What if We Are on the Brink of World War III? Why Isn't the West Doing Anything About It?

February 11, 2022

Democratic governments are in-fighting, imploding, and have few strong leaders. Autocratic governments have been gaining ground politically and economically and may soon take over. The question is how soon. Almost definitely within the next two decades, and possibly in less than two weeks. In my view, having worked at a Russian bank during the last Beijing Olympics in 2008, there is a high probability that Russia will invade Ukraine once the current Olympics adjourns. Furthermore, Vladimir Putin might have ambitions and the ability to conquer other former USSR countries he deems part of the Russian Empire, especially if the West does not get its act together. Finally, China might well take this opportunity to invade Taiwan and gain access to their semiconductors and technological expertise. This would all have dire effects for the West, even if Ukraine and Taiwan seem far away.

My Jewish grandfather escaped communist Russia in 1917 to flee to France where my father was born. Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. By 1938, Hitler had successfully annexed Austria (my grandmother’s birthplace) a sovereign country that Hitler claimed was historically and rightfully part of Germany. In response, France and Britain signed the Munich Pact to appease Germany. By 1939, Hitler broke the pact and annexed Czechoslovakia and then Poland. When Poland was invaded, France and Britain finally declared war, officially starting World War II. But they did not do much under UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and other leaders, so it was deemed a “phony war” until 1940 when France and England, under Winston Churchill, finally mobilized their forces to counter this threat.

Thus, Hitler was able to annex three countries he deemed as his former Empire in just six years from when he was elected Chancellor. This might be the standard that Vladimir Putin judges himself against. What if, at age 69, Putin has spent 20 years hoping to relive the glory of his hero Stalin and regain the Soviet and Russian Empire? Now would be his best chance, as Western powers are not showing leadership, unity, or military forces necessary to counter Putin’s should he decide to invade Ukraine and beyond.

Putin's Grandfather Was a Personal Cook to Joseph Stalin and Putin Seeks to Annex Lands Which He Deems Part of His Empire, Like Hitler Did

My grandfather realized Hitler’s true ambitions when the Munich Pact was signed, before many others,
and was able to secure coveted visas for his family to flee to America, which would largely become a land of peace. While the US has conducted wars in smaller countries like Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, we’ve managed to avoid a truly global conflict since the armistice following World War II. Is our relative peace now likely to come to an end?

Indeed, we can argue that we are already in a cold war with both China and Russia. Among the less visible threats, cyberattacks, misinformation and foreign election interference can now achieve what bombs used to do.

Now, the tanks of a hot war are barreling down to the Ukrainian border, while Western leaders respond with rhetoric. Russia and China might be laughing their way to victory while distracting Westerners with the Olympics. 

Some would argue that the conditions for our downfall have been brewing for some time. America is at war with itself, busy dismantling the institutions of its own democracy. Europe has a convoluted structure and lacks coherent leadership.

All that has left the door open for autocracy to take over. Small countries like Ukraine will fall first. But what happens next?

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist… Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me. - Martin Niemoller

My analysis and warnings are rooted in both personal and professional experience. I studied and lived in Russia during the 1990s, when the USSR had imploded and the Great Russian Empire was thrust into embarrassing poverty. After earning my Master’s in International Security and Economics at Harvard, I worked in London for the premiere Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital in 2008, advising fund managers at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan on IPOs and investments in Russia, Ukraine, and Africa. Later, I became the macroeconomist for the global mining firm Rio Tinto, where I advised the CEO on China and other countries, as well as developed different scenarios about how the world could unfold to ensure we had appropriate plans in place. In the late 1990s, I worked for DARPA, the Defense Department’s visionary arm that invented the Internet. I was honored to work on the same project as the founder of the Internet Vint Cerf on a project envisioned by Admiral John Poindexter to revolutionize national security awareness to detect threats to the US. For DARPA, I worked with military strategists and was skilled at envisioning the future and developing scenarios. I like to think that I inherited my grandfather's instinct and throughout my career have been able to foresee and connect dots especially among many global events before others. For instance, in February 2020, I was a lone voice warning that Covid was being underestimated and could cause a global outbreak and crash - while Goldman and others dismissed the impact of Covid. Sequoia did not put out its famous Black Swan call until March 5, and Bill Ackman's heralded bearish trade was put on in March.

What if Putin invades the Ukraine, but also keeps going until the entire USSR has been reconquered? China, meanwhile, is simply waiting for the right moment to invade Taiwan. US and European leaders do not understand the enormity of the problem. Unless we start preparing and offering credible threats to both China and Russia, they will re-shape the entire map of the world — including Africa, Eastern Europe, and even potentially, “Old Europe.” We also know they can impact US elections, even for the Presidency.

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