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The Ukraine crisis has caught the imagination of all readers of international relations. The media keeps predicting that war will break out tomorrow. India has undertaken an exercise to evacuate Indian students from Ukraine. Everyone waits unabated if Russia would invade Ukraine?
Hope some questions get answered by reading this article. Please enjoy reading.
Will Russia attack Ukraine?
Everyone hears of the tension that has come to the fore on the Ukraine Russia borders. Is Russian going to invade Ukraine? What is the truth about the Russian troops’ withdrawal from the Ukrainian border? Why has the Indian government decided to evacuate Indians from Ukraine as an emergency evacuation operation? These questions and many more haunt everyone’s minds as we read or hear news on Ukraine in daily media coverage. The crisis has got into a narrow lane with few options to change directions with time.
Ukraine was a part of the erstwhile Soviet Union and separated with it disintegrated in the 1990s. It lies on the western front of Russia and is the buffer between western Europe and Russia. While the physical distance between western Europe and Russia is not much, the ideological distance is far too great to be bridged. While one advocates freedom of life, the other advocates state control as a means to that freedom. The imposition of the state as a factor in the achievement of freedom to individuals lies at the base of this crisis. There are many other catalysts in the broth, and they accelerate the mix from time to time to keep the crisis alive. However, the reaction is tending to reach a critical mass, with Russia having made up its mind to confront NATO’S expansion near its borders. Russia insists and would not back down in demand that Ukraine not be admitted into NATO. And NATO must reverse its expansion eastwards.
Ever since the Soviet Union disintegrated, the desire of the erstwhile Warsaw pact countries to move away from the Russian Federation towards the west has been on the rise. From 1994 to 2004 Czech Republic, Hungry, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia have joined the NATO alliance. Many others, too, wanted to join NATO, but a democratic system is a prerequisite to joining the alliance, so many ex-soviet countries signed an agreement for NATO Partnership for a peace programme like Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kyrghyz Republic, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus.
In 1992 Russia formed an alliance of post-soviet nations to counter NATO influence, named CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation). CSTO has only six members today; all of them are CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States). CSTO became a military alliance in 2002. But it never could match the strength of the 30-member NATO alliance. The expansion of NATO to the east, i.e. closer to Russian borders, has been viewed with concern in Russia. As President Putin became more powerful at home, his ambition to see the return of the lost glory of the soviet era has resurrected. To understand the Ukraine crisis, it is essential to understand the Crimean crisis and the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. The Crimea Republic and the Port city of Sevastopol were essential strategic needs of the Russian Navy. Crimea was transferred to Ukraine in 1954 from the Soviet Federation to the Ukraine Federation by Nikita Khrushchev, the First Secretary of the Communist party. This transfer has come under severe criticism by nationalist Russians. The Crimean Peninsula had a majority Russian-speaking population at odds with the rest of Ukraine.
Trouble blew in Crimea when the Russian speaking population started to oppose the Ukraine government curbing the region’s autonomy. In March of 2014, Russian troops in civil clothing captured the Crimean parliament building. They sealed the borders, thus starting the annexation operation. Later they legitimised the annexation by conducting an in-house referendum in which 90% of the Crimean population wanted to be a part of Russia. Why was Crimea important to Russia? Because of the warm water port of Sevastopol from where the Russian Navy made forays into the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. As also the abundance of hydrocarbon deposits in and around Crimea in the black sea. The annexation of Crimea did not go well with any NATO countries. The current US President Joe Biden was Vice President in the Obama regime then and has been accused of not doing enough to stop the Crimean annexation by Russia. NATO and Ukraine have ever since been wary of Russia’s intent in the region.
The Donbas region of Ukraine is the eastern frontier joining the Russian landmass. In March of 2014, with the Crimean crisis, protests erupted in the Donetsk and the Luhansk region, collectively known as the Donbas region of Ukraine, by the Pro Russian separatists of this region. By the May of 2014, these clashes turned into an armed conflict with the separatists being supported by the Russian military. Eight years on, the war still rages despite two accords, the MINSK I & II. Ceasefire violations continue daily. The Donbas region gives Russian forces a firm base from where it continues to send armed troops inside Ukraine, as claimed by NATO sources. The current Ukraine-Russia crisis is driven by Donbas as by Ukraine’s desire to join NATO.
What is the current situation?
The current situation worsens the crisis with all the talks between NATO and Russian authorities failing. Russia is adamant about its demands of NATO closing its doors on Ukraine membership in the group. NATO is unwilling to cease its open doors policy, stating Russia cannot dictate whom NATO should admit whom they should refuse. The stalemate is accentuated by 100 thousand strong Russian troops surrounding Ukraine from three sides. These include their crack special forces, airforce assets, tanks and artillery units. NATO sees this as a direct threat to Ukraine, thus raising its war rhetoric. As per US President; Joe Biden, Russia has already made up its mind to attack Ukraine, which could happen at any moment. The timetable has been advancing every passing day as Ukraine president went on the media and had announced that Russia would invade Ukraine on 16 February 22. That date has passed, yet the uncertainty lingers. The Russian announcement on 18 February 22 that it is withdrawing some units who have finished their training from the Ukraine borders has met with scepticism from the NATO allies.
