When a 'world order' ends
We are all watching Kyiv with horror.
Were we not supposed look forward a spring of openness, after two years of staying home and washing hands?
Instead, we are peering into a new normal, of which we know nothing of and never expected. Not everyday one sees a country invade another. Further, not everyday one sees a big country being invaded, with no clear plans of an exit. This is where the war on Ukraine most crucially differ from all the other wars I have seen in my lifetime.
What is Vladimir Putin is trying to do? Is it just regime change in Kyiv, as Americans tried to achieve, and miserably failed as a consequence, in Iraq and Libya? But warped as his vision may be, he sure knows the practical consequences of regime change: That a Russian-installed government will have no legitimacy and they will end as badly as they did before, in Kyiv!
Or, is he just trying to divide Ukraine along East-West lines and control the access to Black Sea? Whether that objective calls for a general war is questionable. This is what he did in Georgia in 2008, and achieved the objective with impunity. That was a quick and limited, though as immoral, war: It chipped away some legitimacy from the American-guaranteed world system, but was over in a few days with Georgia still existing as a separate country. But this may not be Ukraine's fate.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine seems to have a different character. It seems Russia has an unlimited objective, of reclaiming Ukraine back into its fold - an Anschluss of sorts - and therefore, a general war and an attack of Kyiv are necessary. Anything less, the Russian government would find it difficult to explain to its people, particularly to all those slain soldiers and their families. This is also why this war can be long and difficult: Ukraine is a big and strong country, with a population of 44 million (against Russia's 144 million), which isn't going to melt away. The battle will not only rage on - it is unlikely to ever end!
But there is more to this than just the fate of Ukraine. We have come to accept a system of nation states, which is inherently unstable without the guarantee of an overlord. This was mostly an Anglo-American invention at the end of the Great War (1914 - 1918), which replaced the European system of the balance of powers between the empires. This war is showing that the overlordship is fraying: The huddled masses of Kabul came before the Russian tanks on the road to Kyiv. The American overlord is overextended and distracted: Its battles at home have chipped away its resolve abroad.
Putin is a gambling man. He is following a long line of gamblers, Napoleon and Hitler before him, attempting to change not just the world map, but the system through which identities are formed and maintained. Though the invasion of a large and powerful country, which will most likely defend itself well, looks dumb, Putin has been working on his board for a long time - right from funding Brexit and propping up Trump! He getting away this time is a frightening prospect: This is how the world ends, really!
Whatever happens though, nation states will be dead in water after this. Either this will end in the rise of the empires, or a different world system where collective governance does not look like an anomaly. If Russia has to absorb Ukraine in itself and the world has to live with it, a system of empire has to emerge and be accepted. But, if Ukraine lives and Polish, German and Czech lives are to be sacrificed for causes other than the ashes of their own fathers and temples of their own gods, a new system other than nation-states has to come in play. The Anglo-American system of having the cake and eating it too, has come to its logical end: Freedom is now real and under attack, and needs to be paid for in blood, not in bank-notes.