Is the Russian-Ukrainian war a prelude to World War III?

The narrative battle between the pro-NATO and pro-Russia camps continues as the Russian-Ukrainian war rages on. Each side argues that the other is weakened, while any real solution seems a long way off, writes Emad Moussa.

Finland’s and Sweden’s bids for NATO membership are seen by some as another blow to Putin. [GETTY]

As the Russian-Ukrainian war enters its fourth month, the horizon for a solution seems to recede. With rapidly changing dynamics on the ground and new geopolitical realities emerging, many of the original predictions about war have now become obsolete.

It only takes a brief comparison between the pro-NATO and pro-Russia media to see that the majority of speculation by officials and political commentators is partisan, mostly filtered by the inner desires and wishful thinking of each party.

The Eurocentric narrative of the war revolves around the idea that the Russian military is stumbling in Ukraine, mostly thanks to the billions of dollars worth of arms and equipment given to the Ukrainian military by NATO. More than 6,000 sanctions against Russia, the argument goes, foiled Putin’s plans and trapped Russian troops in a costly war of attrition. Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership is seen as another sign that Putin’s war was a fiasco.

“There’s a fine line between rational and emotional reasoning, and in warfare it’s all too common for emotions to become information, and for ‘information’ to be an enabler of the decisions that are made.”

The Russian narrative, on the other hand, is that the operation will be planned. Russia has taken full control of Mariupol and created a vast land corridor between Donbass and Crimea, cutting Ukraine off from the Sea of ​​Azov and strangling its economy. Sanctions wouldn’t work, the ruble rallied, and economically punishing Moscow backfired on several EU countries dependent on Russian gas and raw materials, many of which have now agreed to pay in rubles.

Each argument has some merit, but none are mutually exclusive. Yet this is precisely what signals an increasingly dangerous stalemate.

Impasses often lead to intractable conflicts, which can be contained and, therefore, sustained for a long time without the threat of global collapse.

In the Russian-Ukrainian war, however, the capacity for containment is very limited. What is at issue is less about regional geopolitics or imperialist greed and more about the essence of the current world order – Ukraine being its main battleground and Ukrainians its fuel.

Moscow has been clear almost from the start that Russia – and China – seek to change the world order.

“We… together with you and with our supporters, we will move towards a multipolar, just and democratic world order,” Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said ahead of a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in March.

The current “unipolarity” and “universality” have given the United States too much power in world politics. Russia (and China) are reimagining the new world order based on distinct spheres of influence. Within it, the United States would accept Russian and Chinese domination in its neighborhoods and abandon its interventionism – via color revolutions, military coups or sanctions – to promote “freedom and democracy” that could disrupt the “regional status quo”.

Such a vision of the world resonates deeply in the countries of the South. Eurocentric enforcement of human rights and selective wars of aggression, primarily by the United States, have since World War II undermined international justice and sown the seeds of further conflict and destabilization. The consensus is that the world order since the end of the Cold War has gradually come up against the fundamental dilemma of justifying and sustaining a model of US-based global economic and political hegemony.

Russia has attempted to leverage this global grievance to build an international bloc against the US-led “liberal international order”.

For the United States and its Western allies, rebalancing and repositioning power across Ukraine means losing centuries-old Westphalian gains, which Henry Kissinger once described as “conducted without the involvement or even awareness of most other continents or civilizations”.

For the United States in particular, the loss of its global hegemony amounts to an existential threat. This will usher in an adverse geostrategic and economic shift that could lead to seismic shifts in the American way of life.

The injection of billions of dollars of American taxpayers’ money into Ukraine – an unprecedented step since World War II and which some fear is currently threatening to bankrupt the American economy – accurately reflects the seriousness of the situation.

Russia, which said it invaded Ukraine over NATO’s eastern expansion, sees knee-deep US involvement in the war as further confirmation of Moscow’s initial fears ; as such, deepening his existential anxieties and stiffening his posture.

NATO hoped that by excessively and comprehensively sanctioning and boycotting Russia, the Russian people would turn against their leaders. Instead, the sanctions heightened the existential angst of the Russian collective, effectively putting it on the same page as the Kremlin and dramatically increasing Putin’s popularity.

When people are faced with an outside threat, they tend to stick together and walk behind their leaders, however righteous they may be. It becomes a matter of self-preservation.

From this point of view, and all the more so since there is no sign of NATO retreating, what is at stake for Putin is the fate of the entire Russian nation; ergo, Russia has absolutely no choice but to see the military campaign end bitterly, whatever the cost.

There’s no need for a world if Russia wasn’t there, a state TV presenter said hours after Putin put his nuclear arsenal on high alert. If Russia loses the war, “the whole world will turn into a great fire,” philosopher Alexander Dugin, aka “Putin’s mastermind,” has repeatedly warned.

Such statements could very well be tactical threats to instill fear in NATO countries, nevertheless Russia has put the nuclear option on the table, perhaps in the most important way since the Cuban Missile Crisis. from 1962.

This is a very dangerous prospect, given that each side views the conflict in zero-sum existential terms. So even with anti-proliferation treaties and hotlines to prevent the possibility of nuclear escalation, an emotionally fueled and desperate situation can make “human rationality” less reliable.

After all, there is a fine line between rational and emotional reasoning, and in times of war it is all too common for emotions to become information, and for “information” to be an enabler of the decisions that are made.

What is happening now is no more rational than what happened in 1939, and certainly not much different in geopolitical terms. Second, it took months after Germany’s invasion of Poland for the world to recognize that the war was a global conflict, much like the current reluctance to label the situation in Ukraine as a global confrontation.

Things got out of control back then, and the same can happen again today.

Dr. Emad Moussa is a researcher and writer specializing in the politics and political psychology of Palestine/Israel.

Follow him on Twitter: @emadmoussa

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The opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or its staff.

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