Writing for the traditionally neocon-friendly Claremont Institute, Christopher Caldwell (Summer, 2022) describes the unintended consequences of the Ukraine war—consequences that are indeed playing out now.
Caldwell starts out with Prof. John Mearsheimer’s view on the causes of the war:
 was a hinge year. Ukrainian diplomats had been negotiating an “association agreement” with the European Union that would have created closer trade relations. Russia outbid the E.U. with its own deal, which included $15 billion in incentives for Ukraine. President Viktor Yanukovych signed it. Protests, backed by the United States, broke out in Kiev’s main square, the Maidan, and in cities across the country. By then the U.S. had spent $5 billion to influence Ukraine’s politics, according to a 2013 speech by State Department official Victoria Nuland. Russia now viewed this activity as having funded subversion and revolt. Like every Ukrainian government since the end of the Cold War, Yanukovych’s government was corrupt. Unlike many of them it was legitimately elected. When shootings near the Maidan in Kiev left dozens of protesters dead, Yanukovych fled the country, and the United States played a central role in setting up a successor government.
Meddling with vital Russian interests at Russia’s doorstep turned out to be more dangerous than orating about democracy. Rather than see the Russophone and pro-Russian region of Crimea transformed from a Russian naval stronghold into an American one, Russia invaded it. “Took over” might be a better verb, because there was no loss of life due to the military operation. Whether the Russian takeover was a reaction to American crowding or an unprovoked invasion, one thing was clear: In Russia’s view, Ukraine’s potential delivery of Crimea to NATO was a more serious threat to its survival in 2014 than—to take an example—Islamic terrorism had been to America’s in 2001 or 2003. Understanding that Russia would respond accordingly to any attempt to wrest it back, Russia’s European and Black Sea neighbors tended thenceforth to treat Crimea as a de facto part of Russia. So, for the most part, did the United States. The Minsk accords, signed by Russia and Ukraine, were meant to guarantee a measure of linguistic and political autonomy in the culturally Russian Donbass. (Russia claims the violation of these accords as a casus belli.)
Contrast that with the neo-liberal position which is basically a moral crusade:
There is, of course, a different explanation, the moral/psychological explanation put forward by the Biden administration and its defenders. It differs from Mearsheimer’s account not so much in facts as in its apportionment of moral blame. In this account, the spur to war was not American encroachment but the erratic behavior of Russian president Vladimir Putin. …
Putin certainly had reasons to wish Ukraine kept in Russia’s sphere of influence. But in most Western accounts of what led to the invasion of Ukraine last February, these reasons are presented as psychopathological, not geostrategic. Putin comes off as Hitler. He wants to reconstitute the Soviet Union. Or the tsarist empire. …
Those who back a bigger role for the West in supporting Ukraine often put their position in the form of a question: once he gets control of Ukraine, why should Putin stop there? The question has a simple answer: because he knows something about history and he can count. He doesn’t have the guns. He doesn’t have the soldiers. Putin invaded Ukraine with 190,000 men. That is just slightly more than the 170,000 Soviet soldiers who died trying—and failing—to retake the city of Kharkov in 1942. There were four battles of Kharkov in World War II, and Kharkov was only one of the cities fought over.
What we’ve been saying all along. This is really about exporting globalism and leftist political orthodoxy to the rest of the world and it’s corollary of maintaining a unipolar world dominated by the United States. They even said so: “In March 24 , a month after Russian tanks rolled across Ukraine’s borders, the Biden White House summoned America’s partners (as its allies are now called) to a civilizational crusade. The administration proclaimed its commitment to those affected by Russia’s recent invasion—“especially vulnerable populations such as women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, and persons with disabilities.” Because of Western intervention since 2014, Ukraine has been completely transformed:
Few people have paid attention to how rapidly Ukrainian society has been evolving since the Maidan protests. In a recent interview in the New Left Review, the sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko described a power bloc that has lately come into being, uniting Ukraine’s globalizing oligarchs, Western-funded progressive foundations, and Ukrainian nationalists. The latter argued for ripping up the Minsk accords and ripping out the Russian roots of Ukrainian public life and high culture, leaving Ukraine with a hard-line form of political correctness. After 2014, according to Ishchenko, “a wide range of political positions supported by a large minority, sometimes even by the majority, of Ukrainians—sovereigntist, state-developmentalist, illiberal, left-wing—were blended together and labeled ‘pro-Russian narratives’ because they challenged the dominant pro-Western, neoliberal and nationalist discourses in Ukraine’s civil society.” Those who hold such views have often felt driven out of public life.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, today the symbol of resolute anti-Russian resistance, has himself undergone a transformation. An influential Ukrainian actor and TV producer, he won a landslide in 2019 on the promise he would render life tolerable for the Russia-friendly east. His popularity quickly eroded, according to Ishchenko, and shortly after the Biden inauguration, Zelensky began censoring Russophile channels, websites, and blogs.
