A race against time: Will Putin win, or will Europeans rise against inflation first?

Written by – Elijah J. Magnier:

The war in Ukraine between the US and Russia is moving towards more critical stages in which its fate could be defined but not end soon. However, the economic pressure is increasing on all countries embroiled in the war, as each side tries to win quickly and with as little damage as possible. But it seems that victory and clearance of the dust of battle is still a long way off, for it is a battle of fate for both Russia and the US. Therefore, the party that holds on the longest, wins. But the price seems high, and considerable losses, mainly for Ukraine and Europe, are inevitable regardless of the final results of the battle between the two superpowers.

US President Joe Biden has slammed his Republican rivals for suggesting the possibility of cutting funding to Ukraine after the midterm elections scheduled for November 8, stressing that “the war is bigger than Ukraine”. It is the first explicit acknowledgement that the ongoing war in Ukraine is a proxy war tied to the defence of US unilateralism and hegemony over the World.

While campaigning in Pennsylvania for his Democratic Party’s support in the upcoming congressional election, US President Joe Biden said: “They (the Republicans) said if they win, they’re not likely to fund, to continue to fund Ukraine. These guys don’t get it. It’s a lot bigger than Ukraine. It’s Eastern Europe. It’s NATO. It’s a really serious, serious consequences outcome. They have no sense of American foreign policy.”

After the Pentagon announced it had provided an additional $1.1 billion in military aid to Ukraine, bringing the total US military support to nearly $17 billion since the Biden administration took office (and the EU to 19 Billion euros), the US Republicans reacted.US Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “if (my) party achieves the expected gains in the midterm elections, there will be no blank check for Ukraine.” McCarthy will most likely become the Speaker of the US House of Representatives if his party wins next month.

For the first time, the US recognises that the war in Ukraine is about the US influence in Eastern Europe and its presence and leadership of NATO. It is indeed about re-establishing US control following European leaders’ counter position – led by French President Emmanuel Macron –who expressed the intention to leave the North Atlantic Alliance. Macron said that NATO was “brain dead” and that Europe needs a “real European army to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia even the United States, to be less dependent on American might”.

According to Biden, the unprecedented Western military and intelligence support for Ukraine is unrelated to the defence of a country that Europe has long accused of being one of the more corrupt countries in the international system. The Western coup staged by the US – with the help of Europe – against Ukrainian President-elect Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 during the ‘Maidan Revolution’ triggered the Russian occupation of Crimea. The west was preparing to confront Russia sooner or later and started to build a robust, read-to-fight Ukrainian army in 2015 at the order of President Barack Obama. 

Thus, it indicates that the West knew Moscow wouldn’t compromise national security. The US assessment indicated that the Russian army didn’t have the military capability to stand against all NATO countries in a classical war unless President Putin used the usual Soviet military tactic of burning the ground before engaging his army. The Russian President neglected the Soviet style, believing that Ukraine won’t resist and would opt for diplomatic negotiation, declaring its neutrality and ending the shelling of Donbas that cost the lives of around 13,000 to 14,000 Russian-speakers Ukrainians.

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Therefore, it was worth it for the US to try and push Russia around in the hope that Putin wouldn’t engage in a fierce fight. The West believed that its generous military and financial support to Ukraine would support the army to fight against Russia as long as Ukrainian leaders were ready to sacrifice their country. That also included an incentive that the West, with the help of the US influence, promised to protect Ukraine under the western wings, where Kyiv will be part of the 27 EU nations.

The west did not foresee Russia’s reaction to reducing its energy delivery, one of the primary sources of revenue, and that two-thirds of the World wouldn’t accommodate Washington in its sanctions against Moscow. Western countries believed that Russia would not cut the oil, that brings substantial revenues and largely contributes to the total Russian exports that brings around $490 billion a year. The current conflict revolves around whether the US can defeat Russia for the world to witness its unlimited power and prevent any future challenge to its personification and dominance.

This proxy war is becoming uncomfortable for President Biden, who knows the republicans’ intentions to reduce the support to Ukraine. This means that the US administration has two years to win the war in Ukraine or come to an agreement with Russia and accept the fait accompli if Moscow holds its position and maintains control of the recently annexed provinces and cities. 

However, if the Biden administration wins the war, President Vladimir Putin’s fall is highly probable following Russia’s defeat. That would lead to its withdrawal from the international arena. This would require, en route, sending more game-changing weapons to Kyiv, bringing NATO forces into the battlefield to support the Ukrainian fronts, and continued Western financial support to dozens of millions of Ukrainians.

Military experts believe President Putin wanted out of the battle after announcing a referendum on annexing Donbas, Kherson and Zaporozhe to Russia. However, the success of the Ukrainian forces in northern Kharkiv and then the attack in southern Kherson – in an attempt to cut the road between the Russian-protected provinces and the island of Crimea – prevented Russia from enjoying its victories and ending the war.

