"The ‘New Free World’"
by Gilbert Doctorow
gilbertdoctorow.com (December 30, 2022)
In a recent exchange with readers in the Comments section of my website, I was asked whether Russians’ longtime inferiority complex vis-à-vis the West has shown any sign of changing during 2022. I was obliged to remark that the greater issue since the launch of the “Special Military Operation” has been the emergence of a Russian ‘superiority complex’ based on scorn for the gutless leaders of Western Europe as shown by their committing economic suicide to suit their overlords in Washington.
From the very first days of the war there was overconfidence in the Russian political and military leadership regarding their ability to subdue the Ukrainian military, together with its neo-Nazi brigades and NATO advisers. That overconfidence suffered a bruising blow in the first weeks as Russia experienced heavy personnel and equipment losses in its drive to take Kiev. But it quickly resurfaced once Russia re-strategized its conduct of the war to better utilize its vast superiority in artillery firepower.
As for Russia’s civilian population, there has been a steady rise in self-esteem as the country successfully weathered the imposition of “sanctions from hell.” Very capable management of finances by the Russian Treasury officials saved the currency from free fall and restored the exchange rates to status quo ante or better. Preexisting import substitution programs were expanded and complemented by ‘parallel import’ of critical supplies for manufacturing industry and for consumer retail, so that the population saw day by day that the much vaunted ‘economic sovereignty’ of their country was being assured. This turned the tide of popular feeling into pride and diminished respect for the West. Russian media amplified this effect by re-transmitting factually correct Western reports on the fall of living standards throughout the EU due to rampant inflation in energy costs on their entire economies.
Progress in the war effort in Ukraine has been painfully slow. Vast swathes of territory were conquered, then lost to a Ukrainian counter-offensive for lack of manpower on the ground. The expenditure of unprecedented volumes of artillery shells and rockets did not destroy the fortified Ukrainian lines around the exposed capital of Donetsk province, and there have been daily reports of civilian deaths and damage to residential districts in the Donbas which simply should not be. And yet, following the mobilization that began in September, Russia has held its lines along the entire front and there is the promise of its delivering a devastating blow to the Ukrainian military either in mid winter or in early spring. Meanwhile daily coverage of the destruction of the Ukrainian power grid is a constant reminder of who has the upper hand in this struggle.
The strengthened spirits of Russian patriots comes also from the demonstrable support for the armed forces from volunteers across this vast land. We see letters to the servicemen sent by schoolchildren. We see the dispatch of comestibles, warm clothing and other tokens of love from groups of patriots in city after city. This feeds into more general self-confidence. The early reports of the departure abroad of the ‘fifth column’ West-loving Liberals and of the cowardly, spoiled urban youth, IT specialists in particular, have been replaced on television news by the awards ceremonies honoring Russian heroes for their feats on the battlefield.
These changes in the broad popular mood feed into the cocky froth that I see time and again on the most popular talk shows. In half jest, panelists on the Evening with Vladimir Solovyov show speak about Russian troops marching through Warsaw to Berlin. Last night there was some discussion of a latest Hudson Institute featured article discussing what might happen if the Russians decided to bomb Poland or another NATO member state: namely, the authors concluded nothing would happen; there would be no nuclear response from Washington.
Why? If we listen to the experts on the Solovyov show, the answer lies in the present advantage Russia holds in strategic weapons, which it has modernized while the USA has only budgeted for modernization to come. The Yars, Poseidon and other new systems that are now entering into service are so threatening, so impervious to existing American defense capabilities, that any thought of a nuclear showdown with Russia at this moment has to be put aside. The panelists detailed how Russia has now put to sea several of its latest frigates carrying hypersonic missiles and cruising the world’s oceans, while the United States has fallen behind by years in its previously announced naval construction projects. And at the same time, China has brought forward by several years its own plans for an expanded navy.
Russian panelists on these shows laud America for having a smoothly running government machine which allows the presidential administration to function well under conditions of there being a mentally handicapped president. Biden is seen as an ‘object’ of his handlers. Russia has nothing comparable in terms of a deep state. The only negative in all this for the American side is that without a firm leader in command, American policy on the war vacillates daily as the opposing camps within the administration seize or lose the initiative from morning to night.
Some Russian panelists believe that for lack of a consistent policy on the war, the United States will cut its losses midway in 2023 and turn from Ukraine fully to the oncoming conflict with China over Taiwan.
All of which brings me to the remarkable analysis that a young specialist on China who is now invited regularly to the Solovyov show has been saying. His stand-out remark last night which I have used as the title for this essay is that 2022 has marked the emergence of a ‘New Free World,’ anchored by Russia and China, that has resources exceeding those of the U.S.-led Collective West. At these words, which clearly were delivered without any sense of irony or jest, John Foster Dulles must be turning over in his grave.
This China analyst insists that the most recent 20th Party Congress in China which gave President Xi his third term has installed around him known top ranking Party members who are ‘loyal’ to Russia and who despise America. There is every expectation that starting in 2023 there will be the approval and initial implementation of major Chinese investment projects in Russia, marking a significant departure from the economic relations of these two powers till now.
This same analyst says that with respect to China’s officially disavowing any intention to enter into alliances or to form military blocs, the reality is that the relationship with Russia very closely resembles an alliance with a military dimension. How else can one understand the recent joint Chinese-Russian naval drills in the South China Sea or the still earlier joint air force drills over the Sea of Japan. This, at the very moment when the United States and its allies denounce Russia as a military aggressor.
He insists that without Chinese backing from the very beginning, Russia would never have dared to venture upon the SMO. Chinese diplomatic support has been critically important in the UN Security Council. And China stepped up its import of Russian oil by 10% in the past year despite its overall reduced consumption due to the impact of Covid lockdowns on its manufacturing industry. The net result is that China was the single largest consumer of Russian oil, coal and other strategic commodities in 2022.
He notes that on the very day when Zelensky was in Washington, Xi received Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former President and present day close assistant to Putin. Their meeting, without masks and with warm handshakes for photo opportunities at the outset lasted well beyond the officially scheduled 45 minutes into several hours. That was clearly meant to be a signal to Washington and to the world. Moreover, today or tomorrow Presidents Putin and Xi are expected to have a lengthy video tête-à tête which will focus on coordinating actions in response to Washington’s future actions directed at either the Ukraine war or the Taiwan conflict. We do not have to wait long to see the emergence of a two front challenge to American global domination.
Meanwhile other panelists on the Solovyov show pointed to further proofs that the American century is over. As we know, China filed a suit in the WTO claiming that the United States has grossly violated WTO rules by imposing its embargo on export of state of the art semiconductors and related technologies to China. We were told last night that 126 members of the WTO have supported the Chinese position. What the Kremlin now expects is for the U.S. to effectively shut down the WTO, removing one of the important global institutions by which it has enforced its ‘rules-based order.’
I end this report by paying tribute to Charles Dickens for coining the expression which sums up the calendar year 2022 for the Russian Federation: ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’