Ukraine is part of a broader three-way Cold War

The war in Ukraine is not just between Ukraine and Russia.  It is part of a larger three-way struggle between three rival imperialisms—the established imperialism of the USA and the rising imperialisms of China and Russia..

The struggle is not exclusively or even mainly a military struggle.  It is also a diplomatic and propaganda struggle.  But it is mainly an economic struggle.

The United States is the world’s most extensive military power and the world’s leading financial power.  Its aim is to keep on being the world’s only superpower—militarily, politically and financially.  Its means is threats of military intervention and financial sanctions.

Source: The Diplomat. Click to enlarge.

The People’s Republic of China is the world’s leading manufacturer and exporter.  Its aim is to dominate its immediate region politically and militarily and to become the world’s leading power economically.  The means is investing in physical infrastructure and human capital, and winning friends by offering economic benefits.  Its master plan is the Belts and Roads initiative, a system of infrastructure construction projects intended to weave together the economies of interior Eurasia.

Russia is less powerful than the USA or China, but it is an important producer of food, fuel and vital raw materials. Its aim is to be recognized as a great power and to dominate its immediate region politically and militarily

The United States has a worldwide network of military bases and alliances, which gives it the power to engage in military and covert actions on every continent.  It dominates the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions and its banks have a chokehold on the world financial economy.

The basis of that power is the supremacy of the U.S. dollar as the world’s medium for doing business, and the replacement of gold by U.S. Treasury bonds as a store of value.

This enables the U.S. to finance its endless wars, to shrug off trade deficits and to impose crippling sanctions on nations that defy it.  But American leaders have foolishly allowed the source of its financial power, its strength as a manufacturing and exporting country, to fade away.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was an attack on the U.S.-dominated NATO alliance. Its aim is to keep Ukraine out of NATO, to bar nuclear missile systems from Poland and Rumania and to roll back western NATO troops to their 1997 positions.

The U.S. aim is to get Russia bogged down in a long quagmire war, while meanwhile trying to wreck the Russian economy through economic sanctions—that is, seizing Russian financial assets held in the U.S. allied countries, cutting Russia off from the dollar-based world financial system and blocking Russian imports and exports as much as possible.

With the aid of China, Russia is finding ways to engage in world trade using the ruble and other non-dollar currencies, thus helping to undermine U.S. financial power.  

Then again, with sanctions, the U.S. is already undermining itself.  It is teaching nations they need to figure out how to survive economically without ties to the United States or the dollar-based system.

This economic war is a real war.  People will suffer as a result of it.  Some die.  Some European nations depend on Russian gas.  Many nations depend on Russia for food and fertilizer exports.  Food and fuel prices are already rising as a result of the war and are expected to rise further.  

The most likely result of the conflict is a worldwide economic depression.  The worst possible result is nuclear war.  I don’t see any possible outcome that is of net benefit to the people of any of the three countries.


When I refer to China, Russia and the United States, I am referring their power structures, not their peoples.  I as an American have nothing against Chinese or Russian as individuals and I don’t imagine they have anything against me.  But the power elites of all three nations have imperial ambitions. 

Russia dominates Central Asia and Belarus, suppressed a rebellion in Chechnya, militarily intervened in Georgia and Ukraine and now has invaded Ukraine.

China is forcibly assimilating the conquered peoples of Xinjiang and Tibet.  It has been fortifying islands and reefs in the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines.  It has clashed with India, Bhutan and Nepal in the Himalayas and is said to be constructing dams at the headwaters of important rivers that flow into India.

The USA has engaged in so many imperialistic actions in the past couple of decades that it is impossible to list them all and hard to remember them all.  The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the proxy wars in Libya and Syria, support of Saudi Arabia’s ongoing genocidal war against Yemen and economic warfare against Iran and Venezuela—these are just a few.

It’s been estimated that millions have been killed as a result of U.S. military interventions in the past two decades.  This is in addition to the financial imperialism described so well by Michael Hudson.

