How far will the Ukraine crisis go?

Written By: Achal Malhotra
New Delhi Updated: Feb 26, 2022, 08:13 PM(IST)

File photos of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

The economic sanctions have so far not deterred Russia. And in the given case the sanctions can also act as a double-edged sword

Russia's recognition on 21st February of Ukraine’s self-declared independent regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Donbas region of the Eastern Ukraine, deployment of forces under the guise of Peacekeeping Forces for the “protection” of the civilians, followed by full-scale military invasion in Ukraine on 24th February has drawn curtains on Act 1 of the drama.

The lead actors include President Putin of the Russian Federation on the one hand and President Biden of the USA and his NATO allies on the other, while the script revolves around President Zelensky of Ukraine.

The USA and allies have imposed stringed sanctions on Russia, deployed forces on the territories of NATO Member countries in the neighbourhood, assured continued political, diplomatic, economic and military assistance to Ukraine but have made it clear that there is no plan to send NATO forces to Ukraine to fight Russia together with /on behalf of Ukraine. 

It remains under suspense as to how the drama will unfold in subsequent acts.

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The drama can be said to have begun in December last year when Russia sought a set of legally binding assurances including a halt on NATO's further eastwards expansion nearer to Russia's borders. Russia demanded in particular that two of Russia's next-door neighbours namely Ukraine and Georgia be declined NATO membership.

The rather impossible demands came in the backdrop of a massive military build-up by Russia along its borders with Ukraine and prolonged military exercise in Belarus, and also the ongoing clashes in eastern Ukraine between the separatist forces (supported by Russia)  and the Ukrainian military.
 
The origins of the current phase of the standoff between the West and Russia can be traced to the period immediately after the disintegration of the USSR in 1991 when the West adopted a policy of ideological conquest of the former Soviet Union and its satellite countries in East Europe through financial and technical assistance.

Also Read | NATO announces 'historic' deployment of forces to bolster Eastern Europe after Ukraine invasion

Gradually, NATO began to increase its footprints in the post-Soviet space. Beginning from 1999 the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia (2004), Albania and Croatia (2009), Montenegro (2017) and North Macedonia (2020) have been taken into the fold of NATO.

Russia calls this expansion a breach of promises and assurances by NATO given to Russia in the wake of the disintegration of the USSR. However, being relatively weak, Russia could do nothing to halt this process. The situation changed with the advent of President Putin as Russia’s leader from 2000 onwards. 

So when NATO announced in April 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine will be members of NATO (though no specific dates were indicated) Russia acted swiftly; it recognised the self-declared independence of two breakaway regions of Georgia namely Abkhazia and South Ossetia, intervened militarily and has since consolidated its positions in those regions.  

In 2014, when the pro-Russia government in Ukraine was replaced by a pro-Western regime in Ukraine, Russia reacted again and this time successfully manipulated Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula’s incorporation into Russian Federation, often described as Crimea’s annexation..

Reverting to the current phase of crisis, it appears in hindsight that Russia from the very beginning had made up its mind at least to trifurcate Ukraine and take Eastern Ukraine under its influence and control.

Russia now appears to be going much further with the objective of subjugating entire Ukraine and even installing a puppet or at least a more pliable/ neutral regime in Ukraine.

President Putin is reported to have encouraged the Ukraine Armed Forces to take full control of the country suggesting that it would be easier to deal with them rather than the civilian leadership.

At this point of time, there is a fairly good clarity about the intentions of Russia and also the positions taken by the USA and its allies so far. At the same time there are many imponderables: Will Ukraine be able to resist Russia and compel it to withdraw?  Looks difficult. Are we then heading for a scenario of the fall of Kiev or urban insurgency? What else the USA and NATO allies can or will do besides current efforts to isolate Russia diplomatically and weaken it economically by imposing sanctions.

Will there be an attempt to invoke Chapter VII of the UN Charter to send international armed forces (read NATO) into Ukraine? 

The economic sanctions have so far not deterred Russia. And in the given case the sanctions can also act as a double-edged sword causing an adverse impact on the energy security of Europe. Biden has already cautioned the American public in this regard though he has also assured to minimise the impact on the US population. 

The Ukrainian crisis is a test for India’s diplomacy. It must be noted that India is not in alliance with USA or Russia, and to that extent India is not obliged to take sides with either of them.

At the same time, India has strong partnerships with both the USA and Russia, besides good relations with Europe and also Ukraine. Prima-facie, India has so far taken a balanced position. Some observers have described it as a neutral stance reminiscent of the period of non-alignment. 
 
Note must be taken of the key element in India’s statements in which India has called for the resolution of the issue in a manner that would address the “legitimate security interests” of all concerned.

It requires a careful reading between the lines to determine whose “legitimate security interests” are under real threat. Is the tilt not slightly in favour of Russia whose security concerns arising out of NATO’s eastwards expansion appear genuine?.

Whether it entitles Russia to use force to address its concerns is a matter of entirely different and difficult debate as it involves issues such as sovereignty, territorial integrity on the one hand and the concept of indivisible security on the other.

The evacuation of estimated 20,000 Indian nationals mostly students stranded in Ukraine is India’s top priority at the moment. India’s track record in the evacuation of Indian national from conflict regions is commendable. In the given case, the situation is complicated by the fact that the Indian nationals are spread in various parts of Ukraine some of which are in conflict zones, and it is not possible to send flights to Ukraine as its airspace is closed.

Alternate arrangements for evacuation through land routes to neighbouring countries such as Romania, Hungary etc. en-route to India through Chartered flights sponsored by the Indian Government are underway albeit with partial success so far. One hopes that all  Indian nationals are able to return home safely. It is pointless to debate now as to whether or not it would have been desirable to begin the process a few weeks earlier. 

(Disclaimer: The views of the experts do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views.)

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