U.S. President Joe Biden might have won the 2020 election in large part by not being Donald Trump, but you must admit the two of them have more than a little in common.
They both seem given to saying exactly what’s on their mind. And while Trump’s late-night Twitter salvoes are filled with right-wing invective, Biden is proving able to cause some furor of his own while shooting from the hip.
Speaking in Poland last Saturday on a tour to whip up support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the Russia-Ukraine war, he said emphatically “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
The spin machine got to work right away, telling us this was not a call to remove Russian President Vladimir Putin from office. But come on. What kind of fools do they take us for?
Biden’s supposedly off-the-cuff remarks confirmed the assumption that Russia — and most of the world, really — has been aware of for years, namely the existence of a de facto U.S. strategy of regime change when it comes to rival or “enemy” countries.
It’s not as though this is coming out of left field. There has been a concerted effort to sanction Russia into oblivion and funnel arms into Ukraine to prolong the conflict. Many in the U.S. have openly talked of turning Ukraine into “Putin’s Afghanistan,” a grueling years-long occupation engendering political discontent and economic fatigue similar to the U.S.’s own devastating wars for profit in the Middle East.
The question remains whether such a strategy will work. Even now, negotiators in Turkey are setting out terms. But let’s not forget that little troublesome thing called history. I struggle to think of even one instance of sanctions moving the needle toward the sanctioner’s preferred outcomes. Having one’s economy effectively cut off from the wealthiest world powers tends to strengthen one’s own resolve rather than make one bow in submission. Moreover, it justifies stronger relations with the countries that did not try to cut your throat.
And that’s precisely what we’re seeing now. Russia has insisted “unfriendly” countries pay for gas deliveries in rubles, a move designed to undercut the impact of sanctions and shore up the value of its own currency. With the European Union in a bind after following the U.S.’s lead while still dependent on Russia for energy, it remains to be seen how they will handle this predicament. As for the ruble, at time of writing it has bounced back to almost its full pre-war value.
Countries that previously attempted to stake out a moderate position on the crisis are finding themselves pulled into an existential conflict. European leaders who might have otherwise been leery of economic warfare on a trade partner have had their hands forced by an overwhelming media and public opinion offensive.
Forcing a reluctant Europe into a corner has laid bare the U.S.’s intentions even before Biden blundered into admitting them outright. Now the world knows what will happen when push comes to shove and the U.S. declares a country Public Enemy Number One. In a sense, this did everyone a favor in stripping away the genteel illusions of a “rules-based international order” and showing just how far the U.S. will go to maintain its dominance in world affairs. It carries with it a staggering human cost, but that’s never been a problem for the people in power.
After all, who suffers most as the world is cynically maneuvered into camps at the behest of an empire clinging to its last shreds of hegemony? Certainly not the oligarchs — and the U.S. and Europe have plenty of those, despite their attempts to paint oligarchy as a uniquely Russian phenomenon. No, as always it’s ordinary people who will serve as heat sinks for this shift in the world order. Ukrainians’ homes, families and lives have been destroyed after their country was used as a pawn to advance others’ interests. Russians have been cut off from trade and treated as pariahs in much of the Western world. Europeans and Americans will be feeling the pain in their pocketbooks. That’s less severe than war, of course, but still an appreciable hardship for millions of families already struggling to keep their heads above financial water.
As Russia and Ukraine meet for another round of peace talks, we can only hope their efforts bear fruit. No one wants to see escalation in a conflict that has already taken many lives. Unfortunately, it would seem some have a vested interest in that exact outcome. We must ask ourselves what price they are willing to pay to achieve their goals —are they really ready to scuttle negotiations and aggravate tensions because they think they can turn Ukraine into Russia’s graveyard?
If so, we should be terrified of a future with them in charge, because at some point they might just decide the whole world needs “saving” — and see all of us as a necessary sacrifice.
Ian Goodrum is a senior editor and columnist for China Daily. The article reflects the author’s opinions and not necessarily the views of The Southern African Times.