It really seems as though there are no limits to which Vladimir Putin is not prepared to go in seeking to establish the supremacy of Russia over the West. Major efforts are being spent seeking to expand the war beyond Ukraine by making weapons of both food and energy supplies.
This recent article in the Evening Standard by Robert Fox https://www.standard.co.uk/comment/vladimir-putin-war-west-ukraine-soviet-union-b1031505.html is really worth reading on how Putin is greatly expanding his operations at a global rather than purely a Ukrainian level – with ‘everything becoming a weapon and everywhere a battlefield’. The scale of these operations is far-flung, including, as we have been warning for some time in the Arctic, and in the light of an assortment of cyber attacks too. (You may need to do a free sign up and give your consent to read it).
Putin is a man on the offensive. The fact that he has so far permitted just one grain ship to leave Odesa has nothing to do with the kindness of his heart, and everything to do with not wanting American warships to accompany container ships through the Black Sea – as well, no doubt, as a fear of anti-ship missiles being used against his Black Sea Fleet. Positioned between Russia and Europe by more than just geographical happenstance, President Erdogan of Turkey became a key mediator between Ukraine, the West and Russia for this to happen, and he remains a person of special interest to Putin, in the hope of luring certain European nations to his side, as well as making Turkey think three times before agreeing to permit Sweden and Finland to join NATO.
For his part, President Putin has been attempting to make serious attempts to charm certain African nations to his side, whilst all the time neglecting to draw attention to his own part in the developing global food crisis. He is being well received by many across Africa. This is propaganda warfare and the West helps neither its own cause, nor that of Africa, by failing to counter it more vigorously. The risk of exploitation is high, as, for example, Russia is plundering Sudan’s gold reserves to boost its own war efforts. (It is important be aware that China, which is increasingly targeting cyber attacks against Taiwan, is also intent on similar policies).
In all this, Putin is playing the long game. Like a chess master, he has studied his opponent’s weaknesses, and knows how to exploit them to his own advantage. He has based many of his calculations on the hope that the fear of an energy crisis will weaken the resolve of the West to support Ukraine so energetically and economically.
Such a policy is unlikely to succeed very far, at least as far as the UK is concerned, but it is important to realise how fragile the political resolve and stability of the West really is.
As economic pressures ramp up significantly over the winter months, Europe is surely going to be tempted to prioritise the wellbeing of their own citizens, and begin to do less to protect Ukraine. In the unlikely event of Donald Trump returning to power, even America, could be inclined to adopt a very different course too, given how passive he has always been to Putin.
In Hungary, President Orbán has launched his strongest tirades yet, while Germany is only slowly ‘coming off the fence’ under its new leader. Europe needs Macron to stand firm, for there are plenty of others in France who would be far more lenient towards Russia.
Western weapons are at last arriving in Ukraine, and are making a significant (though by no means conclusive) difference. (As you can imagine, Russia is pulling out all the stops to discover where these weapons are being stored and deployed to attempt to take them). Meanwhile, Western sanctions are thought to be having a much more serious impact on the Russian economy than many had realised – as this important study from Yale University shows.
As Putin reaches out to countries such as Iran in a strategic ‘union of the isolated,’ complicated factors are involved. These are no straightforward alliances; conflicting and competing interests about, for example over Syria. What is essential is for the West to realise the extent to which Putin has deliberately instigated what amounts to a world war, albeit one that is being fought, unlike those of the twentieth century, on many different levels. He has, for instance, been meeting with the leaders of Iran and Turkey in search of allies and oil, whilst actively preventing vital aid from entering Syria from Turkey – a devastating cynical ploy that could well lead to millions starving unless something is done swiftly about it. Meanwhile, one should not underestimate the resolve of Israel and the US to prevent Iran from acquiring the capacity to develop nuclear weapons.
In all this we cannot afford to forget resurgent and increasingly aggressive China. You will have seen the exceptional joint report made by the FBI and MI5 warning that the danger from China is actually considerably greater than that posed by Russia. You will likewise be aware of the ever growing threats China is issuing towards Taiwan – a major flashpoint we have been warning of throughout the last decade.
This ramping up of the pressure following Nancy Pelosi’s visit there, is suiting President Xi well, just three months away as he is from being confirmed as President for life. As so many leaders have discovered, focusing on a foreign ‘issue’ can serve to rally the country behind them in patriotic fervour – and this at a time when so many in China are unhappy with his zero Covid policies, and when the country is facing dangerous levels of population decline. China set to be overtaken within a few years as the world’s most populous country by India. This will result in labour shortages in China, and an increasing ageing population, as the birth rate falls to below that of Japan, as quite possibly the lowest in the world.