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Why Russia's war in Ukraine could reshape the world order

When President Joe Biden shook hands with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow. [File, Standard]

The Russian invasion of Ukraine shocked the world. Within weeks, Russia changed its strategy after failing to take over Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine.

I was told the sacred cathedrals and churches stopped a violent takeover of Kyiv which holds a special place in the Russian Orthodox Church.

In Kenya, beyond blaming this war on rising prices, there is not much focus on Ukraine as we are absorbed by the elections.

Russia’s strategy in Ukraine keeps evolving. Initially, we thought it was just about a regime change in Kyiv, getting another one that is more friendly to Russia, and less willing to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) or the European Union (EU).

This aim could still be at the back of the Russian mind, but modified. Stifle Ukraine from the south by cutting off access to the Black Sea, take over the industrial Donbas region in the east then slowly force Ukraine into submission, more of a slow puncture plan.

The West’s intelligence community got it right, predicting that Russia would invade Ukraine. What of Russia’s intentions? What is Russia after?

While stopping the expansion of NATO and EU to the east is cited as the trigger, Russia has another broader strategy; to reshape the world order. But how?

One, is making the West look helpless as Russia attacks and dismembers Ukraine. That will diminish the image of the West as a power or a reliable ally.

Other countries allied to the West could ask what would befall them if they were attacked. Paradoxically, Russian nuclear weapons have muted the Western response. No one wants to see an escalation involving nuclear weapons.

And Russia is too aware of that fact, and fully exploiting it.

Two, is that by chocking off the grains and gas exports from Ukraine and Russia itself, she has exported inflation to the rest of the world including Kenya. That’s why rising prices will be a factor in our voting.

Would we vote the same way if the economy was booming? Who is not feeling the effects of war in Ukraine?

Gas prices

Europe, America and other developed countries or regions have to grapple with rising oil and gas prices. That has made voters angry, and their voting patterns could change.

One way to remake the world order is to get friendly regimes that will do your bidding. It’s even better when you get the changes democratically. Making voters angry is one way to change their voting patterns.

The rise in commodity prices in Kenya is compounded by a weak currency. The weakening is connected to the war in Ukraine.

Rising inflation in the West has forced central banks to raise interest rates. Strengthening their currency against other currencies, like our depreciating shilling, makes inflation worse.

Two, is that by attacking Ukraine at will, Russia wants to recreate her image as an emerging superpower, a counterweight to US and allies.

That image had diminished in the last 30 years after the old Soviet Union disintegrated leaving Russia as the inheritor of nuclear weapons and internal problems such as insurgency in some regions like Ossetia, Chechnya and Ingushetia.

Russian influence was never felt globally. Russian is not spoken as widely as English and beyond Vodka, few other Russian brands are famous. Studying in Russia which was common during the Soviet era is now rare in Kenya.

Three, the war in Ukraine is creating new global actors. One of them is Turkey. She has been active in mediating between Ukraine and Russia and as a source of weapons particularly drones. Who had heard of Belarus, now a key player in the Ukraine war axis? Russia even promised to relocate some nuclear missiles there.

The most noticeable actors despite their silence are China and India. Will China-India-Russia axis be a countervailing force to the Western power and influence? Think of their population and economic clout. Will the world’s economic centre of gravity shift farther East? Why is Iran so silent on the war in Ukraine?

Four, the Ukraine war and its aftermath could accelerate the creation of a post-oil economy. It could accelerate the shift to electric cars, and more renewable energy sources such as wind, geothermal, solar, biogas or even wood.

Reserve currencies

That will create new players and diminish the power and influence of Russia, the Middle East and other oil producers. In Africa, it could end the oil curse. That would be the West’s best response to Russia’s attempt to starve it of gas and oil. Will Renminbi (RMB) and Rouble become reserve currencies like the US dollar?

Five, Ukraine has given NATO a new lifeline, but its relevance will be determined by how it handles one of the biggest crises since its formation – the war next door in Ukraine.

Six, observers note that the two major events that have shaken the world in the last two years came from the East or near East; China and Covid-19 and now oil and food shortages because of Russian aggression.

The Ukraine war found an exhausted world reeling from Covid-19. Did Russia leverage on that? The West blunted Covid-19 with new vaccines, in record time. How will it blunt the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

Seven and more worrying is that China could use the Russian playbook to take over Taiwan, rattling the geopolitics and economy further. Other countries with border or historical grudges could follow suit.

Eight, with confidence after the Ukraine war, could Russia return to Africa? Will it bring peace or violence? Ukraine war is changing geopolitics and economics with new actors. A new world order could emerge; multipolar and unstable.