• 20 June, 2024
Foreign Affairs, Geopolitics & National Security

Ukraine: One Chessboard, One Master

Cdr Sandeep Dhawan (Retd) Wed, 13 Apr 2022   |  Reading Time: 6 minutes

As the war in Ukraine inches towards the seventh week, there is a weariness among the warring nations; unconcerned people across the globe are clapping at the sight of missile attacks, as if it is a video game. Ukrainian mothers are counting their fallen sons and daughters, but no peaceful end is in sight. It is time that we analyze and assess who is the mastermind behind this game plan.

The United States

The whole world could be critical of the United States and its role in Europe. However, the US has played a masterstroke. They have brought fragmented Europe together and rallied other nations against a common enemy, Russia.

Russia started amassing troops and war-making machines on the Ukrainian borders in March 2021, which coincided with the multistage annual NATO exercise, DEFENDER-21, involving 30,000 troops from 27 nations. Keeping in mind the significant increase in Russian activities, the US European Command raised its awareness level to “potential imminent crisis.”

Throughout the heightened activities, Russian diplomats kept sending signals that Russia had no intentions to attack Ukraine. Of course, along with these assurances, Russia kept demanding that security assurances should be initiated; else, they would be forced to pursue a “Military-Technical” solution.

Almost all European countries and most analysts assessed that Russia would not take the suicidal step of invading Ukraine. Even though I agreed until December 2021, however, by January 2022, I had changed my stance.

Throughout this period, every nation was concentrating on Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union, and very few were observing what the United States was doing. The Americans kept raising the tempo about the possible invasion. Classic information and the psychological war were at play. This bait pushed Putin over the top, making it a cul-de-sac situation. Putin was made to believe that if he didn’t invade Ukraine, he would look weak; however, if he invaded, at least he had a chance of negotiations.

US President Joe Biden was in Poland on 26 March 2022. In a speech, he called Russian President Putin a butcher and declared that he “cannot remain in power.” Though later, Biden denied that he or the United States wanted regime change in Russia. Noteworthy is that the President of the United States doesn’t make an off-the-cuff statement on such an important topic.

On 5th April, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also stated that Sweden and Finland are welcome to join NATO. Within a week, these countries have also decided to join NATO by mid-2022. The United States and the West would try their best to make the war a stalemate, and with such statements, they plan to poke, provoke and cajole Putin to do something drastic.

In a recent interview with Resonant News, I had stated that no country would use nuclear weapons, be it strategic or tactical. However, I fear that the US would push Russia and Putin to use the tactical nukes in Ukraine. Russia has a theory called “escalate to re-evaluate.” That means doing something dramatic — a threat or actual use of a tactical nuclear weapon on the battlefield.


This time around, the American objectives are different. They want Putin to take such drastic steps. Appointment of Alexander Dvornikov as theatre commander of Russian forces in Ukraine could further push Russia in that direction. To achieve that aim, the US could boost Putin’s domestic ratings, giving him fake hope of public backing. If that doesn’t work, even the Russian oligarchs could be arms twisted to make Putin believe that the nukes are the only option left.

Why would the United States want Russia to use nukes? Any usage of a nuclear warhead has many advantages. Russia would be completely isolated from the world. Putin wouldn’t survive as the President of Russia. Countries neutral in the conflict would not be left with any option but to go with the West, and even China would be forced to renounce Russia. The United States would be left with only one enemy, China.


Germany is the most innovative country in the European Union. Germany gained the maximum from the Cold War. The first advantage they got was the unification of the nation. However, the second and the more significant gift they got from the Cold War was the creation of a wall of NATO nations on the eastern border. Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary joined NATO in 1999. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria became part of NATO in 2004. Ukraine, leaning toward the West, and Belarus leaning toward Russia, became the buffer states.

With its borders secured, Germany expanded the game plan. The German leadership assumed that Russia could be convinced to turn to the West. The bait was profitable trade with the European Union. Germany started buying 49 percent of its gas from Russia. Finland pitched in by purchasing 94 percent of Russian gas, Italy 46 percent, and France 24 percent. The thought was simple, make Russia dependent on revenue from the European Union, so it becomes critical for their economy.

The game plan of buying peace was flawed. These countries didn’t understand the Russian mindset. For Russia, it was the other way around. The Euros were necessary, but by supplying gas to the EU, they were making them dependent. If Russia had its way, it would soon be at Germany’s gate. Strategic dilemma and energy security present a challenging future for Germany.