Ukrainian democracy! This really comes down to the threat of World War III. Russia clearly sees the war as existential (see Putin’s February speech: “This means they plan to finish us once and for all. In other words, they plan to grow a local conflict into a global confrontation. This is how we understand it and we will respond accordingly, because this represents an existential threat to our country”). And the West sees a loss as a mortal threat to their hegemony, their globalization project, and their exporting hardline political correctness to the rest of the world, as has already happened in Ukraine.
American immunity from danger may be illusory. The progress of technology has imperceptibly eroded a longstanding distinction between supporting a combatant and entering the fray as a combatant oneself. In June, the U.S. began providing Ukraine with M142 HIMARS computer-targeted rocket artillery systems, and these present the problem in an acute form: the role of technology in the lethality of a weapon has grown to the point where the role of the human warrior is, relatively speaking, rendered negligible. An encounter with a sword is an encounter with a swordsman. An encounter with an arrow is an encounter with an only slightly more distant bowman. But an encounter with an M31 rocket fired from a HIMARS launcher is an encounter with General Dynamics. And it is the human warrior who is the repository of all the longings-to-be-vindicated and the sacrifices-freely-undertaken that consecrate war as a cause. With advanced weaponry, the soldier operating it almost doesn’t need to be there. Which is to say that, in this proxy war between Russia and the United States, Ukraine doesn’t need to be there. In these HIMARS artillery strikes, in the assassinations by drone of Russian officers, in the sinking of naval ships with advanced missiles, it is the United States, not Ukraine, that has become the battlefield adversary of Russia.
The substitution of high-tech for competent soldiers is likely what the trans-friendly, diverse and inclusive, politically correct military military brass is counting on to retain fighting capability.
The U.S.’s extensive financial sanctions on Russia have had little, if any, cost to Russia (see Putin’s speech) while it has motivated Russia to abandon the U.S. dollar as a mechanism of international trade, which is also something that China doubtless views positively. Moreover, because of the sanctions, Russia is insulated from any repercussions of the current bank implosion occurring in the U.S.—a crisis that has happened in large part because of the rapid rise in interest rates (rendering older bonds with lower yield held by institutions like Silicon Valley Bank relatively worthless) because the Fed felt it necessary to use higher interest rates to combat inflation which was in turn caused at least in part by increases in energy prices caused by the Ukraine war and by sanctions on Russian energy in conjunction with the Biden administration’s opposition to the domestic drilling industry and its obsession with clean energy, and because Biden goosed the financial system with trillions of dollars in federal spending. As I write, it’s not possible to predict the effects of the banking crisis on markets.
Rather than beg its way back into the U.S.-led global financial order, the Russians are trying to build a new one with new partners [like China]. They have a chance of pulling it off. In a speech at a June  economic forum in St. Petersburg, Putin complained that the roughly $10 trillion that any trading country must hold in dollar and Euro currency reserves is being devalued at 8% a year by U.S. inflation. “Moreover,” he said, “they can be confiscated or stolen any time if the United States dislikes something in the policy of the states involved” [which has already been done to $284 billion of Russian money in Western banks at the behest of the U.S.]. Putin called for a replacement for the SWIFT system. “The development of a convenient and independent payment infrastructure in national currencies is a solid and predictable basis for deepening international cooperation,” he said. Until recently such an appeal would have fallen on deaf ears. This time it did not.
