The US Ambassador to Georgia has been trying hard to drag Georgia into the Ukrainian crisis to take the West’s side. This has been under two assumptions: 1. Georgia does not enjoy a good relationship with Russia post 2008 Georgian War; and 2. The EU had promised Georgia candidate status in the Union.
One naturally expected a small state like that to comply. But the result has been quite the opposite. The ruling party of Georgia has taken this so seriously that the EU and the US were forced to go public in the defence of their ambassadors to Tbilisi. This came to pass when the Georgians realized that membership to the EU (or NATO) is a carrot that the West habitually dangles in front of the ‘lesser’ nations (Ukraine is a ready example here), expecting these states to do their bidding, with no serious plans to ever allow these states to integrate. The complaints brought by the ruling party against the outgoing EU ambassador Carl Hartzell – that he was never serious; in fact, his blocking tactics are the main reason why there is a good amount of Euroscepticism in the Georgian government now, is a clear indication of the current mood of the Caucasian nation.
In another move, the US slapped secondary sanctions on Uzbekistan. Apparently, Uzbekistan’s Promcomplektlogistic Private Company “has actively supported” Russian company Radioavtomatika in its “effort to evade US sanctions,” the US State Department said in a statement published on June 28. The result of which has been the freezing of assets, the barring of different Western companies to have business dealings – the usual.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is something going on in Azerbaijan. The EU has found in Azerbaijan its newest hope in the Caucasus as they continue to play hardball with their neighbour Georgia. The Union has signed a Strategic Partnership MoU with Azerbaijan that explicitly (or otherwise) covers Azeri role as an energy-transit hub – a contractor and shipper, with the future prospect of an upgraded EU-Azerbaijan partnership.
There are of course no guarantees. In a sphere that is influenced and dominated by leaders that have the dubious trajectory of pushing partners towards crisis and dumping them, or just using the promise of admission to their ‘club’ with zero further intention, Azerbaijan perhaps does not stand a chance. Turkey was promised a seat in the EU once as was Georgia, a NATO member. Afghanistan and Iraq were promised inclusive growth and development (and I am deliberately not including India and QUAD story; readers can find my opinion in earlier The New Indian columns).
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With a carrot in some places and a stick along the rest, and more importantly – with absolutely zero intentions in concealing them, it looks like diplomacy is dead in the West. The space between the lure of strategic partnership at one end, and sanctions or destabilization at the other has reduced drastically, leaving these as the only two constants in the West’s playbook.
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Most Indians following the Ukrainian crisis are well aware of New Delhi’s stance on the issue; naturally, we are also aware of the repercussions of the same in the shape of the upping of hybrid warfare that has been unleashed on us through media and through different subnational elements – one that came under the spotlight after the Nupur Sharma episode.
From smaller things, like the Indian media houses that till about last year spelt ‘Kiev’ (the Russian way of spelling), now going the ‘Kyiv’ way (the Western suggestion) or rooting for Zelensky all along as New Delhi maintains strict neutrality, to the manner in which the Supreme Court judges handled the Nupur Sharma or the Mohammed Zubair cases, the intensity or the objective behind the destabilization campaign is hard to miss.
This kind of reduction of space between the carrot and the stick coupled with the West’s inability/unwillingness to address this is not just the result of the West’s old baggage of moral righteousness and racial superiority complex but is also structural in its nature. Quoting Alistair Crooke, “Immanuel Wallerstein had already warned, in 1991, against the western ‘false consciousness’ of Cold War triumph… the Soviet collapse was not the demise not of Leninism alone. It was rather the ‘beginning of the end’ for both poles of the great ideological antinomy… Since these two were woven from the same universalist ideological cloth… the ‘other’… as the prevailing, lone ideology lacked any satisfactory explanation for its global rule, objectives and purposes.”
And what’s worse? There are deliberations around corners of the West about the uselessness of diplomacy! Lavrov is a sarcastic, caustic smoker with complete disregard for others, Putin launches into a monologue about his worldview irrespective of which global leader is present in front of him, Xi lectures us on concepts and structures of global politics… These guys are so disrespectful of others… And the fact that we are dealing with strongmen like Modi, MBS, Netanyahu, Khamenei – people who disregard finesse, people who worship hard power – is the reason why we need to dump diplomacy and focus only on carrots and sticks. (This paragraph is my reconstruction. The reference is here.)
The result of this is Zelensky on the cover of Vogue – the West is so driven now by their conviction of ‘it is all about personality’ politics. If Putin is a ‘thuggish Eurasian’ with a gunslinger’s gait, West has a ‘posh’ Obama or an ‘alpha’ Zelensky. A part of global politics in the West now is a rip-off from the high-school antics of pitching ‘class’ against ‘crass’ and feeling smug about it. And apparently, they are so steeped in these inane exercises that no one across their leadership wonders what if they are being played.
What if Russia and/or China want them to go that way? We have seen the domestic and international disaster that is the result of personality-driven politics in the West – from Trump to Biden and Boris Johnson.
On the other end, we have seen the lightning reflexes that were employed when the Russian Special Operations team did a course correction abandoning Kharkiv to focus on Kherson or Donbass. We are seeing the dramatic increase of the sphere of influence of Russia in the Middle East that has resulted in Biden visiting state after state and walking away with zero commitments from the Arab leaders. Does the West seriously believe this to be the result of the ‘personality’ of one man? Do they think that after Putin (Western media did go overboard about him having cancer etc), there would be no one to replace him?
That Wallerstein was right about both erstwhile sides being cut from the same cloth is evident in the way the one left behind at the end of the Cold War is stuck in limbo. The new opponents are ‘new’. They cannot be defined by Cold War definitions; they would not play by the Cold War rules. If racial righteousness, ‘aura’ driven impulse, and zero diplomacy continue to decide the West’s rules of engagement – its counterbalance against Turkey, Russia, or China – then that would be a tragedy of considerable proportions.
(Arindam Mukherjee is a geopolitical enthusiast and the author of JourneyDog Tales, The Puppeteer, and A Matter of Greed)
(Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own)