The Russo-Ukraine war has multiple layers for different people. For many outside the European belt the war is about a big country grabbing a smaller one. Since every neighbor has a bully it finds resonant echoes in many regions of the world.
What matters in the war theatre zone -European/Western/White world- is the intense tension mixed with high uncertainty. It's fine when a very unpredictable person like Putin, standing on the ashes of an experiment called socialism, makes a mess inside Russia. But when he decides to take it to the main parts of Europe, the proper Western Europe, it's a whole new ball game.
Is Russia part of Europe proper?
Russia was always a slightly unshaven "partially civilized" part of Eastern Europe with its crazy monarchy and even wilder Bolshevism which the West thought would be dislodged by WW 2. But it lingered on and the cold war that was formally born after that. Ultimately, the weight of socialism and its internal contradictions including its foreign adventure against Afghanistan in the end slew Russia.
As it dismembered in a disorderly fashion, it became clear that Asian Soviet Union and European Soviet Union are not the same. Different regions have different histories and the Soviet Union united little of the crazy quilt. Ukraine as part of the European SU was never happy with life under Russia, even in the early Lenin days. Everyone who is powerful believes that the world should be under one Centre and those who disagree are separatists.
The war is as much Russia's internal history's product as it is of the West's wider conflict with itself and the rising power of centres elsewhere.
Can the West cope with itself?
Europe is synonymous with the West/White conglomeration but goes beyond to include both the US and Russia. However, they have been at war with Russia since 1917 and managed to give it an "eastern" image of sorts. Thus NATO and Warsaw Pact conflicts were also between Eastern and Western Europe led by the US. The fall of socialism ended the cold war as an ideological conflict but didn't end the conflict with Russia. Meanwhile Russia grew more isolated as Eastern Europe broke up making it vulnerable. That trend has continued and in many ways and the latest round of problems in Ukraine is a reflection of that. It doesn't resemble the actions of a strong state but of many weaker states squabbling.
Had life been finer with the US after SU's fall, it would be great but it hasn't. Europe's depletion is not a matter of debate but the US's decline has matched Russia's state also. As if the cold war kept the engines humming but without which the big powers, all based on the imagination of external conquest as indication of power have declined.
Colonialism didn't survive and nor did the US control that once was in the 60s even as they battled the SU. And SU has ingloriously sunk into history making the concept of super powers a matter of debate. Everyone has bombs. The fight is on who has the market.
The war of threat perceptions
Russia and Western Europe have lived as enemies for a long time for it to accept European modes of inter-state governance. And this has often been cited as ideological so Russia, socialism, bulwark against European domination are all rolled into one. This has developed in stages and over time.
Russia doesn't know how to deal with its present just as it failed in its past. Afghanistan is a deadly reminder that war doesn't work when the enemies are not just those being invaded but the historical one too. Putin had said that the war shouldn't go beyond March 2 but that has already crossed the time. And now that the West has got the chance, this war may go on longer than wanted by Russia. It involves NATO expansion at a time when there is no enemy that deserves an alliance as it existed against the Soviet Union in the past.
Threat perceptions are however another matter. While the EU is already crashing, the sense of Europe is rising in Western Europe out of need as it faces a challenging world not too well. It's Russia that is in trouble now because military victories last very short while maintaining an invasion force is a very long affair. Nuclear options exercised aside, Russia is stuck in Ukraine. The enemy that Europe needs has been successfully created.
Sanctions and has-been's war
Sanctions are a feature of the problem not the decider. Russia had planned since its Crimean adventure in 2014 how to counter and this time they are much better prepared having done some risk analysis before. Having said that, sanctions do hurt and Russia will feel it no matter how well prepared it is. Problem is, so will Europe.
The last time, sanctions hurt Europe too and this time it will too as well so it's not a one sided game. The US will be relatively free though.
The future is uncertain but what is certain is that Russia will weaken as it faces enormous economic opposition. Thus it will take more retaliatory action which may hurt West Europe but hurts them too. The spiral will continue.
That doesn't mean that the West will become stronger as its troubles will increase and while arms makes one feel stronger, its toll on the economy that is not growth and global trade focused is not good news for anyone.
The West and the US can't feel better without a real enemy of the political variety of the old fashioned kind. Its here that the war seems to indicate that there are too many losers in this rather silly war of washed out and has- been super powers. The world has moved beyond the political and they are stuck in ancient enmities.
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