In this interview focused on the war in Ukraine, crisis communications and Russia expert Greg Simons gives his take on where the world finds itself in 2022.
Can you begin by giving us your view on the big picture – a lot has happened in the months since we last spoke. Where is the world at in this geopolitical moment?
The world is undergoing a transformation of the global geopolitical balance of power. Increasingly more and more say it, and it is becoming more obvious that it is moving away from the current hegemony, a western-centric US unipolar world, which has been around for 400-to-500 years. The US has been leading it since at least Bretton Woods, 1946 or thereabouts, and reached the top in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed and the old cold war came to an end.
What you have at the moment is a non-Western-centric, multipolar order coming up instead. This is why we’re having these increasing conflicts. You have a whole lot of powers with different strengths and no equality. In the multipolar world order China and Russia are the leading ones and hence you have this new cold war and the Asia pivot. It came to the point where the US was in relative decline and China and Russia were growing.
Auckus and a few different things are intended to restrict and contain the growth of China and Russia – the hegemon either rolls over and gives up or tries to take it back. In 2020 Joe Biden had an opinion article in Foreign Policy, where he talked about the US taking back its position as leader of the free world. If we went back 5 years ago, the US referred to the unipolar order as being based on international law – yes, it violated every tenet of it but this is how it referred to itself – and now it calls itself something different. A rules-based order. So, you’ve had this evolution of a brand, because it’s getting too far off international law. But it’s somewhat similar. Rules based order – well, who’s rules? It’s more broadly constructed.
So, are other parts of the world redrawing allegiances? Places like India and Pakistan, to fit this new multipolar order?
India and Pakistan have already pretty much aligned themselves [with Russia and China]. The US used the Pakistani military for a soft coup, using political power to depose Imran Khan, because he wasn’t condemning Russia. The divide becomes much harder between the Western and non-Western worlds. It’s good to look at the UN votes to see what different country’s positions are.
It seems self-defeating for Europe to go along with Russian sanctions and NATO given its reliance on Russian gas …
The political leadership of this Western-centric world is so corrupt, they have got this groupthink and they probably start to believe their own propaganda. [The President of the European Commission] Ursula Von der Leyen is saying the bizzarest things, with no connection to reality. Poland and Bulgaria are losing their energy supplies because they can’t pay in rubles*. Well, they can’t pay in Euros either – because of the sanctions against Russia – and she is saying that it’s due to Russian blackmailing. No, you made the rules and now you live with them.
*Russia has refused to take energy payments in US dollars in response to Western sanctions.
Is Russia’s decision not to take payments in US dollars in fact an effort to demonetise the petrodollar?
The Chinese and the Russians have been working on this for a while but there was no real opportunity to accelerate until this conflict began and the US and its vassal states began the process by opening the gates that permitted this. If they hadn’t, Russia would still be somewhat integrated in the Western system and the US would have more leverage over them. Now they don’t have leverage over them. Russia is also self-sufficient in food production, which they were not before.
There is a debate in the independent media about what Russia’s real position is on the globalist agenda, which asks if Putin is in on it or walking its own (multipolar) path. Do you take a view?
You can have a mixture of them. What I have been talking about is geopolitics and geoeconomics. In the case of politics, Russia does tend to do its own thing, but it was following the consensus on the coronavirus because this was an opportunity, because it is politically expedient to bandwagon on this both domestically and globally. They also bandwagoned with the global war on terrorism which destroyed any international criticism of what was happening in Chechnya overnight. It was expedient. The pandemic was opportune for them internationally to get involved in humanitarian stuff, delivering aid and so-forth. China and Cuba did the same.
Given NATO provocation in Ukraine, what options did Russia have instead of military action?
I get the impression that they had enough. They were pushed and pushed and then they overreacted. Once you step over that line you can’t back down because you have committed yourself. Humanitarian wars are a joke considering what the US has done in Libya, Iraq, Syria etc. Russia still doesn’t have the necessary troops – an attacker needs a minimum of three troops to every defending troop according to classic military logic – but Russia is still winning. There is a hell of a lot of propaganda [saying otherwise] but they are taking the ground they want around Donbass and the South. They are not interested in taking Kiev.
