Ukraine and peace The Excelsior 17 Jun 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Ukraine and peace The Excelsior 17 Jun 2023

          Addressing the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, post the induction of Finland into NATO, Anthony Blinken, the US secretary of State, mentioned that the US had warned Moscow of the costs of invading Ukraine. Blinken stated, ‘if Russia chose war, we would do three things: support Ukraine, impose severe costs on Russia, and strengthen NATO, while rallying our allies and partners around these goals.’ The US has stuck to its threats.

On the Russian offensive being a strategic failure, Blinken mentioned that the Russian action strengthened NATO, EU and the G7, rather than divide it, as Putin had hoped.  

He also claimed Russia was isolated. The reality is that while nations may vote in the UN against Russia, most struggle to handle their own issues and consider the Ukraine war as a European problem. The war is relegated to back-pages in newspapers and ignored in TV debates, unless something extraordinary happens, as has with the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka Dam.   

Blinken also laid down US conditions for peace. These include, Russia partially paying for Ukraine reconstruction as also complete withdrawal, including from Crimea. Blinken stated, ‘a ceasefire that simply freezes current lines in place and enables Putin to consolidate control over the territory he’s seized, and then rest, re-arm, and re-attack – that is not a just and lasting peace. It would legitimize Russia’s land grab.  It would reward the aggressor and punish the victim.’ He added that any nation, working towards talks between the two must consider these in negotiations.

Blinken also highlighted the Russian-Chinese relationship terming it as ‘more and more one-sided.’ He added that it has strengthened US resolve against ‘potential threats’ from Beijing, which has not ruled out force to seize self-governing Taiwan.   

The US concerns are genuine. China has been observing the war and incorporating strategic and operational lessons for its future invasion of Taiwan. It may exploit the Russian example of Ukraine moving closer to the west to launch its offensive. Beijing has attempted to negotiate peace between Russia and Ukraine, following the success of its Tehran-Riyadh negotiations. The Chinese proposal includes talks without Russian withdrawal, which is unacceptable to the west and hence stalled.  

Adhering to US terms would be degrading for Russia and a sign of surrender. Hence, Russia will not withdraw, as long as Putin rules Kremlin, resulting in increased loss of lives on both sides and degradation of Ukraine. The only possibility, as Blinken hinted, was regime change in Moscow.

Simultaneously, Ukraine has become a testing ground for new weapons, tactics and strategy. Real-time information system, Delta (an on-line network to track hostile forces), was deployed as a test bed in Ukraine and was primarily responsible for Ukrainian victory in Kherson. Also tested were remote controlled boats, anti-drone weapons such as SkyWipers and updated air defence systems. Elon Musk’s StarLink led to opening of the space frontier for the first time. Russia tested its hypersonic missiles.

Remote controlled boats could change future warfare at sea, while successful cost-effective anti-drone weapon systems could be a part of the future battlefield. The Ukrainian vice prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, stated in a NATO conference in Oct last year, ‘Ukraine is the best test ground, as we have the opportunity to test all hypotheses in battle and introduce revolutionary change in military tech and modern warfare.’

The armament industry is booming with orders. Supplies to Ukraine has given a new impetus after a hiatus post Afghanistan. No matter which nation provides weapons to Ukraine, ultimately most would flow from US defence manufacturers. Testing of weapon systems will enable the west to modify shortcomings in its present arsenal.

The PLA is structured on near similar lines as the Russian forces. Post the Russians shifting to the Combined Armed Brigades (CAB), the Chinese did so. The Chinese theatre commands are structured on Russian lines. During current operations the Russians found CAB a failure due to reduced firepower and are possibly likely to revert back. The Chinese may do the same. Both forces rely largely on conscripts. Hence, testing operational and tactical concepts to counter the Russians will enable firming of tactics and strategies even against the PLA.

The US has almost no counter to Russian hypersonic missiles. It has now begun integrating tracking involving ‘capabilities between existing space, ground and sea-based radars.’ Air Force General Glen D. VanHerck testifying before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces in May, stated, ‘Hypersonic weapons are extremely difficult to detect and counter given the weapons’ speed and manoeuvrability, low flight paths and unpredictable trajectories.’ Ultimately, it will be the private sector which will benefit from funds released for research and development.    

Key questions remain on what are the interests of major players in this war. The west may continue to claim that it wants Russia to withdraw, aware that Putin will not, hoping Ukraine becomes Russia’s second Afghanistan, which could lead to regime change in Moscow and a severely dented economy. Weapon manufacturers in the US, witnessing their best days in a long time may be desirous of the war continuing. How would the next US administration act remains to be seen.

For China, the longer the war continues, the greater will be Russian dependency on it. The attention of the west would remain divided. Lessons flowing from the Russian invasion would be invaluable when it attempts to invade Taiwan. While it talks of negotiating peace, it is aware that its attempts are possibly just an eyewash.

For India, the continuing war will mean increased pressures on reducing its dependency on Russia, both oil and weapon systems. India’s growing interactions with the west may face stumbling blocks as Ukrainian civilian casualties mount and their infrastructure like dams are intentionally targeted, adding to human suffering. At some stage India may be compelled to choose. This is possibly one of the reasons why India pushed the SCO summit into a virtual mode.   

The war continues to have multiple dimensions. Apart from it being exploited as a testbed for weapons and tactics, it is being employed to remove Russia as a threat to Europe. Each player has his own game plan, the only one being ignored is Ukraine, which remains the victim. However, none desires peace.