Losers and…’Winners?’…of the Ukraine War

Building off of my past post about 6 months ago which was reacting to my first big geopolitical prediction fuck-up, I would now like to list how people are fairing in the ongoing war. I would have much rather done this at the end of the war, but an end is not in sight so now is as good a time as any.

The two losers of the war are Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine, obviously, because the war takes place in their country and is doing all kinds of untold long term destruction. Russia, because to make such small gains on an immediately adjacent and much smaller nation with a flat land border when one has so many military advantages is quite simply embarrassing. The Z-oid cope was that ‘well actually the advance on Kiev was a big feint.’ This is bullshit. It involved too many troops, special forces, and necessary goodwill from Belarus to be anything but an attempt at regime change decapitation. And it failed miserably in front of everyone. The vehicular losses were enormous and the damage to the morale and prestige of the Russian army immense. Now, the war swings back to advantage Russia because of its more narrow focus and one cannot underestimate their advantages at staging a comeback here, but Russia will be incapable of large scale conventional military offenses elsewhere for some time due to the need to replenish stocks of arms and army formations. Ukraine meanwhile, despite having lost so much and no doubt posed to lose much more, has also had gains. A previously fractious society has found a new civic nationalism and unity. An unexpectedly strong military performance implies that much like Finland in the Winter War, even a quantified loss could be a thing of pride going forward. Nevertheless, there is no way to classify being a country sized battlefield but as a loss.

This brings us to the more mixed bag. People who are not outright losing but who are not winning per se either. This is where I would lump in the United States, the United Nations, and many small developing nations. The United States because the immense cost of bankrolling Ukraine’s fight (something overwhelmingly borne of the US with its allies contributions barely noticeable, comparatively). This is a cost paid for the benefit of a non-allied nation and one that should never be an ally considering there is no sustainable solution but a neutral buffer Ukraine. While the U.S. is obviously sabotaging Russian efforts in the country, it risks being sucked into a perpetual involvement right on the border of Russia which badly stretches U.S. advantages and commitments for something that could only be a burden down the line. The United Nations, meanwhile, shows it could play a role in negotiating the end of the war but also at the same time shows off its immense impotence and irrelevancy when actual crisis occurs involving major powers. Finally, smaller nations-especially those who unwisely decided on crash course industrialization at the cost of their local agricultural sector have shown just how enslaved they have become to the global market and the vagaries of fate. If one’s food supply is suddenly a conflict zone everything can go wrong. That being said, the shock of this will almost certainly cause many of these countries to diversify their economy and open up more opportunities for agriculture to be internationally viable in the global market. Right now they suffer, but many of them will find new opportunities going forward if they are wise. Re-localization will not destroy globalization but it will return geography to the forefront of conceptualizing supply chains.

I also want to include myself in this mixed results faction. Because while I totally screwed the pooch on if the war would happen in the first place, the reason I thought it would not (outside of the Donbass anyway) turned out to be right. I thought, considering the increasingly battle hardened army and changing attitudes towards Russia in Ukraine since 2014, coupled with the influx of many heavy weapons meant that a major conventional war in Ukraine would become an enervating quagmire for Russia. Having come to this conclusion about a year before the war broke out, I thought if this looked apparent to me Moscow would also see it too. But the level to which Putin’s government apes Bush Era cult of positivity and stifling of dissent in the higher echelons is truly impressive. If anything, Russia has performed even worse than I expected-and I expected their performance to be far worse than most others did. So, I got the outbreak wrong, but the course of it I got more right than most people-with the majority opinion among analysts seeming to be “Russia will attack and will roll right over Ukraine.” Mine was “Russia will not attack because it would become a suppurating horrorshow right on their border.” Well, Moscow should have listened to me.

So out of all of this, who actually is winning? Who is gaining at a far more noticeable rate than they are losing? This list is the smallest of all. And I’m avoiding talking about defense contractors because no matter the war they always win. This would be the NATO alliance, for finally having a purpose and renewed relevance again after decades to merely exist as an arms buying network, China, for having inherited an even more compliant and subordinate Russia tied to its interests and providing alternatives for people to get around NATO aligned sanctions on that country, and above all Turkey. It pains me immensely to give Erdogan credit in anything but he really has played this crisis extremely well. His country is a rival with Russia yet he has personal rapport with Putin. He allows rich Russians to park their assets in Turkey while still supplying Ukraine with weapons and logistical support. Turkey’s ability to close the Straits into the Black Sea gives it the critical geographic leverage of the conflict and everyone knows it. Its above-average but significantly affordable and easy to maintain Bayraktar Tb2 drone is being ordered all around the world by countries that could not afford more shiny models, ushering in a new era of Turkish influence by exploiting the niche of practical-yet-technical that is going to be the major growth market in most countries. If current trends continue it will be in Ankara, not Moscow, Washington, or Kiev, that the biggest gains of the war are likely to be made.

As the world keeps moving away from unipolarity it is worth keeping in mind that this does not mean a return to US-China-Russia of the 1970s and everyone else waiting with bated breath. It actually means countries like Turkey, Iran, Japan, India, Germany, Indonesia, Brazil, and South Africa will increase their roles between the shatter zones of the great powers. You can read more about this here. This process is only accelerating because of the war and Turkey is the first country to make such overt gains. Policymakers in Beijing, DC, and Moscow best factor this in for their future calculations.