Saturday, February 26, 2022

Is Our World at War?




I think everyone would agree that the world is a very different place today than it was one week ago.  24/7 news coverage of Russia invading Ukraine has driven that home to American audiences. But how do Europeans see the war?  For that I turned to Ekathimerini, the newspaper of record in Greece, and found three interesting stories directly bearing on the topic. The first is an opinion piece by Nikos Konstandaras, titled,“A Geopolitical Earthquake:” 


History’s tectonic plates are shifting. No one knows the magnitude, depth or duration of the earthquake caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday. What is certain is that our world is changing. We will either see a strengthening of the system of global government and Russia’s retreat (and consequent loss of great power status), or we will enter an era of absolute fluidity and danger, with neither laws nor principles. February 24, 2022, did away with the illusion of a collective understanding, in which powerful countries maintained balance with each other, kept to certain rules, avoiding confrontation even when they disagreed over important issues. 


When a nuclear power and permanent member of the UN Security Council invades a neighbor, with arguments that are aimed more at convincing its own citizens than the international community, this is a direct threat to the global system of governance and to the principles of behavior that developed after World War II. The Russian president is fully aware that his actions can open the gates of hell, issuing a direct threat that “anyone who would consider interfering from the outside… will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history. All relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me.” It is clear that, after this statement, there is no return to the world that we knew. Either the international community will get its act together and stop Vladimir Putin, or we will enter a period of instability and barbarism, where those who can will tread all over international law at the expense of the weak. The last time such circumstances prevailed, Europe was led to 1939.


The last decades do not inspire optimism. The United States often set a bad example with unilateral actions, autocratic regimes have taken hold in many countries, liberal democracy is under fire, the UN has been weakened. But disaster is not a given. Putin faces two insurmountable obstacles: His country, with a population of 144 million and GDP of 1.5 trillion dollars, is not as powerful as he considers himself to be; the only great power that could support him, China, has invested in stability and development. With the United States and the European Union putting on a united show, with China looking after its own interests, Putin – though always dangerous – will be on his own.


Picking up on that point is Stathis N. Kalyvas, Gladstone Professor of Government at the University of Oxford, with his observation on what Greece’s stance on the Ukrainian crisis should be:


Russian aggression is justified with geopolitical excuses: It feels surrounded after losing a large geographical zone over which it once held complete sway. Such analyses usually also contain some reference to the catastrophe that befell Russia with the collapse of communism and the trauma that caused.


But a closer look at the situation in Russia reveals that it is less at risk from being surrounded than it is from other factors: Its economy is overly reliant on energy (with the production of oil and natural gas accounting for some 40% of its economy), its demographics are nosediving (its population shrank by a million between 2020 and 2021 alone), and its young and educated people are migrating in droves. Politically, it is a combination of an old-school autocratic regime that openly stomps on individual freedoms and an oligarchic economic structure with all the traits of a mafia.


The real threat, therefore, lies within its own borders. Regardless of the mistakes made by the United States from 1990 onward, Russia could have chosen to take a different path, similar to that of the European countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc, just as Ukraine is trying to do.


So, the real issue is about politics and principles. On the one hand, we have an autocratic power that is employing methods harking back to Austria or Czechoslovakia in 1938 and behaving toward its neighbors like a colonialist. Vladimir Putin himself even wrote that the Russians and Ukrainians are one people, a position rejected by the vast majority of Ukrainians. On the other hand, we have a nation that is trying to get ahead and threatening nobody in the process, by adopting modern political and economic practices. The situation is crystal-clear and there should be no hesitation whatsoever about what stance Greeks must take.


In reporting on the Greek government’s position
, Ekathimerini wrote:


Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told an emergency summit of NATO countries on Friday that Revisionism is the main threat to world peace and should not be tolerated, no matter where it comes from.


The Prime Minister stressed that Russia’s aggressive actions violate international law and are a blow to European and international security and stability.


He reiterated the Greek position on respect for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of all countries, and condemned in the strongest possible terms the Russian revisionist actions that run counter to those values.


With so much of the sane world of the same mind…albeit each nation facing differing potential political and societal consequences, the question on everyone’s mind is simply this: NOW WHAT?


Perhaps I’ll have that answer for you next week.




  1. I hold hope that, just as in the period from 1939 through the late '40s, the world will survive this period and come out stronger and more united on the other side, leading to a better, brighter future.

    Such progress is never guaranteed, but from sufficient distance, it seems to be the arc of history. Let us hope, and let us work our fingers to the very bones...

  2. As long as autocrats gain power, the world will continue to confront times such as these. How their power grabs (whether irrational or not) turn out depends upon the will and determination of their opposition. And, yes I agree, EvKa, if we don't work our fingers to their very bones to protect what we believe in, all the rest of us will soon be bones as well.