Ukraine could become the theatre of a proxy war

Despite delusions of grandeur on the part of President Putin, Russia is no longer a superpower.

image: Telecom Review

Putin imagines a restoration of the glorious The Soviet Union when it spanned Eurasia from 1922 to 1991. Back then, it included multiple national republics including Ukraine.

It was a superpower to be feared. In the Sixties part of my job for Alberta Government Telephones, now TELUS, was to maintain a communications link between a string of radar stations in Canada’s North to a command centre in Colorado. It was called the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) and built in response to the threat of a potential Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) attack from the Soviet Union.

Russia, while not as powerful as The Soviet Union, still represents a threat to world order. Canada is nervously looking over the North Pole at Putin’s erratic adventures in Ukraine. Just how crazy is he? Could he have designs in the arctic?

However, the appetite for Russian arctic conquests will likely be dampened by the deaths of Russian soldiers in Ukraine. There’s nothing like boys coming home in body bags to put you off further invasions. I think arctic dreams are far from Putin’s troubled mind.

Putin has deeper worries as the Russian economy tanks. He risks becoming a client state of China.

In a recent video meeting between President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping, they discussed what to do with the problem of Putin. Russia’s antics are a distraction from the superpowers’ agenda to divide up the world; the U.S. with its hegemonic control through globalization and China through its Belt and Road infrastructure program to bring the resources of the world to China.

Taiwan continues to be a contentious issue between the U.S. and China. Biden calls China’s actions in the Taiwan Strait coercive and provocative. China regards the island state as theirs.

 The U.S. has sent weapons worth more than $2 billion to Ukrainians to fight the Russian invasion, including Stinger anti-aircraft systems and Javelin light anti-armor weapons.

Russia has asked China for weapons to bolster the Kremlin’s attack on Ukraine.

The transformation of Russia as a client state of China began in 2014, when Russian President Vladimir Putin travelled to Beijing after the annexation of Crimea.

Following the annexation and with sanctions from the West, there was a $400 billion deal to supply gas to China.  In 2017, Chinese banks provided US$12-billion in funding for a liquefied natural gas project on Russia’s Yamal Peninsula.

With further sanctions from the West over Putin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, Russia is more dependent on China. Helena Legarda, a lead analyst at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies, says:

“With the West and many allies and partners around the globe united in sanctioning Russia, the country’s economy is bound to take a severe hit, and only a few countries will be willing and able to help Russia mitigate this. China’s economic support will be key.”

It looks like a long war in Ukraine that can only be financed by the U.S. and China. The Ukraine will become a battle field in which China and the U.S. fight a proxy war.

Government as theatre

The Trump administration doesn’t make sense as government. He has no coherent foreign or domestic policies. He fires trusted advisors regularly. White House staff wake up each morning and check their Twitter feeds to find out what bizarre direction the country is now going in.

    image: NPR

However, the Trump administration does make sense as theatre. Not exactly Shakespeare, although there may be comic elements. More like professional wrestling says Naomi Klein:

“It’s hard to overstate Trump’s fascination with wrestling (Harper’s magazine, Sept., 2017).”

He has performed at least eight times in World Wrestling Entertainment, enough to earn a place in the W.W.E. Hall of Fame. In the “Battle of the Billionaires,” he pretended to beat wrestling champ Vince McMahon and shaved McMahon’s head in front of the cheering throng.

Trump honed his infotainment skills in front of live audiences. As president, whenever he wants a feel-good moment he assembles crowds of supporters and whips up the crowd with the standard rhetoric of wrestling.

His campaign followed the and true wrestling script: invent heroes and villains. Mock the villains with insulting nicknames like “Little Marco”, “Lyin’ Ted.” Stir up the crowd with over-the-top insults and chants like “Killary,” and “Lock her up.” Direct the crowd’s rage at the designated villains: journalists and demonstrators.

“Outsiders would emerge from these events shaken, not sure what had just happened,” says Klein, “What had happened was a cross between a pro-wrestling match and a white-supremacist rally.”

President Trump’s plans to meet with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, if it ever happens, will have the circus-like feel of a wrestling match. Each leaders boasts of having a bigger rocket than the other. They trade insults, Trump calling Jong-un a “little rocket man.” Jong-un calling Trump a “Mentally deranged dotard (senile old man).”

Trump will promote the match as having high stakes. If Trump wins –and in wrestling, the hero always wins- Kim will have to eat humble pie. Trump will symbolically shave Kim Jong-un’s head.

That’s how Trump will spin the meeting. The reality is a bit different. Trump is not bargaining from a position of strength. While he does have the potential to bomb North Korea out of existence, that would also destroy much of South Korea. Kim Jong-un’s stature is elevated to that of a world leader as a result of the proposed meeting with Trump.

Trump is not bothered at all about the political reality, his concern is ratings. Klein explains:

“So Trump sees himself less as a president than as the executive producer of his country, with an eye always on the ratings. Responding to the suggestion that he fire his press secretary, he reportedly said, ‘I’m not firing Sean Spicer. That guy gets great ratings. Everyone tunes in.’”

It’s a mistake to think of Trump as a politician. He ran for office as reality show host and won because he isn’t a politician. He is skilled at attracting attention to himself with crude, audacious, contradictory, untrue and insulting remarks.

It works. In a world that’s increasingly narcissistic, Trump is skilled at drawing attention to himself with his clever wrestling shtick.