Old fault lines in Russia, China and Iran are changing the face of the globe.

Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash. Across the globe, world leaders, economists, and foreign policy experts are facing a series of harsh new geopolitical realities. The world into which we have emerged from the pandemic is not the same world we lived in prior to that fateful lost March of 2020. Or rather, it is wrong to call certain developments, “harsh new geopolitical realities.” World leaders are certainly grappling with global upheavals from civil unrest, to widespread famine, to full-scale military conflagrations. These are all certainly harsh and definitely geopolitical realities. Whether any of it is really all that “new” is another matter entirely. In almost every case, the pandemic revealed and worsened long-simmering conflicts and geopolitical fault lines- it didn’t create them. Vladimir Putin, prior to marching on Kiev in February, had already been waging a slow-motion but deadly war against Ukraine for over a decade. It was an open secret, though Moscow always denied the accusations, that Russia was launch hacking attacks against vulnerable government systems in Ukraine and engaging in information warfare strategies designed to keep the country out of NATO. It is clear in retrospect Putin was also engineering European energy dependence on Russia, as- at the very least- an insurance policy against sanctions and embargoes imposed on Russia in the event of a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine. Obviously Putin was planning this attack for a very long time. Plenty of world leaders were reading between the lines of Moscow’s many denials on the subject of Ukraine, looking at the fine print and considering the consequences. They were ignored, laughed at and sidelined. Knowing what European Union leaders now know about Putin’s Russia, it will be a very long time before countries like Germany are again willing to treat Russia like a legitimate and equal economic partner and ally. Putin has shown his true colors. Far fewer countries, going forward- if any- are going to be willing to put all their energy eggs in Russia’s basket. The geopolitical fault line between Russia and the Ukraine was always there; sooner or later, Vladimir Putin would have invaded Ukraine. Covid19 provided an opportunity and Putin couldn’t resist to carry out his plans; it didn’t set those plans in motion. Likewise, the massive protests rocking Iran which are now stretching into the second week, have exposed another major fault line. The ruthless oppression of the Iranian people by their totalitarian government constantly causes civil unrest in that country. In 2009, a similar series of protests swept Iran, under very similar circumstances. As in 2009, the 2022 protests were ignited by the death of a young woman at the hands of Iran’s notorious “morality police.” The “morality police”, which have nothing to do with morality and everything to do with policing, have started using facial recognition software and biometric tracking to better control Iranian citizens, who are already burdened by one of the most oppressive governments in world. Censorship, over-policing, criminalization of political dissent, ruthless extermination of political opponents and opposing political parties, persecution of religious and ethnic minorities; these are hallmarks of the Iranian regime. And it still isn’t enough. When a government doesn’t have the consent of the governed, it must govern by force. Governing by force is always a precarious position. Those poised on its precipice, like the career criminal, are ultimately doomed to failure. The deck is always stacked against them; it’s the law of averages. To throw off their oppressors, the Iranian people only need to get lucky once; Iran’s tyrannical rulers have to get lucky every time. In China, the Chinese Communist Party is having struggles of its own. It has turned the Chinese mainland into one vast police surveillance state to protect its absolute power; that doesn’t seem to have been enough, either. The Great Firewall of China prevents Chinese citizens from accessing the same information the rest of the internet-surfing world enjoys: Political dissent is still, somehow, one of the top ten crimes in China. Ethnic and religious minorities in China have been imprisoned or confined to work “re-education” camps: The wait time in China for an organ transplant can be measured in days and weeks. In the rest of the developed world, most people on the list for a donated organ wait years. Some wait forever. How the Chinese Communist Party has managed to achieve its medical miracle, it refuses to say. While the CCP hedges on this point, the rest of the international medical community is growing increasingly fearful of the answer. In spite of all these strategies for power and control, there may or may not have been some kind of upheaval in China this week. Rumors of a coup persist. Xi Jinping has mysteriously dropped out of the public eye, even failing to appear at an annual convention of world leaders in New York last week. But like Putin’s designs on Ukraine, the Chinese Communist Party- with or without Jinping at its head- have made little secret of plans to forcibly annex Taiwan. The CCP has already been engaging in warfare against Taiwan for over a decade: Information warfare including propaganda, institutional capture, and election interference; hacking, infrastructure and economic attacks meant to undermine the nation and faith in its leadership; military excursions into Taiwan’s sovereign territory and airspace. Why would the CCP bother with any of this if it weren’t planning on eventually invading Taiwan? The good news for Taiwan is how poorly things are going for Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. Whether or not Ukraine ultimately succeeds in repelling the military attack which began in earnest in February of 2022, but in reality long before, things have almost certainly not gone to Putin’s plans. Surely he expected the conflict to be over be now, all these months later. Though perhaps he didn’t, as evidenced by the economic hostage crisis situation he engineered with the Russian trojan horse otherwise known as the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. Lest anyone forget, Germany and the entire European Union were, right up until February of 2022, planning on expanding their dependence on Russian energy via the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Helping Ukraine would have been far easier, not to mention less dangerous and deadly for all concerned, fourteen years ago. Had world leaders faced the obvious reality that Putin would, one day, invade the country, all this death, displacement and the threat of global thermonuclear war could have been avoided. World leaders must now turn an honest assessment, and the benefit of hindsight with regards to Russia, Putin and Ukraine, towards China, Iran, and other areas of well-known, and largely ignored, geopolitical danger zones. Already, many companies are starting to hedge their bets with China; adopting a “China plus one” strategy for diversifying vital manufacturing operations and supply lines. They are keeping their investments in China- for now- but preparing for a day they will no longer be able to depend on the Chinese Communist Party to act in good faith. That day may be coming sooner than world leaders would hope. (contributing writer, Brooke Bell)