Ukraine, from grey to black


Angela Merkel speaks Russian and Vladimir Putin German. The linguistic abilities of both contribute something about European diversity, neighbourhood, personal experiences or the Cold War; they add something of complexity to an information panorama that has been simplified to the limit after the invasion of Ukraine.

A political philosopher (Innerarity) reflects that the most difficult thing to achieve in the face of a problem is an overall vision, the arguments tend to be one-sided, specialists abound with great knowledge of a very limited area of reality and often with opposing positions.

In order to get a rough idea of the conflict in Ukraine, let us use the formula of trying to illuminate four ingredients that we receive mixed together, four approaches or flashes that shed some light: military conflict, communication, energy and globalisation.
The aim is to identify trends that have been triggered by the crisis - conflicts do not usually create phenomena out of nothing, but grow issues already in germ (and not all trends develop).

REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO  -   Una residente se encuentra con sus pertenencias en una calle cerca de un edificio quemado en el transcurso del conflicto entre Ucrania y Rusia, en la ciudad portuaria del sur de Mariupol, Ucrania 10 de abril de 2022
Military conflict

Wars produce deaths and rapes of women, all wars, the just, the chosen, the unjust and the unjustifiable, which some seem to be discovering now. Hence any effort to avoid them is obligatory, despite the growing number of those humiliated by real or invented concessions to the opponent, the nostalgia in leaders for Putin's own will and firmness that was so highly praised in many quarters until 24 February. In any case, the frivolity with which one's own involvement in an armed conflict is treated is surprising.

War, this war, is a failure of deterrence and a worst-case scenario.
The idea seemed to be widespread that traditional armed conflicts were on the decline - at least between great powers, and in Europe - and that countries were competing in the field of economics and in the diffuse grey zone, the intermediate space in political conflict that separates competition in accordance with conventional patterns of politics (white) from direct and continuous armed confrontation (black).

The reality is that not since Cuba and Vietnam have we been closer to a confrontation between great powers that we thought had been put on hold.

In the military field, we could point out that at least since the Guernica razed to the ground in 1937 during the Civil War, which the Ukrainian president recalled in his speech to the Spanish Parliament - that Nazi Condor Legion was used to the full in the area west of Madrid months earlier - wars in the last century have been characterised by the omnipresence of aerial bombardments of greater or lesser precision, the main cause of victims in any armed conflict, the vast majority of whom are civilians, and this circumstance is not occurring to date in Ukraine.

Some analysts describe this conflict almost as a civil war, given the close ties of all kinds between Russians and Ukrainians - cultural, familial, historical - to which it should be objected that civil wars are usually even bloodier than what we are witnessing in Ukraine; we could describe it as a conflict between first cousins, in order to find an explanation for the scarcity of massive aerial bombardments on civilians.

Another not insignificant point is that wars create national identity; Ukrainian nationalism will emerge from this conflict strengthened. Historiography has studied the fact that nationalism is a political construct - nothing immutable from two millennia of history -, national identity is constructed and changing, and nothing like a war with a neighbour to reinforce it.

It is also notable that the military reaction of the United States, the Atlantic Alliance and the European Union has so far been coordinated and indistinguishable.
The EU is on track to increase the more than 200 billion euros in the defence budgets of the 27, three times as much as Russia; as a novelty, the mantra of the goal of allocating 2% of GDP to military spending will soon be transformed from abstraction into what it is decided to promote, specific programmes and weapons systems, some of which are already being tested on the ground in Ukraine.

REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV  -   Un convoy blindado de tropas prorrusas se mueve a lo largo de una carretera durante el conflicto entre Ucrania y Rusia en la ciudad portuaria del sur de Mariúpol, Ucrania 21 de abril de 2022

We are introducing new forms of communication, "megaphone strategy", as it has been called, deterrence by information overload, which has not been effective either.
Peter Biden, Peter Johnson and Peter Stoltenberg warned since the end of 2021 on some twenty occasions that the wolf was coming and in reality they were right, but they were wrong on 19; and we can ask ourselves whether Peter or we could have done more than wait in the process, for that reason of avoiding deaths and violations.

The attempt here is to point out that communication has developed trends in this conflict, perhaps drawing on lessons learned - rather than learned - from Russia's disinformation strategy in the recent or distant past. It can be said with little room for error that throughout this crisis Russia has lagged behind from the communication point of view, and has clearly lost the battle of public opinion in US-NATO-EU territory, but not in Russian territory; in this sense, convincing its own people, as has happened on each side, is no easy achievement, although it leaves work pending in the area of the opposition and in the neutral zone where we could situate half the planet.