Ukranians are getting desperate because they have nowhere to go. [Volodymyr] Zelensky is a client state now of the US – he is an object, not a subject of this game both internationally and nationally, because he has surrounded himself politically with some “interesting people” shall we say if we’re being diplomatic. And if he surrenders and gives concessions, they will kill him, simply. He can’t go forwards or backwards and he must continue until everything is lost.
The West generally portrays Vladimir Putin as a caricature of evil. What’s your take?
If he says something, he does something, unlike politicians in the West. Putin tends to live up to it. He comes from a KGB background so he has a realist world view, it’s strongly ingrained into them. Oddly enough he used to be a Westerner. In 2000, he was integrating Russia into the WTO, the G8 – all of these things. And what we have now is someone different, he became a disillusioned Westerner and he’s following his own path. He doesn’t trust the West anymore. It wouldn’t matter if it was Biden or Trump or whatever. It’s same-same but a little different. He is a statist, which he gets from his security services background and his PHD in law.
What is going to happen in your view?
The US has been talking about turning Ukraine into another Afghanistan, which means another war of attrition. That means they don’t care about Ukranians, because the aim is to weaken Russia. This was said openly by Biden and Lloyd Austin, the Defence Secretary. They want regime change. There was an opinion piece from Philip Breedlove, former NATO commander in the New York Times, and he said the US is in a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine. He said the quiet things out loud.
Will Europe rethink its position?
I think Europe is going nowhere fast because the US is just really applying the pressure now. See what the US is doing to Germany, the strongest part of the EU. This whole thing in Ukraine is not really about Ukraine. There is a satirical saying with an element of truth. The EU was designed to keep Germany down, Russia out and the US in Europe.
How will the war in Ukraine impact New Zealand?
My main prediction would be that the poor will get poorer and more will join them. There will be a much sharper distinction between the haves and the have nots. I have no illusion about the calibre of the political leadership, because they are entirely self-serving. They are trying to play this game, moving closer to the US but at the same time completely dependent on China [for trade].
So where should New Zealand position itself in this new order?
The US is not going to help. It will demand obedience and pay nothing for it. China demands obedience and pays something for it. So, it is a rather self-destructive game that is being played, joining this declining unipolar order at the moment of its demise and abandoning any pretense of self-interest, which would be to maintain some semblance of good relationships with China if you are dependent on them.
Other countries are under no illusion. India understands that the US will soon be a page in the history books. The real power is going to be China. It wasn’t that long since they were killing each other on the India/China border – do you see that tension now?
The West is very much responsible for its own demise. All empire’s decline begins within. It’s an internal process to begin and an external one that finishes it.
Is the Ukraine neutrality treaty still an option?
The US want to keep this going as long as possible. Russia has said that if Sweden or Finland join NATO there will be consequences. It’s not in their interests, but they are naïve – part of this system of global liberals rushing headlong in. You have an ideological West which is messianic and wants to convert everything into its image. China’s political system is ideological but their diplomacy is not – it’s very pragmatic, concrete practical matters, as are Russia and India. They have a realism at play.
What is the short-term outlook?
Going not good places. It will slide much further down. I was in Bucharest and there are a number of stories that stuck in my mind. Some of the refugees are Ukranian mafia. They are hanging out in Bucharest for the moment. What happens when their money runs out? Ukraine is a black hole for weapons falling into the wrong hands. It was before the war and is much more so now.
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
That would stun a lot of people if it happened. The West is doing so many self-destructive things. The geopolitical imperative is overriding all common sense and precaution. Doing what they are doing is going to bite economically, socially and politically soon enough. Price hikes are everywhere, they are talking about food shortages. There is no medium-term independence from Russian energy for Europe. And they are trying to chop it all. The EU has closed coal mines in Poland as part of its restructuring and so they will destroy that supply chain on which they depend and source it more expensively from the US, Columbia, Australia. It’s the same with oil.
Associate Professor Greg Simons is a researcher at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Uppsala University and a lecturer at the Department of Communication Sciences at Turiba University in Riga, Latvia. His research interests include: Russian mass media, public diplomacy and soft power, crisis management communications, media and armed conflict. Dr Simons is the author/editor of numerous refereed articles, chapters and books.
The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent or reflect those of The Looking Glass.