- Given the high levels of fear and mistrust on both sides, it is necessary to avoid inadvertent escalations that might spiral things out of control.
- It is clear that Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine but all it wanted was to prevent it from becoming a satellite state of the US.
- India has been cajoled and bullied by the West to pick its side in this conflict because it is today an economic and military power.
- No other country has to walk the tightrope of international relations more than India which needs to have positive economic indicators for growth.
- A weakened Russia is more dangerous because the weak always act out of desperation and unfortunately a meaningful compromise is not in sight.
Woodrow Wilson who was the twenty-eight President of the United States of America in the draft of a note written in November of 1916, said that the “causes of the war then being fought were obscure, that neutral nation did not know why it had begun and, if drawn in, would not know for what ends they would be fighting”.
Wilson was President of the U.S when the First World War had started and for three years chose to remain neutral favouring instead a negotiated collective approach to international stability. However, circumstances eventually forced him to enter the conflict that had global reverberations, and on April 6, 1917, Wilson asked Congress for “a war to end all wars” that would “make the world safe for democracy,” which was granted, and over a year later the war in Europe ended.
The same sentiments are again been evoked and this time, Russia is the enemy of democracy, amid growing fissures in Europe’s political structures with a potential disintegration and as NATO faces a legitimate existential crisis/threat of going to war with Russia. It is very clear that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eastern European countries wanted to be part of a world that had economic openness, democracy, and individual liberty but the Russia-Ukraine war is taking Europe and maybe the whole world to geopolitical creative destruction as neutral countries are caught in the middle in a war not mitigated by them and forced to choose a side.
The fact is, Ukraine has always been an important piece in international geopolitics due to its rich black soil making it a major grain producer. And now this country is on the front lines of an unnecessary renewed great-power rivalry after a dramatic escalation of the eight-year-old conflict that has been seen as the greatest threat posed to European security since the Cold War. But the current crisis that has made its impression globally, the actual war started in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and the Donbas region in the country’s southeast and more than fourteen thousand people died in the fighting between 2014 and 2021, marking it one of the bloodiest conflicts in Europe since the Balkan Wars of the 1990s that even saw concentration camps.
Ukraine has always been an important piece in international geopolitics due to its rich black soil making it a major grain producer.
For India which is now the world’s fifth largest economy, a famous Leon Trotsky quote has come back to drag her into a conflict that did not start. Trotsky the famous communist revolutionary said, “you may not be interested in war but war is interested in you,”. Now India does not face the risk of an actual war but war is much more than guns and mortars it is about safeguarding self-interest, particularly economically as it will be the fastest-growing economy in the world. However, the world thinks India being a powerful nation will have to choose a side and her by-standing days are over as India carefully manoeuvres through this landmine.
Importance of Ukraine
When Hitler invaded the erstwhile Soviet Union, Ukraine was an important part of his grand strategy to control the Eurasian plate so he could control the fertile land. For the Soviet Union, Ukraine was the second-most-populous of the fifteen Soviet republics, home to much of the union’s agricultural production, defence industries, and military and the strategic port of the Black Sea Fleet. Even though Ukraine is now a separate nation, however, for Putin any western interference by the West or the expansion of NATO into Ukraine is unacceptable.
From a historical perspective ever since Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 to strengthen the “brotherly ties between the Ukrainian and Russian peoples”, many Russian nationalists in both Russia and Crimea wanted this important region back as it is a strategic peninsula and the city of Sevastopol is home port for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. The permanent loss of Crimea would have been a massive loss for the Russian Navy to operate on the high seas with its capture Russia can project power into the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa, where it has limited influence due to lack of access.
The other important aspect is energy as Russia relies on pipelines laid in Ukrainian territory to supply gas to Central and Eastern Europe for decades, and in return, Kyiv received billions of dollars per year in transit fees. It is ironic that even after the hostilities started the flow of Russian gas through Ukraine continued unabated well into 2022, but now the volumes have been reduced and the threat to the pipeline remains high.
In the last three decades, Ukraine did try to forge its own identity and relevance on the international stage while looking to align with the EU and NATO but it struggled due to deep internal divisions. A more nationalist, Ukrainian-speaking population in western parts of the country generally supported greater integration with Europe, while a mostly Russian-speaking community in the east favoured closer ties with Russia.