The times are definitely changing, and the war against Russia has made countries like China aware that the U.S. can always do the same to them—like embark on another moral crusade against China’s oppression of the Uyghurs or the Indian caste system.
In part, the great story we see playing out is the fulfillment of a prediction that people have been making for a generation: power and influence are shifting away from the United States and Europe, and toward Asia. In the 1990s, when the United States was imposing its will on Iraq and Kosovo, the G7 made up 70% of the world economy. Today it makes up 43%. India and China are both giant export markets for Russian oil and gas. It is clear why Russia would want to sell to India and China. The more complicated question is why India (tacitly) and China (explicitly) would back Russia against what American progressives call the “rules-based international order.” …
Yes, the West “swiftly moved” against Russia, but six months in, these moves seemed surprisingly ineffective. The reason is that, no matter where you place the fulcrum and the lever, Russia, China, and India collectively are now too much for the United States to lift. Inducements can be offered to get one country to break solidarity with the other two. But cooperating would be foolish, on any terms. At the end of the day, a country that permits itself to be isolated by the United States this way is increasing the risk that it will itself be subjected to a media-and-boycott campaign of destruction like the one we are now witnessing with Russia. A few words about the condition of the Uyghurs, a few talking points on Hindu nationalism, and the U.S. can crank this whole machinery of economic destruction into operation against China or India. They know it, too. The Italian writer Marco D’Eramo reported that, after a March 18 phone call between Biden and Xi Jinping, one Chinese anchorman joked that Biden’s message had been: “Can you help me fight your friend so that I can concentrate on fighting you later?”
The attempt to isolate Russia from the American world system has had a striking unintended consequence—the possible founding of an alternative world system that would draw power away from the existing one. Twenty years ago, under George W. Bush, the United States removed the Iraqi deterrent from Iran’s neighborhood, transforming Iran overnight into a regional power. This year, under Joe Biden, the United States has made China a gift of Russia’s exportable food and mineral resources. We are displaying an outright genius for identifying our most dangerous military adversary and solving its most pressing strategic challenge. The attention of China is now engaged. Joe Biden argues that any wavering in the cause of obliterating Russia will be understood by China as a green light on Taiwan. He may have a point, but the U.S. management of the Ukraine situation over the past decade has constituted encouragement enough.
The multipolar world is coming into being and is being speeded up by the war in Ukraine. For the neocons in charge of U.S. foreign policy, it’s an existential moment because their much yearned for unipolar world run by the U.S. in close alliance with Israel may be unraveling, in large part because of their own ambitions to destroy Russia—a hatred borne of old grievances specific to the long sojourn of Jews in Russia, where anti-Jewish attitudes have a long history (even under Bolshevism), Putin’s banishing of politically involved Jewish oligarchs, Russia’s alliances with Israel’s enemies Iran and Syria, their rejection of globalism in favor of nationalism (the ADL considers calling out any Jew for supporting globalism to be “anti-Semitic“), and their support for traditional Russian Christian culture rather than, e.g., LGBTQ+ which is championed by powerful Jewish organizations throughout the West.
It’s interesting therefore that in a recent UN General Assembly vote, earlier this month calling for an end to the fighting and Moscow’s immediate withdrawal from Ukraine, Russia voted against, while China, India and South Africa abstained. Add to that the recent Saudi-Iran rapprochement along with Syria and the U.S. may well be looking at an alliance among Russia, China, India, and much of the Islamic world that rejects what the West has become—promoting globalism at the expense of nationalism (which comes down to a small cadre of Western oligarchs and multinationals as represented by the World Economic Forum running the world) and moral crusades at the expense of traditional cultures which are inevitably seen as retrograde and change-worthy by the woke elites that run the West. Ukraine’s transformation under Zelensky is paradigmatic. Ukraine’s transformation is clearly a top-down transformation like those that have occurred in all Western countries. I suppose that this transformation has a long way to go to capture the hearts and minds of Ukrainians, but, as with the West, control of the media and academic culture along with Zelensky’s heavy-handed methods of handling dissent (banning political parties and religions that dissent from the war despite constantly be advertised in the West as a democracy) may prevail in the long run in whatever is left of Ukraine.