Within a vortex of contestations for influence and advantage, billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman has warned that World War III has “likely started already” amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“In January 2020, I had nightmares about the potential for a pandemic, but everyone seemed to think I was crazy. I am having similar nightmares now,” Ackman said via Twitter late Saturday.
Supplying Ukraine with the West’s best weaponry, intelligence and drones would allow NATO members to assist Ukraine without putting troops on the ground, Ackman said.
“The Ukrainians with the right weapons and resources have proven that they have what it takes to win the war, unless and until Putin goes nuclear,” he said. “Our reason for not doing more appears to be our fear of provoking Putin.”
But he said the West has already provoked Russian President Vladimir Putin by giving the Ukrainians the weapons that were enabling them to thwart Russia’s advances.
A slew of countries all over the world has supplied weapons and funding to Ukraine to help the country defend itself from invading Russian forces. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has requested Congress to approve billions of dollars’ worth of funding for Ukraine since Russia launched its attack on Feb. 24.
But Ackman contended that NATO’s reluctance to intervene due to the nuclear threat posed by Russia was a poor strategic move.
“What then do we do when [Putin] wants more?” Ackman asked. “The nuclear threat is no different when he takes his next country, whether it is part of NATO or not, and by then we are strategically worse off.”
Last week, Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrence forces on high alert, saying it was a defensive response to Western condemnation of his invasion of Ukraine, and warning that any country that tried to interfere in Ukraine would suffer consequences unseen before in history.
But Ackman said Saturday that Putin’s aspirations had grown because “we did nothing to stop him” during Russia’s previous invasion campaigns.
Russian forces invaded neighboring Georgia in 2008, a move that saw a “remarkably muted” international response and gave Moscow “an informal invitation for further acts of aggression in Russia’s traditional sphere of influence,” according to the Atlantic Council. In 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine.
According to Ackman, “we are in the early innings of Putin’s global aspirations.”
“With each ‘victory,’ he is emboldened to take more,” Ackman said. “He is testing us, and we are failing the test each time.”
Corroborating the view of Hackman, Bret Stephens of The New York Times holds that the Ukraine situation is very similar to the periods of geopolitical instability that led to the Second War. There have been “years of rising waters,” said Bret Stephens – but “it took Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for much of the world to notice,” as reported in News Week.
Neighbouring Moldova has already warned that Moscow is planning hybrid attacks to destabilize its pro-Western government. International analysts are also wary of multiple hotspots where China might want to make its military mark over the next decade. Tensions between Beijing and Taiwan have been “ratcheting up” in recent years, with Vladimir Putin’s invasion setting “nerves on edge” in Taipei, as reported in the Guardian.
Since war broke out on 24 February, Putin’s forces have struggled to defeat Ukrainian troops in key parts of the besieged country and adopted more brutal tactics in an effort to break the Ukrainian resistance.
Now, after an attack on a security services building in the breakaway region of Moldova, Transnistria, there are fears the war “could spread further into Europe,” asserted the Telegraph.
Fears were raised last week when a top Russian military commander, Rustam Minnekayev, said that the Kremlin planned to occupy southern Ukraine in order to have “access” to Transnistria, where he claimed he had observed the “oppression” of the Russian-speaking population.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has warned that there is a “real” danger of the conflict breaking into a third world war. He spoke after a day of attacks on Russian soil, apparently by Ukrainian forces, which resulted in fires raging at fuel facilities in the city of Bryansk.
“Goodwill has its limits. But if it isn’t reciprocal, that doesn’t help the negotiation process,” he told Russian news agencies, adding that Moscow was striving to prevent nuclear war, but calling the danger “serious” and “real”.
Kremlin-controlled TV shows, including Rossiya 1’s 60 Minutes show, have issued “chilling” nuclear threats, reported The Mirror in March. Host Olga Skabeyeva warned that NATO members sending peacekeepers to Ukraine would lead to “World War Three”.
And others believe a third global conflict may already be underway. Three weeks into the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told NBC News that Putin “may have already started” World War Three. “We’ve seen this 80 years ago, when the Second World War had started… nobody would be able to predict when the full-scale war would start,” he said.