The point of all this is none of the three power elites can claim a moral high ground for their ambitions. 

But it would be to the interest of the peoples of all three imperial nations to find a way to peacefully co-exist.  


A Brief Summary of the Effects of Russia Sanctions by Ian Welsh.

The U.S., Europe, China and the New Poorer Western World by Ian Welsh.

America Keeps Eyepoking India and China for Failing to Fall in Line on Russia; Arrogance Looking More and More Like Impotence by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

Is the Ukraine War a Prelude to a More Protracted Global War? by Deborah Veneziale for Counterpunch.  [Added Later]

The War in Ukraine is Sending Russia-China Relations in New Directions by John P. Ruehl for Globetrotter via Counterpunch.  [Added Later]

U.S. Recklessly Eyes China as Target in Economic War by Joe Lauria for Consortium News.

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11 Responses to “Ukraine is part of a broader three-way Cold War”

  1. Patrick Berting Says:

    It sounds like you’re equating the three powers morally. The difference is that the US (while flawed) is a democracy, the other two are ruthless autocracies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • philebersole Says:

      I don’t think I’d have the freedom to write a blog like this in Russia, and I’m certain I wouldn’t in China. I show how I value my freedom by exercising it. But democracies can be imperialistic, just like autocracies.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    Russia’s problem is that it is a failing state. Population in rapid decline and a huge brain drain of the young and talented. They need to become a regional power instead of a global power and admit they can’t have the world their way but they can still have a world that is good and still be secure. They don’t need 5700 nuclear bombs to do it. These are lessons the French and British have learned.

    The Americans may have an “empire” but it isn’t the same thing China and Russia want. If you don’t jump up and down screaming, “Death to America!” or invade somewhere vital to our interests, or give aid and comfort to our enemies, we’ll pretty much let you be. Even then, how we react depends on who is in the Whitehouse. With China and Russia, you lose your political, economic, and personal freedom as well as your sovereignty.

    That’s why Ukraine fights so hard. With all the Russian butchery, something the US is NOT guilty of on such a scale, fighting for freedom has additionally become fighting for hate.

    Need to restructure their economy and give the boot to the oligarchs. I don’t know if they can do this. Corruption has sunk deeply into the Russian soul.

    Between massive corruption, terrible tactics, and the isolation of Putin from reality, they’ve botched this action. They can’t really win – but they can scale back their victory goals to something possible. The US can light a match to a trillion dollars in Iraq/Afghanistan and hardly notice it. The Russians cannot say the same.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. whungerford Says:

    If the larger conflict is a three-way economic struggle, and Russia invaded Ukraine “to keep Ukraine out of NATO, to bar nuclear missile systems from Poland and Rumania and to roll back western NATO troops to their 1997 positions,” how did the invasion advance Russia’s interests in the economic struggle?

    Liked by 2 people

    • philebersole Says:

      Russia’s invasion of Ukraine didn’t advance its economic interests. It was intended to advance Russia’s nationalistic and geopolitical interests. Whether it will have done that remains to be seen.

      The reason the Ukraine war is of worldwide significance is (1) its disruption of world supplies of grain, fertilizer, gas and oil, including diesel fuel and (2) the effort of the Biden Administration to enlist the rest of the world to engage in a war of sanctions against Russia.

      The war of sanctions will damage Russia, but it also will weaken U.S. financial supremacy, because no nation’s leaders will want to leave themselves open to what the U.S. is doing to Russia. The sanctions war will leave Russia and the U.S. relatively weaker and China relatively stronger.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

      I don’t believe we ever placed or planned to place nuclear weapons systems in Romania or Poland. Or the Baltics. There was a plan back in 2009 to put ten ABM interceptors in Poland and the radar in the Czech republic. There was no warhead involved, conventional or otherwise, it was just a kinetic hit to kill and incapable of working against anything but a half dozen missiles, theoretically from a nuclear Iran.

