Wars in Ukraine and Gaza shaped 2023, but will they continue to un-make the world next year too First Post 28 Dec 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar



Wars in Ukraine and Gaza shaped 2023, but will they continue to un-make the world next year too First Post 28 Dec 2023

          The world was largely peaceful till early 2022. There were small but controllable skirmishes between nations, political tensions, containing considered adversaries, increased terrorism but no wars involving nuclear powered nations. Feb 2022 witnessed the commencement of the Ukraine conflict with Russia launching its ‘special military operation.’ It dominated headlines for most of 2022 upto the Hamas attack on Israel’s Be’eri Kibbutz on 07 Oct this year. The retaliation by Israel pushed the Ukraine conflict onto the sidelines.

After nearing two years of conflict, funding fatigue has begun to set into most of Ukraine’s supporters, despite Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, claiming Kiev is blocking Russian expansion into Europe. It was the west which stopped ceasefire talks hoping to draw Russia into a second Afghanistan, but failed. Currently, the world focus has shifted.

At the commencement of the conflict, the west announced it has imposed ‘crippling’ sanctions on Russia, while providing military and economic support to Ukraine. These did little to curtail the war. Russia’s economy remains resilient, while large parts of Ukraine lie devastated. The much-touted Ukrainian counteroffensive achieved nothing.

Its failure only highlighted the split between Zelensky and General Valery Zaluzhny, the army chief. The army chief admitted that the counteroffensive had achieved nothing substantial, while Zelensky disagreed. This added to funding fatigue. The coming year could either witness a new Russian offensive or talks to end the war. Patience running out on Ukraine was evident when in the US, the senate blocked funds for it. In Europe, nations seem to possess similar views.  

Poland’s new government has stopped providing military equipment to Ukraine. Hungary has blocked EU’s 50 million Euro aid to Ukraine, post commencement of EU-Ukraine talks, while in Romania, an anti-Ukraine funding political party is gaining ground. Geert Wilders, whose party won the recently concluded Netherlands election stated, ‘We believe we shouldn’t give military support to Ukraine while we are unable to defend our own country.’

Zelensky too has admitted that the war in Gaza is ‘taking away the focus’ from the ongoing conflict on his soil. Ukraine is no longer in the news. Peace talks hosted by Arab states are on hold. Putin has already hinted on talks with the US, Europe and Ukraine to terminate the conflict. With elections due in major countries involved in the war or supporting warring sides in 2024, including Russia, Ukraine, EU parliament and the US, the possibility of the war concluding in Russia’s favour appear bright.

Gaza, which was the globe’s largest open-air prison was generally ignored, despite Israel’s crippling control over its residents. It jumped into global attention with the Hamas attack and the violent counterstrike by Israel. While 1200 Israeli’s were killed in the initial Hamas assault on 07 Oct and over 150 taken prisoner, over 20,000 Palestinians have died in the ongoing Israeli offensive. Large parts of Gaza have been destroyed. While the western world initially backed Israel in its efforts to eradicate Hamas, they seem to be having doubts as civilian casualties’ mount.

Calls for a humanitarian ceasefire as also restricted operations to engage only military targets avoiding collateral damage have had limited impact. The five-day ceasefire which led to exchange of prisoners and movement of aid ended with both blaming the other for violating it. In a latest, the UNSC has passed a resolution for ‘immediately speeding aid deliveries to hungry and desperate civilians in Gaza,’ but without the original plea of ‘suspension of hostilities.’ How will it unfold is to be seen.

Israel’s military aims include denuding the war machinery of Hamas, eradicating its leadership and destroying its tunnels. It is willing to accept civilian casualties as collateral. Eradicating the Hamas leadership in Gaza and its military capabilities may be achievable with losses, however removing the ideology of Hamas is difficult. 

Both the wars have multiple similarities. The stronger states, Russia and Israel, have faced limited damage on their soil, while the weaker adversary, Gaza and Ukraine, have suffered immensely, necessitating global funding for reconstruction. The UNSC has been ineffective in stalling both conflicts mainly due to the power of veto of permanent members. While Russia is itself a permanent member, Israel has the backing of the US. Thus, after repeatedly failing to enforce a ceasefire through the UNSC, the matter had to be referred to the UN General Assembly.

Resolutions passed by the UN General Assembly, which are anyway non-binding, conveyed global perceptions. Majority called for peace but their requests are ignored by those involved, Russia and Israel. The sufferers have been the populace in the weaker states, Ukraine and Gaza.

Thousands have died, while countless continue to suffer due to damages to infrastructure and lack of medical facilities, especially as winter sets in. In Gaza most of the dead are believed to be women and children, while a news report mentions that 10,000 civilians including 600 children have died in Ukraine. A number of states, including India, have largely maintained neutrality by avoiding to blame one side for it, while demanding a ceasefire and talks.

There are however dissimilarities too, mainly because Ukraine is a nation-state and Gaza controlled by a terrorist organization, Hamas. In March this year, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin and others in his government for forced deportation of children. Not a word has been mentioned by any global organization against Israel or its leadership for unrestricted operations resulting in thousands of civilian casualties, largely children, and uncontrolled destruction of infrastructure, including hospitals, beyond what is essential to sustain operations.    

Ukrainian refugees, mainly comprising women, children and the elderly were accepted by all countries in Europe, while no nation is willing to adopt Palestinians, leaving them at the mercy of Israeli military power. Entry into Egypt from Gaza and Jordan from the West Bank is blocked. While Ukraine was supported by Europe and the US, Gaza is being backed by Iran and other West Asia terrorist groups, conveying the message that terrorists of the world stand together.

While Russia prevented Ukraine from using its Black Sea ports to export its foodgrains, the Houthi’s backing Hamas are attacking ships on the Red  Sea, mainly of nations backing Israel or those headed to Israeli ports. The Ukraine war was the result of Kiev intending to join NATO, an anti-Russian block, the Hamas assault of Oct was due to stifling controls maintained by Israel over Gaza.

The main gainers from these conflicts are armament industries which are witnessing a leap in profits. Interest and desire to control the narrative by major global powers acted as stumbling blocks in preventing conflicts from commencing or even terminating. At the end of the day, innocents lost their lives, while militaries battled on. Unless there is a global realization and pressure applied on warring sides, these wars would continue into the next year only adding to loss of lives and destruction of infrastructure.