Although the superpowers had concluded that the next war will happen in Asia, especially with China—which is developing critical elements for war and incendiary competition and was threatening to displace the numero uno position of the hyperpower—the US of A.
Strategic rivalries between the US leading the western pack on the one side and the Sino-Russian axis on the other become the playground for geopolitical and geo-economic competition. But the Moscow-Washington rivalry proved more potent.
Befuddled Europe is facing the wrath of this outcome directly and indirectly as it happens to be a part of the Cold War NATO alliance structure and did not necessarily want to get caught in this avoidable situation. They are already reeling under the Wuhan virus-induced downturn and domestic challenges.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine after committing not to has strained the transitional global order even more. A spate of sanctions against Russia followed. A new war waged by Western financial missiles against Russian assets will create a new dynamic as Jake Sullivan warns the Chinese from bailing the Russians out. Will that be a self-goal for the West or decimation of Russian superpower status remain to be seen?
Does Russia have genuine security concerns with the eastward expansion of NATO onto its doorsteps—justifiably so? But ensuring Ukrainian security and sovereignty and territorial integrity could have mitigated the situation. Or if the West really wanted diplomacy to succeed they could have worked to find a solution. But that’s not an ideal world and the power dynamic is not linear. Superpowers tend to write history themselves.
The 2008 Georgian war and 2014 Ukrainian war happened in Europe on similar Russian concerns. Since no viable solution was tried by either side during the intervening period it was the disaster waiting to happen. And 2022 is just witnessing that where stakes for global peace and security are really high as the heightened pitch witnesses threats of even nuclear weapons use.
But will either side succeed no one can say? Perhaps militarily Russia will gain the ground but at the P2P level which President Putin swears by might be lost for good. Civil strife and resistance on both sides due to the financial crisis may have repercussions.
Several leading thinkers especially in the US have been warning and advising the US to abdicate the designs to corner Russia by including Ukraine into its NATO embrace—a natural buffer for Moscow’s threat perception. Most celebrated George Kennan and even a hawkish Henry Kissinger have spoken several times to avoid the misadventure.
In 2014, Kissinger had said ‘Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown; whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive it must not be either side’s outpost against the other— it should function as a bridge between them’.
Moscow could have lived with the increasing economic engagement of Kyiv with the West provided it retained its neutrality on security aspects. But then strategic designs of the deep state have their own dynamic and a calculated confrontation and showdown are mostly a given. Predicting the outcomes of a war of this magnitude is a tricky business as there are so many imponderables and variables. But everyone will be a loser.
At this point, it would be futile to judge as to who was in the wrong and who caused or actually resorted to war. The blame game is not going to solve the problem as thousands have already died and over 2.7 million hapless refugees already creating a crisis in the neighboring countries and for Europe in general —who have been averse to accepting migrants from the Middle East or Africa during earlier episodes of different wars.
An element of racism and ‘they versus us’ has been evident as well. But the humanitarian crisis is humanity oriented so let’s leave aside this debate.
Coming to unilateral sanctions, this time around is said to be the severest possible on Russia that will possibly impinge on third countries.
But West smartly excluded some rare earth, gas, and oil out of its ambit since Europe will have to answer to its own people when costs go up and gasless winter tends to impact their daily lives resembling those of the displaced Ukrainians.
Zelensky’s bravado will surely find him a place in history, but countless civilian suffering will also be remembered. His disenchantment with the NATO, Europeans, and Americans, as the Russian bombardment continues, may have weaned him away from the charms of the military alliance.
Had it happened a few weeks ago perhaps the tragedy could have been avoided. The outcome of this war will most likely see the emergence of alternate financial structures and mechanisms and a greater focus on technological superiority and a more bracketed Cold War 2.0 which may not rise from the ashes of another hot WWIII.
India, being a sane voice has been urging both sides to return to diplomacy and dialogue and respect for sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity. Likewise, several Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, Qatar, and Israel along with France and Germany are working to bring the two sides together.
Russia and Ukraine are also engaging in direct talks though with many limited results. China is also urging de-escalation as their NSA met with Jake Sullivan of the USA. Qatari Foreign Minister is rushing to Moscow to try some mediation between the US, Iran, and Russia as the near conclusion of the ill-fated Iranian nuclear deal could succumb to Russian insecurities pertaining to its primacy and trade with Tehran. Diplomacy must find a way to reduce tension and spoils of war.
But for that reason ought to prevail and the mutual accommodation principle has to be accepted by both sides. And above all the Americans must be on board as they laid their rooks in this chess game and Putin bit the bait with his Queen. Some hopes have risen through positive talks, but the eventual outcome is uncertain except for more rabid divisions in the evolving international order.
This article was first published in CNBCTV18 as Russia and Ukraine conflict – What is the fuss about? on 14th March 2022
Read more by Anil Trigunayat at IMPRI Insights on Expected Disquietude: India’s Concerns amidst the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
About the Author
Anil Trigunayat, Former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya, and Malta, associated with several think tanks and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry.