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If a world war is defined by the confrontation of two armies, bringing together soldiers and armaments from most of the countries on the planet, the third world war started a long time ago.
For decades, the major powers of the West and the East have been fighting each other; usually with the interposition of each other’s auxiliaries using all the military equipment provided by the armies of their major allies, which have remained cautiously behind; but not always: sometimes, one of the major powers is in the front line against the auxiliaries of the other. In both cases, the two sides use the most sophisticated weaponry of each side, often with experts from the great powers discreetly present on the front line, real or virtual.
Never before in these battles involving all the world’s arms industries and armies have the armies of the superpowers been seen to oppose each other head-on, except by grazing or challenging each other.
These confrontations began in Korea in the 1950s; they continued in Indochina; in both cases, Eastern proxies confronted Western superpowers; then in Afghanistan (where Western proxies, the Taliban, armed with the best American missiles, pushed Soviet troops out of the country); then in Syria, where the confrontation went even further, when French and American troops bombed Russian installations on Assad-controlled territory.
The war in Ukraine is no exception: as in previous conflicts, in Indochina or Afghanistan, a people is trying to get rid of the presence of one of the superpowers, with the help of arms and advisers from the other superpower. We have not yet seen, as in Syria, a bombing of a target of the occupying superpower on the territory occupied by the troops of the other superpowers. It is not far off: NATO has reportedly already told Russia that if it uses unconventional weapons, NATO aircraft will bomb the occupying troops.
If everyone talks about “the threat of a third world war” in relation to the Ukraine, if no one in the dominant countries has realised that the confrontation has long been global, it is because the theatres of operation were not in Europe and because during the decade following the fall of the Berlin Wall there was a fleeting hope that the confrontation would be over.
If this war, once again a world war by proxy, degenerates into a direct confrontation between the armies of the East and the West, it will not be the third, but the fourth world war. A nuclear one at that.
There is still time to avoid it. To do this, at the same time as we are working to help the Ukrainians put an end to their martyrdom and drive out their executioners, it is essential to make all Russians understand that the behaviour of their leaders is leading their nation to suicide.
To achieve this, it would be necessary to be able to talk to all Russians, to make them aware of the monstrosities committed by those who lead them. There is no existing means of doing this. So we have to invent others. Imagining a world where the truth could be transmitted to all is more important than developing new weapons systems.
For example, the new owner of Twitter (that great information and exchange network that is currently reporting so well on what is happening in Ukraine, and which allows the whole world to communicate privately with unknown Ukrainians, and to help them), should use some of its unlimited resources to finance the research of a way to bypass the thousand and one archaic censors of the Kremlin, and to make known to all Russians, wherever they are, in all their administrations, their regiments, their schools, their companies, their homes, the monstrosities committed in their name.
Utopian? Perhaps. But not impossible. After all, toppling dictatorships is an utopia at least as important as any that Elon Musk is pursuing at the moment.