A year into the war The Excelsior 28 Feb 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


A year into the war

A year into the war The Excelsior 28 Feb 2023

          Biden’s visit to Kiev signalled a year into the conflict which is nowhere near termination and has transformed from a war between two states into a proxy conflict. While the west backs Ukraine it blocks all support to Russia, accusing Russia of being the invader. What the west fails to mention is that it pushed Ukraine into a war, which could have been avoided while creating a scenario for Putin from which he cannot disengage. While western mercenaries engage Russian soldiers and their proxies on the battlefront civilians pay with their lives in air and missile strikes. Moscow has launched a fresh offensive, while Kiev plans a counteroffensive. The war is only getting messier.  

The world has witnessed rising prices of oil, gas and fertilizers, as also shortfalls in foodgrains. All this while US and NATO arms manufacturers profit from sales to the conflict zone. The west’s attempts to isolate Russia and break its economy has failed. The Russian Rouble has survived, and nations continue to procure oil from it. Indian imports of Russian oil are re-routed to many western nations including those imposing sanctions. Simultaneously, sanctions have blocked Russian import of microchips impacting its defence industry.

Biden’s visit was announced as reaffirming the west’s ‘unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.’ Rubbing salt, Biden mentioned, ‘one year later Kiev stands.’ In reality, the visit intended to shore up his falling popularity, especially when he has decided to throw his hat into the presidential race.

Biden announced a package of security assistance worth almost USD 500 million to include ammunition for artillery, HIMARS, Javelin missiles and air defence radars. He also granted an additional USD 10 Million for maintaining Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. The US taxpayer funds the war resulting in deaths of innocent Ukrainians. Speaking in Warsaw, Poland, to heads of erstwhile USSR nations, post his Kiev visit, Biden promised to continue backing Ukraine adding that the US and its allies ‘would have Ukraine’s back.’ It signalled a direct confrontation with Russia.

Putin, at the same time, displayed his disdain for western support to Ukraine. In a national address Putin reiterated that Ukraine was created by Russia after 1917 with Crimea being added to it in 1954, thereby reiterating that Ukraine is part of Russia and its future existence will be determined by Moscow. Refusing to back down, Putin accused the west of fuelling the war. He stated, ‘It’s they who have started the war. And we are using force to end it.’

He announced Russian suspension from the START treaty, which limits the number of intercontinental range nuclear weapons which both, US and Russia can possess. The west hopes that Putin will not withdraw from it. He also threatened recommencing nuclear tests. Putin’s refusal to back down was evident when he stated that a war against Russia can never be won.

Both the US and Russia have adopted hardlines on Ukraine, US promising support and Russia continuing with its offensives. The US has been careful not to cross Moscow’s red lines of the war spilling into Russia by not providing fighter aircraft and long-range missiles to Kiev. The more powerful weapons that the west provides, the deeper Russia will venture into Ukraine to offset their effectiveness. Space for negotiation appears to be shrinking.

The US is determined to convert Ukraine into a second Afghanistan for Russia. Deaths of innocent Ukrainians is of no concern. European nations are being forced to share the burden as the proxy war in Ukraine would weaken Russia and thereby reduce threat to Europe. Saner heads in Europe are seeking an end to the conflict. The EU envoy to India, Ugo Astuto, stated, ‘we trust the Indian presidency (G 20) will find a way, in any case, to steer the proceedings towards a positive conclusion,’ adding, ‘We intend to support Ukraine politically and economically.’

This was a major discussion subject during the visit of the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz as also will be during Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s visit to Delhi as also the G 20 foreign ministers meet. India has been insisting on dialogue. Indian NSA recently discussed Ukrainian proposals for peace talks with the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Yermak.

With Biden visiting Kiev, China cannot be far behind, after all, Beijing and Russia have a friendship with ‘no limits.’ Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat visited the Kremlin and met Putin, displaying Beijing’s continued support. China has also announced that President, Xi Jinping will visit Moscow shortly. This reiterates plummeting of US-China relations with Xi intending to counter Biden’s visit to Kiev.

The US is suspecting that China is contemplating supplying weapons to Russia. If it does so, it would present a Russia-China coalition confronting NATO, without direct involvement of troops. North Korea is already supplying ammunition while Iran is providing drones. Beijing is also advocating dialogue between Kiev and Moscow. The Chinese announced their proposal in a 12-point paper last week, stating, ‘Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution.’ This was questioned by the west but cautiously welcomed by Ukraine. The EU stated, ‘It is not a peace plan.’

With both, India and China, mentioning dialogue, the issue at hand is whether peace talks possesses support from the US, which has emerged as the main backer for Kiev and will, in all probability, be taking decisions and Zelensky mouthing them. Also whether the US would prefer the initiative to be led by India or China is to be seen. The US is unlikely to give China the lead in promoting talks.

Equally of concern is what is the framework under which both sides are willing to sit at the table. Russia will never withdraw from Crimea and would be unwilling to place territories it has annexed back under Kiev. It may agree to them being independent entities, under Moscow’s influence. Will Zelensky back down from his demand of complete Russian withdrawal. A peace solution must be found if loss of lives is to be avoided. Before Zelensky signals his willingness, the US needs to be convinced that the only suitable solution is a dialogue.