In the future, the invasion of Ukraine might not “be seen as the start, but as a key turning point”, she continued. And “maybe by saying ‘This is not our war,’ the world’s leading democratic countries are simply showing that they are in denial about what will happen next.”
Meanwhile, allied nations are “attempting to track a middle line between direct intervention and doing nothing,” said Deborah Haynes, Sky News’ security and defence editor.
The hope is that Russia will “appreciate the distinction,” but there are serious doubts as to whether Moscow could “view the downing of one of its aircraft by a missile gifted to the Ukrainians by America as akin to the US shooting it down directly”, said Haynes.
MI6 chief Richard Moore warned last year that the rise of China was the Secret Intelligence Service’s “single greatest priority” as Beijing continues to “conduct large scale espionage operations against the UK and our allies”.
In his first public speech, made to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in November, Moore, known as C, said Beijing’s “growing military strength” and desire for reunification with Taiwan, by force if necessary, “pose a serious challenge to global stability and peace.”
His comments came weeks after US President Joe Biden said America had a commitment to defending Taiwan, although a White House statement later insisted that its policy of “strategic ambiguity” remained in place.
The policy “leaves vague exactly how the United States would react”, explained The New York Times, and many experts think it is now time for more clarity.
The newspaper suggested Biden’s rhetoric “may be reflecting a desire to toughen Washington’s language to counter new Chinese capabilities, which would allow far more subtle moves to strangle Taiwan – cutting off undersea cables, internet connections and liquid natural gas shipments – than an outright invasion.”
President Xi Jinping told Biden in March that if the situation “is not handled properly, it will have a subversive impact on the relationship” between the US and China, according to Chinese state media. The “long fraught” relationship between Beijing and Washington “has only become more strained since the start of Biden’s presidency”, said Aljazeera.
Tensions also remain high in the South Sea. Beijing views the expanse off the coast of East Asia as sovereign territory, while Washington regards “China’s militarisation of the area as a transparent rewriting of the international rules”, said The National Interest. “Neither side is backing down – nor does either country seem interested in a compromise,” the US magazine added.
Pentagon officials remain wary that China could start a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait or other hotspots “sometime in the next decade”, said Michael Beckley, an associate professor at Tufts University, and Hal Brands, professor of global affairs at Johns Hopkins, in The Atlantic.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked “fierce debate” in China, said the Financial Times, which comes down to “a clash between alignment with Russia and long-avowed Chinese diplomatic principles” that national sovereignty should be respected.
And “Chinese observers are equally divided on whether the war will preoccupy the US enough to undermine its efforts to counter China, or whether European countries’ return to a more muscular security posture will free up resources for the US to pursue its pivot to the Indo-Pacific”.
MI6 also remains “actively focused” on Iran, said its chief in November, noting that the Iranian leadership has “embraced an explicit doctrine of conflict with both Israel and the West” since the Islamic revolution in 1979.
The country uses Hezbollah to stir up “political turmoil” in other countries, has built up a “substantial cyber capability” to use against its rivals, and continues to develop nuclear technology “which has no conceivable civilian use”, said Moore.
In a clear signal of increasing concern over Iran’s activities, Gulf states joined Israel for the first time in a joint military exercise organised by the US Navy last year, reported the BBC. It’s a move “almost unthinkable” only three years ago, and follows the signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020, when the UAE and Bahrain normalised their relations with Jerusalem.
Long-awaited talks to restore Iran’s 2015 Nuclear Deal began in Vienna late last year, three years after Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement. Iran responded to the withdrawal with “a public, step-by-step ramping up of the machinery used to enrich uranium – the nuclear fuel needed for a bomb”, explained NPR.
After 11 months of “on-and-off talks”, diplomats had appeared “to be near the cusp of a deal”, said The Independent. Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that a deal is closer “than ever before”.
Some are doubtful that a new deal would now be as beneficial as Biden’s administration might have initially hoped. “It’s clear that a restored deal would benefit Iran even more than the original,” as the regime would reportedly still “be allowed to store, rather than destroy, excess centrifuges – even those built in violation of the agreement”, said Jonathan Schacter at the New York Post.