Real news: a Ukrainian blogger has recently been arrested in Tarragona and placed at the disposal of the Audiencia Nacional on an international warrant issued by the Ukrainian government for his pro-Russian positions. This is another important development in the field of communication as a result of the invasion of Ukraine: the restriction of press and opinion freedoms has been accentuated in Russia itself, with a long tradition of persecuting journalists, journalistic companies and new legislation that threatens anyone who does not publish the official version with imprisonment; a new restriction of press freedom in Europe and Spain, with the decision to ban media outlets such as Russia Today or Sputnik without prior authorisation from a judge. Let us recall here interviews of even the demon Saddam Hussein on Spanish television during one of the three Gulf Wars.

A final note on communication may be the appearance of journalists/tertullians/analysts in the role of activists, mostly with an uncritical rejection of Putin, which is not surprising because of the positioning, but because it does not seem the function of a journalist or an analyst to uncritically support anything.

We will follow the invasion of Ukraine, with dozens of displaced journalists, without images of fighting, without casualty reports, without front lines, without clear objectives, without reliable information, without context and without opinions of the aggressor side.

REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO  -   Tropas prorrusas en un vehículo blindado de transporte de personal en la ciudad portuaria meridional de Mariupol

Much focus is directed at the energy dependence of much of Central Europe on Russian supplies, and it is again simplified with expressions such as "Germany finances Putin's war".

The same argument could have been used during the existence of the USSR, when the gas never stopped flowing, "Germany finances Soviet communism", which was never said because it is a misleading reduction. It would be the same to say that Francisco Franco financed the Algerian socialist revolution by buying gas (the first gas tanker arrived in 1974) and Muammar Gaddafi's Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (agreement in 1969); that whoever buys Saudi oil finances its death penalties, whoever imports something from the USA finances capital executions from the electric chair or the invasion of the Capitol.

Today our mouths are full of energy sovereignty without recognising the advance of renewables in Spain over the last two decades, a clearly identifiable political impulse that has been criticised or directly torpedoed with taxes on the sun.

A third of the electricity produced in Spain in 2021 came from wind and solar farms, which together with hydroelectric power accounted for 46% of the electricity generated last year. This is strategic autonomy, energy sovereignty, and there have been those who have promoted it in recent years and those who have not.
Neither Germany is financing Putin's war, nor Europe, nor is the solution going to come from importing South African coal or Nigerian uranium. The reality is that the invasion of Ukraine has accelerated the need to develop green energy, a trend already present in the EU's political priorities before this crisis, along with digital transformation.

Spain is facing this European crisis in much more favourable circumstances than other members of the European club, with a diversified energy supply, zero dependence on Russian sources, gas distribution capacity and growing renewable generation.

AYUNTAMIENTO DE MARIUPOL/vía REUTERS  -   El humo se eleva sobre la planta siderúrgica de Azovstal en Mariupol, Ucrania, en esta imagen fija de un reciente vídeo de un dron publicado en las redes sociales

The international order has become disordered, although it was already showing signs of material fatigue, the international political and security system, designed in the Cold War after the Second World War, which had been faltering since the fall of the Berlin Wall, was no longer able to cope, with the absence of China as a country that had already emerged.

The invasion of Ukraine has altered the world economic, energy and military order, the production and distribution of goods, and the international financial system.

The crisis in Ukraine has caused the UN Security Council to be blocked, perhaps definitively, which is predictable because it always happens whenever the conflict affects one of its permanent members with the right of veto, which has led to recourse to the General Assembly with non-binding resolutions that on this occasion are of maximum relevance, unlike in other cases and geographies.

And we have discovered that globalisation is a less globalised system than we thought, at least with a non-globalised leadership. The expulsion of Russia, not Putin, from international organisations, the banking system, Eurovision, the World Tourism Organisation, cultural forums or sporting competitions, reveals that the globalised world has a non-globalised control. 

The consequence is not less globalisation, but different and hopefully better regulated globalisation. The degree of openness of the Spanish economy - the weight of foreign trade over GDP - will continue to be around 60% of the country's economic movement.

REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO  -   Un tanque con la letra "Z" pintada se ve delante de un edificio residencial

Putin's strategic mistake with the invasion of Ukraine seems clear from its consequences: international isolation (on the European and North American side); the resurrection of NATO (brain-dead before yesterday, according to Macron), Finland and Sweden knocking on its door, which will bring the Alliance to the northern border; the EU has woken up strategically; sanctions, dead.

With Ukraine, Putin has turned the confrontation from grey to black, from non-open confrontation to the exchange of shells.

The strategic mistake can be identified as that of an autocracy, a category of political regime in which a single person rules without any constraints and with the power to enact and amend laws at will; such regimes are not capable of processing information well, a principle applicable to the north and south of this peninsula.

Using Pantone's colour standardisation system, the chromatic stanag, Putin has set international relations on black, which is identified by six zeros; hence it is hard to imagine strategic gains for Russia or for himself.The grey range between black and white, which is where the analysis lies, does not seem to be of much interest today, and will be sorely lacking in the post-war period.

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