MOSCOW: Back in 2022 high stakes were at play. Everyone wanted to know whether Russia would be able to withstand the tipping point. Could Moscow keep its economy from collapsing under sanctions and would it be able to consolidate both the elites and broader society?
Last year ended with a lack of clear answers to these questions. However, 2023 has brought more certainty. The rupture is over: Russia is living in new conditions of confrontation and is coping with them.
The main outcome of the past twelve months is the transition to a new normal in foreign and domestic policy. By comparison, 2021 was a time of gathering stormclouds. Back then, an imminent turning point was in the air but many wanted to believe it wouldn’t happen. The mood of the thirty years since the end of the Cold War – peace, openness and cooperation – had become too familiar.
In relations with the West, the tide began to turn long before 2021. Cracks started to appear as early as the late 1990s and, since 2014, have become increasingly irreversible. But, as is often the case, the possibility of major change was hard to believe precisely because the inertia of everyday life distracts from signs of tectonic shifts. Of course, in hindsight they are always clearly visible and make sense. But, in the past itself (ie, what was then the present), few people want to believe in what’s coming.
The year 2022 was a year of dynamic chaos, featuring Russia’s transition to a new reality in its political and social order. The trigger for the change was the outbreak of contradictions in relations with the “collective West.” The military operation against Ukraine and the subsequent chain of confrontational events became a concentrated expression of the crisis: with an acceleration of the arms race, NATO expansion, large-scale sanctions, attempts to isolate Russia, military and financial aid to Ukraine, and other factors all playing a part.
So where do we stand now? And what are the parameters of this new reality?
The first is relations between Russia and the West. In 2022, they entered a format of acute confrontation. It was marked by the delivery of large-scale military and financial aid to Ukraine, a fresh expansion of NATO and a course towards the remilitarization of Europe. Right now, the bloc’s members fear direct military conflict with Russia because of the risk of nuclear escalation, but see little risk in increasing the quantity and quality of arms supplied to Ukraine.
Russia believes that the increasing number of conflicts in which the US, and the West as a whole, will be forced to become involved in will put too much of a strain on their resources, and it’s also counting on disagreements within the Western bloc itself.
The second is the military situation in Ukraine. 2023 began with much-hyped expectations fromKiev’s planned counteroffensive. It was fueled by informational and political statements by Western leaders and its success was supposed to justify, among other things, large military and financial injections by Ukraine’s Western partners.
The failure of the offensive can be considered one of the most important military results of 2023. The Russian army did not opt for an immediate retaliatory attack, instead exerting pressure along the entire front line.
Right now, Western diplomats have rational reasons for exploring the ground for ceasefire talks, even if their government’s positions have not officially changed. Moscow, on the other hand, has no good reason to agree to a halt in the fighting. A pause will allow Ukraine to rearm, increase the capacity of its military-industrial complex and resume the conflict at a moment favorable to Kiev. Obviously, Russia believes that only a painful and large-scale defeat of Ukraine can lead to the consideration of Russian demands and interests.
The third is sanctions against Russia. The year 2022 was marked by a “sanctions tsunami,” when a wide range of restrictive measures were imposed in a very short period of time. These included the blocking of sovereign assets and financial sanctions against systemically important companies, export controls, import bans on oil, coal, steel, gold and other goods, transport and other restrictions. In 2023, all these measures were extended. They caused damage, but they didn’t crush the economy.
The shock effect hung in the air in 2022 and was replaced by a plateau in 2023. The US, the EU and other sanctions initiators have tried to combat evasion of the restrictions. Secondary sanctions are being introduced and criminal cases are being opened against alleged violators, including Russian citizens. But even these measures do not radically increase the campaign’s effects. Also, Moscow shows no interest in raising the issue of sanctions relief in response to political concessions.
This article was published by rt.com