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The global order and the war in Ukraine The Statesman 22 Mar 2022
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is impacting the globe as no other event in recent times, though every war, including the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq etc have provided lessons to the global strategic community. Even in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, demands for a ceasefire and sanctions on the scale applied on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine were never considered. While Russia pushes on with its offensive, degrading Ukraine’s military power and infrastructure, talks between the two continue. While there is hope for a ceasefire, the US and its allies continue to pour military hardware into Ukraine, hoping to draw Russia into a long-drawn campaign.
Biden, alongside Europe, announced a slew of sanctions against Russia, the largest against any country, aiming to damage its economy and prevent it from creating military power capable of threatening Europe for a long time. Surprisingly, sanctions do not include oil and gas as they would impact Europe, thereby indicating that those applied are more of a matter of convenience. Russia, which expected sanctions, is working on alternate sources of revenue, including trading in other currencies. Alongside the military war, an economic conflict rages.
Simultaneously, the US works to push European nations to enhance capabilities to challenge future Russian threats. The US has painted a picture that threat from Russia may spill into Western Europe. European countries, which were attempting to distance themselves from Washington, while pursuing an independent foreign policy, now appear to be backtracking and toeing Washington’s line. This has resulted in many nations enhancing defence budgets.
Germany has announced that it would procure US manufactured F 35 aircraft, apart from building other capabilities. The German army chief had stated last month, ‘the army which I have the honour to command, is standing there more or less empty-handed. The options we can offer the government in support of the alliance are extremely limited.’ Even in Afghanistan, Germany had taken a training role, rather than combat. Germany has raised its defence budget to 2% of its GDP, Poland 3%, Lithuania 2.5%, Denmark 2% etc.
What Trump could not achieve, despite issuance of threats, Russia has been able to. Other nations of Europe, not members of NATO, are also enhancing defence expenditure. Sweden has already announced an increase from 1.3% to 2% of its GDP, while others will follow suit. Increased defence expenditure would largely benefit the US as most procurements would flow from its industries. The longer the war drags the more the profit for military hardware producers. Already shares of defence manufacturers have risen by almost 11%.
Prior to 2008, President Bush supplied US weapons to Georgia, against warnings from Russia. He also promised NATO support to Georgia in the event of a Russian offensive. Availability of weapons emboldened Georgia and it launched an offensive against Russian held rebel territory (coincidently the same story as Ukraine). Once Russia attacked Georgia, Bush refused to intervene, other than supplying weapons. Ukraine failed to learn from history.
The US has insisted that countries isolate Russia, though it is unlikely to be very successful. All would never toe the US line blindly, seeking to follow their own national interests, as the Indian, Chinese and other countries stand indicate. The global order appears to be changing with pro-US and pro-Russia blocks with few neutrals. Simultaneously, pariah states are becoming acceptable as long as they do not pose a threat to US hegemony and either back it or remain neutral.
Venezuela, which was targeted for regime change is now being approached by the Biden administration to enhance oil production to control rising prices. It would also be exporting oil to the US. This despite Venezuela being a recognized Russian ally. The Venezuelan leadership, unrecognized by the US, is now being requested for support.
The rulers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also being wooed for similar increases in oil production. Biden withdrawing support for the Saudi war against Iran backed Houthi’s in Yemen and removing them from terrorist listing enabling them to engage Saudi and UAE oil facilities at will, angered these regimes. Currently, the rulers of Saudi Arabia and UAE refuse to take Biden’s calls as have also turned down demands to enhance oil production. The recent meeting between Boris Johnson and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and UAE to enhance oil output failed.
Iran, with whom talks on lifting sanctions continues to flounder is being similarly approached. Despite it claiming responsibility for missile attacks near the US consulate in Iraq’s Irbil, as a counter to Israeli strikes, there has been no negative criticism from the US. Lifting sanctions on oil sales is on the cards as Iran offers oil to India on Rupee-Rial terms. The changed policy in re-engaging rogue states by the US, indicates a desperation to gain global backing against Russia, ensuring sanctions hit hard.
Russia cannot pullback from its military offensive at any cost. Its economy and military power is being eroded, and it would take years to recover. Its ability to threaten western Europe by conventional means would be history. Its other neighbours, Finland and Sweden would seek to join NATO, aware that Russia does not possess military power to threaten it. Chinese inroads into Central Asian republics, currently under control of Russia would increase. Russia-China relations would now have China as the dominating partner, compelling Putin to eat humble pie.
The induction of Syrian and Chechen fighters by Russia and western mercenaries by Ukraine could change the narrative. Mercenaries possess no discipline and loyalty. The atrocities committed by Syrian and Chechen fighters would impact Russian standing. The Ukrainian population would never be subdued. Russia would only be able to maintain control over the region. In case Russia further weakens, Ukraine could backtrack and re-attempt to join NATO. The US would push for a regime change in Moscow, which may not succeed as it remains a despised nation for imposition of sanctions. US-Russian relations would remain soured for some time.
At the end of the day, Russia would lose economically and diplomatically, despite winning the conflict and imposing harsh penalties on Ukraine.