Putin Declares End of the ‘Unipolar World’

Putin Declares End of the ‘Unipolar World’

As Vladimir Putin declares the end of the “unipolar world” over three months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, cracks begin to widen in the West’s maximum-pressure campaign against Moscow.

Russian president Vladimir Putin used his address at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg on Friday to sharply denounce the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “A year and half ago, speaking at the Davos forum, I once again emphasized that the era of the unipolar world order is over — I want to start with this, it is an inescapable fact. It [the unipolar world order] is over, despite all of the attempts to save it, to preserve it by any means possible. Change is the natural course of history…” Putin said. “When they won the Cold War, the US declared themselves God’s own representatives on earth, people who have no responsibilities — only interests. They have declared those interests sacred. They seemingly have not noticed that new powerful centers have arisen and are getting louder and louder. Each of them develops its own political systems and social institutions, realizes its own models of economic growth, and, of course, has a right to its defense, to guarantee its national sovereignty.”

Putin reiterated his position that the Kremlin was “forced” to initiate the invasion of Ukraine—referred to in Russia as a “special military operation”—by the West’s refusal to address Russia’s legitimate security concerns. “The West has fundamentally refused to fulfill its earlier obligations,” he said. “It is simply impossible to reach any new agreements with them. In the current situation, in the face of growing threats and risks for us, Russia’s decision to conduct the special military operation was forced. Unquestionably difficult, but forced and necessary.”

“Our colleagues do not simply deny reality,” Putin added. “They are trying to resist the course of history. They think in terms of the last century. They are in captivity of their own delusions about countries outside of the so-called golden billion, they see everything else as the periphery, their backyard, they treat these places as their colonies, and they treat the peoples living there as second-class citizens, because they consider themselves to be exceptional. If they are exceptional, it means everyone else is of a second sort.” Putin was referring to the theory, popular in the Russian-speaking world, that Western elites—referred to as the “golden billion” —amass and maintain their wealth through the systemic exploitation and domination of the non-Western world. 

Putin denounced the Western sanctions regime that emerged in the aftermath of Russia’s Ukraine invasion as “crazy” and “thoughtless.” The West’s “economic blitzkrieg,” argued Putin, has not only failed to cripple Russia but is inflicting “comparable, and even greater damage,” to Europe and the United States.

Some Western policymakers appear to tacitly agree with Putin’s assessment. Bloomberg reported earlier this week that several “…Biden administration officials are now privately expressing concern that rather than dissuading the Kremlin as intended, the penalties are instead exacerbating inflation, worsening food insecurity and punishing ordinary Russians more than Putin or his allies.” Buoyed by soaring energy prices and deepening financial ties with key countries that have refused to go along with Western sanctions, Russia has spectacularly defied the Biden administration’s predictions of imminent economic collapse.

Experts say the effects of Western sanctions on Russia could take years to fully materialize. “The problems for Russia’s economy will increase over the summer and into the autumn, but only gradually,” Janis Kluge, Senior Associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told the Wall Street Journal. Even then, there is no guarantee that any future economic pain will be felt on such a scale as to produce changes in the Kremlin’s strategic thinking or to make the war in Ukraine prohibitively expensive for Russia.

Citing consistently high oil prices, Ukrainian negotiator David Arakhamia said it will take up to four years for Russia to feel the full brunt of sanctions. “The question is if we (Ukraine) are still here in three or four years to enjoy the show,” Arakhamia said, per Axios.

As the collateral damage from sanctions becomes increasingly stark and hopes for a decisive Ukrainian counter-offensive fade amid slow but steady Russian advances to the country’s east and south, some Western leaders and members of President Joe Biden’s foreign policy team are cautiously revisiting the long-term prospect of a negotiated settlement. U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan said on Thursday that the United States will continue to support Ukraine “through the steady provision of weapons and intelligence,” but added that Washington has been in talks with Kyiv about what a settlement with Russia could look like.

“At some point, when we will have done our maximum to help Ukraine resist — when, as is my wish, it will have won and the firing has ceased — we will have to negotiate,” said French president Emmanuel Macron. “The president of Ukraine and its leaders will have to negotiate with Russia and we Europeans will be around that table, bringing security guarantees.”

“This is up to Ukraine to decide,” Macron said during a television interview when asked what concessions, territorial or otherwise, Ukraine should consider.

But there currently does not appear to be a meaningful space for compromise between the belligerents as the war drags on into its fourth month. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, emboldened by historically unprecedented Western military support, has repeatedly insisted that Kyiv will not support any peace deal involving territorial concessions. Yet there is a growing body of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Russia will not consider proposals to cede the eastern-southeastern Ukrainian territories that it currently occupies and could seize in the future. 

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters.