Changes in the global balance of power
February 24, 2022, is a landmark date in the history of modern international relations. It was when Russia attacked Ukraine and gave undeniable confirmation of what it had been expressing for a long time. It clearly and emphatically challenged the current balance of power and increased U.S. activity on the eastern flank. Recall that the hybrid war in Ukraine has been going on continuously since 2014. A hybrid war is a conflict that combines conventional activities with information warfare and propaganda. From a geopolitical perspective, Russia’s aggression is not targeted strictly at Ukraine. Both Russia and China have never come to terms with the post-Cold War balance of power, in which the United States dominated the international arena. The aspect of domination should be seen both in the military and economic context, but most of all in the approach to power and governance, where the U.S. represents a democratic model.
In addition to the conventional dimension of warfare, we can also observe the unprecedented large-scale dimension of information warfare. Hundreds of thousands of Internet users have entered the battle, manipulating facts and information every day in order to achieve the desired effects.
Thanks to the phenomenal defense of Ukraine, we have gained time to think. Russia’s aggression violates all norms of international law and violates basic human rights. The current moment in history is forcing us to rethink what economic freedom and individual liberty mean to us, as well as the importance of the privacy we once surrendered for convenience. As the world draws a new geopolitical order, we should consider whether we know the values of the companies from which we buy products and services. Why is this important? Let’s take the example of Robert Lewandowski’s cooperation with Huawei. The best Polish football player was bound to the company by a contract worth millions of euros. When it turned out that the company would not resign from providing services in Russia, Lewandowski broke the contract, not minding the financial losses. It turned out that this company is not consistent with the values professed by the footballer. Recently, there have been dozens of examples of this type of behavior. Influential and opinion-forming people do not agree with a company’s stance on the conflict in Ukraine. The same is true of consumer behavior. People on a mass scale boycott companies that take the side of the aggressor. They do not identify with their actions. Most of us are only now realizing how important it is that we know the values of the company we support. Whether that support is through purchasing goods and services, investing, or advertising activities. This situation shows that consumerism and business can never exist in isolation from the values that are represented by individual market players.
It’s time to return to the fundamental questions that we stopped asking ourselves in the last 30 years because we believed Fukuyama that this is the end of history and the time of eternal peace. It’s high time to redefine our online presence and once again ask ourselves if we really want to do it on the terms we’ve been using.
Note that in 2014 Ukraine was showing surprising weakness, but now it is showing tremendous strength. For a long time, Ukraine allowed the Russian message about it to dominate in the West – but now the Ukrainian message is dominating. This is a very big victory that points to the invaluable role of social media, which in this case plays a very positive role. However, on the example of Russian internet users’ behavior, we can also see that the media are not free from the manipulation and the interests of governments and large corporations.
Let’s think about what lessons we can learn from the current situation and try to look at potential solutions that we can apply in our everyday lives.
The power of information
Russia assumed the takeover of Ukraine would be quick and seamless – this is what we learn from plans recently leaked online. Putin committed political suicide and underestimated the value of information in these times. The Ukrainians are winning because they have very high morale, and they are clearly and unquestionably winning the information war. The positive message, the united nation, and the image of President Zelenski, who not only did not abandon his country in its time of need but most importantly stood up for it, makes the vast majority of the western world have no doubts about which side they should take. Numerous reports about the bizarre actions of the Russian army, which is weakened, insufficiently prepared, and commits preposterous mistakes, weaken Russia in our eyes and, as a result, really diminish its value. With all this, we can also see that Putin prepared his “peace operation” from the beginning under disguise and the Russian soldiers had no idea what fate their leader was condemning them to.
Concentrating citizens and soldiers around the message that they have a chance to defend their state and their independence has a direct impact on the behavior and morale of the nation.
Another aspect indicating the power and great importance of information will be the access to information (or rather the lack of it) of Russian society. Let us pay attention to the fact that the citizens of this country are subjected to propaganda activities on an unimaginable scale. For this reason, a large part of the Russian population actually believes that Russia is carrying out a peace mission in Ukraine, where it is fighting fascists and drug addicts. Those who do not believe – in telling the truth are subjected to severe repression.
For years, the Russian people have been deprived of access to reliable and trustworthy information, making it impossible for them to make a clear and unambiguous assessment of the situation in which they find themselves. The Russian case is a typical example of how manipulated information can do a great deal of harm. It is hard to imagine how it is possible that in the 21st century the inhabitants of the largest country in the world do not have access to the real message. However, this is what propaganda operations are based on and this is how authoritarian authorities operate.
SWIFT is an example of limitations in the current financial system
In the case of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, we have no doubt that it is an unacceptable and intolerable act and that all sanctions, even the most severe ones, are not proportional to the scale of Russian crime.
