• 14 April, 2024
Geopolitics & National Security

Hard Power Underpinning of Ukraine War

Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty Thu, 17 Mar 2022   |  Reading Time: 5 minutes

In the realpolitik world of international politics, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a rude reminder of the exercise of hard power by great powers, to protect what they regard as their core national interests. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is yet another instance of this enduring fact of geopolitics. USA’s invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria which left these countries devastated, were similar exercises in the use of hard power, motivated by regime change objectives and other allied national interest of USA and NATO.

In the Iraqi and Syrian case, this led to the birth of the Islamic State [ISIS] or Daesh and the brutal mayhem they let loose on hapless people in the region and beyond. This mayhem continues in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan with occasional bloody events in other countries of the Indian sub-continent. A once prosperous Libya and Iraq and stable Syria lie in ruins wracked by civil war. Afghanistan under the Taliban is bankrupt and has slid into the quagmire of poverty. The ultimate winner of these wars is the military-industrial complex for whom war is business and profit.

When great powers resort to the exercise of hard power, it invariably renders the UN incapable of defending smaller nations and the latter live under recurring fear of great powers taking recourse to hard power, if they don’t fall in line. The competition among great powers for influence and protecting their security interests often leads to military conflicts which history later judges as unwarranted and misguided.

Common people bear the brunt of such wars and undergo maximum suffering. Madeline Albright, the US Ambassador to UN and later Secretary of State stated infamously on television that deaths of 5 lakh Iraqi children was worth the cost of the Iraqi war which was fought on the excuse of non-existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction [WMDs]. Her infamous statement will never be forgotten.

The Ukraine war has brought out racist white sentiments in the Western media, because this time “people like us” with blonde hair and blue eyes are being killed and not brown and black people outside Europe. Refugees are being welcomed in EU countries with great empathy. Western media is full of images of refugees, civilian casualties and material destruction. While all this is the unfortunate “collateral” damage of war, we must recall that American wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and several other places caused much greater damage which, according to people like Madeline Albright were worth the cost. Russia is today the punching bag for much of the Western media and commentariat, faithfully following the “party line” set by the USA and some of her Western allies.

Security is a relative concept. Russia’s core security interests define Ukraine’s insecurity. One nation’s quest for security leads to insecurity for another nation. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the defunct Warsaw Pact East European nations joining NATO was a quest for security, having lived in the shadow of the Soviet Union, whereas NATO creeping closer and closer to Russia’s border was construed as a threat to Russia’s core security interests.

NATO absorbed 14 East European nations and Russia’s objections were ignored. Ukraine shares a 2300 Km border with Russia and her attempt to join NATO was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Numerous historical records affirm that in 1990, USA, UK, and France repeatedly promised the Soviet Union that NATO would not expand “one inch eastward” after the reunification of Germany. These promises were ignored later on the specious plea that there was no written agreement and NATO expanded eastward 14 times.

William J Burns, the current CIA Director and former US ambassador in Moscow wrote a secret note in 2008, available on Wikileaks, that Ukraine’s inclusion in NATO would cross Russia’s security “red lines”. He presciently added that if this happened then it would lead to violence, civil war and partition of the country, forcing Russia to intervene. USA and her allies may have been careless in assessing this warning, having managed to include 14 East European nations into NATO, including the Baltic nations [Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia] which share borders with Russia. Hence, USA and her NATO allies kept on insisting that Ukraine will join NATO.

In 2008, President George Bush publicly announced that Ukraine and Georgia should be allowed to join NATO and Secretary-General of this this US-led military alliance also announced that these two neighbours of Russian would eventually become members or NATO. Professional diplomats like Burns and others were privately worried as Burns had called Ukraine the “brightest” of red lines for Moscow. Russia has perceived NATO expansion as a betrayal of promises made by USA and has felt encircled and deeply concerned about security and stability in the region and clearly disturbed about her security interests, as a consequence of NATO’s eastward expansion.

Moreover, in 2014, USA’s meddling in Ukraine led to internal violence and an American-backed movement which overthrew the democratically elected pro-Russian government which was succeeded by an anti-Russian and pro-Western regime. Russia also took over the Crimea, in 2014 a largely Russian area, apprehensive of the new Ukrainian government’s intentions, particularly about joining NATO. Crimea hosts Russia’s largest naval base in the Black Sea at Sevastopol.

Internal disturbance in the pro-Russian eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass led to two autonomous states, calling themselves People’s Republic of Lugansk and Donetsk. Predictably, the Kyiv government denounced this decision and called it illegitimate and as Russian puppets. Since then, a brutal war has been waged by the Kyiv government against these breakaway republics. Russia has recently given recognition to these two republics as independent states.

As the war rages on, peace negotiations are also continuing. It is likely that Ukraine will offer some concessions, like eschewing joining NATO and permitting the Donetsk and Lugansk provinces to remain autonomous. Russia’s goal is to coerce Ukraine to  remain neutral, demilitarize and denazify. During World War 2, Ukraine had joined Hitler’s holocaust against the Jewish people which led to the killing of around 1 lakh Ukrainian Jews. Ukraine is less likely to agree to demilitarization and denazification. Russia has repeatedly made it clear that it will not allow NATO to set up bases in Ukraine with the potential to threaten Russia with conventional and nuclear weapons. Russia’s demarches to seek such security guarantees have been repeatedly rejected by USA and NATO. This obduracy on the part of USA and NATO has led to this unfortunate and avoidable war.

Another intriguing and worrying aspect of this war are the claims of US-funded Biolabs in Ukraine doing research in pathogens. Both China and Russia had made this public. American politicians are having a slanging match over this issue. This cannot be dismissed as Russian propaganda after reports of US funding of “gain of function” research on viruses at the Wuhan virology institute in China. The world has not forgotten that the COVID pandemic originated from Wuhan. In India, the government has put the American CDC [Centre for Disease Control and Prevention] on the blacklist for secretly funding virus research in two institutes without any government approval. CDC was also the funding agency for the Wuhan Lab.

Such American activities are now being projected as assistance to help Ukraine upgrade her Biolabs, to manage Soviet era biolabs whose obsolescence could lead to leaks of deadly pathogens that were a part of Soviet era biowarfare research. Allegations of biowarfare are the natural corollary of such secret funding of biolabs. Ukraine has a sound science and technology infrastructure and American objectives against Russia helped fund bio-research. American concerns also relate to Russia capturing these biolabs and getting success to pathogens. To counter these revelations, USA has raised the rhetoric of Russian chemical attacks in Ukraine.

The propaganda war has emerged as an important feature of the Ukraine war. Allegations and counter-allegations are flying back and forth in the mainstream and social media. This war is the first major war in this century, albeit a proxy one, involving USA-led NATO and Russia.

USA and NATO countries are supplying weaponry to Ukraine that will cause maximum material damage and human losses for Russia. Ukraine’s ability to withstand Russia’s military machine has been bolstered by infusion of weaponry that has boosted Ukrainian resistance and slowed the Russian military’s advance. This has also led to indiscriminate Russian missile strikes on civilian buildings.

The world can only hope that Russia-Ukraine negotiations are speeded up and the war stops before the economic impact of this unnecessary war impoverishes a large part of the world and scuppers economic recovery, barely recovering from the impact of the COVID pandemic.


The author is a former Secretary in MEA and former Ambassador; he is a founder Director of DeepStrat and a Visiting Fellow at ORF, Delhi.  


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Chanakya Forum. All information provided in this article including timeliness, completeness, accuracy, suitability or validity of information referenced therein, is the sole responsibility of the author. www.chanakyaforum.com does not assume any responsibility for the same.

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