The worst thing to come out of 2020

If one thing can be said of George Friedman’s book “The Next 100 Years: a forecast for the 21st century”: it is that it’s provocative. It was published in 2009, and summarized the author’s views on what could be expected in the following century. One of the most interesting theses it asserted was the idea that, contrary to some people’s beliefs, the 21st century is to be the American Century, even more so than the 20th. The current big rivals of the US, that is, Russia and China, are expected to crumble in the following decades if Friedman is to be believed, being swiftly devoured by medium powers such as Turkey, Japan, and Poland.

Last July, Andrzej Duda was reelected as President of the Republic of Poland after a close election, “fraught with irregularities” according to scandalized progressives worldwide. Duda belongs to Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – PiS), the right wing party which has been ruling the country since 2015. They represent the most “deplorable” faction in Polish politics: populist, rural, Catholic, hostile to Russia, and staunchly pro-American. Their bitterest rival is the liberal party Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska – PO), which is more EU-aligned and holds ideas completely in tune with the Current Year™ and Open Society Foundation-like projects.

Duda’s victory, if it is followed by the likely Trump victory in November 2020, will mean that the European country stays firmly on the Americans’ side for another five years. According to Friedman, US interest in the region of Central and Eastern Europe is dependent on the circumstances of Eurasian power politics: if China were to collapse, to avoid an unbalanced Russia the US would have to make their influence felt again in Europe. This assumption so far has not been fulfilled. Even in spite of the pandemic, China is still nowhere near crumbling. The alleged Chinese freedom-loving opposition against Xi Jinping does not seem to be any closer to overthrowing the Capitalist-Communist People’s Republic. And accordingly, Poland’s pushes for more American military presence in its soil have so far been to no avail.

In his book, Friedman asserts that a US-backed Poland is bound to grow stronger, leading a coalition of former Soviet satellites in an Eastward push as Russia loses its grip on Eastern Europe. After all, in the 17th century Poland’s dominions reached as far as the Black Sea, and Polish nationalism has not forgotten this fact. The old idea of an Intermarium, a geopolitical project of building a federation stretching from the Baltic to the Mediterranean and the Black Seas. Poland’s relative isolation from naval trade routes makes access to ports outside the Baltic a paramount priority, justifying their reaching out to countries such as Croatia, and clashing with Turkish protagonism in the Balkans and the Mediterranean. Friedman points to this divergence as the origin of the next great European conflict: a US backed Poland confronting an assertive Turkey favored by a declining Germany.

While Friedman’s arguments seemed convincing in 2009, recent developments seem to be pointing towards a different state of affairs. Last June, the Visegrád Group countries (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) held another of their regular consultations with Turkey, listing energy, infrastructure, transport, and tourism as vital areas of cooperation. The project of Via Carpathia, a transnational highway network linking Lithuanian port of Klaipėda to Thessaloniki in Greece, is an example of this effort to build new geopolitical spaces.

Another topic was also discussed in the meeting: Polish support for Turkey’s European aspirations. The European Parliament (EP) is the EU’s first institution, and assigns the number of seats of member states according to their population. It is currently dominated by Germany and France, the two most populous European countries, with 96 and 79 seats respectively. Turkey has a population of 80 million people, just as Germany; it would have an enormous influence in European politics, even more concentrated after the UK’s exit. It is easy to understand, then, why the EP voted to suspend accession talks with its Muslim neighbor in February 2019.

Concerns for insufficient loyalty to the liberal-democratic religion are cited as one of the reasons Turkey does not belong in the EU. Interestingly, the same arguments are used against Eastern European enfants terribles Poland and Hungary, which are nowadays described as “illiberal democracies” by both American and European globalist progressives. The leaders of all three countries have made strong statements and cracked down on organizations linked to the Open Society Foundation, in actions similar to Russia’s suppression of foreign NGOs operating in its territory. They are not alone in this behavior: public figures from Romania, North Macedonia and even Pakistan have also been espousing anti-globalist talking points since Trump’s election in 2016, mimicking the President’s rhetoric against his domestic adversaries. And again, it’s no secret that Trump’s policy has led to friendlier relations with Putin than the ones expected from a Clinton presidency.

In an unrelated(?) chapter on shady occurrences in Eastern Europe, on July 29 thirty-three mercenaries with ties to Russian security firm Wagner were detained in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, accused of trying to destabilize the country for the elections set for August 9th. Belarus has been ruled by Soviet nostalgic Alexander Lukashenko, a.k.a. “Europe’s Last Dictator”, since 1994; the country’s relations to Russia, however, have been progressively deteriorating due to the latter’s push for deeper integration of Belarus in the Russian Federation. Moscow’s official excuse for the affair is that the detained operators were on their way to Istanbul, bound for deployment in Libya; a plausible explanation, as a replay of the 2014 Crimean crisis is risky and unlikely. Ukraine, who sees the mercenaries as criminals because of their role in Crimea, is demanding their extradition. If the event is portrayed as an attempt of disruption by Russia, the narrative could push Lukashenko towards the West’s arms, in spite of all his authoritarian sins. On the other hand, ethnic Poles are a significant minority in Belarus, and their close ties to Poland have been the cause of uneasy relations between both countries, as Warsaw mostly supports the Belarussian opposition.

If the economic crisis caused by the pandemic proves too much for Russia to handle, and conflict sparks up in Belarus, the situation is bound to become complicated quickly. Lukashenko’s antics could very well provoke a cornered Russia into starting a rushed hybrid campaign, in anticipation of Poland doing the same. Still, while it’s unlikely that Warsaw forgets past grievances from Moscow, shared international enemies and common interests might provide an opportunity for unexpected collaboration. Turkey is now arguably on better terms with Russia than with America, although the Nagorno-Karabakh question remains a sore point.

How will the American Empire handle this fragile situation? China isn’t any closer to collapse and internal chaos than it was in 2009, giving little reason for the US to enter new commitments in Eastern Europe. The Middle East and the South China Sea are more deserving of its interest, as long as Russia and China remain strong. The balance is so delicate, a small gust of wind in Belarus, Armenia or Libya could blow up the whole global system. Coronavirus might not be the worse thing to come out of 2020, after all. It’s going to be a Wild American Century.