Ukraine invasion forcing world’s nations to pick sides, leading Russian expert says.
The world appears to be marching into a second cold war, pitting autocracies against democracies, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia warned on Monday, March 14.
“Globalization’s advancement is in danger,” Michael McFaul said on a webinar moderated by Earl Wright, AMG’s co-founder and chairman. “… The war in Ukraine is speeding up this process.”
If Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is seen to be the victor in his bid to snuff out democracy in Ukraine, McFaul said, other countries will start to hedge their bets, not wanting to run afoul of autocracies with massive military capabilities.
China is key in this developing power play.
Stoic resistance by the Ukrainian fighters and economic sanctions imposed by Western democracies are crippling Russia, reportedly prompting Putin to seek economic and military aid from China to stave off financial collapse. So far, China claims to be neutral on the invasion, neither publicly condemning nor supporting Putin’s actions.
“China has been given the opportunity to distance itself from a rogue regime,” McFaul said, “but there is no evidence that they intend to do so.”
If China does bail out Russia, that will likely mean a further decoupling of the United States and China’s economies. “It’s going to be like the cold war again,” he said.
An axis of China and Russia versus an allied United States and Europe.
McFaul, Director of International Studies at Stanford University, spent five years working in the U.S. State Department during the Obama administration, including two years (2012-2014) as ambassador to the Russian Federation.
McFaul, who speaks Russian, first met Putin in 1991 when the former KGB officer was deputy mayor of Saint Petersburg. Since he has known him, McFaul said Putin has talked about reconstituting the Russian empire.
“Putin himself is hard to understand,” McFaul said. “His obsession now is to unify the Slavic people. Let’s be clear, this is not a fight against NATO … or even Ukraine. This is a fight against democracy.”
Putin thought regime change in Ukraine would be quick and easy, the ambassador said. He underestimated the heroic resolve of the Ukrainian people led by President Volodymyr Zelensky and how united America and Europe would be in their opposition.
Putin was frustrated that democracy has hung on in Ukraine, a former republic in the communist Soviet Union, which broke up in 1991. “Now he wants to end it forever,” McFaul said.
Without military intervention from the West, he predicted, Russia likely will be able to surround and control Ukraine’s major cities and the fighting will devolve into guerilla and partisan warfare, which could mean Russian occupation for years if not decades. That in turn could lead to increasing political unrest inside Russia, which is what happened during the Soviet Union’s 10-year occupation of Afghanistan (1979–1989).
Zelensky wants the United States to directly intervene, but that is highly unlikely, McFaul said, so Ukraine is really fighting for a stalemate and a negotiated peace. Zelensky surviving would be seen by the world as a win for democracy.
Economically, the sanctions have been a disaster for Russia’s economy and will increasingly wreak havoc. But a coup is unlikely at this point, McFaul said, pointing out that Putin had cracked down on any dissent and that many Russian oligarchs actually owe their wealth and power to him. So, the war is likely to drag on, turning Ukraine into a wasteland and Russia into an economic pariah.
“They’re in big trouble,” McFaul said. “It all depends on one guy.”