Now that some kind of war on the eastern front seems imminent – according to all the major news outlets half of Russia’s army is parked on Ukraine’s borders – I knew that my friend Camp had some views on this situation. It’s all so unreal, sitting here at our seaside pub in peaceful Gibsons; an oasis of tranquility in a sea of madness it seems. So far away from the Ukraine, Ottawa and Washington and yet so close whenever I turn on the TV or pick up the newspaper. Like it or not, we are part of it all, little tribal ants in a big, complicated colony, revolving around a sun, on the edge of a minor galaxy.
‘It’s pretty clear to me,’ Camp said. ‘This is exactly where Putin wants to be.’
‘How do you see that?’ I asked.
‘After 22 years in power, the local economy faltering, the pandemic not under control, the homemade vaccine underperforming, he needs a distraction. What better than a war to regain some old mother-Russia pride. He has the leaders of the western world coming to him with hats in hand, begging, pleading, offering. He is center stage with the klieg-lights and cameras focused on himself and he has everybody examining and analysing every one of his words and gestures. He knows that none of those leaders, least of all the Americans, are willing to sacrifice one life for a cause in that part of the world. For the Russian people he will spin sanctions and NATO’s buildup to make him look like a victim of western hegemony and aggression, the exact opposite to what we see on BBC and CNN.’
‘But will he actually go on a military campaign?’ I asked. ‘How can he twist that into a positive or necessary operation to his countrymen. Never mind the rest of the world? Is it really just hubris, about his own personality cult and power?’
‘We made him what he is today.’ Camp shrugged. ‘The sanctions imposed on Russia, when he annexed the Crimea, has made the Russian people poorer and Putin and his cronies richer. According to Forbes in 2021, Russian Oligarchs got 145 billion dollars richer than in the previous year.’
‘Yes, and the EU’s dependence on natural gas rose from 24% to 38% since then, I read somewhere. I think the purely political and emotional decision to shut down all those nuke plants in Germany and even California was a big mistake, detrimental for the world’s climate as well as our resulting dependence on fossil fuels despite the push and growth of sustainable ‘green’ energy sources.’
‘Yes, that was a bad decision for the world’s climate and not easily reversed,’ Camp said, taking a sip from his pint. ‘Russia has also slowly but surely detached itself from Western controlled pay-systems like Visa and Mastercard and now over 40% are using Mir, their own credit cards. They also have developed their own search engines and social media networks like VKontakt which is similar to Facebook and Rutube which copies YouTube and Yappy which replaces Tiktok. All are popular with young Russians. In other words, Russia is already to a large degree decoupled from Western dependence. Add to that the fact that the Russian central bank has beefed up reserves to more than $600bn while reducing their share in US dollars.’
‘It looks like sanctions would hurt mostly the people and not the oligarchs and Putin’s cronies,’ I said.
‘The question is: will it impact you and me and our place in the sun?’
‘Now that’s the really vital part of this discussion. Will my life style be impacted by all this disruptive global and local saber rattling?’
‘And here at home, Trudeau invoked the Emergency Act for the first time ever in order to clear the streets of Ottawa and freeze close to $ 10 million in donations to the ‘faith fuelled freedom convoy’ as the CBC put it.’
‘As I said before. I’m all for demonstrating and protesting, did so myself in my twenties, but not by paralyzing neighbourhoods with 18-wheelers and tractors. What will it be next? Disgruntled backhoe, caterpillar and school-bus drivers blocking the roads?’
As a Winnipeg woman who fled torture and jail under Pinochet said: ‘These people don’t know what a real loss of freedom is. It’s much more frightening than getting a needle in your arm that will keep you alive and help prevent the spread of a highly contagious virus.’
‘What are you two gabbing on about now?’ Vicky asked when she dropped by our table with two fresh brews.
‘Oh, nothing much, just war and peace, beer and sunshine,’ Camp said.
‘And are you celebrating the women’s hockey team win over the US,’ Vicky said.
‘We are absolutely, while sitting here in paradise, solving the world’s problems.’