Observing the news - Feb 27
A Sunday retrospective on the week’s events and oddities.
GERMANY AWAKENS FROM PIPE-DREAMS
Germans went shivering to theirs beds last Sunday night to dream about the warmth soon to come their way when Russian natural gas would flow into community furnaces. But they awoke Monday morning to discover that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was now Nord Stream Zero. The German government had rescinded its approval. They decided it was more important to make a political statement about Russian actions in Ukraine than meet the needs of its citizens and businesses. Head scratchers wondered, “Why do we have a government?” An unused pipeline filled with natural gas is an inviting target for the Russophobes in Europe. Liability lawyers are wondering whether it might be best to fill the last segment with non-combustible cement.
PUTIN’S END RUN AROUND CLAIRVOYANT WESTERN POLITICOS
After weeks of smugly predicting endlessly shifting dates for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, western diplomats woke up on Monday morning to discover that Russian “peacekeepers” had indeed crossed a border - not into Ukraine but by invitation into the newly recognized independent republics comprising the Donbass region. Biden, Blinken and Nod stuttered for words to describe the event, but a low level rhetorician working in national security was tasked with uttering the word “invasion.” Thus the US was forced into a sanctions regimen. Putin could not have planned it better: feint too the west with combat troops but move in from the east with peacekeepers. That was exactly what Putin did in Kazakhstan last month for three days to quell violence there. But Ukraine was different. It’s military depots were bulging with a constant flow of weapons and explosives from the U.S. and EU. The unintended consequences were the shifting of Russian focus to a demilitarizing attack on Ukraine. Thus they attempted to crush the support flowing to the Donbass front. But now that the troops were unleashed, anything could happen. At this writing, Russia was waiting for reps from Ukraine to show up at the agreed upon meeting place to talk about ending hostilities. The terms of the agreement will reveal the winner.
WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON?
Most commentators in the West’s media were locked into their tired narratives about Putin trying to reverse the results of the Cold War, revive the old Soviet empire, rejecting the encroaching values of the West or expressing a dictator’s psychopathic urge for power. However, there were a few who could see the larger picture. For example, Ross Douthat, writing in The NY Times, observed:
In this vision the future is neither liberal world-empire nor a renewed Cold War between competing universalisms. Rather it’s a world divided into some version of what Bruno Maçães has called “civilization-states,” culturally-cohesive great powers that aspire, not to world domination, but to become universes unto themselves — each, perhaps, under its own nuclear umbrella.
Others who see the larger picture were writing about the competition between authoritarian regimes and democracies to become the dominant paradigm, about the end of the mono-polar world and American empire, about a new world order based on a multi-lateral world, and about the evolving definition of democracy. The talking heads on Russian TV constantly reminded of US/NATO aggressions over the years. Others talked about a growing realization among former Soviet states that they could count on Russia to stand up for them when faced with Western economic and cultural aggression. The more hawkish saw that Putin was taking advantage of an unexpected weakness in America’s world position after the debacle in Afghanistan. Unfortunately none of this is for us to know now. Only historians will have that pleasure. Best we can do is to support those solutions that are more humane.