      Russia objected and threatened to install ten nuclear armed Iskander-M hypersonics in Kaliningrad to compensate and Obama backed down. The Russians announced those Iskanders got installed in 2013 anyhow. The current kerfuffle of sending nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad if Finland and Sweden join NATO is just show.

      All those Kaliber cruise missiles on the cruisers, destroyers, and frigates are nuclear-capable, as are the fighters based there, and the occasional visiting missile subs and strategic bombers have nuclear weapons too. It is even possible that the Moskva, sunk by Ukrainian cruise missiles, had nukes on board. US policy is never to confirm or deny which ships have nuclear weapons of board. The Russians are no different.

      Now, Poland has asked for nukes but the answer was a hard NO. Would make no tactical, political or strategic sense. Even if you didn’t care about the Russian reaction they’d be vulnerable to a first strike take out before they could be used.

      The US has about a hundred nuclear weapons in Europe. Their exact locations are secret but they are in deep underground storage in western NATO and kept in an unarmed state. The weapons are all gravity bombs to be delivered by Strike fighters like the F-35A and the Typhoon. It is a 98% decrease from the peak of the Cold War. The rest of NATO’s nuclear weapons belong to UK submarines and French subs and carrier-based aviation.

      Putin is reacting to worst case scenarios that haven’t happened and aren’t going to happen. Poland is rearming because of the invasion for perfectly rational reasons. The Balkans are minimally armed. Lithuania has the largest force at 20K troops with no air force and no heavy armor. (2% of GDP doesn’t get you a lot from a 3 million population.) NATO’s response has been to station a battalion of troops up there permanently in each of the three state to reassure them that NATO has their backs. Hardly an offensive force.

      Should Russia deceide to attack, the Suvalki gap is wide open. Kaliningrad hass a huge military of 100-200K military personel including full motor rifle divisions, 150 fighters and the Baltic fleet. NATO is counting on Article 5 to deter as Russian assault not a deterrent force in place..

      Finland and Sweden have significant military forces to add to NATO, should they join. Finland’s long border with Russia would be problematic to defend.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Word from the Dark Side – secret army, sneering at Russia, smartphones are mandatory and stunning and brave prisoners | SovietMen Says:

    […] The world economic war: […]

    Liked by 1 person

  5. paintedjaguar Says:

    Phil, I’m glad your blog is still around. There are precious few voices left who haven’t fallen into one or another mass hysteria or propaganda campaign. It’s bitter tea after the heady early days of the blogosphere, when one could feel that free speech would triumph over lies and corporatism. Increasingly difficult now to stay sane under such a barrage of gaslighting.
    Patrick Berting, anyone who thinks we in the US are living in a democracy hasn’t been paying attention. The US is an oligarchy. Arguably it always has been, or maybe Gore Vidal was right about the fall of the republic. In any case, our present situation is obvious to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. paintedjaguar Says:

    “The sanctions war will leave Russia and the U.S. relatively weaker and China relatively stronger.”
    Seems likely to me that Russia will also be stronger in the long run. US elites will still live well, perhaps with diminished power, but the rest of us are screwed, at least in the foreseeable future.

    Liked by 1 person

    • philebersole Says:

      You may be right about this. Cutting Russia off from the dollar-based financial system and seizing assets within that system will harm Russia in the short-term, but they will be stronger in the long-term if they can become more self-sufficient and gain acceptable of the ruble as a hard currency. Sanctioning Russian oligarchs living abroad will drive them home, so that would be a net gain.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The World Is On Fire: Why We Should Be More Concerned Than Ever - Thomas W. P. Slatin Says:

    […] Are Mainstream On The Right | Would Nuclear Winter Cancel Out Global Warming? | Global Warming | Ukraine Is Part Of A Broader Three-Way Cold War | Russia’s Attack On Ukraine Represents A Demand For A New World Order | Blame Biden! | There Is […]


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