Opinion: Ukraine is the first real world war

Almost six weeks after the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine, I am beginning to wonder if this conflict is not our first real world war – much more than the First or the Second World War. In this war, which I consider “World War Wired”, virtually everyone on the planet can either observe the fighting on a granular level, participate in some way or be affected economically – no matter where they live.

While the battle on the ground that sparked World War Wired is ostensibly about who should control Ukraine, make no mistake. This quickly turned into “the great battle” between the two most dominant political systems in the world today: free market, “rule of law democracy versus authoritarian kleptocracy”, the Swedish expert noted. of the Russian economy, Anders Aslund. volume.

Although this war is far from over and Vladimir Putin may still find a way to win and emerge stronger, if he does not, this could be a turning point in the conflict between the systems. democratic and undemocratic. It should be remembered that World War II ended fascism and the Cold War ended orthodox communism, possibly even in China. Thus, what happens on the streets of Kyiv, Mariupol and the Donbass region could influence political systems far beyond Ukraine and far into the future.

Indeed, other autocratic leaders, such as China’s, are watching Russia closely. They see its economy weakened by Western sanctions; thousands of its young technologists fleeing to escape a government denying them access to the Internet and credible information; and his inept army seemingly incapable of gathering, sharing and channeling accurate information upwards. These leaders need to ask themselves, “Damn, am I that vulnerable? Am I presiding over a similar house of cards?

During World War I and World War II, no one had a smartphone or access to social media to observe and participate in the war in a non-kinetic way. Indeed, much of the world’s population was still colonized and did not have full freedom to express independent opinions, even if they had the technology. And many residing outside war zones were extremely poor subsistence farmers, not the giant, globalized, urbanized lower and middle classes of today’s wired world.

Today, between 3 and 4 billion people on the planet, or nearly half, own a smartphone. That’s not all.

Anyone with a smartphone and a credit card can help foreigners in Ukraine, through Airbnb, by simply booking a night at their place and not using it. Teenagers everywhere can create apps on Twitter to follow Russian oligarchs and their yachts. And the encrypted instant messaging app Telegram – which was invented by two Russian-born tech-savvy brothers as a tool to communicate out of earshot of the Kremlin – “has become the go-to place for live war updates. unfiltered for Ukrainian refugees and increasingly isolated Russians,” NPR reported. That’s short of Dubai, United Arab Emirates!

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government was able to tap into a whole new source of funding – garnering over $70 million in cryptocurrency donations from individuals around the world. And Tesla billionaire Elon Musk activated his company SpaceX’s satellite broadband service in Ukraine to provide high-speed internet access after Russia attempted to disconnect Ukraine from the world.

Such non-governmental, superpowered global actors and platforms were not present during World War I or World War II.

But just as so many other people can affect this war, others can also be affected. Russia and Ukraine are the main suppliers of wheat and fertilizers. Thus, a war between just two countries in Europe has driven up the price of food for Egyptians, Brazilians, Indians and Africans.

Russia is one of the world’s largest exporters of natural gas, crude oil and diesel fuel used by farm tractors, and rising pump prices from Minneapolis to Mexico to Mumbai are forcing farmers as far afield as Argentina to ration tractors and the fossil fuel rich. fertilizers, which has aggravated the surge in world food prices.

There is another unexpected angle of financial globalization: Putin has saved more than $600 billion in gold, foreign government bonds and foreign currencies in order to have a cushion if he is sanctioned by the West. But, as is common practice in today’s wired world, his government had deposited most of it in banks in Western countries and China. All but China froze Russian reserves, leaving Putin with about half of his savings.

For all these reasons, leaders around the world who have drifted into authoritarian capitalism or kleptocracy should be concerned.

True, Ukrainian democracy is fragile and the country has had its own serious problems with oligarchs and corruption. Kyiv’s burning aspiration, however, was not to join NATO but to join the European Union, and it was cleaning itself up to achieve that.

That’s what really started this war. Putin was never going to let a Slavic Ukraine become a successful free-market democracy in the EU alongside his stagnant Slavic Russian kleptocracy. That’s why he tries to erase Ukraine.

But Putin, it turns out, had no idea of ​​the world he lived in, no idea of ​​the fragilities of his own system, no idea of ​​the extent to which everyone who was free and democratic could and would want to join the fight. against him in Ukraine, and not an index, above all, on the number of people who would watch.

New York Times

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