Oscar van Heerden | The war in Ukraine and the changing axes

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A view of damaged Kharkiv governor's office and a wrecked vehicle is seen after Russian army's missile attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
A view of damaged Kharkiv governor's office and a wrecked vehicle is seen after Russian army's missile attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
State Emergency Service of Ukraine, Anadolu Agency

Oscar van Heerden writes that the economic front is where the real war lies. He says the EU and US have again miscalculated the impact of sanctions against Russia, and the fallout from that.

As we enter the ninth month of the bloody conflict in Ukraine, the West wants us to believe that Russia is about to collapse and capitulate. That Russian leader, Vladimir Putin is about to fall, and the collective West would reestablish itself as the true and only hegemonic force on the planet, as it has been for the last 250 years.

But alas, a cursory view on the battle plans of the collective West against Russia suggests a very different outcome, indeed.

I propose we have an objective look at this war from a militarily, economically and diplomatically perspective.

Attacks on Russian forces 

On the militarily front, we are constantly told that the Ukrainian forces are making massive advances and that the Russian army is falling apart, running away, useless and defective equipment and being slaughtered on the battlefield because the Russian army has fielded inexperienced young men on the front line.

Well, Russia has illegally annexed more than 150 000 square kilometres of Ukrainian land (that's about half of England)  while the Ukraine has over the last week, regained only 500 square kilometres. 

At this rate, it should take Ukraine about four years to take back all its land from Russia.

Of the 20% of Ukrainian land annexed, Ukraine has only regained 2% and this at a high cost of Ukrainian soldiers' lives.

It seems the optics is more important for the Ukraine government since all they highlight are nonsensical attacks on Russian forces.

The attack on the Black Sea fleet of Russia, though commendable in its audacity, has now resulted in a full-scale attack on civilian infrastructure, leaving Ukraine in almost total darkness. Their water supplies have also been destroyed, leaving ordinary Ukrainians without a much-needed life source. And yes, this is terrible on the part of Russia, but I assume the logic is clear. If the Ukrainian people don't see it fitting to put the necessary pressure on their own government to return to the negotiations table to end this war, then Russia must assume ordinary Ukrainians are in full support of their government's actions towards not only the Ukrainians in the Donbas region but also the offensive against Russia. Thus, it's fair game, and no-one ever said war is fair.

READ | Fresh headache for Africa as Russia pulls out of grain deal

Another factor in the military offensive is that Ukraine is fast running short of experienced soldiers while Russia has mobilised an additional 300 000 men into the war effort.

Ukraine and the collective West (NATO) cannot win this war. It was desperate, to begin with and ill-conceived. Its the Ukrainians that are the cannon fodder in this war. To what end?

The economic front is where the real war lies.

The EU and US have again miscalculated the impact of sanctions against Russia. For starters, Putin had been planning this was for a very long time evidently.

He ensured more than 140 billion dollars was kept in gold in the Russian reserves, perhaps knowing that the collective West would freeze Russia’s foreign reserves. Russia has simply turned away from the EU, to other markets such as China, India, Africa, Latin America and Asia in general. Gone are the days when the markets of the EU and US were the only dominant ones.

When will Germany wake up and smell the roses that it is the biggest loser in this debacle. Not only has their gas been cut off, which meant that their industries are suffering hugely, a oil cap on Russian oil now further exacerbates Germany's woes. Meanwhile, massive protests in Germany are being ignored.

France cottoned on to the fact that the only big winner in all of this, is the United States.

Manufacturing industries are now wanting to leave Europe and relocate to the US, and after the destruction of Nord Stream 1 & 2 gas pipelines, whose liquid gas is being imported to Europe? The US of A, of course.


Another key matter that must be mentioned even though Western Media avoids it like the plague, is the importance of the BRICS nations group in world affairs.

Russia and China are resetting the global financial markets one step at a time. Moving away from the US dollar being the international reserve currency is in the works and the folly early sanctions moves on the part of the EU and US have largely contributed to this reality. After all, what did the EU and US think was going to happen once they seized Russia’s reserves and froze individual Russian business people's assets? Every other country, including China immediately started moving their reserves away from the US dollar and invested heavily in commodities. Business people all over the world followed suit because if the EU can illegally seize one's assets just on the basis of an assumption that you might be associated with this or that leader, then best not to have money and assets in western banks or in dollar denominations. This will seriously backfire on the EU.

Western banks have shown their true colours when it comes to war. They side with their respective countries instead of keeping the principle in place, that's its about the global economy and best not take sides.

Similarly, US tech, fast food and manufacturing companies have shown their hand in this situation. What will it lead to? The isolation of US companies in the global south. 

For years the one thing that worked for the West was to have a constant captive market in Latin America, Africa, and the far East. Now this will all change over time because these countries have seen that an overreliance on these companies will be at your own peril, especially in times of war.    

