There is a social media post that I put up about a year ago. It was a morphed picture of Vladimir Putin in a medieval crown. My footnote was: About a hundred years from now, when the dust settles on the first few decades of the twenty-first century, people might manage to dispassionately examine the present global churn that resulted in the resurgence of civilization-empires. And when they do that, they would call this man (Putin) the first Czar of the 21st century.
But while Putin and his St Petersburg Boys are perhaps among the top five most important elements in the global shift that is taking place, we can keep them aside for another occasion. This initial mention is for just two reasons. One: though China wields an incredible influence in the globe today, Beijing is scared of frontal wars. Russia on the other hand, weak or not, never shies away from one. And wars unfortunately remain crucial even today, because unipolarity is not going down without a fight. Two: this article highlights a few of Putin’s actions as examples, instead of assessing all the multipolar aspirants like Iran, Israel, or China. That will save a lot of time.
The first signs of a regional stirring came during the 2008 Russo-Georgian war in which Putin dismembered Georgia. NATO was on an expansion spree since the USSR collapsed, and while Russia could not do much to resist that expansion during the first two phases (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, the Baltic States), they had just about enough power to resist the conversion of Georgia which they did. The signs of changing times became evident again in September of 2015 when Putin sent troops to intervene in Syria and dismantled the ISIS network within weeks – something which the USA and the West were apparently ‘trying’ for years. And in February 2022, he initiated the Special Military Operation (SMO) in Ukraine to stop yet another bid of NATO to push closer to the Russian border.
Now, six months into the Russo-Ukraine war the regional geopolitical clubs are rapidly rearranging their priorities. India, for instance, has remained non-committal to the continuous US-West led efforts to get New Delhi to deride Russia in the international forums. And that is just one example of the shift. Meanwhile, Moscow is in constant communication with nearly the entire global south, which is majority of the global population and landscape, and is actively collaborating, with different regional powers in changing the global systems – from KSA, Iran, or Turkey, and from central Asia all the way to Africa, as China silently steps up its game around Central and South America. There are alliances like EAEU or Greater Eurasia Partnership, as there are prospects of new financial systems aimed to bypass the dollar.
The results have been interesting. While a significant portion of Africa has refrained from criticising Russia about Ukraine, the USA has made public its realization that there has been a historic vacuum in the Afro-US relationship because they have always treated Africa as ‘a world apart’, and that just about 1.2% of two-way trade flow for example with sub-Saharan Africa, was something that needed to be relooked.
Easier said than done! With social media reducing mainstream media to paper tigers even with the active/passive censoring of content that Facebook or YouTube regularly practice, it is doubtful how much the world is willing to believe in these proclamations, or how much trust they put in the leaders that hold on to unipolarity and are on the lookout for shoulders to fire from.
The same article from Bloomberg mentions the proximity between Africa and China or Russia because these two steer clear of the domestic politics of African nations; something that the West is incapable of. Readers – and now even those from India – can easily relate to the constant meddling of the West. For instance, how the US is constantly trying to destabilize India by stirring radicalism through leftist media, universities or NGOs, and Islamist and subnational political outfits.
While on the one end, there is ample coverage of how the Kremlin treats those entering into agreements as equal partners, there is enough international exposure about how the US is going about conducting its business of freedom and liberty these days. They froze USD 7 billion of Afghanistan.
According to the Oil Ministry in Syria, the US is stealing 66000 barrels of oil every day from the east Syrian oil-fields (83% of Syria’s daily production). Total Syrian oil loss has been about USD 105 billion (add that to the 7 of Afghanistan). The US has seized USD 300 billion worth of Russian Treasury Funds since the beginning of the Ukraine war. The UK has stolen USD 1 billion worth of Venezuelan gold, and the US is sitting pretty on the CITGO – the single biggest source of Venezuelan revenue – planning to sell it off. The rough estimate is that sanctions have inflicted a USD 1 trillion loss on Iran’s economy. Of course, there is the current pushing of Ukraine to sacrifice their population, economy, and country – one that affects not just Ukraine, but Europe too.
It was never about liberal democracy as much as it was about modified Imperialism; the global South is not sure it prefers this arrangement anymore. At the same time, there is no predicting which way this would turn. The ‘benevolent hegemon’ that is the West, is wounded and out of its strategic depth. There is bound to be a retaliation, and it would be a nasty one.
A part of it is already visible in India. The BJP-led government, after a brief show of resolve (abstaining from criticizing Russia) has taken an about-turn. There have been a few quick US interventions in India’s domestic affairs. The Nuland or Rosenburg visits and the communal riots immediately afterwards; CIA envoy for LGBTQ issue visit and the immediate announcement of sex reassignment surgeries being brought under Ayushman Bharat after that, or the constant American push to accept USD 117 million which now they are planning to disburse under ‘human rights’ concerns – are some of the noteworthy ones. Sectarian/communal riots, social unrest, or pulling ‘human rights abuse’ out of thin air against elected governments are precursors to colour revolutions.
The process of re-emergence of civilizational empires is on; one just needs to appraise Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey. India too is witnessing the stirrings of a fledgling Indic identity. We could take a hint from the emergent players instead of surrendering to the US rulebook for colour revolutions, which the government appears more interested in. And if New Delhi thinks it can go with the flow, and later outmanoeuvre the West-Islamist-Communist nexus in one fell swoop, the BJP government is going to find itself at the wrong end of the rope.
(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