How does the world react when a giant once thought dead or in a deep sleep awakens from its slumber and takes centre stage as it once did? As I walked through my local Kinokuniya Bookstore, I saw stacks and stacks of extremely thick biographies of Putin all stacked on the bookshelf. They must be selling well.

Three years ago, it was Coronavirus. Today, it is the War in Ukraine. Back in university, when I studied journalism, an American professor of mine had taught us, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Regardless of what media you’ve chosen, everyone scrambles to piggyback on the current trending topic of the news. Perhaps it is our quest to be a part of the world and a part of the conversation that sets us on the path to educate ourselves regarding what is going on in the world beyond our borders–especially when it begins to affects us. With inflationary pressures and rising prices, we all feel the effects of this war that is taking place in a land that for me feels so far away.

I remember studying about the Cold War in my history classes. The story ended after Gorbachev and I never did get to find out what happened next. That’s the thing with studying history. The curtain comes down at a certain momentous moment and the next thing you know, it’s no longer ‘history’ but current affairs.

The communist threat was something that all the old guards used to talk about and now that they are no longer with us, it is like we have no memory regarding what it was all about.

There are places in Asia, though, where the legacy of that era remains. I have studied and read a bit of Marx, a bit of Lenin and a bit of Stalin. I even remember writing a few articles in my secret diary that once compared Stalin to my old school principal. Oh well, what can I say, I was a teenager and it was a way for me to remember the facts of the gulag.

To update myself on what has happened since ‘Gorbachev won the peace prize’, I opened a magazine. I’ve always found them to be far more comprehensive in their coverage than the news headlines and commentators. I took out a notebook and analysed the writing, the viewpoint of the author (as well as the magazine) and paid special attention to the techniques the author used to get his point across.

Putin’s invasion is driven by many considerations. Ukraine was on his mind long before he came to power. As early as 1994, when he was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, he expressed indignation that Crimea had been joined to Ukraine. It was, however, not till 2008 at a NATO summit when the possibility that Ukraine should become a fully-fledged member of the western alliance that Putin’s attitude soured completely.

The roots of any current conflict always go way back. In the interim, there are many precipitating factors that allow it to grow and build. The roots of this current war hark back to 2014 annexation of Crimea. Russia is a large country in terms of landmass and there exist republics within the nation. One key issue that comes up is that Russia should recognise independence of the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

While Russia is said to be once again contesting the US-led security order in Europe, China is said to be challenging it in Asia. A geopolitical transition has begun. Its outcome will not become apparent for decades. Is the post-cold war order that has governed the world for the past 30 years drawing to a close?

It seems that a new balance of power may well be set to emerge.

Refugees from Ukraine in Kraków. Image Credit: Silar

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