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Mainstream, VOL LX No 17, New Delhi, April 16, 2022

The ongoing Ukrainian conflict and its implications for world order | P S Jayaramu

Friday 15 April 2022

by P. S. Jayaramu *

14th April 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has entered the 50th day. It is worth reflecting on how the conflict is going on, Putin’s war (and the larger) aims, the manner in which it is being interpreted by the West, specially the United States, its implications for world order in general and the prospects for peace in Ukraine in particular.

Let me first turn to Vladimir Putin’s war aims. When the invasion started, it was argued by the western leaders and analysts that Putin is consumed by his desire of reestablishing a Czarist regime in Russia, going by his unhappiness about the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the sense of humiliation in the hands of the west, specially the United States, whose leaders claimed victory in the Cold war and bragged about the emergence of the ‘unipolar moment’ in world politics. Contrary to Russia’s hopes after the winding down of the Warsaw Pact, the US went about gradually expanding the NATO alliance eastwards, threatening Russia’s security and strategic interests. To put it simply, American aim was to encircle and continue to contain Russia in the post-cold war era too. Going by Russia’s security intersts, Putin could not accept the emerging developments in his backyard.

As for Ukraine, Putin always perceived that it was a part of Russian, having no identity of its own and that it was to be one day or the other reintegrated with Russia. However, the reality points to the fact that Ukraine has had a strong sense of its own identity, imbued by a sense of nationalism. With the March of globalisation, Ukraine turned more towards the West and the US to carry forward its nation building activity. Its desire to join the NATO was however egged by the US interest in using Ukraine to encircle and contain Russia.

Moved by considerations of national security, Putin thought it fit to invade Ukraine, recognise the independence of the two breakaway provinces—Donesk and Luhansk—to thwart Ukraine’s plans of joining NATO. At a larger level, it needs to be recognised that the war has turned out to be a conflict between Russian and Ukrainian nationalism. While it appears to be true that the war has not gone as per Putin’s plans of a short and swift military victory over Ukraine, thanks to the latter’s resistance, resulting in the death of a few thousand Russian soldiers and destruction of parts of the Russian war machine, Putin is not the kind of a leader who would give up his plans either. In evidence of that, he has changed the supreme commander of his armed forces and brought back General Aleksandr Dvornikov, known for his ‘butcher’ image since the days of the second Chechen war. Having already destroyed a sizeable part of Ukraine’s military infrastructure, Putin’s strategy is to intensify the war in the eastern sector, going by his most recent statement about peace talks with Ukraine having reached a deadlock, for which he blames Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. Consumed by his war aims, Putin seems to attach little importance to the economic losses being suffered by Russia as a result of the punishing western sanctions, which are slated to be intensified in the coming days. Reports of popular support and resistance to his invasion of Ukraine are also available. But, in any case, one thing seems to be clear : there is lot of disinformation and misinformation about the actual course of the war from the Russian, Ukrainian and western sources.

It is being speculated by a few western Russia-watchers, that Putin might terminate the war at a later date by leaving behind a truncated Ukraine forcing it to abandon its plans of joining the NATO. In any case, Ukraine too, seems to be coming round to such a thinking. Being disappointed by the depth of western support to Ukraine, Zelenskyy is articulting his desire for a neutral Ukraine with some kind of western security guarantees, which is opposed by Putin. As I had argued in my earlier piece (dated 5th March,) a neutral Ukraine, playing the role of a bridge between eastern and Western Europe with membership of European Union is the only realistic way forward to resolve the Ukrainian tangle and help her maintain independence.

In our discussion of the Ukrainian crisis, it is also necessary to recapture the western, specially American, foreign policy objective. If we go by US President Biden’s recent utterances calling Putin a war criminal committing genocide in Ukraine, etc, it becomes clear that the the US wants to use the the Ukrainian crisis to restart the Cold War with Russia. As is well known, the search for an enemy/adversary, is a perineal theme in American foreign policy and bringing back Russia into that spot suits the American leadership. The military-industrial complex has always egged America to pursue a policy of augmenting its military strength to defeat an enemy, real or imaginary, threatening America’s imperial intersts in the world. Viewed in this sense, the argument advanced by the American leadership and, large sections of the media and academia, that the conflict in Ukraine is a war between democracy and authoritarianismis devoid of credibility. It is pure and simple, a pretext for spreading American power and hegemony. The discomfort felt by many European leaders, who are otherwise lined up with America in the Ukrainian conflict, is also worthy of notice, specially because they do not want their economies to suffer given their dependence on Russian oil and natural gas. It is also a fact that many European leaders (and business houses) benefit by their links with the Russian oligarchs.

It is against the background of the realistic picture portrayed above that we need to ponder over the implications of the ongoing war in Ukraine on the crumbling international order. Quest for hegemony and or bipolar confrontation is not conducive to a durable international order based on respect for territorial integrity and national soverignty, values which need to be protected, however small a nation is in the international system. Respect for and allowing international institutions like the United Nations and the International Court of Justice to play their legitimate role as guardians of the international system are imperative for a global order based on multipolarity. India, which gave to the world the Panchasheel doctrine and the foreign policy strategy of nonalignment, which essentially lays stress on judging every issue in the light of national intersts juxtaposing it with normative values of peace, equality, justice and nuclear disarmament, should come forward and play a more positive and activist role in the post-Ukrainian conflict period, rather than leaving the field exclusively to the US, to decide the cantours of a preferred inclusive world order.

* (Author: Dr. P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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