SWIFT in the present circumstances proves to be a good and fairly effective tool in the fight against the violation of international order and human rights by Russia. SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is a very small but powerful organization. It was created to ensure that money is safe and goes where it should. The organization brings together several hundred thousand banks. The SWIFT sanctions imposed on Russia concern not only bank transfers: they also hit stock exchanges, brokerage houses, and tax offices, and restrict some credit card transactions and currency exchange.
SWIFT can be compared to telecommunications, except that it is used for communication between banks. Excluding Russia from SWIFT is not excluding it from world trade, nor is it banning trade with Russia. In practice, this means that Russia can still maintain trade relations with European countries and the USA. However, this entails much more effort than was previously the case. Transactions also become marred, exposing Russian entrepreneurs to large losses. The Russians began constructing an alternative system in 2014, but it is far less advanced than SWIFT, which has been implemented and upgraded for decades. Building this system almost from scratch means chaos, and the information burden of all transactions may not be manageable. The SWIFT example shows us the significant impact of operating in a broader global context. In order to effectively shake up the Russian economy, it is necessary for all countries to agree on the exclusion of a country from the system. This means that China, for example, cannot be allowed to perform transactions. Iran is an example of a country that has been successfully circumventing the exclusion since 2012 when cutting itself off from SWIFT was supposed to prompt the authorities to discuss its nuclear status again. Transactions on Iran’s behalf are done by other countries like Qatar, for example. So if China sides with Russia in this conflict and allows it to make transfers from its banks – sanctions, in the long run, will not be as severe as anticipated. Currently, however, the Russians have the very banks that are in trouble. These banks all operate in a global world. Just a few dozen hours after the sanctions were launched, we could see the first serious crisis. The functioning of Sberbank came into question. Let’s remember that banks operate on the basis of a social contract, which assumes that all customers will not come at the same time for money. “Bank heist” is a situation in which people panic and precisely because of this they have reasons to panic. The spiral that is set in motion in this way causes banks to actually fail as a result. However, it is hard to give an unambiguously negative connotation to people’s behavior. They feel fear and uncertainty about the future of their savings, and let us remember that the value of the guarantee fund in the event of a bank collapse is only 100 000 euros.
Let us also remember that sanctions have a wider dimension than just the collapse of banks. If a manufacturer has problems, it stops buying products, stops employing people, and we have a domino effect. The scale of indirect sanctions against Russia, introduced by decisions of Western concerns, is also expanding. One of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges – Binance – has announced that it will not accept cards issued by Russian banks subject to sanctions or belonging to legal entities and individuals listed on sanction lists.
Why should the example of sanctions imposed on Russia make us think? First of all, we must realize that our money is not safe in banks. Banks are not apolitical – they are instruments of international politics. The Russia case shows how these institutions can exert influence on countries if they commit unacceptable acts. However, we should remember that institutions have the ability to control always, not only when it is determined by the “higher good”. This means that our money is not safe in the global financial system. Let us also pay attention to the aspect related to the inability to make transfers to Russia. The example should automatically make us reflect on what we know about the values of the entities with which we enter into financial relations.
Cyber security is the overriding value of the 21st century
The technological revolution and globalization have irrevocably changed the world around us. Gradual digitalization initially provided great convenience. Search engines were a one-sided benefit for us, the recipients – we could retrieve information from them on an almost unlimited scale. However, over time, the recipients of messages also became the creators of those messages, and we began to produce on a massive scale the content that is now on the web. This phenomenon has brought with it various consequences, including the inability to distinguish between fake news and facts. At the expense of unlimited access to information, something else has happened: we are leaving more and more of our data about our preferences and tastes to large corporations, which use it to target us as consumers. The line between privacy and the unlawful use of data for personal purposes is becoming blurred. Political scandals related to the unclear status of information shared by Internet users online are also becoming frequent cases. Apart from the famous Cambridge Analyst scandal, one can mention theories that Trump was elected to the US presidency as a candidate susceptible to manipulation by Russia. The actions of Russian online propaganda activists were supposed to have a big influence on who became the US president. Trump was to be seen as convenient and easy to manipulate. The world of politics knows a great many situations where cyber security breaches were meant to serve specific purposes and profits.
Keep in mind that cyber warfare is not announced anywhere, but its effects can lead to destruction on a similar scale to conventional actions. The nature of cyber attacks can be distributed and decentralized, and an anonymous and networked adversary will be hard to defeat. Note that although the Cold War ended in the real world, it existed all the time in cyberspace. Ukrainian companies were attacked, as well as their partners. It was not at all uncommon for Microsoft to respond to attacks targeting specific state actors.
Cyber security must be considered multidimensionally. It is not limited to cyber-attacks. In the near term, we can expect a phenomenon where Russia will have its own completely separate Internet and the rest of the world will have its own. Such a scenario may lead to further escalation of divisions in the perception of reality, and we can already observe the effects of this phenomenon. Most people do not seek alternative paths, and so gradually a significant portion of Russian Internet users will be cut off from the Internet as it will be known in the West.
