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Home > 2023 > The war in Ukraine: Where is it heading towards? | P. S. Jayaramu

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 9 - 10, February 25 & March 4, 2023

The war in Ukraine: Where is it heading towards? | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 25 February 2023


22nd February, 2023

At the time of writing, the War in Ukraine is entering the second year. And we don’t know when and on whose terms will it end. The likelihood of its continuance can be understood by the statement made by US President Joe Biden, the other day, during his surprise visit to the Ukrainian capital Kiev. He reaffirmed American committment to stand firmly by the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, whatever it takes. His visit also signalled to America’s NATO allies to stand by Ukraine militarily and otherwise in its valiant efforts to save its nationhood. It also signalled to the Chinese that the US is aware of its possible military supplies to Russia in the coming days ( CIA has intelligence reports to that effect) given China’s reluctance to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine last February. Biden’s Kiev visit was also a stern warning to Russia that the US and NATO will remain committed to Ukraine’s defence. Sadly, the Ukrainian war is easily one of the longest wars to be fought on the European soil after the end of the Second World War.

While it might be realistic to assume that with the dissolution of Warsaw Pact and the expansion of NATO ( expansion is continuing) Russia felt encircled and insecure. Ukraine’s bid to join the alliance was the last nail in the coffin, as it were, to have led to Putin to launch his invasion of Ukraine. He was also aided by his imperial desire to relaunch Russia as a Great Power in Europe, coupled with his belief that Ukraine was always a part of Russia. While debate can go on about the genuineness or otherwise of Putin’s fears, one year of war should make it abundantly clear that Putin miscalculated the strength of the Ukrainian people under Zelensky to defend themselves against the Russian onslaught. Putin also misjudged the extent of western support to Ukraine. He probably thought that he could successfully carry out a swift military victory over Ukraine and perhaps even bring about a regime change by installing a pro-Russian and pro-Putin General in office. But, all that failed. During the last one year, Ukrainians have fought back the Russian forces forcefully, thanks to their own sense of nationalism and western military support. So much so, four regions of Ukraine Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, which were annexed by Russia by September last year are not firmly under its control now. Without going into the details of territorial annexation and control or loss of control over them, it is reasonable to surmise that the war is not proceeding on Putin’s terms, a vindication of which comes from his decision to change the Chief of his ‘special operations’ twice during the course of the war. There are reports that Putin has authorised his friend and head of the Wagner Mecenary Group,Yevgeny Prigozhin (which is resented by many in Russian defence officials) to plunge into the war in the southern sector in the days to come.

It is useful to revert back to the theme of Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Kiev and its implications. The visit has raised a host of questions which need to be analysed. Some of the most important of them are :

1) will Biden’s Kiev visit trigger greater Russian offensive and if so, what consequences will it have for Ukraine’s security and infrastructure ? According to some American estimates, already 100,000 people ( including soldiers) have died in Ukraine so far. (Roughly an equal number of deaths on the Russian side are estimated by the American sources). If this is true, the war has cost Ukraine very dearly in terms of human and other losses, not to forget the thousands of people who have been refugees in neighbouring countries. This is where we need to remember the sage advice given by Dr. Henry Kissinger in his Davos talk last summer that diplomatic efforts must be seriously made to end the war before the onset of winter. Alas, it fell on deaf ears of the western and Ukrainian leaders. Kissinger’s suggestion of some territorial concessions by Ukraine to Russia, which was realistic, surely angered them, consumed as they were in their determination to defeat Russia in the war.

2) Will Biden’s visit lead to greater supply of weapons by NATO allies to Ukraine? There are reports that some of America’s NATO allies are unwilling to dole out weapons and economic assistance to Ukraine for a prolonged period, given their own economic vulnerabilities in the wake of the recession. If so, how and who will meet Ukraine’s demand for high-end weapons, stinger missiles, including F-16 from the US. Obviously, the US will have to supply the bulk of weapons. An associated question is, how long will it take for the western sources to supply those weapons to Ukraine, given the timeline required by the weapons manufacturers to supply them to be delivered to Ukraine and the training the Ukrainian soldiers/pilots need to handle them.

3) What impact will Biden’s renewed support to Ukraine have on Putin, who might use the situation to inflict greater damage on Ukraine?

4) What possible impact will Biden’s renewal of support to Ukraine have on the Chinese leadership’s position on its support to Russia? An escalation of the conflict with the supply of Chinese weapons to Russia tactical, might lead to a worsening of the miliitary situation in the European continent. Will Europe, specially Central Europe, be in a position to bear the negative consequences of the prolonged war on their domestic situation?

5) Zelensky and Biden talked of winning the war over Russia as their ultimate objective during the latter’s Kiev visit. What will victory over Russia mean—driving Russian forces out of the areas captured by them during the ongoing war? And if that happens, how long will it take for Ukraine to rebuild itself as a nation and will not be a continuing strain on the US and Key European nations?

6) we do not know what is Putin’s thinking about the future cantours of the ongoing war. In his State of the Nation speech, Putin has hit back reiterating his position that the war was started by the West and “wanting to destroy Russia once and for all”. As a retaliatory measure, Putin has suspended Moscow’s participation in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. As regards Ukraine, it remains to be seen whether he will resort to the use of tactical nuclear weapons if driven to the wall. It would be hard to guess the consequences on Europe and its response.

7) While it is reasonable to assume that with the winter ending soon, the Ukrainian war might slip into a prolonged low-key conflict with no decisive outcome at the war front.

Finally, as experience has taught us, all wars come to an end at the diplomatic table. Ukraine will probably be no exception to it. Happily, the Indian diplomatic position at the United Nations since last February has been (P M Modi too has said this era is not that of war) to bring Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table. India, as Chairman of the G-20, needs to pursue a proactive policy to play its good offices, if not mediation, to ensure that Russia and Ukraine would begin the negotiation process at the earliest. Though India was involved in the Korean armistice talks during the Korean War, it has had no fruitful experience of mediating between two combating nations, specially when one of it is a former super power viz, Russia. Preserving the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and addressing the security concerns of Russia should be the overarching framework within which diplomatic negotiations between Ukraine and Russia should be facilitated. Hope saner counsels will prevail over the minds of leaders which are militarized.

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

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