A new era

Europe is at the beginning of a new era, and beginnings can be dangerous

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has revealed Valdimir Putin’s true nature
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has revealed Valdimir Putin’s true nature

In a special session of the German Parliament held on Sunday 27 February to discuss the Ukainian crisis, the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz proposed a shift in the times, a new epoch. Germany will quickly raise its defence spending to 2% of GDP and the ban on passing Gerrman arms to third countries as well as the sacrosanct budget-balancing rules vanished into thin air.

Scholz called this shift in German policies as the herald of a ‘new era’. Suddenly the geopolitical map in Europe had made a big shift.

The majority of the Maltese people do not realise that what happens outside our shores can influence our lives more than what actually happens in Malta. As this small island of ours moves towards its most boring election in history, a massive war has broken out in Europe, the continent of which we form a small part.

Russia, or better still, Mr Putin, has invaded Ukraine, a country – which he claims is not a country – of 40 million people. It is obvious that this was no bright idea with which he woke up one morning in February 2022. It is not a part of his recent dreams. He must have been planning this for years during which he did his best to beef up his military strength.

Many in the West have conveniently forgotten his attacks on Georgia and Ukraine some years ago when Europe and the US had hardly reacted. Putin’s last moves were to ensure that the popular revolution that occurred in Ukraine does not happen in Belarus, and went as far as describing the popular revolt in Kazakhstan as an act of aggression. Both Belarus and Kazakhstan are now Russian ‘colonies’ once again.

Some may wonder what has all this got to do with us. But the old international political order often served us well. Upsetting that apple cart could not but affect us.

The Kremlin has even designated Malta as a ‘hostile country’ – not that this has caused Putin any sleepless nights, but it does point out that, despite our declared neutrality, Malta is a fully fledged member state of the EU – the EU that has been sending Sidewinder and Javelin missiles to the Ukrainians fighting Putin.

This is the first time in the history of the EU, that the EU is flexing its military assets. It is the most important aspect of the new era.

The massive sanctions against Russia being imposed by the EU and the US will cause havoc in the current trading patterns. The international energy market – familiar to us for other unhappy reasons – has entered a new phase. Our PM, Robert Abela – rather prematurely – said that this will not affect Malta. One just cannot understand this when the price of oil is $130 per barrel as I write and pundits are looking at a future price of $300, twice oil’s historic high.

The only explanation for this short-sightedness is that our politicians tend not to think beyond the next election, which is in two weeks’ time. A major restructuring in the international gas market is on the way. Gas, which is used to fuel part of the power station, is another unknown, as Putin is considering to turn off the taps that supply 40% of Europe’s needs. Thankfully, we do not get our gas from Russia.

What has happened last week was a dramatic change in the geopolitical order that gave us peace, warts and all, in our lifetime. An EU that quibbles about everything is suddenly united in its resolve to counter Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. NATO, which was a dying institution, has been revived by Putin’s war and has actioned its strike force for the first time in history.

Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister until recently the interlocutor of Putin in the EU, is in panic mode with more than 10,000 Ukrainian refugees in his country. Poland, one of the eastern European ‘bad boys’, is now behaving in an impeccable manner. Turkey’s Erdogan, Russia’s most recent NATO buddy, is selling military drones to Ukraine, as fast as he can.

The invasion has also arguably revealed Putin’s true nature, and the image that is emerging is not exactly one of a cool-headed, geopolitical mastermind. His reputation as a calculating and knowledgeable strongman is collapsing as his war has come at a devastating price. More than 2 million Ukrainians have fled their homes, and, according to the UN, hundreds of civilians have been killed.

Russia’s economy, meanwhile, is slowly bending under the weight of sanctions.

Make no mistake, this Ukraine war is a global issue. The balance of what can happen, may be – after all – in the hands of China, Russia’s largest trading partner. China can even make a quick buck out of all this, just by not causing any problems for Putin.

And what about India – technically sitting on the fence, but actually armed by Russia while its relations with China are in a ‘cold war’ state?

No doubt, China can use this moment to push further its new superpower status.

In Malta, we will be certainly hit by price increases in oil products and in cereals because we are like a straw being carried by a torrent. Luckily, we live freely within the fold of the EU.

Meanwhile Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a former entertainer of Jewish faith elected President of Ukraine, has earned the admiration of the free world. It is now obvious that Putin completely misjudged the reaction of the people of Ukraine who are determined to defend their country, come what may.

Zelenskyy’s speech to the British House of Commons recalled Churchill’s ‘We Shall Fight Them on The Beaches’ – arguably one of the most inspirational speeches given by a leader in World War II.  And Ukrainians – faced with an unjustified invasion of their homeland – keep resisting and fighting against all odds.

As a commentator in a recent issue of The Economist wrote: “Invasions are often vanity projects launched by insecure hedonistic autocrats. They seldom go according to plan.”

Europe is at the beginning of a new era, and beginnings can be dangerous.

Meanwhile, within two weeks we will ‘happily’ elect a new government, with the two main contestants promising heaven on earth, as if we live in a bubble of our own. But except for our voice in the EU, the truth is that it will be others who will decide our future.