How Russia’s Invasion Has Transformed Geopolitics in Just Ten Days

Posted on Monday, March 7, 2022
by AMAC Newsline
Russia, US, Ukraine Flags

AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Roman

Hours after Russia invaded Ukraine, it was clear that Russia’s invasion had changed the world. The use of Russian military force had ended the de facto American monopoly on the use of force across international borders which had existed since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, while demonstrating the limits of sanctions against physical force in the hands of leaders capable of ruthless cost-benefit calculations. A week later, the world has changed indeed. Europe is rushing to rearm. Russia’s own leaders talk of a new Iron Curtain, one that this time will not only be physical but will cut Russians off from the internet itself. As for Joe Biden, well, as the State of the Union showed, Joe Biden is still the same Joe Biden, and his polling numbers are dismal. He has become a side character in the greatest geopolitical drama in decades.

We do not know how this war will end. But we can look back at the last few weeks and grade the performance of the major protagonists. Which leaders have risen to the occasion, strengthening their nation’s position? Which, like Joe Biden, have faded into the background?

Rising to the Occasion

Poland – Three months ago Poland was a pariah in Europe, and among the western Left in general. The Polish government faced E.U. sanctions over attempts to reform its legal system, an international campaign of outrage over the Polish Constitutional Court’s de facto ban on abortion, and threats of U.S. sanctions if the Polish Sejm passed a media law which would have forced the U.S.-based Discovery corporation to divest itself of its media holdings in Poland. (The law was eventually vetoed by President Andrej Duda.) Relations between the U.S. and Poland were a far cry from the previous American administration when the Poles, in a bid for a permanent presence of U.S. troops, proposed to construct a Fort Trump. Forgotten in both Brussels and Joe Biden’s Washington was the critical role played by Poland as a bulwark of Western defenses. The announcement that Poland planned to double the size of its military was met with the same skepticism that greeted Polish requests for help when Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko pushed Middle Eastern refugees over the Polish border at gun point.

Today, everything has changed. Germany and France have followed Poland in announcing rearmament programs. Poland’s position as a bulwark of the Western alliance has been reinforced by the key role of the Polish military as one of the only two forces, along with the Turks, capable of providing support to Ukraine. Poland’s acceptance of nearly a million Ukrainian refugees undermines the claims of Western liberals that the Polish government’s pro-life policies meant they were heartless. Domestically, the perception of an international backlash against Poland, unfair as it may have been, had driven the ruling Law of Justice to as low as 30% in the polls.

Now, no matter what happens with Ukraine, it is impossible to imagine Washington or Brussels sanctioning Poland or denying aid over Polish domestic policies given the scale of what is occurring over the border in Ukraine. Nor is it imaginable that President Biden would fulfill threats of pulling US forces out of Poland due to anger over Poland restricting the rights of foreign TV stations to operate. Not after all of Europe has banned Russia Today, the main Kremlin-backed outlet. President Andrej Duda can rest easy knowing his isolation and that of his country is over. The Poles are being widely hailed.

Turkey – The Polish government was not the only NATO member state with a difficult relationship with Brussels and Biden. Nor was Poland’s Law and Justice Party the only ruling party facing sub-30% opinion poll numbers. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gained a reputation for eccentricity both at home and abroad. Domestically, he has waged feuds with former allies, the army, and much of the elite, and earned international opprobrium (and not a small amount of schadenfreuden) for his perceived mismanagement of the Turkish economy, which has resulted in hyper-inflation. Abroad, Erdogan has waged proxy wars in Libya, Ethiopia, Syria, and Azerbaijan, often pitting Turkish mercenaries and drones against their Russian counterparts. While this has often annoyed Washington, Erdogan’s proxy war against Putin now looks prescient. The six TB Bakhtiyar Turkish drones that Ukraine operates have been used to the same devastating effect they were against Russian backed forces in those other theaters. Erdogan has acted quickly to deliver more, sending a new consignment last week which may well have doubled Ukrainian’s air striking power.

