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Mainstream, VOL LX No 23, New Delhi, May 28, 2022

The ongoing Ukrainian war: Some reflections | P S Jayaramu

Friday 27 May 2022


by P. S. Jayaramu

21st May 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is an ongoing, yet unfortunate, phenomenon. It is not clear as to how long it will prolong and on whose and what terms it would end, since both Russia and Ukraine, are not showing any interest in finding a diplomatic solution to the problem. At this stage, it is worth reflecting on the war aims of Putin, those of the US and NATO powers and of Ukraine itself. Going by the intensity with which the Biden Administration is involving itself in the war, in terms of weapons supply, training of Ukrainian soldiers, intelligence sharing with the Ukrainian Government about the movements of Russian soldiers, it is clear that the United States is using the Ukrainian crisis to restart the Cold War with Russia.

Let us first first look at Vladimir Putin’s objectives. At the May 9th annual victory parade to celebrate Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazi Germany during the World War II, Vladimir Putin told his soldiers : “ You are fighting for the Motherland and its future so that no one forgets the lessons of the Second World War”. There were speculations earlier that Putin might proclaim a formal declaration of war over Ukraine and general mobilisation since his earlier calculations of a quick capture of Ukraine have not been realised. But, no such announcements were made by Putin.

When the Russain invasion of Ukraine started on 24th February, it was widely projected by the west that Putin is consumed by his desire to reestablish the Czarist empire in Russia, in view of his unhappiness over the sense of humiliation Russia suffered in the hands of America after the end of the Cold War and the manner in which American leadership proclaimed the emergence of a unipolar world. Contrary to Russia’s expectations, after the winding down of the Warsaw Pact, the US went about expanding the NATO alliance eastwards, threatening Russia’s security and strategic interests. NATO membership now stands at 30, with the Nordic countries—Finland and Sweeden—having initiated measures to join it. Russia’s national security intersts makes Putin oppose it sternly.

With regard to Ukraine, Putin’s position has been that it was always a part of Russia, having no identity of its own and that it was to be one day or the other reintegrated with Russia. The reality, however, points to the fact that Ukraine has had a strong sense of its own identity, imbued by a sense of nationalism. With the advent of globalisation, Ukraine turned towards the West to carry forward its nation building activities.

As the war progressed, going by the stiff resistance from Ukrainian following the supply of sophisticated weapons by the US, Putin changed his earlier strategy of capturing Kyiv and ordered his troops to gain firm hold over the eastern and southern regions. He has even given up his earlier plan of bringing about a regime change in Ukraine. Efforts in this direction are clearly visible. Putin’s war aim is to be that of establishing the independence of the two breakaway provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, as he has already recognised them. His strategy is to divide Ukraine (as outright capture of Ukraine doesn’t seem to be in the realm of possibility) and retain control over the two independent region, leaving behind a truncated Ukraine.

The West has been pointing out that Russia may resort to the use of nuclear weapons possibly to start a third world war in order to achieve its goals. Russia, however, has denied it saying it may do so only if its national security is directly threatened. The Russian defence minister has, however, stated at the same time that the conflict may escalate into a Third World War, if NATO pursues a proxy war against his country.

As regards Ukraine, though it initially showed inclination towards a dialogue to end the war, President Zelenskyy seems to have backtraced on the idea, enthused by the massive supply of weapons from the US and NATO powers, including the proposed suicide drones, by the US. He perhaps wants to go down in history as a leader who took on the mighty Russia in order to preserve Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty. In the present scenario, it is not a question of Ukraine joining NATO, but, as some perceptive western analysts have observed, NATO itself has gone to Ukraine! However, going by the huge loss of lives and destruction of national infrastructure, it would be prudent on the part of Zelenskyy to opt for a negotiated settlement of the problem with Russia, instead of getting sucked into the quagmire of Russian-American/ western rivalry. But, the moot question is : will the West allow him to do so?

As for the United States, the Ukrainian crisis has become an excuse to pursue its post-second world war objective of containing and encircling Russia. Evidence of such thinking is available in President Joe Biden’s harsh pronouncements about Putin. The search for an enemy is a perineal theme in the American foreign policy and bringing back Russia into that slot suits its interests. The military-industrial complex has always egged America to strengthen its war machine to take on the enemy, real or imaginary. As the US Defence Secretary said recently: “we want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kind of things that it has done in invading Ukraine”. That explains the recent effort by the Biden Administration to get the Congressional approval for a 40 billion dollars assistance to help Ukrainian armed forces to fight the war against Russia. The massive aid package signals a major escalation fo US backing for Ukraine. The American leadership is supported in its grand strategy by the military-industrial-academic-media complex. Viewed from this perspective, the argument advanced by the American leadership that the conflict in Ukraine is a war between democracy and authoritarianism is devoid of any credibility. Establishing global hegemony is America’s long cherished goal.

It is against the above background that we need to ponder over the implications of the ongoing war in Ukraine on the international system. As Prime Minister Modi said during his recent visit go Germany—foreign minister Jaishankar has said it before too— there will be no victor in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Putin has perhaps, realised that he made a miscalculation when he started the war. He has neither been able to wrap up a quick victory, nor able to prevent the loss of his soldiers, including some high ranking Generals, in addition to the losses suffered by Russia’s military machine. That is perhaps why Putin said in his 9th May speech that his government will take care of the families of the soldiers who have died in the ongoing special military operations.

Ukraine too has suffered enormously, as noted earlier, in the course of the war. Additionally, what can not be brushed aside is the fact that the Western European nations, in particular, and others in general, including India, are suffering from inflation and economic reverses as a result of the enormous hike in crude oil prices. As the UN Secretary General and India have been saying, war does not help solve problems. Russia and Ukraine should return to the negotiating table to find an amicable solution to restore peace and normalcy in Europe. The challenge would be to bring about a solution ensuring a dignified sovereign existence of Ukraine while at the same time allying Russia’s fears to its national security.

(The writer is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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