“We have no future because our present is too volatile. We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.”
― William Gibson, Pattern Recognition
Welcome back everyone,
In the past few weeks, I have wanted to write a lot, but I haven’t been able to. I wanted to continue talking about the tension that arose between Russia and Ukraine, before the war began. But I did not succeed. Every day I had before my eyes the schizophrenic swing of press reviews, the guesswork of those who wanted to guess the right prediction. I wanted to answer, but I couldn’t. Now, time has come to fix it.
As with every “event”, the news as an end in itself has taken over again this time. And I myself, as I said, have not been able, not even to try, to put a good job on the table, overwhelmed by doubt. Doubt about which part of the story to tell, doubt about how to do it, doubt about its usefulness. Anger was then added to the doubt. Anger. That paralyzing anger of those who see everything go to pieces and feel useless and helpless.
But let’s start where we left off, namely the escalation between Russia and the West. I wrote earlier that there were two possibilities: a “dishonorable” withdrawal for Russia or a targeted attack; instead it seems that the Kremlin has decided for both. I will talk elsewhere about how the narration before the attack has developed, because I believe it deserves a special discussion.
After weeks of threats and diplomatic attempts, the war “on the ground” began at 5.55 am on the 24th, Moscow time, although the clashes had already started in the occupied territories of the ORDLO in the days preceding it, when on February 21 Vladimir Putin recognize their indipendence unilaterally.
As expected, the blitzkrieg was successful and now the Russian army is rampaging in Ukrainian territory, and yesterday reached the capital, Kiev. Needless to say what the situation is, there are a large number of reports of all kinds, now that we have discovered the existence of Ukraine. News and analysis chase each other, rumors, indiscretions, propaganda, in this third day of the war.
The thing we generally miss, as usual, is a big picture, one that not involves futile references to the past. Let’s try to made one.
Behind The War
I’ve heard a lot these days about the attack. I myself had thought that the situation would have turned out differently, but I was wrong. Obviously the basic idea hasn’t changed, but I had definitely underestimated Russia’s desperate situation. Yes, that’s right: I know it seems incomprehensible but it is what I believe to be the truth, Ukraine is at war, invaded, but it is Russia that is moving rapidly towards collapse.
Let me explain better, because what I write could be misunderstood. In the last twenty years, since he came to power by replacing Elstin, Vladimir Putin has tried to transform the Russian Federation in many ways, but without ever really succeeding: there has never been any strategy, neither Imperialist, nor Neo-Soviet , neither Third Way, nor other nonsense I’ve heard in recent days and years. The Russian Federation was managed following the flow of problems whenever they arose, and Putin and those around him did nothing but use their pragmatism to take advantage of every good opportunity that presented itself, and to “plug” every problem to the need. Why should it be different this time?
This demagogic system, in the classical sense of the term, presents a problem, namely the complete lack of future perspective. If the Russian elite of two years ago could hope to continue “surviving” for any length of time, recent events, three in particular, have cut that time by two thirds to being optimistic.
- First, the SARS-CoV2 pandemic had a devastating impact: it had it all over the world, of course, but some were able to get back on their feet, in their own way, while the Russian Federation used the event to make itself felt. propaganda, trying to install a failed geopolitics vaccine and little more. Such serious events cannot be temporarily “capped” and then forgotten.
- Second, the increasingly pressing problem of Climate Change has caused a sudden change in energy policy in many countries, especially European ones: if you thought, as the Russian ruling class has done since 2000, that you are sitting on gold for eternity , the idea that demand for fuel will drop dramatically in the coming decades must have been a bad awakening.
- Third, after years of fueling propaganda aimed at reconstructing the myth of the “Cold War”, and specifically of the clash between the United States and Russia as world powers, the recent geopolitical changes were about to make a clean sweep of all the rhetoric. We all have it very clear: the confrontation, on the world level, is between the US and the PRC, and it is an economic confrontation, a field in which Russia, for the aforementioned reasons, would find itself excluded, or at most subordinated to one of the two parties. (in the second case we could say that it would become a large Chinese province).
And here’s how we get to the present day and what’s happening. This is not the move of a crazy warmonger with a megalomaniacal aim. This is the gesture of a man, and of a ruling class, lucid and desperate. Putin is not Hitler, nor Stalin. The Russians, despite years of propaganda, are not a people indoctrinated and ready to sacrifice, but bewildered and without alternatives.
This, I would like to reiterate, is in no way a justification for military aggression or a soft judgment on the Russian regime. If anything, it is the opposite: the clear demonstration of how such demagogy, lack of vision and the attempt to maintain the status quo, diving into a past that no longer exists (if it did exist) without worrying about the world around, are a huge danger for everyone, and that no one should feel immune or think that it does not concern him.
Between reality and fiction
This digression was necessary for two reasons: the first is obviously that if we do not understand the starting situation, we will hardly be able to get an idea of how the forces on the field will move. The second, linked to this, is to have some kind of tool to distinguish between the farcts of the war and their narration.
Yes, because like everything else related to Russia, this time not even this time we play with our cards exposed. I must admit, with a certain sense of guilt, that I underestimated what happened in the previous months, having taken for granted the way in which everything was told. I had assumed that we had understood the hint and instead I was denied, I firmly believed that the meandering fear was attributable to a poor understanding of the situation, not because it was not, but there was more.
