I often hear the statement: "Russia is a gas station with nukes pretending to be a country".
This is an arrogant, ignorant and dangerous delusion.
The Berlin Wall fell the year I finished school.
The world changed ... now it is changing again.
Like any western educated child of the Cold War, I believed that Russia was a bogeyman that had been defeated in the Cold War and was weak.
It only took a short stopover to Moscow on the way to Thailand 5 years ago to make me realise that this was wrong.
The Last Empire
The truth is that Russia is the world's last undefeated Empire.
Moscow is an ancient Imperial Capital.
It makes Washington DC look like slum (which it basically is - I lived there for a year in the 1990s).
The Russian Empire is almost 1000 years old.
It has the world's largest land mass.
It has immense natural resources and manufacturing capability.
It has more nuclear weapons than any other country.
It is the only country currently deploying hypersonic weapons (which are unstoppable carrier killers and bunker busters).
It defeated the strongest and (previously) most successful armies that have ever existed (Napoleon and the Nazis).
The End of the Cold War
The US did not defeat Russia in the Cold War.
Capitalism it defeated Communism, a fundamentally flawed ideology that had infected Russia.
Now Russia has recovered from this infection and is taking back control over those nearby areas which have been part of the Russian Empire for centuries. Many of those areas (like eastern Ukraine) have significant populations of ethnic Russian people.
This may not be nice, but it is the nature of the world.
The nature of international relations
Many in the West consider that the only countries allowed to invade other countries with impunity are America and its allies.
Thus Russian behaviour is a gross violation of the "global rules based order" and Putin = Hitler.
But the truth is that the reality of relations between nations was correctly expressed by Thucydides almost 2500 years ago:
Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.
Since 1989 America was the strongest power and it made the rules.
It bombed and invaded who it wanted, it overthrew despots and democratically elected governments with equal alacrity. It forced citizens of completely unrelated countries to fill in its tax forms. It criminalised journalism by non-Americans living outside America (Julian Assange).
A multi-polar world
Now the power equation is changing.
The Western "sanctions" against Russia and its citizens, which have included freezing Russia's gold and foreign currency reserves held in the West, as well as outright theft the assets of private citizens who were guilty by alleged association with Putin, have backfired.
They have catalysed a global rebellion against the US dominated world order.
Russia, China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the entire Global South have united against the USA and its allies because they no longer trust the US dollar based financial system which has been weaponised against Russia. They rightly fear that the same thing could happen to them and so they are taking steps to neutralise the weapon.
The BRICS + Global South are creating new international financial systems and new trade routes that are immune to US sanctions. They are transacting in currencies other than the USD.
The inevitable result will be a dramatic diminishment of US power and potentially US sovereign debt default and national bankruptcy.
Just as in 1989 the world changed dramatically in a very short period, today it is happening again, and Russia is at the center of it.
The worst thing you can do is arrogantly underestimate your opponent. Such hubris presages a fall. The ancients knew this and it is no different today.
That is exactly what this popular disparagement of Russia as a gas station with nukes represents: fatal hubris.
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