The Russian-Ukraine conflict enters its 14th day today showing absolutely no sign of respite. It is likely to prolong further with the peace process not working. The end result as the Russians visualised is yet to be achieved. The next week would be extremely crucial with regard to the outcome of this war. Certain important issues will emerge which would need greater understanding amongst the nations of the world lest we hurtle towards an escalation to other regions, which the present economic situation can ill afford at global level.
Background to the Conflict
At the outset, it would be imperative to give a brief background leading to the genesis of this conflict. In 1990, East Germany left the Warsaw Pact in preparation for its reunification with West Germany. Poland and Czechoslovakia also indicated their strong desire to withdraw. Faced with these protests—and suffering from a faltering economy and unstable political situation—the Soviet Union bowed to the inevitable. By year’s end, the Soviet Union itself disintegrated. Subsequently, seven former Warsaw Pact countries joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) — East Germany through its reunification with West Germany and the Czech and Slovak republics as separate nations.
Since then the NATO under the influence of USA continued to expand eastward which is seen by Russians as directed against their country. Putin has been clear for many years that if continued; the expansion would likely be met with serious resistance by the Russians, even with military action.
NATO is a group of 30 countries including the US – the arch-rival of Russia – UK, France, and Germany. Ukraine wants to join this group and the NATO too is open to make Ukraine its member, which has irked the Moscow big time. Russia does not want NATO to allow Ukraine to become its member as it will expand the grouping’s footprint to its border. The other big reason is that a member country of NATO will be eligible for collective support by all members in case of any external attack.
NATO considers an attack against one or several of its members as an attack against all. This is the principle of collective defence, which is enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. This is why Russia opposes NATO membership to Ukraine. It thinks that if Ukraine becomes a member of NATO, it might try to take back Crimea by military action.
President Putin recently hinted at the likely situation in the event of Ukraine becoming a part of NATO. “Let’s imagine Ukraine is a NATO member and starts these military operations. Are we supposed to go to war with the NATO Bloc? Has anyone given that any thought? Apparently not,” he said.
Russia therefore is demanding the West to pull NATO forces out of Eastern Europe and desist from expanding into Ukraine. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has said that for Russia, it is absolutely mandatory to ensure that Ukraine never becomes a member of NATO.
Cessation of Hostilities: When?
It is a known fact that the Russian forces outnumber their Ukrainian rivals by almost five times. Ukraine has hardly any air-power, a very important component both for offensive and defensive warfare. What is most importantly emerging in this present war is the use of innovative methods in targeting the Russian forces as well the resolve of the people of Ukraine to take on the might of the Russian Army. Outside help is only emerging through supply of weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers, ammunition etc. However, no country including NATO is willing to put boots on ground. So, under the present circumstances, it would be a foregone conclusion that Ukraine will have to capitulate to the Russian forces very soon. At the same time, the Russians are also not in a real hurry to finish the war very soon as they do not aim to increase civilian casualties. Their basic task is to de-militarise Ukraine, take control of all its nuclear/power assets, ensure blockade of the Black Sea and finally install its Pro-Russian Government in Ukraine.
Russia’s demands include a legally binding halt to NATO’s eastward expansion and a withdrawal of NATO troops from countries like Poland and Baltic nations that used to be aligned with or part of the Soviet Union.
Presently, there have been three rounds of diplomatic talks so far. None of these talks have yielded much result as the basic demands of the Russians have not been accepted by Ukraine. However, it is important to keep the lines of communication open, as at the end, this conflict would only get resolved through talks. A higher level talk between the foreign ministers of the two countries is likely to be held in Turkey on 10 March 2022. This can be seen as a positive development.
Effect on Economic Sanctions on Russia
We do not foresee an immediate effect of these sanctions on Russia. However, in the long run, the Russian economy will definitely get affected as we have seen how the rouble has already depreciated against the world currencies. One can also expect an impact on its GDP as well as inflation. The price of crude oil has already gone up to $130 per barrel. However, we need to remember that sanctions also have a two-way effect. The entire gas/energy/oil requirements for Europe particularly Germany and Hungary will get affected. Germany has already indicated that it would continue to trade with Russia for its oil and gas requirements.
To obviate the effect of these sanctions, it is assumed that China and Iran will now align itself with Russia in a greater manner. Therefore, in the overall analysis, I do not visualise any great impact of sanctions on Russia.
India’s Stand and Strategic Options Ahead
India has taken a very correct stand in so far as this conflict is concerned. India has excellent relations with both Russia and the US, and therefore would not be perceived as taking sides.
The Russia-Ukraine military conflict will adversely affect India at several levels, including defence equipment supplies. India is hugely dependent on Moscow for supply of arms, especially the delivery of Russian developed S-400 air defence missile system. The S-400 is Russia’s most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defence system.
India had signed a $5 billion deal with Russia in October 2018 to buy five units of the S-400 systems despite a warning from the then Trump administration that the contract may invite US sanctions going ahead.
Furthermore, India had signed agreements with Russia for supplies of a range of missiles and ammunition for use by the Indian Army. It is also in advanced talks with Russia to procure 12 Sukhoi Su-30MKI for the IAF, to be built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., and 464 Russian T-90MS main battle tanks for the Indian Army, amongst others.
India has asserted that its decisions are based on its national interests and for the country’s security.
We do not foresee a change in India’s stance in the near future especially with the Chinese on our door step. Strategically, over a period of time, we need to reduce our dependence on both Russia and China. Only then India could be seen as a global leader in the world community. Atma Nirbhar Bharat needs to given a great impetus in the next ten years.
Will the Conflict lead to Nuclear War
Russia presently has no intention to use nuclear weapons in the conflict.
The chances of nuclear war are subject to NATO intervention in Ukraine. As long as NATO or any other external force stays away from Ukraine, there will be no chance of a nuclear war but assuming the situation where NATO and Russia get involved in direct confrontation and there are strikes in Russia, Kremlin may use its nuclear arsenal.
The capture of the nuclear plants is a Russian strategy to control the power grid in Ukraine. It then gives it a great leverage on the bargaining table, since if the country’s electricity will get cut off; the survival of people in such cold weather becomes difficult.
Presently, this conflict is seen as a regional one. It does not seem to have ramifications to escalate to the other regions of the world but in the near future in case
NATO does not heed this as a warning and stop its expansionist tendencies, there could be definite trouble.
Hence, NATO expansion may be seen not as the beginning of a new era, but as the continuation of cold war policies and relationships. If the cold war were really over, that is, if there were no continuing conflicts between capitalism and socialism for the hearts and minds of the world’s people, there would have been no need to maintain military expenditures as corporate subsidies, no need to wield a global big stick against Third World nations, and little need for NATO, much less NATO expansion.
There is a need to focus on economic collaborations, instead of military groupings to ensure world peace. I am also sure China has also taken note of this and reviews its policies towards India and Taiwan. The recent statement of its foreign minister Wang Li was interesting to read. The talk must lead to a walk.
-The writer is a former MGAOC Central Command. He has served in various important assignments in the Indian Army in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East. He covers defence issues on various national TV channels. His recent book, “Breaking the Chinese Myth”, has been a best-seller on Amazon. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda