By Paul Frijters, Emeritus Professor of Welfare Economics at the London School of Economics
What effect should we expect from the Ukraine crisis on corona policy and on the role of the resistance to that policy? To answer that question, I would first like to give a brief geopolitical interpretation of the Ukraine conflict.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is first and foremost a humanitarian disaster. War is just tragic, with many casualties and few winners. Just as we should not look away from the victims of covid policies, we should not look away from the current victims of the violence in Ukraine. Millions are on the run, soldiers are dying, there are civilian deaths, there is heavy fighting in many areas, and every death is one too many.
From a geopolitical point of view, first of all, it seems that this is the end of Ukraine as a separate country. Russia is going to annex a part, noting that Kiev was long the capital of the Russian Empire and still the place where the saints of the Russian Orthodox Church are buried. Given the rhetoric within Russia about Ukraine, we must assume that Kiev will not be given up after conquest. What Russia plans to do with Ukraine is unclear and will also depend on developments on the battlefield, but the division of that country into a province of Russia and a residual area where anyone who does not want to belong to Russia can go (Lviv as the capital) is now obvious. Other options in which Kiev remains outside NATO are also conceivable.
The second geopolitical element is that the reaction of the West and China confirms bloc formation. In recent months and weeks, Chinese rulers have been increasingly openly siding with Russia: what Russian banks seem to be moving from the US Swift system to the Chinese UnionPay system; and plans to integrate Russia and China militarily-economically have accelerated. 1 Also on the Western side you can clearly see consolidation of the bloc, with increased defense spending and plans to be less dependent on Russian (oil/gas) and Chinese (‘rare minerals’) raw materials.
So it looks very likely that we are going to have a new Cold War. Russia and China plus some smaller allies on the one hand versus the West on the other, with India as a neutral country 2 and many other countries who will try not to choose for a long time. That block formation has been coming for about 10 years, but this crisis has accelerated this process. In the bloc with Russia, China is the most important partner with 17% of the world population and about the same share of world production.
The question of whether this could have been prevented or who to blame for this reality is no longer so important. I myself have seen this bloc formation for years as inevitable because major powers in the world always eventually find each other as rivals. 3 However, that does not mean that Ukraine had to go through a war to remain part of the Russian sphere of influence.
What matters most within ‘the West’ now is the question of loyalty. The media violence is aimed at creating a new enemy image. This will of course work because the short-term goal (feeling good about ourselves) fits perfectly with a logical long-term development (block formation). This is the main difference from the corona hysteria of early 2020 when a story was set up that violated our self-interest and was not sustainable in the longer term. That new enemy image is tenable: unlike the corona story, you should not expect that the majority will change their view of the Ukraine conflict in a few years’ time.
The loyalty question in the new Cold War is very simple to me. I don’t expect the geopolitical blocs that are now crystallizing in my life to be lifted, so it’s a matter of choice. I belong to the West and I am ultimately part of it. Russia and China are not places I want to live.
It is up to them to know how others answer that question, but that loyalty question is now there and will be played hard in the media and politics. Even people like Baudet, who has long warned against actions that made this crisis possible, will not hesitate to show open loyalty to the West and to Russia and China. That may be harsh, but that’s how power politics works.
The effect of this conflict on the enlightenment movement that has turned against the corona policy is difficult to predict. On the one hand, of course, a major geopolitical conflict means the accelerated end of the corona nonsense because the internal pressure to worry about corona diminishes. The conflict also means more room for countries within the West to evade pressure from other Western countries to continue participating in corona nonsense. So it seems quite likely that we will soon see an end to the plans for corona vaccination passports. The side effects of the vaccines already made the corona vaccination compulsion unsustainable in the longer term, and the war gives governments like France a great opportunity to withdraw from that swamp undetected.
On the other hand, of course, we see a restart of the totalitarian and neofeudal structures that have become strong in corona times. The Western ‘old media’ has therefore shown itself from its most oversimplified side, with all kinds of actions against Russian culture as the low point. 4 We also see the further embedding of censorship and control authorities.
Just like in the first Cold War, I actually expect that this second Cold War will generate political pressure for more freedoms and equality within the Western world. This is because internal freedoms and greater equality make our societies stronger. Now that there is another major adversary, our political elites are less able to afford the ‘luxuries’ of extreme inequality and totalitarianism. Also the fact that China has restricted its own Big Tech elites and is openly allocating more power to its workers 5 , creates pressure to be a little less feudal towards our own population.
From a geopolitical point of view, the Ukraine war means an acceleration of the bloc formation that was already coming. A second Cold War is now near. Like the first Cold War, this poses risks for escalation, but also creates pressure for efficiency indoors. Those risks are enemies of all of us, but efficiency pressures are on the side of love and truth.
The Ukraine crisis, however, remains primarily a humanitarian disaster where sympathy goes out to the population there. Love and truth are not winning there.
1 . https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/26/business/china-russia-ukraine.html
2 . https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2022/03/05/indias-aloof-response-to-the-ukraine-crisis/
3 . https://clubtroppo.com.au/2018/10/24/why-the-us-has-no-chance-against-china-on-its-own/
4 . https://www.euronews.com/culture/2022/03/07/cancelled-culture-a-who-s-who-of-organisations-putting-russia-in-a-cultural-blackout
5 . https://clubtroppo.com.au/2021/09/21/where-are-the-chinese-reforms-going/
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