Erdogan has meanwhile taken action to close the Straits to Russian warships, not only undermining Russian operations against Odessa, but cutting Russian forces in Syria off from their reinforcements. Erdogan may be a “problem” in the eyes of Brussels and Washington, but it is hard after the last week to conclude he is not a useful ally.

Turkey has stepped up to oppose Russian influence regionally when Washington and Europe refused. Along with the Poles, Erdogan’s 19th century approach to geopolitics has been revealed as prophetic, not anachronistic.

A new appreciation for his value is likely to lead to efforts by Washington and Brussels to prop up the Turkish economy rather than allow it to collapse in the hope that might defeat Erdogan. Erdogan may very well have saved himself and his economy.

Better than Expected

France – Emmanuel Macron has long had a high opinion of himself, invoking comparisons with Jupiter. His vanity, bordering on narcissism, is a running joke in France. Yet he has emerged as the only Western leader Putin will speak to now that Merkel has left. Putin spoke with him on the day of the invasion, and again last Thursday when the Russian president vented for over an hour. While Putin may not listen to Macron, Putin does not even speak to Joe Biden, meaning that any American/NATO initiatives to Moscow must in effect go through the French President. Not a bad thing with an election coming up—especially as his major rivals have been tarred by a perceived association with Putin.

Macron has also promised a major rearmament program, which may leave France with vastly greater power projection capabilities. France itself has not yet gained much, but Macron himself is in a much stronger position today than he was before Putin sent his troops into Ukraine.

Britain – Boris Johnson, like Erdogan and the Law and Justice Government in Poland, was in serious political and diplomatic trouble at the start of the year. Battered by scandals over staff parties held during COVID lockdowns, arguments raged whether his future tenure should be measured in weeks or months. Britain, it was argued, had isolated itself through Brexit, throwing away its influence in Europe, especially its close relations with Eastern Europe.

Today, Boris Johnson’s position is transformed, as is that of Britain. Britain took an early lead in supporting Ukraine, signing a mutual defense pact with Warsaw and Kiev and supplying weapons before the invasion. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took such a dislike to foreign secretary Liz Truss he blamed her for Russia’s decision to trigger a nuclear alert.

If the European Union can no longer afford to feud with Poland over its courts and abortion laws, it also is unlikely to be able to afford to wage a trade war with London over inspection checks on beef passing the Irish border. Which means a major cause of conflict is likely to be erased by wider world events.


China – The Biden Administration tried to involve Beijing in its efforts to deter Putin, but the manner in which they did so was laughable. They shared intelligence Russia planned to invade, informed China that, as Xi Jinping was seen as a Russian ally, a Russian invasion “might make them look bad” (as if that would be a consideration) and then proceeded to undermine any chance the request might have to be accepted by proceeding to impotently protest Chinese actions in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Almost any Chinese leader would have laughed in Biden’s face and then joked about it to the Russians, which appears to be exactly what the Chinese did according to leaks to the New York Times. That the Biden administration thought those leaks made them look any better than the Chinese shows shades of the same insight – or lack thereof – which brought us the fall of Kabul.

Nonetheless, the Chinese cannot be happy with the poor performance of the Russian hardware, nor with the massive rearmament campaign being undertaken by Europe and the United States. This is likely to be one of the last wars Russia fights. The new weapon systems are much more likely to be used against China. In turn, Putin seems to expect the Chinese to bail out Russia and pay the costs not just of keeping the Russian economy afloat but of any occupation of Ukraine. Its unclear what Xi has won other than a massive invoice from one V. Putin and a much bigger set of problems down the road.

Germany – OlafScholz, Germany’s Chancellor, has both exceeded low expectations – killing the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline and announcing the largest German rearmament program since the creation of the West German military in the 1950s – yet his tenure has also seen Germany emerge diminished. The two factors are linked. The Russian invasion has increased the relative importance of military power as opposed to economic power, and in Europe, both Poland and Turkey exceed Germany in their ability to wield that, as do France and Britain. Economically, Germany towered over Europe. Militarily, Berlin can exercise influence similar to Stockholm. Scholz, to his credit, realized that and is taking steps to remedy it. But for the moment, German domination of Europe is over.

