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Zelensky and the west must accept diplomatic route The Statesman 23 May 2023
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky arrived for the G7 summit adding flavour to an anti-Russian environment. He met PM Modi who stated, ‘India and I will do whatever we can for the resolution of the conflict.’ In Hiroshima, India was the only voice advocating diplomacy to terminate the conflict. US President Biden supported training for Ukrainian pilots on the F 16, though made no promise on delivering them, conveying strong western intent to continue the conflict. The QUAD statement from Hiroshima mentioned ‘deep concern on the Ukrainian war.’ The G7 statement, as expected, condemned Russia and backed Ukraine.
Earlier Zelensky visited Europe seeking weapons and financial aid. All nations he visited, Germany, France, Italy and UK promised support. Zelensky’s intention to take the war onto Russian soil was rejected by European leaders. Germany announced a package of nearly USD 3 Billion, UK promised long-range attack drones and air-defence missiles while France light tanks, armoured vehicles and military training.
On the other hand, the US threatened sanctions on South Africa for providing weapons to Russia. The US ambassador to Pretoria, Reuben Brigety, had stated that South Africa had provided weapons to Russia in December last year. The South African government rejected its claims.
Early this month the EU earmarked seven Chinese companies for sanctions for selling military equipment to Russia. China’s foreign minister, Qin Gang, stated that China would ‘take necessary response to firmly protect legitimate interests of Chinese companies.’ The US Pentagon Press secretary, Pat Ryder mentioned, ‘We have communicated with China about the negative consequences of providing lethal support to Russia.’ The west is desperate to isolate Russia from the world but the same has not succeeded.
As per the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, ‘Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, over 11,000 new restrictions have been placed on Russian individuals, companies, products, and technologies.’ It added that while these have failed to deliver as expected, however, have begun to impact Russia’s military preparedness. Russia is compelled to produce military hardware with indigenised poor-quality parts as compared to latest western military hardware being provided to Ukraine.
Russia in a counter-move sought to enhance ties with Islamic nations, largely anti-west. Greeting participants of the recently concluded 14th International Economic Forum ‘Russia – Islamic World,’ Putin stated, ‘Russia is open to extensive business and cultural cooperation with Muslim countries,’ adding, ‘We are united by a common desire to create a more just multipolar world order that is based on international law.’
The Russian economy, though contracting at 2.1%, remains stable with continuing oil exports. Indian oil companies are re-exporting refined oil to Europe. The EU, which threatened to act against India for re-exporting Russian oil to Europe, was shown the mirror by Jaishankar. Interestingly, Europe is acting against suppliers, not its own buyers. Russia’s diamond exports continue as the main market is the US.
The war no longer involves soldiers. There is an overflow of mercenaries on both sides. As per the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, mercenaries from Georgia, Belarus, Legion of Free Russia (formed in Ukraine), Chechens, UK, Canada and the US are fighting alongside the Ukrainians. On the Russian side is their Wagner group leading operations in the Bakhmut region, all while Ukrainians hesitate to enlist.
Zelensky continues to talk of a counteroffensive, ignoring negotiations. As long as the west provides arms and funds mercenaries, Zelensky will fight their war. A looming concern is US presidential elections next year. A Republican in the White House could impact Zelensky’s support base, a fact well known within Europe. Trump has already conveyed this intent. Without US support, Ukraine will collapse. Europe cannot replace it. Thus, there is likely to be large scale interference in US elections from both Russia and China pushing for a Republican victory.
For the west, Ukraine is the scapegoat to contain Russia, despite whatever destruction it undergoes. The recent blowing up of an ammunition dump in the western Ukraine city of Khmelnytsky had caused concern as it contained UK provided ammunition with depleted Uranium. Its destruction impacted Ukrainian counteroffensive plans.
Zelensky is nothing short of a dictator, locking up everyone who questions him. In a latest all 18 judges of the Ukrainian Supreme court are under the scanner. Normally the west would have sanctioned him but he remains their darling for sacrificing his country for their security. NATO stated that Ukraine will only be admitted into it after victory over Russia, implying never.
Zelensky attempted to gain global support by addressing various global forums, demanding weapons and isolation of Russia. He has addressed the EU, Arab league summit as also the G7. Kiev attempted to push Delhi to provide Zelensky a platform for the G20, which India refused. With the G7 firmly biased towards Ukraine, the G20 summit will face roadblocks in issuing a neutral statement.
China, sensing a changing environment, launched its foreign minister to Kiev hoping to initiate dialogue. It failed. China had proposed a 12-point peace formula, while Kiev has its own, both widely apart. Ideally, India’s presidency of the G 20 will be the reason for Putin, Biden and Xi Jinping being in the same room. India must work to exploit this opportunity to create conditions for Putin and Biden to meet by pushing Russia for a temporary ceasefire. Zelensky is Biden’s mouthpiece and would act the way dictated.
There is no doubt that Russia initiated the conflict, which is against global norms and could set a precedent for others, mainly China, to venture into Taiwan. However, arming Ukraine is one part of the solution, talks to end the conflict, is another. Ignoring diplomacy while permitting large scale destruction of Ukraine is an equally destructive strategy adopted by the west. Simultaneously, targeting nations dealing with Russia will only divide the world further.
The ultimate rebuilding of Ukraine cannot be equated to reconstruction of Germany and Japan post the second world war. Neither funds would be forthcoming nor would they be wisely spent, knowing levels of corruption in Ukraine. Ukraine’s loss of a generation will take decades for recovery. Unless the west looks beyond its nose and backs dialogue, Ukraine will be destroyed as a nation.