The West won’t dig itself out of the cost of living crisis unless it decisively responds to Putin’s strategic aim
By Simon Bennett
The cost of living crisis is being misrepresented and mishandled by the political class.
Misrepresented because only occasionally do politicians link the crisis to the Russia-Ukraine War and Putin’s use of hybrid warfare to destabilize the West; mishandled because, fundamentally, the solution lies not in economic measures but in ensuring first that Russia is defeated on the field of battle, and secondly, that Putin is deposed.
The media – whose reporting is generally one-dimensional, focusing on the consequences of the crisis rather than the geopolitical causes – is also misrepresenting the crisis. Note how the Russia-Ukraine War has slipped down (and sometimes off) the news agenda. Peddling local news when the West is in an existential crisis is irresponsible and dangerous.
The West won’t dig itself out of the cost of living crisis unless it decisively responds to Putin’s strategic aim. Putin knows that if he is to resurrect the Russian Empire – a project he considers his sacred duty – he must destroy Western prosperity. Putin believes an impoverished West will turn inwards, leaving the field clear for his armies. Through Russia’s hybrid warfare doctrine, Putin has weaponized energy and food. He will weaponize everything the West needs from Russia and, if he can arrange it, other totalitarian states such as China. See, for example, Putin’s speech on Sept. 7 to the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.
The public in the West is understandably concerned about the cost of living crisis. In recent weeks, this concern has manifested in industrial action, which, to the extent that it foments conflict, signals public discontent, confirms the political class’s failure to resolve the crisis, aids and abets Putin’s cause.
One of the aims of hybrid warfare is to spread fear and spark conflict amongst those you seek to dominate. Putin has demonstrably succeeded in doing this. The West must respond to what is happening in society by challenging Russia and the totalitarian states that lend it support, for example, China and Iran.
Our present travails are just the beginning. Putin, noting the success of his hybrid warfare strategy, will seek to destabilize the West further, perhaps by attempting to influence the outcome of the next U.S. Presidential election and/or strengthening ties with China, Iran, Belarus, Myanmar and other totalitarian states.
It is essential to understand that he will not stop. He is beyond appeasement and persuasion. Putin is not a rational actor, according to some. Putin knows what he wants, and he is determined to get it. He holds liberal-democratic ideals in the deepest contempt and displays a Hitler-like single-mindedness.
Politicians, news editors, and other influencers must:
- Acknowledge the existential threat to Western liberal-democratic values posed by the New Totalitarian Axis – Russia, China, Iran, Myanmar, Belarus and other fascistic nations. As Oleksii Reznikov has written in the Atlantic Council’s Ukraine Alert: “Countries cannot effectively defend themselves if they refuse to acknowledge they are under attack.”
- Acknowledge – publicly and often – the Russia-Ukraine War as the root cause of the cost of living crisis. Denialism plays into Putin’s hands. Observe how the Russia-Ukraine War is slipping down the news agenda.
- Explain that the more we complain and, in some cases, panic about the cost of living crisis, the stronger Putin becomes. While understandable in our straitened times, trade union leaders’ proclivity for industrial action plays into Putin’s hands. Restraint offers us a means of fighting back.
- Fully engage with the root cause of the cost of living crisis – the Russia-Ukraine War. Ensure that Putin is defeated. The West must provide significantly more war material to Ukraine. Western leaders must plan for the return of Trump, whose policy towards Ukraine may differ markedly from that of President Biden.
- Create War Economies in which the State plays a more significant role in determining priorities. Keynesianism helped defeat the Axis powers.
- Abandon Carbon Neutral policies. Even though global warming cannot be stopped – or even slowed – pursuing such policies in a time of war creates unaffordable overheads and dangerous distractions. The West must focus on Russia’s ambitions.
Politicians skeptical of this analysis should attend to a statement made by the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg: “[P]rices are going up in Ukraine as well. But in addition our people get killed. So when you [in Britain] start counting pennies … in your pocket, we do the same and count our casualties”.
Dr. Simon Bennett directs the Civil Safety and Security Unit at the University of Leicester. He’s interested in the organizational, social, economic and political origins of risk. He has worked with the Royal Air Force and U.K. National Police Air Service on human-factors issues. His latest book, Safety in Aviation and Astronautics: A Socio-technical Approach, was published by Routledge in 2022.
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