COVID And Ukraine, A One-Two Punch That's Remaking Our World
Can you believe Poles are happy to see Germans re-arming? It is just one of a series of examples of how the world has turned upside down since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, completing a shift begun during the pandemic toward less interdependence and more uncertainty.
WARSAW — For half a century, the grand strategy of the democratic and capitalist West against competing systems has been to build bridges and create interdependence.
The building of bridges is meant to convince people how well they can live when authoritarian regimes are exchanged for democratic capitalism. The Soviet bloc collapsed largely because the West persuaded huge numbers of communist elites by inviting them and their societies to join the coveted Western way of life.
Creating interdependence, instead, is the deepening of the international division of labor.
Russia sells us raw materials, and we sell them machines. We have the technologies and the Chinese have the factories. That created global supply chains. There are parts in the Airbus A380 that come from 40 different countries. COVID-19 vaccine components are supplied by nearly 100 companies from every continent except Antarctica.
The change started with the pandemic, but the war sealed the deal. It turned out that convincing others of Western values proved inefficient, and now sanctions are blowing up those bridges built over the years. In the West, there is nothing not only for Russian and Belarusian politicians and oligarchs, but also for sportsmen and artists. Even the Russian pavilion at the Venice Biennale is empty.
The EU's Territorial Agenda 2030 calls for the repatriation of factories from Asia to Europe. Fuels from Russia are to be replaced in the EU by green energy and nuclear power. Eighty-five percent of Europeans and almost all governments want this. When Russia prevented the export of Ukrainian grain, everyone started looking for food self-sufficiency.
It is still difficult to talk about Europe's autonomy, yet the globalization trend is reversing not only in relation to Russia, which wants to be the first country to withdraw from the World Trade Organization, but well beyond.
By habit, politicians are talking about a union of nation-states, but three-quarters of Europeans already want stronger military cooperation within the EU, and the Commission is planning more joint debt — this time to rebuild Ukraine after the war. Shared debts must be followed by shared taxes, and leaving the EU will become even more difficult, because exiting will require paying one's share of the debt.
Back in July 2020, Zelensky was facing the unprecedented pandemic like everyone else.
In times of peace, interdependence provided huge benefits
We had gotten accustomed to living in a world that has become increasingly connected. Now the world is disconnecting, which will call for stronger local connections — such as within Europe.
Putin's disconnection is spectacular. But the process is broader.
Putin's disconnection is spectacular. But the process is broader. China's New Silk Road is collapsing not only along Russia and Ukraine, but also in Asia and Africa, where its infrastructure is going bankrupt.
Now, instead, we see how risks increase proportionally to the distance. Even counting on oil and gas from the Gulf has proved a bad idea, because the Arabs do not want to stand with the West against Russia and China. And Australians are increasingly regretting letting their priceless resources be exploited by the Chinese and Russians.
I don't know if all of this is bad or good. What I do know is that the winds are changing, affecting our lives to a broader extent than we can even grasp today. It is those who don't notice the change are the ones bound to lose.
*Jacek Żakowski is a columnist for Polityka magazine and the head of the journalism department at the Collegium Civitas.
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