Musk of the Year

Elon Musk was Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2021.  With his release of a peace plan for Russia-Ukraine, you wonder if he’s trying  for the double.

Not if Ukrainian president Zelensky has any say in the matter.

It’s usually sensible to be thinking about a settlement while fighting, but it’s dangerous to forget that, while politics is hard to control, war can be impossible.

While Ukraine’s soldiers pummell the Russians, there are plenty of forces – military and political – to keep the conflict going for a long time yet.

Still, looking to the long term, Ukraine looks to be in better shape.  Military success is purging pro-Russian doubters and unifying the rest.   Any plausible peace settlement sees the country turning decisively to the West.  

In economic terms, that would seem an unalloyed benefit.  The politics could be a little more complicated.  Despite friendly rhetoric, Ukrainians cannot fail to have noticed the studied neutrality to their difficulties shown by much of Europe. Should they enter the EU as so many assume, an intensification of European infighting might be expected.

Not least because any Ukrainian success will be a triumph of nationalism.  The sort of thing that gives the EU and German establishment the shudders.

Should Russia’s efforts end in failure (not a foregone conclusion), then that will be a failure of nationalism.  Though it won’t necessarily weaken it.

A best case outcome for Russia would be a weakening of the ruling power class which enriches itself through lawless corruption. But while military defeat makes it even less likely that the crooks could win a free election, it does not guarantee that a middle class committed to free institutions and leaders able to lead them, will emerge from the political wreckage.

And if they do, many will share the view that Russians don’t have many friends in the world (although Elon Musk is a start).

Crimea is an obvious sticking point for Russians.  The de facto leader of the opposition, the jailed Alexei Navalny, said way back in 2014:

“Even though Crimea was seized in gross violation of all international norms, it is now a part of the Russian Federation – these are the realities.  Let’s not fool ourselves. And I strongly advise the Ukrainians not to fool themselves either. Crimea will remain a part of Russia and will never be Ukrainian in the foreseeable future.”

Hmm.  I guess a lot depends on the particular realities which emerge from the current bout of fighting.

But at this stage, three things seem pretty obvious.

First the extraordinary impotence of the EU and key members like Germany in the face of military conflict.  They have been unable to make decisive choices or to enforce them.

Secondly, the surprising influence of mid-ranked powers prepared to act, like Britain and Poland.  Sadly, the Brits shouldn’t bank on overwhelming gratitude from Ukraine when it comes to make up its tiff with Germany.

Thirdly, even if you pick your fight with care, it still requires the utmost commitment of blood and treasure to stand against the United States.

So if we welcome Ukraine into the Western family of nations during or after the war, and Russia still skulks disconsolately outside, it’s going to be a different one to the pre-war world.

And Time magazine should think about making the American and British military trainers, their men (and presumably women) of the year.

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