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Who is to blame for the Ukraine Crisis The Statesman 01 Mar 2022
The Russian invasion of Ukraine, sanctions on it, abstaining and avoiding criticizing Russia by India and China in the UNSC are a heady mix dominating every media discussion. India is being approached by all parties to the conflict for supporting their stand in global forums. India has thus far displayed neutrality, condemned use of force, insisted that war is not an option, while a resolution is only possible through talks. For this India is being criticized, while the reality is that India is adopting a practical line based on its own national interests.
The war was a result of follies. The US was aware that war was on the cards yet announced it would not support Ukraine militarily, despite knowing that this announcement would be music to Putin’s ears. It sealed Ukraine’s fate. Ukraine was equally aware, especially after Russian deployment along its borders, exercises in Belarus, mass cyberattacks on its critical infrastructure and announcements of unacceptable terms and conditions by Putin. Even after Putin recognized the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukraine failed to act. When it acted, it was too late.
Europe knew war was imminent but similar to the US, failed to support Ukraine when most needed. When the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, spoke to European nations, they shamelessly told him that they would not militarily back him. They are now applying the safest of actions, imposing sanctions.
The Chinese were aware but maintained silence. Probably Xi had suggested that war be delayed till the winter Olympics conclude. India was reading the tea leaves and possibly was not surprised. Its warning to its students in Ukraine was timely but ignored as the Ukraine government kept stating that war is not imminent. India knew it would have to tread the middle path facing global criticism for its silence. Imran Khan was made a scapegoat, invited despite war being launched. His visit was exploited to hide the invasion date, and he returned emptyhanded.
Those criticizing India need to understand historical realities. Which nation sanctioned Pakistan for its ingress in Kargil in 1999 or China for its actions in Ladakh in 2020. Which global power raised this in the UNSC. None. There was silence, apart from some murmuring. While the Indian scenario and Ukraine cannot be compared, however the reality is that India hardly received support. That hurts. India fought and succeeded by itself, despite high casualties. The reason why Indian ingress was ignored was because it happened in a remote corner of Asia and not Central Europe. Everyone knew that being a nuclear power, India could not be pushed beyond a limit.
Now that they fear expanding Russian aggression, they desire that India surrender its weapon dependency and traditional ties. For every nation, its national interests are supreme. Supporting others is never done at the cost of core national interests. Had this not been the norm, NATO would have moved forces into Ukraine.
Global reality is that unless a nation is a member of a treaty it will be forced to stave its challenges by itself. Simultaneously, becoming a treaty ally implies losing strategic independence. India is not a treaty ally and thus fought its challenges alone, whether Kargil or Ladakh. This was amply cleared by the late CDS, General Bipin Rawat, when in a question on US support against China stated, ‘We should not bank on US support.’ He added, ‘If the US comes, it is a bonus, but never work your plans on it.’ Simultaneously, India-US relations are booming as they are aimed at China, a common threat.
The west is imposing sanctions on the belief that it would damage Russian economy and compel it to change track. Putin is no novice. He would have considered the worst of sanctions and its impact before taking his decision. He would have sought alternative routes to preserve his economy. These would include trade in local currencies including the Chinese Renminbi. Further, Putin would have evaluated the option of national security versus national economy and preferred national security. In 1998, when India tested its nuclear device, it did so aware that global sanctions would be immediately imposed and prepared for it.
India anyway stands to lose with the Ukraine-Russia war. Indian military imports from Russia would be impacted by sanctions, so would its spares of naval gas-turbine engines and upgrading of its AN fleet by Ukraine. Hence, as a lesson, India must rapidly diversify its defence procurements as also enhance its self-reliance. It cannot be caught on the wrong foot compelled to follow the thin line mainly because of military dependency. Further, there is always a possibility of China exploiting this crisis to attempt another act of salami slicing.
Ultimately, can Russia alone be blamed. Its calls for a check on NATO expansion were ignored. NATO is designed against Russia and deployment of missiles and nuclear warheads on its borders enhances threats and it can be blackmailed. Compare this with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, where the US was willing for war to prevent missiles being deployed in its backyard.
Finally, when global powers ignore warnings, treat adversaries with contempt, believe in their own superiority, hostilities cannot be avoided. Ultimately, it is the population which suffers. Talking to Russia, satisfying its concerns and staving the conflict should have been priority. But that was ignored. The US rushed out of Afghanistan, dumped its population to the mercy of the Taliban and has now left Ukraine to the mercy of Russia.
Ultimately Ukraine may be forced to accede to Russian demands, could become a satellite state, rather than a democracy, the impact of which would be felt across Europe. This is solely because western powers dumped a democratic nation. Also does Putin have an end state or would he be bogged down as in Afghanistan. Would Russia have acted similarly had Ukraine held onto its nuclear weapons rather than surrender them on western guarantees in 1991. These are questions for which there are no answers currently.
Summarily, the western world, including Russia, must be collectively held responsible for the suffering of Ukrainians.