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When wounded empires rise and seek revenge

Putin knows that a defeat in Ukraine may lead Russia to a collapse similar to the one suffered by USSR. (Reuters)
Putin knows that a defeat in Ukraine may lead Russia to a collapse similar to the one suffered by USSR. (Reuters)
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25 Mar 2024 11:03:17 GMT9
25 Mar 2024 11:03:17 GMT9

An experienced man once advised me: “Don’t forget the wounds of history when you write about the crises of the present.” I paused at his statement. The speaker believes that the world is headed toward a new dangerous phase where the sole superpower loses its hegemony, and empires of the past seek revenge through major coups that will change maps and the distribution of powers. He believes that the coups will take various forms, such as military or ideological invasions, drone, rocket and cyberattacks, and the sponsorship of militias.

Have the wounds of empires, which believe they have been wronged by history, reopened? Do these empires harbor dormant volcanoes that are waiting for the right moment to vent their rage?

The man reminded me of what several Arab communist leaders told me after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mohammed Ibrahim, Aziz Mohammed and George Hawi, the respective secretaries-general of the Sudanese, Iraqi and Lebanese communist parties, said Russia would not languish under the snow of defeat and would not become a subjugated state. It would regroup, rise and seek revenge.

Some observers have said Russia’s military and security institutions, which were so overwhelmed by the Soviet collapse and terrible Western victory, had plotted secret revenge and tasked a junior KGB officer to implement it. I do not advocate this theory because I worry about exaggerating scenarios. But a person has the right to think that a wounded Russia is now living under a wounded czar who harbors the greatest coup project since the Second World War.

The terrorist attack that struck Moscow will not shake Vladimir Putin’s control.

Ghassan Charbel

Set aside the terrorist attack that struck Moscow on Friday: This terrible massacre will not shake Vladimir Putin’s control. He has just been reelected president in a landslide victory the scale of which the likes of Biden, Trump, Macron and Scholtz can only dream.

I am aware that the West has said the czar tailored the election so that he ran without a serious competitor. But I believe that Putin succeeded in connecting with the depth of the Russian spirit. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, I witnessed the elderly in Moscow yearn for the days of Joseph Stalin. The Russians love the strong ruler, even if that means ruthless killings and tempting fate.

The man who knows Putin believes that he cannot tolerate defeat in Ukraine even if it means teetering on the edge of a nuclear inferno. He may be right. Putin knows that a defeat in Ukraine may lead Russia to a collapse similar to the one suffered by the Soviet Union.

One must also remember his image in history. I recalled what one of Saddam Hussein’s friends once told me. They said that his failure to withdraw from Kuwait was also tied to his image before history and before his friends in Baghdad. There is no doubt that the invasion of Ukraine is different to the invasion of Kuwait. The man calling the shots here is different from the one there, but experience has shown that the “historic leader” sometimes becomes a prisoner of his own image.

The man asked why the West refuses to coexist with Putin’s coup the same way it is coexisting with the coup carried out by Iran. He said the Iranian coup changed the features of four maps and the balances of power within them. It gave Tehran the right to appoint ministers, form governments and fire rockets. He noted that the US was dealing the Houthi militias calculated strikes that have led it to grant China and Russia permission for their vessels to safely sail in the Red Sea.

Decades ago, the shah of Iran viewed the borders of his country as a robe that was too tight to contain the legacy of its empire. Khomeini’s revolution, which overthrew the shah, made the “export of the revolution” a main article of the constitution.

Istanbul is not too far from the wounds of history. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also views Turkiye’s current borders as a tight robe that has stifled the Ottoman spirit. So, he has tried to lure the orphans of the Soviet Union, especially the Turkish speakers. He also tried to alter the features of major countries in the region when the Arab Spring swept through.

Turkiye boasts a long history of wars with the Persian and Russian empires. Now, it is paving the way for a “security belt” inside Iraq and another inside Syria, while the West denies Russia the right to establish its own belt in Ukrainian territory. One must make the distinction here between a belt that restores land, and another that does not.

The West is no longer capable of managing the world. The policeman is gone.

Ghassan Charbel

China is also suffering from the wounds of history. It has been firm in declaring that Taiwan cannot be estranged from it forever, and its patience is running out. Lucky for the world that Chinese leader Xi Jinping is banking on an ally called time and, unlike Putin, has not yet launched a coup to fix the border situation.

The chaos of empires is frightening in the current international jungle. The West is no longer capable of managing the world. The policeman is gone and wounded empires have risen. The UN Security Council is out of service, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ tears cannot tend to the wounds in Gaza or Ukraine.

The world is in store for worse. The terrorist attack in Moscow is dangerous given its timing and targets. The perpetrators operated differently to Daesh. The whole truth may not come out if the confessions are manipulated by the intelligence service. The attack will mark a turning point should the theory about the Ukrainian thread be true. It could pave the way for a massive escalation in the war in Ukraine.

Can the West tolerate the victory of the Russian coup? Can Europe take in such a huge bitter pill? What about Russia and the master of the Kremlin if the West decides to prolong the war in Ukraine and trim the claws of the new empire and its czar?

  • Ghassan Charbel is editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. X: @GhasanCharbel. This article first appeared in Asharq Al-Awsat.
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