It is tough to predict: Would Russia attack Ukraine? Russia has much to lose if it does. Attacking the western neighbour would invite severe criticism from the world and the UN. The US has already threatened more sanctions on Russia. They already suffer from the sanctions imposed by the EU and the US after the Russian annexation of Crimea. An invasion of Ukraine would add to these sanctions. Then is, the export of Russian gas, which has its pipelines across Ukraine going into western Europe, would stop. Thus, Russia would lose a significant buyer of its oil and natural gas revenue if its exports to western Europe were halted. Also, Russia is likely to face a backlash at home if it invades Ukraine, as happened in 2014 in the Crimean crisis.
What does NATO lose in case of a war between Russia and Ukraine? NATO is likely to lose more due to its dependency on the Russian LNG supply to fuel its daily household and industrial need, especially in the cold winter season. Russia can turn off the tap supplying Oil and Gas to western Europe, sending it into a crisis of significant proportion as the most prominent victims would be ordinary people whose households are kept warm by the Russian gas. Germany loses the most as it receives a major share of this natural gas from Russia. For this reason, it has built a direct undersea pipeline laid and ready for the supply of natural gas from Russia into Germany called the NORD STREAM 2. A war could see this project shelved. Thus, German companies will lose billions of dollars invested in the project. This has been evident in the soft German stance against Russia in this standoff.
A war could also create a humanitarian crisis which may see millions of refugees moving out of the conflict zones and going either to the west or the east. Both NATO and the Russians will face the brunt of the refugees landing at their doorsteps. Ukraine would be the biggest loser from an attack. Ten times larger military force could see severe damage to its cities and industrial infrastructure. The loss of life consequently would be much more. NATO has not promised to intervene directly if there is a war. Still, it would provide material support to the Ukrainian armed forces apart from enforcing more extensive sanctions on Russia. Ukraine is likely to lose more territory should Russia invade. It doesn’t require much intelligence to understand that Russians would endeavour to capture the war-prone region of Donbas as its first war objective. They would throw their full military might to achieve this objective. Sanctions would not deter the Russians as they are sure China would mitigate the severe consequences resulting from the sanctions.
What’s at stake for India?
India is on the horns of a dilemma whom to support in this ongoing crisis: the US or the Russians? Everyday pressure is building from both sides. The Quad meeting recently resulted in a public statement from the Americans that India is the key player in the Quad in the Indo pacific region, which targets China. A war would see Russia and China form an alliance against the Americans and NATO. Thus, India’s continuance of supporting the Indo-pacific initiative would go against Russian interests being an ally of China. India has been steadfast in maintaining a good relationship with Russia despite leaning towards the US. As a new power block emerges, India faces a dilemma: where should it stand? Non-alignment may not be an option. Neutrality is possible, but that would come at a cost. China has become the king-maker in this conflict and put India in a spot of bother.
Oli prices will skyrocket in India if a war breaks out. This would increase the inflationary pressure on the Indian economy. Petrol and diesel prices are already at their near highest points, and the common man would suffer even if he is a long way from Ukraine or Russia.
There is a fundamental problem in supporting Russia in its war with Ukraine. It stems from the occupation of disputed territories done by Russia in Crimea and wants to do in Donbas. India cannot show solidarity with such a cause as it would weaken its own stance on Kashmir and disputed territories with the Chinese in Arunachal Pradesh and Eastern Ladakh. The Russian annexation of Crimea based on a close referendum is not the model that anyone, including China, can support in the open. Chinese, too are unlikely to keep Russia in public forums like the UN. They will help with other means. Internationally Russian stance on invading Ukraine is tenuous.
The immediate evacuation of Indian students from Ukraine signals a belief in the theory that Ukraine is in imminent danger from the Russians. 13 other countries, including the US and the UK, have announced the evacuation of their citizens, sending the war frenzy couple of notches higher. The Indian government may be unsure of Putin’s intent in Ukraine, and it doesn’t wish to be caught on the wrong foot. India’s interests lie in countering the Chinese threat on its borders. It would guard its national interests at the end of the day. India stance vis a vis Russia would thus be dictated by its long-term national interests and not by immediate sentiments.
Would Russia invade Ukraine?
That leaves the question still unanswered. It is tough to answer as no one knows Putin’s mind. The sole decision-maker for the Russian invasion of Ukraine is its President Putin. He may very well have made up his mind, as the US President has stated. Putin wants to stop NATO from coming to Russia’s doorsteps, But Putin would like to win a bloodless victory if he could have it. If he can get watertight guarantees from NATO that Ukraine would not be admitted, he may desist a war. He may take the initiative and leave the decision of going to war on NATO. As he is being goaded in the Russian parliament, Putin could recognise Donbas as an independent republic and support its government to take measures to unify the eastern region of Ukraine. This would be a signal of direct confrontation with NATO. But desist from sending any troops into Donbas and support militarily and economically from Russian soil. It would leave NATO to take a call on the counter such a challenge from Russia. This is what NATO fears most a declaration of intent on the sovereignty of the eastern region of Ukraine that would hold the key if the two sides would go to war with each other
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