While Australia kept itself busy arguing about which politician to box up and airfreight to the COP26 snore-fest, Russia spent 2021 using Belarus as a proxy to deliver tens of thousands of migrants to Nato borders, pre-armed with axes and wire cutters.
The migrants set to work dismantling Poland’s border fence before storming into the traumatised nation. From there, they headed towards the ‘welfare paradise’ with 11,000 reaching Germany in 2021.
Middle Eastern men do not appear in Europe miraculously. Most of the migrants from Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq responded to social media ads placed on Arab forums. Belarus and Russia then acted as an immoral travel agency by ferrying them to Minsk where they either walked or were transported via truck to the border.
At this point, the migrants have no choice. They must make their way into Poland as any attempt to turn around and re-enter Belarus will result in a beating by waiting guards. The savage assaults by Belarus security forces were confirmed by an observing UNHCR team that interviewed migrants as they crossed into Poland between August and November. It was also discovered that Belarus had been demanding ‘extortionate sums of food and water’.
This is how a tide of human beings found themselves reduced to antagonistic pawns in a larger political game.
What naive political observers wrongly wrote off as an unfortunate humanitarian crisis was actually manufactured hell created by Russia to destabilise both the European Union and Nato. Forget intricate political intrigues, sometimes a blunt instrument will do when it comes to geopolitics. Chaos is all Russia requires and it has plenty of friends prepared to be a party to their objective, chief among them Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
This is not petty warmongering from Russia – it is strategic. Before annexing unwilling territories, Vladimir Putin has to ensure that European security forces cannot intervene. The bindings which cuff Nato and the European Union are subtle, fashioned out of Russia’s dominance in the supply of oil and gas.
The ‘green’ energy revolution has been a disaster for European energy independence with a ‘wind drought’ forcing the collective to return to imported fossil fuels. 46.7 per cent of coal, 26.9 per cent of crude oil, and 41.1 per cent of Europe’s natural gas comes from Russia. Gas prices have risen 500 per cent in 2021 with this unstable figure predicted to worsen with the approval of the $11 billion Russian Nord Stream gas pipeline.
Given the obvious danger to Europe and the abundance of Australia’s fossil fuel resources, we are perfectly positioned to profit from Russia’s warmongering. Natural gas is the easiest way to stabilise renewable grids, leading Woodside and Santos to cash in on the global ‘gas boon’. However, most Australian companies are locked into long-term contracts and are unable to flog their wares on the market. Selling off gas supplies too soon could also cause a headache later on when domestic renewable grids become thirsty for gas. Even if the gas price looks tempting today, Australia’s reserves could be worth a lot more in an unstable ‘green’ future.
The short of this complex energy market is a Europe dependent on Russia during freezing winter temperatures.
Russia is confident that no one will come and rescue Ukraine, just as no one intervened to save Crimea.
It has been left to America to exchange harsh (but ultimately empty) words with Russia about its 100,000 troops loitering suspiciously along the border with Ukraine. Putin knows that it is unlikely Biden will expend resources on Ukraine when America is focused on keeping China’s paws of Taiwan. If Putin is smart, he will instigate his invasion of Ukraine to coincide with China’s attack on Taiwan.
America cannot do much about the Ukraine without Nato, and Nato cannot do anything without Europe. Russia knows this and does not care that the weapon of choice will be economic sanctions. The Eastern bloc has endured sanctions before by trading among themselves. This time, Russia may ‘accidentally’ turn off gas supplies again or place a refill order for 20,000 migrants until sanctions are lifted.
When questioned by the press, Russia fed them the old communist line, accusing everyone of being the aggressors except themselves.
‘If there is no constructive response within a reasonable time and the West continues its aggressive line, then Russia will be forced to take all necessary measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our security,’ said Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
Lavrov did not address evidence that Russia has spent the last few months engaging in relentless propaganda, painting the Ukraine government as a Western installation that ‘harbours hatred for the Russian world’ and ‘acting against the interests of the Ukrainian people’. Russia, the true aggressors, intend to use this false narrative as a pretext to invade and brutalise Ukraine before pillaging its resources.
