Analysis: Putin’s invasion of Ukraine exposed the flaws in the liberal Western world order, laying the groundwork for a new global power dynamic that challenges US hegemony.
In the early stages of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said: “What we heard today were not just missile explosions, fighting and the roar of planes . It is the sound of a new iron curtain which has fallen and which closes Russia off from the civilized world.
It was a symbolically powerful statement, reminiscent of the Cold War where Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain between the Russian-influenced “East” and the US-influenced “West” across the alliance. NATO military.
Although it is no longer the Cold War, the United States and Russia have recently seen their fortunes and credibility plummet, with Washington now snubbed by once stable allies and Russia humiliated by a fiery Ukrainian defense of their homeland.
History does not repeat itself, but it certainly has parallels. The international community is now witnessing the re-emergence of a multipolar world, with new actors and blocs influencing the dynamics of a new world order to challenge US hegemony and exceptionalism.
“Moscow’s decision to invade Ukraine last February was not made in a vacuum; in fact, the ongoing war has been in the making for decades”
The threat of NATO enlargement
Moscow’s decision to invade Ukraine last February did not happen in a vacuum; in fact, the current war has been brewing for decades.
With the end of the Cold War and the iconic destruction of the last Iron Curtain – including the fall of the Berlin Wall that divided the German nation for nearly three decades – a victorious US-led West emerged and established itself as the world’s only superpower.
Seeing no opposition, the United States set out to forge a new world order based on liberalism. This may have led to a sense of American invincibility, as the United States had defeated Soviet Russia’s communist system while containing the threat of its vast nuclear arsenal.
A key part of America’s toolbox was the careful set of military alliances it had formed, officially known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which were based on a defense pact against the Red Army and on a fundamental principle of collective security: an attack on one ally was to be considered an attack on all.
This mutual defense mechanism was never activated during the Cold War and therefore served its purpose of deterrence, and with a rising liberal and capitalist ideology to carry them, the West continued to expand NATO despite the fact that Moscow had been defeated.
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined in 1999, followed by seven other Eastern European countries in 2004, all of which had been in Russia’s orbit for decades and were now gravitating towards Russia. West.
From the Kremlin’s perspective, NATO’s steady eastward expansion, regardless of the end of the Cold War and Russia’s defeat, was provocative and threatened Russian national security interests.
To make matters worse, NATO had an “open door” policy for Ukraine – right on the border with Russia – to join the military alliance, which was a red line for Russia and was expressed at repeatedly as such by the Kremlin.
Many analysts have therefore argued that in the current Ukrainian crisis, NATO’s aggressive expansionism into Russia’s historical sphere of influence is what has driven President Vladimir Putin’s actions to ensure that the concerns of the Kremlin were listened to.
Although Russia may have been defeated, it still perceived itself as having all the trappings of a great power and would not be denied that status. Putin’s Kremlin was powerless to stop the first wave of ‘near abroad’ nations from joining NATO – like Estonia bordering Russia in 2004 – but it was determined not to let others. join the fold.
Western chess before Ukraine
Putin’s revival of Russian military adventures first began domestically with his successful attempts to bring order to his own home by defeating the resistance of Muslim rebels in Chechnya who had long yearned for independence from domination. from Moscow. In February 2000, the Chechen capital Grozny was taken and was described as “the most destroyed city in the world”.
Chechnya was an early example of the efforts Putin was willing to make to establish Russian dominance in a new era in which his country had repeatedly been humiliated. The first signs of Putin’s willingness to resort to horrific war crimes have come to light, but the international community has done nothing and, while the West cannot be blamed for its actions, its inaction in the face of bloodshed versed Muslim emboldened his aggression.
“Chechnya was one of the first examples of the efforts Putin was prepared to make to establish Russian dominance in a new era in which his country had been repeatedly humiliated”
As European powers allowed their military capabilities to atrophy and participated in their own dodgy wars in Afghanistan in 2001 – the only time NATO’s mutual defense treaty was activated – and in Iraq in 2003, Putin was busy planning the next phase of his country’s renaissance.
Claiming to want to protect the Russian citizens of South Ossetia from the aggression of Tbilisi, and almost immediately after the Bucharest summit of April 2008 during which it was decided that Georgia – still on the borders of Russia – could access within NATO ranks, the Kremlin launched a full-scale invasion of Georgia in August of that year, occupying large swaths of territory and recognizing breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent republics.
Critically, however, the Russian decision also halted Georgia’s NATO membership with almost no retaliation from the international community except meager sanctions. Putin therefore learned that he could use violence against any threat close to Russia’s borders to delay NATO’s expansion into former Soviet republics.
Moscow’s success in Georgia emboldened Putin. In 2014, and in an attempt to replicate his success in Georgia while signaling to the West that they should refrain from encouraging Ukraine to join their side, Putin launched the invasion of Crimea in the south of Ukraine and annexed it, again claiming ethnic Russians. wanted an intervention.
Once again, and apart from the condemnation and certain sanctions, which Russia ignored despite the growth of its economy, nothing happened. It simultaneously undermined kyiv’s confidence in its Western allies while encouraging Putin to increase his aggression to challenge US hegemony elsewhere. However, repeated White House pledges of support have kept pro-Western Ukraine on the same trajectory.
Elsewhere, in what has been seen as a crushing blow to US deterrence capabilities, the Obama administration has failed to enforce “red lines” regarding the regime’s use of chemical weapons. of Assad in Syria in 2014, which killed nearly 1,400 civilians, including 426 children.
Notably, this attack came after Russia guaranteed that Assad would destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons. The fact that he failed to show that Moscow and Damascus saw Washington as toothless.
The final blow to Western credibility came in 2015 when Turkey, a full member of NATO since 1952, was repeatedly abandoned by its allies. Just after the United States and other NATO members began removing Patriot air defense missile batteries from Turkish soil, a Russian plane violated Turkey’s air sovereignty and was shot down. Rather than backing their ally, NATO countries have instead declared that Ankara stands alone in any conflict with Russia.
A catalyst for a new alliance
These incidents have resulted in NATO being seen as unreliable by its own members and a paper tiger by enemies such as Putin. While there is no doubt that NATO has seen some resurgence in popularity due to many member states supporting the Ukrainians, it is also true that traditional US allies are now openly expressing their disaffection.
France, a member of the UN Security Council, continues to push for an EU-wide defense pact independent of the US-led NATO, and even traditional GCC allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have chosen common ground, apparently unwilling to take on the American president. calls. NATO fortunes may be on the rise in the West, although France’s position challenges it, but they are suffering elsewhere.
Meanwhile, there is growing evidence of alleged Russian war crimes in places like Bucha. Many have argued that if the international community had acted against Moscow’s brutal wars in Chechnya and Syria, these war crimes could have been avoided.
What is perhaps most critical for the future of great power politics is how closely China will watch the West’s response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. China is accused of carrying out its own genocide against Muslim minorities and Beijing has long coveted control of Taiwan. As such, and to dissipate American threats to its ambitions, it has every interest in supporting Russia.
The strengthening of ties between Moscow and Beijing could create a new sphere of influence which has, in the short and medium term, only one objective: to overthrow Washington’s global hegemony once and for all.
Tallha Abdulrazaq is a Research Fellow at the University of Exeter’s Institute of Strategy and Security and winner of the 2015 Al Jazeera Young Researcher Award. Her research focuses on security and counter-terrorism issues in the Middle East.
Follow him on Twitter: @DrTalAbdulrazaq