United States – Many pundits were surprised when the first polls came out after the Russian invasion and failed to show any increase in Joe Biden’s numbers. Hadn’t he kept the West together and overseen sanctions? Well, yes and no. Arguably Biden had not done anything to divide the West, or undermine these efforts, and he done what could be expected. But there was little evidence he had actually led. The most dramatic moves – the killing of Nord Stream, European rearmament, even cutting Russia off SWIFT – were all things Biden had failed to secure before the Russian invasion, and were undertaken by the Europeans on their own initiative. Biden failed to build a consensus on cutting Russia off SWIFT if Putin invaded the Ukraine when such a commitment might have deterred Putin. That the Europeans decided to do so after Putin invaded highlights Biden’s earlier failure. The same is true of arms supplies. Biden said the U.S. “might” provide lethal aid days after Europe pledged to buy fighter jets for Ukraine, and after Turkey sent drones.

Biden has done about as well as Macron, except Putin will actually speak to Macron on the phone, whereas Biden can’t get the Russian President to pick up. That, and the fact that Macron is the President of France and Biden President of the United States, is enough to make Biden a loser here.

The Greatest Loser (aside from Ukraine itself)

A new Iron Curtain has fallen upon the Russian Federation. The stock market has been closed for more than a week, with no indication of when, if ever, it will reopen. The ruble has lost nearly a third of its value. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are all banned, as are all foreign media and what remains of Russia’s independent media. Both the Google and Apple stores are banned, which would matter more if Apple, along with dozens of companies, had not ceased to do business in Russia, along with Mastercard and Visa, which will no longer process payments. Those who can escape have paid exorbitant prices sometimes exceeding $5,000 for the last few flights out of Russia. Printing news the Kremlin disapproves of now brings a prison sentence of 15 years. The Kremlin is considering banning elections.

Between the sanctions imposed in response to the invasion of Ukraine and the Kremlin’s response, Russia in the space of a week has been transformed from an authoritarian hybrid regime to something more akin to North Korea. That is before even touching upon the war which is bogged down in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin, two weeks ago, felt frustrated, ignored, and disrespected by the West, but he still had options, as did Russia. Now he is committed to a war.

It would be too much to say that Russia is losing the war. Despite wishful thinking in the media, Russia still possesses a large conventional advantage. But the poor performance of the Russian military is causing domestic dangers for the Putin regime in a way that liberal opposition never did.

Contrary to Western hopes that popular revulsion against the invasion would turn Russians against Putin, the real danger comes from the perception of incompetence. Despite the Kremlin’s efforts to control the public narrative, stories of Russian troops abandoning vehicles after running out of food, wandering into ambushes, and hitting their own forces in friendly fire incidents, have spread widely. Russia’s alternative to Facebook, Vkontakte, is filled with memes mocking the Russian army and paramilitary forces, with the implication that they are undersupplied, untrained, and betrayed. At fault? The “Kremlin Goblins” who Igor Strelkov, the special forces agent who led the seizure of the Crimea before turning on Putin, blames for mass corruption at all levels of the Russian state.

If the Russian military runs into difficulties, it is not just Russian liberals or Oligarchs who may be upset with Putin. It is Russia’s nationalists who will associate those setbacks with the corruption at the heart of the regime. If that corruption has sent thousands of young Russian soldiers to their deaths, made the Russian armed forces a joke in the eyes of the world, and, from the perspective of Russian nationalists, empowered NATO and the West to openly support Ukraine without any fear of response from the “laughable” Russian forces, Putin will be blamed for having undermined Russia’s security.

If Putin does not win, these forces will likely turn on him, potentially collapsing his regime. Even if he does win, if the Russian army is revealed as a laughingstock in the process, he will still face backlash. The best-case scenario still leaves Putin presiding over a collapsing economy, a hostile population, and no clear political off-ramp for Ukraine. What will be done with a conquered Ukrainian state? Annexation? A puppet regime which would not be recognized? No possible outcome now seems particularly appealing.

Putin is the true loser here. His best-case scenarios are disastrous, and his worst case scenarios seem more likely by the day.

Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.