Russia's Gazprom company of which the Russian government owns 50% has posted its 2022 profits, and they have made more profits in the last six months than in 2020 and 2021 combined. Sanctions do not have the desired effect I would guestimate. Meanwhile, inflation is climbing in Europe, prices are sky high for fuel, food and energy, and the ordinary populace cannot stand the fact that they will have to endure a cold winter at the expense of Russia.  

Then, of course, there are the various axes to take serious note of. The big one is the newfound axis between Saudi Arabia and Russia, to the chagrin of the US.

Since the 1950's this axis was always between the US and Saudi Arabia, but no more.

It seems the Saudi Crown Prince has realised that the unipolar world as we know it has come to pass. There is even talk of the Saudi's joining the BRICS nations group. Then there is the Iran – Russia axis, which has proven mutually beneficial for both countries and recently, a massive deal was signed between the two countries amounting to about 40 billion dollars in trade.

READ | ANALYSIS: Thembisa Fukude - Saudi Arabia plans to join BRICS. Why SA must be concerned

And as we are now told (whether it's true or not), Iran is also supporting Russia in the war effort by providing kamikaze drones that have caused havoc in Ukraine.

The next axis is Russia – Turkey, and even though Turkey is a member of NATO, it has played the game very well indeed. Calling for a peaceful settlement to the conflict and in the meantime signing a massive deal to become the gas hub for Europe going forward. It negotiated the grain deal that, unfortunately, now lies in ruin, thanks to the attack on Russia's Black Sea fleet.

Finally, there remains the axis between China – Russia and the other BRICS nation countries.   

These are very powerful axes, in fact, the combined GDP of the BRICS nations amount to much more than the G7 grouping, meaning the seven most advanced economies combined do not have more GDP than the BRICS nations and yet western media still largely ignore the BRICS gatherings. I wonder why?

The good guy, bad guy malarky, is no longer working for the West and western media is desperately trying to keep the narrative alive. The popular view is Ukraine is good, and Russia is bad. 

READ | ANALYSIS: Herman Wasserman - Removing Russia Today is about shutting down soft power air cover

The dominance of western media is no longer a fact, unlike the case in the first Iraqi invasion when we could only access CNN.

Every person now has a camera (smartphone) and numerous alternative media sites exist on the world wide web. No wonder the first thing the western powers did was to cut off Russia TV (RT).

The narrative that must resonate with each and every one of us must be, that Russia's invasion was an unprovoked and illegal one and that Russia must be held to account. There is no mention of the 2014 coup that led to the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Ukraine. This in turn led to the peoples of the Donbas demanding their independence from Ukraine, which resulted in the Ukraine government bombing and shelling that region for eight years. The Zelensky administration was reportedly planning a massive offensive in March of this year to once and for all deal with Donbas, hence the decision by the Russian government to go in February and protect/liberate the Russians in that part of the world. Nothing of this is reported in our western media. Astonishing don’t you think?

Now, if you ask me, I think that Putin has already won this war. He has managed to instill in the global psyche the undeniable fact that there is now longer a unipolar world order.

The single and only superpower mantra is no more and the final straw in this war of attrition is the complete collapse of the US dollar of the international reserve currency.

Shadow of its former self 

Already, we have seen that Putin has changed the Petrodollar phenomenon and insists that all Russian oil and gas be bought in Russian Rubles, and as a result the ruble has strengthened against the dollar to pre-war levels. Everyone that was confronted with this demand from Russia simply complied, including Saudi Arabia.

The Federal Reserve in the US must be panicked, to say the least, because it is only for the reason that the dollar was the international reserve currency that the Federal Reserve in the US could simply just print more and more money whenever they needed it and increase their debt levels to unimageable and unsustainable levels. This, too will now come to pass.

I guess it was inevitable, the dominance of the collective West and the US in particular, was bound to be. It rather reminds me of that great author, JRR Tolkien when he wrote the trilogy of "The Lord of the Rings".

We all know that the book was informed by the devastation of the second world war and that the dark lord Sauron, was largely considered to be Nazi Germany. Middle earth was largely western Europe and Africa as we know it, and it all culminated in the total destruction of Mordor.

Well, why does it remind me of this amazing contribution to the literature world, because, I think that the new dark lord is the US. It has been consumed by its military-industrial complex and is now a shadow of its former self, filled with hatred and jealousy. And as such, Sauron wants to conquer all of the middle earth, destroy the elfs (Russia) and the dwarfs (China) and reign supreme forever.

The all-powerful ring that once gave him all the power is waning, and hence the other rings that once were in a covenant must be destroyed.  But like in the books, Sauron will fall, and much destruction will be left in the wake, yes, but ultimately the humans, elf’s, and dwarfs will prevail. Pity that this depiction is not fiction.

- Dr Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular


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