alternative. Misunderstandings and splits within the Euro-Atlantic camp are also possible. One of the latest such signals is that the EU has been unable to come to a common solution on abolishing visas for citizens from Russia and has only been able to abolish the simplified regime. Far more serious will be the conflict of interest over natural gas, the price of which is rising exponentially. The EU is well aware that LNG from the U.S., which has been promised by American companies, is not an equivalent substitute. And the beneficiaries in this case remain the US, while the EU countries go bankrupt on the disproportionate prices of the blue fuel.

All the mistakes and shortcomings of the West are closely watched from other parts of the world, especially from those regions that were once colonies of the West and suffered from oppression and dependence. If they are not openly happy about the misfortunes that the West has faced due to its own stupidity, they are at least trying to use the situation to strengthen their own positions.

It is obvious that the balance of power in the world is slowly but inexorably changing.

The balance of power as such is one of the oldest concepts of international relations. This concept provides an answer to the problem of war and peace in international history. Furthermore, the balance of power is often seen as a universal law of political behaviour, as a basic principle of every state’s foreign policy over the centuries and therefore serves as a description of an important pattern of political action in the international sphere.

The balance of power theory has a number of characteristics such as equilibrium, status quo, great power game, etc.

The balance of power does not fall from the sky and is not the result of historical succession, although it sometimes happens and states try to consolidate their conquests and spheres of influence. The balance of power is the result of active human intervention, i.e. high-level politicians making important decisions. Whenever a state realizes that the balance of power is being disturbed to its disadvantage, it must quickly confront it. It must be prepared to take the necessary steps, including the risk of war, if it is determined to defend its vital interests, which would be threatened if the state remained passive. The balance of power is thus the result of diplomatic action rather than a natural phenomenon. Carl Schmitt associated such decisions with real sovereignty, since in extraordinary circumstances such decisions are taken by the sovereign.

Active intervention is exactly what the Russian Federation resorted to in order to protect its vital interests.

This is well understood in the West because many recognised balance of power theorists are themselves products of Western political thought. Nicholas Spykman, Hans Morgenthau, Kenneth Thompson, Kenneth Waltz are just a few of the American scholars who have applied this theory to analyze international relations and develop solutions for U.S. foreign policy. Therefore, all the pompous hysteria around the Ukrainian crisis is just an ostentatious game of emotions designed to hide the true motives and actions of the West – the invasion of the zone of vital interests of Russia. By the way, after the operation to force Georgia to peace in August 2008, the Russian leadership made it clear what the zone of Russia’s geopolitical interests is. The West took note of this for a while, but then pretended to forget, provoking and supporting the coup d’état in Ukraine in February 2014.

We should add that the balance of power theory divides the world into warring camps fighting over their spheres of influence, and this was highlighted by the special operation in Ukraine. But the pre-existing bipolar world has been destroyed and the unipolar world has never taken place.[vii]

Consequently, a multipolar world order is emerging where the power and influence of the collective West is diminishing.[viii]

The so-called transit of power to other actors in international relations is taking place, as can be clearly seen in the decoupling of China and the US.[ix] Beijing clearly benefits from both the weakening of the US and the crisis in Ukraine – both factors contribute to the accumulation of Chinese power, in the first case by reducing the instruments of influence of Washington and in the second, by some weakening of Russia (both due to sanctions imposed by the West and limited military exhaustion due to the ongoing operation). Although China’s leadership clearly understands the importance of strategic interaction with Russia both to secure its own rear, and for the future support in the UN Security Council in resolving the Taiwan issue. Recent developments show that Beijing is deliberately trying to accelerate this process, and the opposition it faces from Taipei and the US is setting the stage to work more closely with opponents of US hegemony.

India is also seeking to change the rules of the game by accusing both the EU and the US of inadequate behaviour. India’s decision to participate in the Russian-led Vostok 2022 military exercise also signals a desire to remain more independent of the policies of Washington and Brussels. The latter are clearly trying to get India on their side by manipulating New Delhi’s fears of China and Pakistan. Given India’s personal interests, it is likely to try to take a neutral stance there, benefiting wherever possible.

A number of Arab states, which do not refuse to cooperate with Washington on issues of their own concern but refrain from permanently aligning themselves with the Western camp, are likely to do the same. However, some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have their own motives for refusing the US on a number of fronts. Joe Biden’s administration is too critical of the kingdom’s methods of political governance, so Riyadh is more comfortable being among autocrats.

It should be noted that in the balance of power theory, the motives of power alone are not the main reason for states to function. States are interested in many things other than power itself, such as religion and peace. Most civilised states recognise that there are ethical norms that should be given priority over mere considerations of power. Peace also depends on the moral conscience of nations and the restraining influence of ethical norms.

The current situation shows that ethical norms are also a criterion by which certain countries support or condemn Russia. And this creates a clear division into two camps – supporters of traditional values and those who deliberately and aggressively destroy those values through the imposition of same-sex marriage and paedophilia agendas, through “culture abolition” mechanisms that erase their own history in countries where it is tolerated. Even traditional US military partners such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and many other countries are in the same camp as Russia in this respect.

These themes, although outwardly unrelated to the events in Ukraine, create a complex narrative about images of a collective West mired in moral degradation (which is seen to be imposed from above, and if citizens have a different opinion, they are repressed) and Russia, where ethnic and religious diversity preserves and protects the rights and freedoms of citizens. And the current economic weakness of Western countries, which is also evident in the incapacity of governments on many issues of social importance, reinforces the belief in Africa, Asia and Latin America that the time of Western domination is ending.

Furthermore, Russia’s resilience to external influence through sanctions, its vast reserves of natural resources and its own military technology, to which industrialized countries are only aspiring (world-leading air defence systems, supersonic and ultra-precision weapons, space technology, electronic warfare systems, etc.) make Moscow an attractive partner. Helping Syria to fight terrorism and widely demonstrating military capabilities in the operation in Ukraine have convinced many that it is better to be friends with Russia than enemies. Even Turkey, which is in the NATO bloc, has refused to support anti-Russian sanctions, although strange statements about Crimea are occasionally heard from Turkish politicians. Given the difficult political and economic situation in the country on the eve of the next presidential election, it is understandable that Recep Erdogan wants to sit on two chairs and, at the same time, use the situation to gain some economic benefits. However, cooperation between Russia and Turkey on main economic projects continues, and so far there is no reason to suspend them.

Another dimension close to moral and ethical values is the dichotomy between neoliberal globalism and advocates of sovereignty. Sovereignty has been mentioned as a manifestation of political will when active intervention is necessary. But the concept of sovereignty also reflects the aspirations of the people for the fate of their own country.

In their Washington Post article, the authors noted that popular support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision was linked to a high level of patriotic sentiment in the country.[x] Patriotism is always a marker of sovereign sentiment, and if similar sentiment about reducing dependence on the West exists in other parts of the world, it brings Russia and those states closer together internally.

The countries of Africa, for example, have been enthusiastic about proposals from the Russian leadership for economic and political cooperation that are expanding as part of the anti-colonial struggle against the West. The ASEAN countries are also ready to continue constructive engagement with Russia on many fronts. In Latin America, there are virtually no states left that support the openly anti-Russian course imposed on them by the US.

These facts indicate a clear shift in the balance of power. But to achieve a significant advantage, serious efforts are still needed on the part of those states and peoples who are not interested in the return of the hegemony of Pax Americana.