In fact, the war had started even before the shooting. A war of fear, a war that brought the economy to its knees and served its purpose: to isolate Ukraine. Once again, we Europeans in particular, underwent a one-way narrative, we were slow, hesitant and selfish, and we only started to react later, once the mechanism was already in motion. This story has been going on for 8 years, and for almost a year the signs of something were on the horizon, but, as has happened in the past, they have been deliberately ignored. If I got there, I don’t see how newspapers or secret services could not have done it.
In addition to this, inaction has shown us how deeply the seeds of Russian propaganda have taken root. Remember what happened to the announcement of the war in Iraq, and if you don’t remember it, imagine the same situation with the United States instead of the Russian Federation. I certainly don’t mean that we would have avoided war, but at least we wouldn’t have had a one-sided narrative, that of the unstoppable Russian army that annihilates every enemy in its path.
Only now do the balances seem to have partially re-established. The images of the bombings, of refugees fleeing, seem to have silenced even the most difficult pro-Russians, but only because no one can afford to sneak away, risking an indelible stain on a world level in the face of unilateral aggression.
As I write this piece, the shadow play continues – Putin has alerted his nuclear forces, while Zelensky has agreed to sit at a negotiating table, but without preconditions (which he had vigorously refused in the past few days). As in other cases I have dealt with, the image is even more important than the substance, and everyone seems determined to exploit it to their advantage to get the best out of the situation, although in my opinion this time it will be much more complex to “hide” behind a some kind of narration, especially for Russia.
And this brings us to another question.
In Sun Tzu’s Art of War is stated “who wishes to fight must first count the cost”. This was perhaps the question that made me think the most in recent weeks. As I said before, I don’t think that suddenly the entire Russian enstablishment has gone mad, and so, what are they hoping to get away with this time?
There are many hypotheses in this regard, from the establishment of a puppet government in Ukraine to the division of the country in two, on the model of Germany after the Second World War. Honestly, they do not seem to me to be very feasible hypotheses: the occupation of a country, or part of it, are never economic options, both in terms of expenditure and human lives. Furthermore, it seems that despite everything, the population is determined to fight by all means, while little we know of how much the Russians have the same motivation to go on, perhaps it is precisely for this reason (as well as to feed the terror) that in Ukraine they are reinforcements arrived from Chechnya, the “satrapy” that Putin granted to Ramzan Kadyrov long ago to stop the fighting in that part of the Caucasus.
Is there a more plausible goal to achieve? Yes: the area around the Crimean Canal. I had already written how such a target could be an easier prey, a trophy to be brought home quickly, and that due to the encirclement it remained unguarded (in March last year, most of the Ukrainian armed forces was at that point, since facing the occupied territories) and that it could be “sold” to the public as a “restoration of an injustice”, given that for almost a year the canal, the only source of water that fed Crimea, it was closed by the Ukrainian authorities after the annexation of the peninsula; moreover, it would be a much smaller and easier to control territory.
But even this, however plausible it may seem, remains very little in the face of the price that Russia is preparing to pay. As stated earlier, public opinion seems to have shaken from its torpor, and now no one wants to have anything to do with the aggressor, and in these hours we are discussing economic sanctions that will be decidedly heavier than in the past, just think of the decision to exclude the Russian banking system from SWIFT. Of course, it would not be the first time that the energy needs we need makes us close our eyes to problems, but, as stated above, the progressive shift towards alternative energy sources could prove to be a determining factor in keeping us steadfast in our intentions. It seems that this time the United States and the European Union are more determined than ever to make Moscow pay dearly.
Right now, the Kremlin has no real allies to lean on. Even China, with which anti-Western coalitions were magnified until yesterday, at the UN Security Council abstained on the issue, and the foreign minister himself stepped in two shoes, supporting the line of negotiation and preservation. the integrity of the territory of Ukraine (the PRC has always supported territorial integrity above the principle of self-determination, for obvious reasons) so that this cannot backfire in the future.
It is not an effort that the country can bear in a medium or long term. And everybody knows that. The population of the RF itself is not compact about the war, on the contrary, it seems quite the opposite, given the protests in many cities and the few attempts to censor them by the government and the polls of the Levada Center before it brokes out. Maybe those appeal made by Putin himself to begin negotiations of some sort (first whit the Ukrainian Army, then whit President Zelenskyj) weren’t just a vicious mockery.
Probably this is the most destabilizing element of the story: we do not understand why, and, when we fail to understand the reasons for something, we often take refuge in the models of the past, which however have nothing to do with what happens. precluding a clear vision of the present. A Pattern Recognition. Something that is not necessarily cold and distant, but that allows us to move beyond a series of now obsolete and problematic schemes, in which we try to fit the facts.
However the war continues, we can already take a lesson from what has happened: we no longer have a system for evaluating the future, and therefore we have stopped looking at things in the long term, or looking beyond the facts with a critical eye, even if they disprove what we think. With this writing I hope to have provided a series of ideas and useful tools for those wishing to try to understand the situation. Being frightened is legitimate, but fear is something concrete with which we can deal, each in his own way, while the anguish is enormous and oppressive, and will leave us stunned to undergo events.
Until next time, which I guess will not be long in coming.