The virtual talk is part of a series of 5 experimental engagements by Centre for Contemporary Challenges at the University of Pecs, Hungary. The first two of it were hosted by Indian Institue of Science, Bengaluru, and the second by Bangalore International Centre. This will be the third experimental engagement in which Dr Samir Puri will virtually talk on the topic ‘A Contemporary view on the War in Ukraine’.
Tracing the relationship between the two countries from the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 to Putin’s invasion in 2022, what emerges from Dr Samir Puri’s book, Russia’s Road to War with Ukraine (Biteback Publishing, 2022), is a portrait of a nation caught in a geopolitical tug of war between Russia and the West. While Russia is identified as the sole aggressor, we see how Western bodies such as the EU and NATO unrealistically raised Ukraine’s expectations of membership before dashing them, leaving Ukraine without formal allies, and fatally exposed to Russian aggression.
The attack by Russia on Ukraine in 2022 can be traced back in history, and there have been a series of events that led to the current conflict. The history is interlinked with the current geopolitical events in the region. Ukraine became independent in 1991 after separation from the Soviet Union. The 2004 orange revolution, which led to Yanukovych, a pro- Russian president elect winning the election by cheating, and the poisoning of the other leader, Yushchenko, who was believed to favour the West, led to widespread protests and civil unrest in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s independence from the erstwhile Soviet Union has been considerably peaceful as compared to the Central Asian region, and the Ukrainians experience a Soviet nostalgia, which establishes the fact that there are considerable bonds between the Ukrainians and Russians. However, the 1991-2004 period saw the development of fractures mainly because of generational changes, which divided the population of Ukraine into one group becoming pro West and one still continuing as pro Russia.
From 2004 to 2014, there have been attempts by the USA to further westernise democracy in Eastern Europe. In 2008, in fact, at one of the NATO summits, it was promised that Ukraine and Georgia would one day become part of NATO, which was supported by Germany and France.
Tensions grew when, in 2013, Yanukovych refused to sign the technical agreement to formalise Ukraine’s joining the European Union. The Ukraine European Union (EU) membership bids led to widespread protests, and eventually Yanukovych was deposed and fled to Russia.
Sevastopol was used as the Black Sea naval fleet headquarters for Russia, and in light of the rising insecurities, Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. The Donbas and Luhansk regions were polarised into pro – Russia uprisings. The Minsk process was initiated, which focused on ceasefire and granting of self- government in the Donbas region.
The recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia has led to diverse global reactions. The world is much more multipolar than it used to be. However, the West does not realise this multipolarity, which has led to countries taking independent positions on the issue. Russian President Putin has been there for too long and has an outdated understanding of Ukraine’s view of the world. He expected uprisings to accept the Russian invasion, and even though there is minority support, the majority wants to westernise their foreign policy. However, Ukraine has been let down by NATO.
Russia has been able to survive the sanctions imposed by the West as well as some of the Asian countries, like Japan and has found alternative economic arrangements to keep it afloat. With BRICS having a greater share of the global economy as compared to the G7, the proposition of BRICS currency, currency deals not involving the dollar, and trade deals without the West ( China – Iran) are clear indications of de- westernisation of the global economy.
This situation cannot be seen as a cold war replication, as there are no concretely formalised ideological blocks in the global order now. It can also not be seen as a globalised war, as one does not cause the other. However, if the Israel- Palestine war accelerates, it will have an effect on Ukraine. The focus is shifting towards the Middle East, and the USA’s ammunition supplies are also under greater stress. This is good news for Russia and bad news for Ukraine.
India has been playing a balancing role, guided by its own national interests. India has remarked that ‘How the USA has a strategic relationship with Israel, similarly, India has it with russia.’ However, rather than it being a non-alignment, it is more about independent decision making. India was quick to point out that even if oil is produced in Russia, if it is refined in some other country, that can’t be seen as India sourcing oil from Russia. India is focused on diversifying its defence procurements and being less dependent on Russia. The conclusion of the S400 deal with Russia even after CAATSA sanctions by the US highlights how India is guided by its own interests.
China and Russia are developing closer connections. There are some similarities in the China – Taiwan and Ukraine – Russia issues, and it has been remarked that the Kinmen island is the “Crimea of Taiwan”.
The March 2022 negotiations failed. Russia was initially very confident in its acceptance of the invasion by the people of Ukraine, but then Ukraine fought back and they eventually had to move to mediation. There was a hint that Ukrainian President, Zelensky, would agree to not join NATO if there was a possibility of a peace force solution, but Russia was maximist on demands at that time. In the future, such negotiations will be very hard. The West is against it as Zelensky is against it, and it is assumed that Russia will breach the agreement. There is a lot of anger and hurt, and to achieve a stalemate where nobody wins and nobody loses, a lot of time is needed. Thus, there is no end to hindsight.
The future prediction by the speaker is that Ukraine will not be able to oust Russia entirely, and the situation will be very similar to divided Cyprus, 30% of which was invaded and established as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Though the EU or any other country does not recognise the Turkish invasion, the issue was never resolved. Similarly, there will be a part of Ukraine that cannot be recaptured, and central and western Ukraine might join the EU. It will not be a de jure partition but a de facto partition.
It is a reinforcement of the imperialism ideology where Russia is seen as the senior and Ukraine as the subjugated partner. The conflicts amongst the P5 in UNSC further create paralysis. The most difficult moral question that the world is facing right now is – Whether it is right to bring the fighting to an end or keep helping Ukraine fight for its victory.