The full-scale Russian aggression against Ukraine has caused significant geopolitical changes. New contours of a world divided into a conditional free democratic West and a predominantly authoritarian South have become more expressive and clear. Against the backdrop of global-scale threats, cooperation and coordination have intensified among countries that uphold classical Western values and fundamental principles. At the same time, it has been revealed that within these countries, there are political forces sympathetic to Russia and willing to appease the aggressor.
Currently, these forces are concentrated on the extreme left and right flanks of the political system. Despite the vast ideological gap that separates them, right-wing and left-wing populists share very similar views on international politics. Inclined to harshly criticize the West, they simultaneously show leniency and understanding towards authoritarian regimes and Moscow’s motives for aggression. Populists actively undermine the greatness of the West from within and create a window of opportunity for the triumph of authoritarianism worldwide.
Ukrainians have become accustomed to the ambiguous statements of former U.S. President Donald Trump regarding Russian aggression. However, at the end of August, the information landscape was shaken by far more radical and absurd pronouncements from another potential U.S. presidential candidate from the Republican Party – Vivek Ramaswamy. The young politician openly offered to give a part of Ukraine’s territory to Russian control in exchange for Moscow’s promise to stop relations with Beijing. Ramaswamy also spoke about the refusal to support Ukraine militarily and financially, promised to pay a visit to Putin, lift sanctions and return Russians to world markets.
Ramaswamy somehow believes that authoritarian Russia can become a reliable ally of the West. This is a classic mistake made by many Western politicians. Russia has always treated the West with contempt and dreamed of ending the era of dominance of Western civilization in the world.
Populist politicians fail to understand that for Russia, the West is a strategic ideological adversary. Putin’s dictatorship, in part, is sustained by actively promoting this image within Russian society. For Moscow, as a colonial empire, cooperation with authoritarian China appears entirely logical and natural. Thanks to this cooperation, the Kremlin also sees a theoretical chance to dismantle the world political system and establish the right of the strong in international relations. It does not matter that in the alliance between Beijing and Moscow, the latter will be a junior partner or a vassal. Another question: under the current conditions, will China allow Russia to at least theoretically pursue an anti-Chinese policy, as Ramaswamy and some populists dream of? Very doubtful.
Ramaswamy displayed political opportunism not only regarding Ukraine. His statement about Taiwan shocked many. He suggested that the United States should only protect the island from Chinese invasion until 2028. After that, it might abandon its commitments because by that time, America would have already established its own semiconductor production.
The most accurate assessment of Vivek Ramaswamy’s geopolitical fantasies came from Mark Thiessen, an American expert from Fox News and a commentator for The Washington Post: “Like a freshman’s foreign policy term paper. Complete disqualification.”
The recent statements by some potential Republican Party presidential candidates in the United States demonstrate their inclination towards fostering cooperation with Russia. They don’t seem opposed to trading Ukraine for the illusion of Moscow’s involvement in an alliance directed against China. These politicians, who pretend to be staunch conservatives, express a readiness to overlook Russia’s violations of international law principles established during the era of Western political dominance.
Extreme right-wing groups in Europe are also not opposed to reaching agreements with Russia. Leaders of the “Alternative for Germany” party have repeatedly voiced the need to stop supporting Ukraine and compel Kyiv to negotiate. German populists also believe that Germany should not reject Russian energy supplies and fail to distinguish between who is the victim and who is the aggressor. They also criticize the United States and NATO in this context. Other far-right radicals, including former French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, express similar sentiments. In the view of European right-wing populists, it is not Russia but primarily the United States and NATO that are responsible for the invasion of Ukraine.
The political mutation of right-wing populists is particularly noticeable in the field of foreign policy. Their views on domestic issues are generally more adequate. However, contemporary ultra-right figures in Europe and America often exhibit a strange affinity for authoritarian regimes and totalitarian practices. They inexplicably seek agreements with various dictators like Putin or Kim Jong-un. They also have a short historical memory, indifference to the victims of aggression, and readily abandon principles. By exploiting the fear of a possible outbreak of a Third World War, right-wing populists portray themselves not as strong political leaders but as weak appeasers of aggressors. Such views do not align with the classical conservatism of the Western model, with its respect for international law, sovereignty, and the territorial integrity of nations. They lack the willingness to uphold these principles and values without betraying their friends and allies. This includes taking a stand from a position of strength.
On the other hand, there is the ultra-left socio-political flank, the views of whose representatives on international politics, Russia’s responsibility for aggression against Ukraine, and the role of the West in the modern world are also quite controversial. Among left-wing populists, a strange mixture of ideas prevails. There is room for comprehensive pacifism, categorical rejection of NATO and U.S. leadership in the world. Left populists constantly cast doubt on the greatness of the West, accusing it of injustice on the global stage. In the world as envisioned by the ultra-left, it is the “imperialist” NATO and the U.S. primarily to blame for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They allegedly provoked Putin with their policy of expanding the North Atlantic Alliance. They disregarded the Kremlin’s positions and did not heed its security concerns. Such thoughts are evident, notably, in the views of the American philosopher Noam Chomsky, a well-known figure among “left-wing intellectuals.” Interestingly, in the imagination of these left fighters against global colonialism and imperialism, Russia somehow does not qualify as a colonial empire.
In this context, the cynical and artificial juxtaposition of the war in Ukraine with issues related to the black population should be seen as part of “leftist theories.” For instance, the producer of the Oscar ceremony, Will Packer, expressed concerns that Hollywood pays significant attention to the war in Ukraine because it concerns white people but ignores other conflicts worldwide. In a similar vein, last year, the head of the WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, stated that the “heightened focus on Ukraine distracts the world from the problems of the black population.” Western feminist organizations also stood out for their geopolitical shortsightedness when, in the spring of 2022, they called for not providing weapons to Ukraine. In their oversimplified view, “war is bad, war is men’s games, and providing weapons will only escalate the conflict.”
Furthermore, the propagandistic activities of the left, who control the education sector and aggressively seek to spread their postmodernist agenda throughout society, also contribute to the decline of the West’s greatness. Radical leftist movements in the USA, in particular, believe that America is built on false values. They view its history as a narrative of injustice, colonialism, and oppression. Extreme leftists are also engaged in a fierce battle against traditional values, which they label as remnants of patriarchy and white dominance. The historical progress of the West is considered harmful and unnecessary. However, by denying the achievements of Western civilization, leftist movements, whether intentionally or not, play into the hands of authoritarian regimes and enemies of the West, weakening the Western world from within.
Despite the ideological gap, political forces at the extreme left and right ends of the spectrum share some commonalities. Their views on Russian aggression against Ukraine largely align. Like right-wing populists, the leftists are also actively against providing military aid to Ukraine. They criticize the policy of sanctions against the aggressor. They call for immediate negotiations with the Kremlin and are critical of the idea of Ukraine’s NATO membership. At times, both ultraleft and ultraright groups in Europe have participated in joint demonstrations where pro-Russian slogans were heard. One such rally took place in Berlin in February 2023. Leftists also speculate on the topic of conflicting interests between the U.S. and Europe, thereby undermining transatlantic unity.
In 2022, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Anthony Blair stated that the era of Western dominance is coming to an end. “We are approaching the end of Western political and economic dominance. The world will be at least bipolar and possibly multipolar. For the first time in modern history, the East may be on equal footing with the West,” said the British politician. Such a future could indeed become a reality. However, it will primarily happen not due to the capabilities or objective advantages of the East but because of the internal decline of the West. This decline is driven by its own disillusionment and abandonment of the values that made it successful.