Every year hands over major issues and events to its successor. As we enter 2023, arguably the most important outstanding issue facing the world is Russia's war in Ukraine, which is approaching its first anniversary with no end in sight.
The war is having a global impact, with famine a real possibility due to grain shortages. The export of this vital commodity from the region is now controlled by Vladimir Putin who has not kept his promises to the UN, causing a food crisis around the world and ridiculous price increases. Moreover, the Russian president is threatening to cut gas exports to Europe despite earlier agreements. Alternative supplies are hard to come by, so domestic and business customers are feeling the pinch.
US President Joe Biden's effort last year to persuade Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to increase Saudi Arabia's crude oil production in order to lower prices failed. OPEC+ approved a production cut of two million barrels per day, or about 2 per cent of global demand.
The EU and the G7 plus Australia have imposed a cap on the price of a barrel of Russian crude oil in a bid to deprive Moscow of revenue to finance its war against Ukraine, while still maintaining the flow of Russian oil to the global market. Russia will not sell its oil in line with this cap; it sells most of it to countries that have refused to condemn the war in Ukraine, such as China and India, as well as countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
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The senseless war waged by the new Russian tsar has destroyed Ukrainian infrastructure and crops, including power stations. Ukrainians are in the grip of a bitterly cold winter without adequate heating. This is a scorched earth policy mastered by the criminal Putin in the Chechen Republic and Syria.
Nevertheless, Putin has not had everything his own way in Ukraine. He fell into an American trap set for him by Washington with great skill and shrewdness. His invasion last February was in his mind simply a short military operation intended to get rid of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and impose a Moscow-friendly government to take Ukraine back into Russia's orbit and act as a buffer against NATO expansion. He has already annexed Crimea, of course, following a military operation in 2014.
The invasion has not been the walk in the park that Putin envisaged. He is isolated and unable to travel beyond Russia's relatively narrow confines. Zelenskyy, meanwhile, has even visited the US where he was assured by the White House and Congress of their commitment to providing full support to Ukraine until victory is achieved. He now has access to billions of dollars and the latest arms and munitions.
The strength, prestige and honour of the Russian army has been lost. Kyiv has not been captured and Ukraine stands undefeated. Russian bombs still rain down on areas supposedly annexed by Moscow, such as Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia.
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The US, though, is not providing support out of love for Ukraine and Zelenskyy; it is for America's own benefit. Washington wants to prolong the war as long as possible purely for geopolitical reasons. It helps to re-establish US hegemony and block the rise of any other world power, with no American boots on the ground and a US proxy doing all of the dirty, dangerous work.
The US has not only snagged Putin, but also pushed Ukraine into a war that it didn't need and could have avoided. The war has destroyed the country, displaced its people and killed thousands of its soldiers, because Zelenskyy is politically foolish, and did not realise that he was a pawn being used by America to achieve its goals. The former comedian in Kyiv has let Ukraine burn so that the US remains the sole superpower. As Machiavelli said more than 500 years ago, the end justifies the means in what CIA operative Miles Copeland once called the "game of nations".
There is no doubt that the US wants to drain Russia as much as possible. Its military capabilities have been drained in Ukraine, and the market for Russian weapons will be hit seriously. This will help Washington to achieve its second objective of damaging Russia's economic power, even though US and EU sanctions are unlikely to bear fruit in the immediate future. The value of the rouble will still be affected, though, and the economic crises will worsen. The suffering of the Russian people will increase, and they'll get fed up with Putin. We should not rule out the possibility that he will be overthrown when Russia emerges exhausted from the war in Ukraine, shackled by debt. The Russian Federation could then disintegrate just as the Soviet Union disintegrated. If that happens, the US will have achieved its goal.
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The veteran architect of the Cold War, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, said that it wasn't in the best interest of the US to solve any problem in the world, but it is important to grab the strings of the problem and move it according to America's national interest. However, Kissinger has a different opinion on the Russia-Ukraine war. In a recent article under the headline "How to avoid another world war", he warned against defeating Russia and called for the need to preserve its historical role, despite its tendency towards violence. Interestingly, he said that he prefers to find a negotiated solution. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Kissinger even suggested that Ukraine should cede land to Russia, which prompted a wave of criticism and objections. According to Zelenskyy, Kissinger was working according to a "calendar [that] is not 2022, but 1938". That, of course, is when Britain, France and Italy signed an agreement with Germany in Munich, granting Hitler land in Czechoslovakia in return for "peace in our time", as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain put it.
Putin is not as strong as Hitler was, and he does not have the same popular support that the Nazi leader had, despite such comparisons being made in the Western media. Although he tries to look like a global strong man, and portrays himself as the new tsar of Russia, Putin is unlikely to be able to restore the glories of the Russian Empire. Today's world is very different, with an international system that will not allow a well-armed fascist state to occupy neighbouring lands while remaining a pillar of global governance, even if the near-centenarian Kissinger would like that to be the case.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.