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There is an old saying—not every day is a Sunday. Look at the war between Ukraine and Russia. The counterattack by the Ukrainian forces was successful in the last two weeks, with Russian forces withdrawing from several fronts. Encouraged by this, the Ukrainian government has declared its intention to retake Crimea. Of course, if Russia continues to lose on multiple fronts, Putin’s already spoilt image will suffer further. Western countries can incite discontent and attempt to destabilize the Kremlin. According to unconfirmed reports, smoke was seen rising from Putin’s car after an explosion in what is believed to be a bid to assassinate the Russian President. If this is true, was it done by a disgruntled group, or was it the work of Western intelligence agencies?

Is it easy to get rid of Putin, whatever the truth is?

Putin has long experience in dealing with violent and non-violent conspiracies. But increased pressure on this front may result in an extreme reaction from him. Nato may not be fighting directly in Ukraine, but it controls all of Kyiv’s policies. Sweden and Finland, both outraged by the attack, have announced their intention to join Nato. There is also a concern that, after being surrounded by problems and desolation at home, Putin may take steps where the world may face the threat of a third World War.

To find the answer to this question, we must go back to the last century. What were the circumstances that led to World War II? Historians have given four major reasons for this: the Treaty of Versailles and Germany’s humiliation, global economic turmoil, the rise of Nazism under the guise of German nationalism, and numerous alliances. How is the situation now?

Economists in the US see a near-repeat of the economic woes prior to World War II. In the US, inflation has reached 8.3% . It had rocketed to 13% a few weeks ago, forcing the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. Relief for the common man may take some time, but the loss of industries and businesses is certain. Similarly, Europe, as a whole, is experiencing unprecedented economic challenges. Furthermore, Russia has restricted the supply of electricity and fuel in these countries. As a result, prices of electricity and petroleum products have more than doubled. Inflation is breaking new records daily. This is the first time since World War II that the Eiffel Tower’s lights are being turned off more than an hour earlier in the evening. Without electricity, Barcelona’s fountains were unable to emit their aura at night. Once the severe economic recession forced the US to abandon many of its policies and goals to fight in the Great War. Right now, the US and Europe are going through similar troubles.

China, on the other hand, is steadily increasing its economic and military power. It surpassed Japan to become the world’s second-largest economy in the last decade. Beijing supporters believe that this will be the last decade of US dominance. Currently, China ranks first in terms of products, trade and export. If Xi Jinping wins a third term in October, other countries’ mobilization in response to Chinese aggression will undoubtedly increase. Nobody knows when the rapidly intensifying new Cold War will erupt into a bloodbath. As a result, the world has seen an influx of various types of treaties. I would like to provide two examples here: India and China are at odds over a border dispute, but at the SCO summit, they pledged to fight together on all issues, including terrorism. Japan has historically been hostile to China, but it has entered into various treaties with Beijing. Other countries are also taking similar steps. In this world, such a plethora of contradictions is not a good sign.

Let us now discuss nationalism. When former US President Donald Trump spoke of “America First", Xi Jinping had pledged “China First". Then Russia attacked Ukraine to restore its former national glory. Ukraine is fighting it in the name of its ancient nationalism. Isn’t this a foreboding sign? Every citizen and leader has a responsibility to take pride in their countries and move it forward, but when nationalism becomes a form of propaganda and a weapon, it gnaws at the country’s internal structure. The best examples are Sri Lanka and Pakistan. On 6 January 2021, anarchic elements in Washington’s ‘Capitol Hill demonstrated that when rhetoric becomes a part of power play, glorious traditions crumble. There is a lot going on right now that reminds us of the early 1930s.

Under these circumstances, the world is looking forward to the outcome of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Samarkand. Among the 18 heads of state, the world’s three most powerful leaders were present, including Narendra Modi, Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping. Has Putin got any meaningful message for this summit?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal.

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