Ukraine is not just a ‘long lost brother’ that Russia wants to reunite with in the name of ‘empire’ – it is a vast reservoir of fossil fuels and a former key economy in the USSR. Home to 5 per cent of the world’s mineral deposits, it is the second largest coal reserve in Europe with extensive gas fields, although Russia has already stolen some of these in the annexation of Crimea. Ukraine is one of the ‘big three’ iron ore mines, joining Australia and Russia, which Ukraine predominately exports to China. China, therefore, is likely to support the annexation. The Ukraine is also home to a rare commodity in Europe – uranium – with the nation holding 1.8 per cent of the world’s deposits.
Russia is on an empire-building mission. If a nation was formally part of the USSR, speaks Russian, or contains people who like vodka and cold weather – Russia is annexing it.
It would be a mistake for Australia to ignore Russia as an entity beyond the reach of our geopolitical sphere. At present, Russia and China are entwined, manipulating both each other and the wider world of politics to suit their conjoined aspiration of replacing America. Left unchecked, they will become global warlords leaving smaller nations at the mercy of their armies.
No one knows exactly what Russia wants beyond weakening the United States and restoring the empire. While Russia actively assists China with arms and political support, it is difficult to believe that the predominately Christian nation would want an expansionist and ruthlessly secular communist power in charge of global affairs, especially considering Xi Jinping’s habit of manipulating Islamic terror groups into acting as mercenaries. The inklings of Russia’s reserve can be seen when Putin frustrated China by holding back their plans to rival the World Bank with the SCO Interbank Consortium.
What we do know is that in these opening years of war, Russia and China will use their considerable influence to stop the West intervening while small, problematic allies are destroyed. If this goes on for too long, both Russia and China will become impenetrable walls on the map with unimaginable power over the world’s resources.
Generally speaking, democracies with rotating governments like Australia’s aren’t preoccupied with empire building. You are not going to find a few chapters carved out in Frydenberg’s Budget for the annexation of New Zealand and the closest bits of Indonesia. When dictators sit at the heart of government for decades, their personal ambitions become the national prerogative. Socialists and communists make a big deal out of hating royalty, but they embrace the trappings of monarchy without the limitations of its power.
A failure to understand this has led commentators to ignore the dangerous future that is fast approaching.
Nato and Europe should protect Ukraine, just as it is vital that America and Japan defend Taiwan. Neglecting to do either of these things will set out a difficult future for Australia. Scott Morrison can help by supplying Europe with fossil fuel and playing host to America’s troops in the Pacific.
Democracy isn’t for everyone, and plenty of the West’s grandest historical periods were built by leaders we would deem tyrants by today’s standards. The global position that the West gained through its dictatorial eras is being mirrored in a re-awakened East. If left unchecked, the result will be the rapid decline of Western influence, capture of independent nations, and inevitable war – not only with nations protesting their conquest, but also between the world’s jostling superpowers.
While it remains obvious that the West – in particular America – will end up trading blows with Russia, China, or both – what is less often talked about is the clash of power between Russia and China that must follow soon after.
As Hitler approached Stalin, so too has Xi Jinping snuggled up to Putin.
Putin has the benefit of hindsight. Communist China has erased much of its history, but Russia learned carefully from its experience with ambitious socialists. While a less dominant America is useful to Putin, an all-powerful China is not. He must balance his desire to control the European continent – giving himself enough freedom to consume whatever neighbouring nations he likes – but also be careful to keep Europe strong enough to counterbalance the threat of China in case Xi Jinping ‘does a Hitler’ and starts invading Russian territory.
The point of difficulty remains India. Its close ties with Russia, rivalry with China and the Arab world, and dominance in Pacific matters make it the Bermuda Triangle of politics where expectations, assumptions, and predictions vanish.
It is far more likely that Russia is positioning itself to be the supreme global force with a weakened America, rising India, and wounded China as the endgame rather than some sort of twin-rulership of the world with Putin and Xi Jinping sitting side by side on the throne.
Before that happens, we can guess with some confidence that Russia’s behaviour will influence the fate of Taiwan. Is Scott Morrison savvy enough to see this as the first domino in a line headed for Australia?
Alexandra Marshall is an independent writer. If you would like to support her work, shout her a coffee over at donor-box.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.