Military experts consider that the performance of the Russian army during the first three months of the war led to the conclusion that NATO military leaders could move the Ukrainian army from a defensive to an attacking position. The length of the front (1000 km) and the small number of Russian attackers allowed Ukrainian forces to advance and achieve tactical victories that encouraged European countries to continue providing equipment and military support to Ukraine for as long as possible. 

It is important to mention that Russia is facing around 40 countries, including the US, who supply Ukraine with weapons, training, intelligence and military planning from the Ramstein military air base in Germany. It seems that the new Russian military leadership is changing its tactics to defend the conquered territories and holding the ground to inflict more causalities on the attackers and drain western resources. The Kremlin is waiting for more recruited forces to join the defence line and stand against the nineth wave of Ukrainian mobilisation.

Supposing the battle intensifies in the coming months of the winter: in that case, Europe could face a severely destabilised economy and industry due to rising living standards and high inflation, hitting a continent in search of energy sources. The US aimed for a western collective sanction against Russia but did not foresee the fragility of the European economy nor its vulnerability.

The European Commission insists – albeit to no avail – on establishing rules for sharing gas between member states and capping the energy price. Russia hit more than forty per cent of Ukrainian power plants, preventing Kyiv from supplying Europe with electricity, as President Volodymyr Zelensky promised a few months ago. Yet division seems to prevail after EU heads of state met in Brussels last week for two days. They ended their two-day meetings, achieving little results other than to organise fifteen thousand Ukrainians to be trained in Europe- so the war can continue as long as possible.

The EU nations leaders’ meetings in Brussels failed to restore calm to the turbulent European population and markets. That is due to the different priorities among the leaders, the high energy prices – that affect the prices of first necessities at least – and the low flow of cheap Russian gas to Europe after the sanctions and sabotage of Nord Stream 1. The sabotage of the Russian-European pipeline represents a “tremendous opportunity” for the US to step in as Europe’s top supplier of gas, as announced by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly,

Germany, Hungary and other countries refuse to cap the price of energy for fear that energy suppliers (Norway, America, Algeria, Azerbaijan and Russia) will refrain from supplying their gas to the old continent.

Already Germany and France complained about the EU “friends” (US and Norway) who sell the gas at a very high price to Europe. This European crisis is moving from one summit to another, in which the leaders of the 27 EU countries cannot find a solution. The pressure from the population rises in Italy, France, Germany, Brussels and other countries against the cost of living and the devaluation of the Euro. Representatives of European employers and industrial companies have presented a painful new reality: 35 million European citizens could lose their jobs.

European companies and institutions could migrate to countries outside the European Union in search of cheap energy. This will have serious consequences for European industry and trade and lead to severe disruption of security, the economy and living conditions. Inflation has hit the middle class, not just the poor, as food security seriously threatens the population. Everyone seems to be struggling to survive and warm up with the onset of winter.

The UK Shell executive Ben Van Beurden said that “Europe faces painful industrial rationalisation due to its energy crisis that risks political trouble… To do it at this scale, this abruptness, at a time of economic challenges in general, I think will bring quite a bit of pressure on European economies and perhaps also a lot of pressure on the political system. European industry face taking a major hit from the energy crisis.”

There are no answers and immediate solutions for the war, the economic crisis generated by COVID-19 measures (EU nations borrowed a 1.7 trillion euro pandemic support scheme), and the intensified western sanctions on Russia. Even when the leaders of European countries rush to borrow hundreds of billions of euros to numb the population’s anger for a short time, the solution to the growing inflation problem is clearly not at hand. 

Countries cannot maintain subsidies for long, so the currency does not lose its intrinsic value, and inflation rushes to record levels. It causes economic disasters and stagnation that everyone fears. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that his government would spend up to 200 billion euros to help consumers and businesses cope with rising energy prices, revitalise the Economic Stability Fund and “will do whatever is in his power” to lower costs. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the French government would spend 100 billion euros over three years to help people cope with rising inflation. Italy’s external debt has reached 2.47 trillion euros, and it has to refinance a borrowing load of around 150 per cent of the gross domestic product.

Notwithstanding the economic damage to his western European partners, the Biden administration cannot stop the war at its peak because the loss will be more challenging. If the war ends any time soon without weakening Russia, Washington will lose control over Europe. In this case, western European doubts will return regarding the continuity and feasibility of NATO. Therefore, the ferocity of the battle – and with it, accompanying high commodity prices – is expected to rise in the coming months to break or weaken Russia before the end of the US President’s term, if possible.

The bottom line is that there is a race against time: but victory will go to those who have more patience than others. The question remains: can Putin maintain his control over the country and accelerate the pace of war to win over NATO in Ukraine, or will Europeans rise soon against their leaders and force them to stop supporting the war? Or will the US push with all its might to break through all battle fronts regardless of the Ukrainian casualties mounting so steeply, to end the battle before the Western allies collapse? It seems that this struggle is reaching a complicated stage: it is, in fact, a race against time for all the belligerents and their supporters.

Proofread by: Maurice Brasher