Signs of War
During the NATO’s 2008 summit, President Vladimir Putin warned U.S. diplomats that any idea of bringing Ukraine into the alliance “would be a hostile act toward Russia,” and to prove his point Russia went to war with Georgia showed Putin’s intent on using force to not only safeguard Russia’s national interests but also send a clear message to the West that some line must not be crossed. It was during this summit, NATO invited both Ukraine and Georgia to fulfil their Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
The United States of America
America will fight Russia till the last Ukrainian!
Since the war began, any effort to solve the crisis diplomatically has been thwarted by the US and when there is the absence of a possible diplomatic solution, the only possible outcome is the escalation of this war. However, as the Ukrainian forces not only managed to stop the Russian military which many thoughts was impossible not to mention cause immense damage, the US seems to have arrived at a conclusion that Russia can actually be defeated. So began one of the most comprehensive siege operations in the name of tough sanctions on Russia. According to Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin who said in April 2022, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,”. Also, calling Putin a war criminal only makes matter worse because even during the Cuban Missile Crisis, both sides maintained a modicum of decorum and chose words very carefully that led to a resolution. But when the US for calls for the war crimes trial of Putin, the US is only furthering itself from the negotiation table.
Calling Putin a war criminal only makes matter worse because even during the Cuban Missile Crisis, both sides maintained a modicum of decorum and chose words very carefully that led to a resolution.
Now that Russia has been pushed to a corner and as its arsenal is depleted, the reluctance to escalate the war is now off the table as Putin has expanded the size of his force through large-scale conscription and has started targeting Ukraine’s electrical grid, which would be disastrous during the long winter. With Russia intensifying and engaging in more vigorous battle plans, the fear is Putin may change his nuclear doctrine as the West is supplying sophisticated weapons platforms such as the HIMARS multiple-launch rocket system, the Javelin antitank missile that has caused a lot of problems for the Russian tanks. The United States is also contemplating giving its own F-15s and F-16s to Ukraine and if that happens Russia will lose its air dominance. Also, according to a New York Times report, the Ukrainian military is getting vital intelligence to destroy key Russian targets and the West has “a stealthy network of commandos and spies”.
At this juncture, no one knows what communications/negotiations are taking place between the US and Russia to end this conflict which if it continues will lead to a global recession that will affect nations that had nothing to do with the clash of ideals and ego. During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US and the Soviet Union almost caused Armageddon but due to communication cooler heads prevailed and the end of the world was averted.
“We and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose of. Consequently, if there is no intention to tighten that knot and thereby doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope but let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this”.
The current situation is such, any accident could lead to a full-fledged war between the US/NATO and Russia. It is, therefore, necessary to avoid inadvertent escalations of war by an unforeseen event that spirals out of control. The Russia-Ukraine conflict simply cannot have another Gulf of Tonkin incident as it can easily escalate, given the high levels of fear and mistrust on both sides, compounded by the lack of communication, and the mutual demonization.
Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland;— Halford Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality, p. 150
Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;
Who rules the World-Island commands the world.
American scholar John Mearsheimer in his book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics gives the five bed-rock assumptions of Mearsheimer’s theory of offensive realism that are:
1. Anarchy: the international system is anarchic;
2. Offensive military capabilities: all great powers possess offensive military capabilities which they can use against each other;
3. Uncertainty: states cannot be sure that other states will not use military capabilities against them;
4. Survival: the primary goal of states is survival;
5. Rationality: States are rational unitary actors who think strategically about how to pursue their primary goal (survival).
In an interview, given to the New Yorker, Mearsheimer said:
“If Ukraine becomes a pro-American liberal democracy, and a member of NATO, and a member of the E.U., the Russians will consider that categorically unacceptable. If there were no NATO expansion and no E.U. expansion, and Ukraine just became a liberal democracy and was friendly with the United States and the West more generally, it could probably get away with that. You want to understand that there is a three-prong strategy at play here: E.U. expansion, NATO expansion, and turning Ukraine into a pro-American liberal democracy”.
He further states that “in a country like Ukraine and you live next door to a great power like Russia, you have to pay careful attention to what the Russians think,” and the US does not allow any distant power to bring its military forces into that country into South America.