In the context of cyber security, the position of large corporations such as Facebook and Google is also important. Both companies have taken the side of Ukraine unequivocally in the ongoing conflict, and Facebook has even announced changes to its terms and conditions, which will not treat unequivocal condemnation of Russian aggression as hate speech. This situation clearly shows how powerful social media is today, and that its owners will never remain impartial participants in international relations. In the ongoing conflict, we have no problems clearly identifying who is the aggressor, the situation is black and white. However, we must remember that Russia is also using social media on a hitherto unknown scale. A tool that aims to identify the activity of the so-called Russian trolls, which was created by the creators of Brand24, provides new data every day, which shows how large the scale of this phenomenon is. We should also remember that Google and satellite images can be used in both good and bad faith. Recently, the media has also been abuzz with the bizarre yet true news that a Russian general shared an attack plan on a messenger app. The data, of course, could easily be intercepted. In this case, we can evaluate these actions as unequivocally positive, but we should remember that our information shared through most messengers is not secret and can be used against us at any time. Intelligence activities using instant messengers are becoming more and more common.
We should also remember that we are all connected to the global information network, and this very often brings danger. There are already attacks on pacemakers and insulin pumps, which are also controlled by global network systems. Cyber security, then, also has a broader context in which it refers to the protection of human life, and this in turn, even more than we think, is dependent on technology.
Important lessons and possible solutions
Despite the fact that the current situation is extremely difficult and dynamic, we should already think about what lessons we can learn from it. First and foremost, it is important to build our operations on sites that are not elements of information warfare or affiliated with large corporations or governments. Beyond this obvious conclusion, there are a few more important considerations that the current situation forces us to make.
The first lesson we should take from current events will be that corporate values cannot be a mystery to us. We need to know if the idea that a company follows is in line with our beliefs. If a company is based on justice, and equality, and believes in the importance of freedom and privacy, it will not side with the man who is responsible for genocide. Companies can no longer just offer us information about what commercials they make or how much profit they boast. There must be something more behind them, and it is up to us to play the role of gatekeepers who enforce the veracity of these claims in practice.
Secondly, the era of hitherto capitalism is surely irrevocably over. Over the last 30 years, we have come to believe that we can live on credit, and our greatest aspirations have become those typically associated with the consumption of goods and services. The war is forcing us to redefine our approach, and it’s not just that each of us should focus on accumulating savings. We need to look for a broader system and context in which to begin operating. A good direction to initiate a transformation is to take a closer look at social capitalism. It is a capitalist system that primarily focuses on the ideas of freedom (both in economic and private dimensions), equality, and justice. On the Polish market, an extremely interesting project UserCrypt Nation has appeared, which provides all interested with practical tools and methods that allow the implementation of social capitalism in practice.
These tools and products are an excellent complement to further lessons that the current situation has in store for us. The example related to the SWIFT disconnect and the risk of massive bank failures reminds us that our money is not safe in banks and that we as currency users are not free from government speculation on currency exchanges. We can observe with our own eyes the massive scale of inflation, as well as the decline in the value of the currency. In this context, it is worth watching the proposal of UserCrypt Nation which prepared an ecosystem to which we as users can join by purchasing useful products for us e.g. UserCrypt Messenger which allows for secure communication and protects our privacy. By purchasing the product we automatically become the owner of the SoCap token which gives us the right to vote in matters of the organization’s fate. This ecosystem is based on the principles of social capitalism and brings together people with similar values and ideas. The SoCap cryptocurrency has a real and proven value, is free from speculation, and does not pollute the environment. Together with other members of the ecosystem, we start even economic and economic growth. We gain confidence that our means of payment will not lose value. We have a guarantee that our business partners have values similar to ours.
An important lesson we can take from the current situation will also be for us to take care of our cyber security. We should no longer rely on instant messaging where our data is not secret. We must take into account that large Internet corporations never operate separately from the pressures and interests of governments. We must remember that our privacy is a paramount value, not only for the safety of us as individuals but also for the security and smooth functioning of entire countries. We need to turn our eyes toward secure messaging. Looking at the UserCrypt Nation project in this context theirs seems to be really visionary, and after all, it was created long before the current changes in the world order. The creators of the project in addition to inviting us to an ecosystem that includes companies with ideas and values we want to believe input into our hands a cryptocurrency of the future that has proven value, also have ready-to-use products such as secure UserCrypt Messenger or Video that allow us to have secure and encrypted conversations.
Undoubtedly, in the current situation, we should look for these types of holistic solutions that will allow us to take care of our security in a context where we have a real influence on it, and also allow us to build economic freedom that will make us independent from the unstable situation in the world. Although as ordinary citizens we have no influence on the end of the conflict in Ukraine, we are unable to stop the unimaginable destruction caused by Russian aggression, it is our daily choices that create the reality in which we live.
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