If we look back into history, ever since the Second World War ended, America has never allowed Russia to get a foothold in the Americas and the proof of that is how many times it had engineered coups in South American countries letting acquiescing tyrants rule. The US has the ignominy of overthrowing and overthrowing democratically elected leaders all across the world. He further states that for Russia to conquer Ukraine and the Baltic states would require a massive army, and to have a massive army it would need an economic foundation and contemporary Russia is economically weak.
“Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems.”
The above statement was given by India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishshnakar when he was speaking at the Globsec 2022 forum in Slovakia and perhaps for the first time, an Indian was able to give such a reply on an international forum because we have acquired a position of power and categorically rejected India being a “fence-sitter” in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.
However, India and Russia have a long history of friendship and on more than a few occasions, the erstwhile Soviet Union had come to the rescue of India, most notably during the 1971 war with Pakistan and how they countered the pressure exerted by the US on India. Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union as a superpower was the senior partner in the relationship but the breakup of the Soviet Union and Russia’s diminished international status has taken the relationship in a new direction of mutual respect and self-interests. It is ironic that India’s economic reforms initiated in the early 1990s coincided with the breakup of the Soviet Union and we joined the global market economy but we continued friendly ties between Moscow and New Delhi.
As India became an economic power, it finally gained the all-important position of strength to dictate its terms. No one in the global community has the power to not only do business with the US but at the same time stand up to them and say no which is very important in any relationship. India has not only cultivated a bourgeoning security relationship with the United States, but it has also managed to buy serious weapons platforms like the S-400 missile defence system from Russia. In the last eight years since the Modi government came to power, India’s defence from the US has only risen.
In the last few months, India has been cajoled and bullied by the West to pick its side in this conflict because and in not so many words, it is today an economic and military power. It has also been suggested that in case there is a conflict between India and a very bullish China, the West may not come to its aid. But for the West, it is important to remember that India is the only country that has fought a war with China and since then had a few skirmishes that could have easily escalated to something larger. When that happened, no one came to our help and the best example was the Galwan Valley clash when the Indian Army lost twenty of its soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers also had been killed.
At this moment, there is no country on earth that has to walk the tightrope of international relations more than India which needs to have positive economic indicators for growth. As fuel prices rise, it has become necessary for India which imports practically all of its energy needs from other countries, it must have an unfettered advantage in buying oil and natural gas from any country, even from Russia. For New Delhi, the priorities are different with Russia, the US, and a belligerent China that has just elected Xi Jinping for a third term, effectively making him the most powerful ruler after Mao. For India, it needs Russia’s support to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council but as the war procrastinates, there is a growing concern about Russia’s increasingly close ties to China.
Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.
It is clear that Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine but all it wanted was to prevent it from becoming a satellite state of the US. But now it seems, Russia will not back down without territorial gain as President Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia oblasts and held a referendum deemed illegal by the international community i.e., the US and Western Europe.
In the early 1930s, Joseph Stalin forced peasants into joining collective farms that resulted in famine and millions of Ukrainians due to starvation. If that was not enough, Stalin forcefully transported large numbers of Russians with no ability to speak Ukrainian to repopulate the east resulting in further complications. However, one thing is certain, for Russia to survive and ensure its national structural integrity, a win on the battlefield dictates the terms of the peace or suffering of the geopolitical disintegration of Russia.
Also, one has to take into consideration how long the West will continue to support Ukraine because the US simply cannot write blank cheques and if the war settles into a protracted stalemate and no diplomatic solution, this exceedingly costly war might force Putin to pursue the nuclear options that could bring force US/NATO and Ukraine back to the negotiation.
Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz said, “war is not merely a political act but a real political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, a carrying out of the same by other means,”. Right now, this war is not popular in Russia, but if one looks back into history, nationalism encourages people to do the unexpected and if Russia is cornered there is no doubt the people will rally. It is very clear that both the US and Russia want to come out of this as winners, but the cost will be catastrophic for the world. A weakened Russia is more dangerous because the weak always act out of desperation and unfortunately a meaningful compromise is not in sight as the US will not accept a neutral Ukraine and Russia will never accept EU and NATO at its doorstep.
It is clear that the ends of the rope in which both these superpowers have tied the knot of war are getting tighter and there may come a moment when that knot is so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it.
(The author is a freelance writer and has published articles on defence and strategic affairs. He tweets @LaxmanShriram78)
- Man, the State and War A Theoretical Analysis Kenneth J. Waltz Page 7