For the Chinese citizens, life under Xi Jinping has become an endless Kafkaesque nightmare. The Chinese government was also looking forward to war in Ukraine to divert the attention of citizens from the Covid-19 blame, high inflation, slowest economic growth in three decades, and plummeting birth rate. However, it worked out to be an “out of the frypan into the fire” kind of situation that China had never anticipated. Like the rest of the world, even China also assumed that the war would get over in a few days, but it didn’t.

The European Union has always treated China as a trading partner and never a threat. Together, Europe and the US make up the most significant part of China’s exports. However, the situation in Ukraine and China’s wholehearted support of the Russian war has changed that perception. The 1st April meeting between the European leaders and Chinese President Xi Jinping also didn’t go well, indicating that the European romance with China will take a new turn.

Chinese are generally well prepared for every situation; however, they were found lacking in every aspect of the war in Ukraine. They made the cardinal mistake of equating the invasion of Iraq with the war in Ukraine. Though the Europeans never supported Iraq’s invasion, they didn’t see both situations through the same lens.

China may have become somewhat modern, but it still applies principles of ‘the warring states’ era while dealing with other nations. Those tricks may work in domestic politics, but not in international relations. Knowing China, it would not mend its ways, and the Ukraine war could soon become a quagmire not only for Russia but for China too.


The war in Ukraine hasn’t been easy for India either. It was just recovering from the shock and economic devastation of the Covid-19 when the war pushed India to take sides. The war has inflated India’s oil bill, dented the growth projections, and enhanced security concerns.

The well-known facts are that Russia provides 70 percent of Indian military hardware, transfers technology whenever promised, and stands with India in difficult times.

The lesser-known fact is that a disinformation campaign against India is about to begin, if not already started. The psychological or information, or media warfare is to bring India in line with Western thinking. India would remain under considerable pressure from the West for months to come. Indian Foreign Minister Dr S Jaishankar has done a stellar job presenting India’s perspective to the West, and only some deft diplomacy would give India further breathing space.

The Chessboard Ukraine

There have been many in history who claimed to be the savior of humanity. Muhammad bin Qasim killed Raja Dahir of Sindh (present-day Pakistan) and millions of others. They were the very people who offered asylum to Hussain Ibn-Ali, the persecuted grandson of Prophet Mohammad. However, Qasim proclaimed to bring ‘first light onto this dark land.’

Robert Clive of East India Company, who killed 10 million (one-third of the region’s population) in the forgotten Bengal famine of 1770, was bringing a cultural and educational renaissance to the land of the deprived. Last but not least, ‘man of the half-century,’ Winston Churchill saved humanity while killing 3.8 million in the Bengal famine of 1943. “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits,” are his infamous words.

The narrative and setting are always the same; only the actors change. They claim to be Messiah who liberates the people from bondage while establishing justice, freedom, and peace. They would always send spectacular war-making machines so that, from your land, you fight their battles.

Be it Zelenskyy or Putin, be it a King or a President, they have to follow their ‘Dharma’ (Sanskrit word for duty, often used wrongly for religion). They have their responsibility towards their citizens and not ambitions of winning the ‘Nobel Prize’ and international applause. Unfortunately, both Zelenskyy and Putin fight America’s war without understanding it. Zelenskyy should be wary of honeyed words, and Putin should look out for statements challenging his pride; both would lead them to doom. The war in Ukraine has only one winner, the United States of America; the rest are expendables.

A nation is doomed if its leaders get ambitious beyond their means.” ~ Insightful Geopolitics


A veteran of the Indian Navy, Cdr Dhawan served in the Navy from 1988 to 2009. He was a Maritime Reconnaissance Pilot and a Flying Instructor. He is a geopolitical analyst and writes for various online websites and organizations.


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Apr 19, 2022
Brilliant! Absolutely logical analysis and conclusions. The arguments are supported with hard hitting facts.

Kalidan Singh

Apr 18, 2022
The article makes a valuable point about narratives. Our narrative is disconnected with reality, it is entirely hubris. Even when we win (1971), we don't win. We don't win because we don't get a square inch of POK back, Pakistani military survives to return every day to make a 100 cuts. When we respond to endless terrorism from Pakistan, we don't do it in broad daylight with TV coverage. No one outside of India believes our narrative, everyone inside India adheres to hubris of our greatness and valor. We take incoming fire on the border every day, but don't finish the job on the other side. I.e., we replace actions with endless posturing and yelling. The global narrative is clear: they see what we did in response to 26/11 (felt sorry for ourselves, cleaned up, moved on, and did nothing). Yes we say we had two retaliatory responses, but there is no hard evidence of what we did. None. So it is all based on what we say (we 'told them') and what they say ('nothing happened'). If we want to control the narrative, in the least, we have to demonstrate (for CNN TV cameras as much as Indian TV cameras) that we can destroy terrorist bases in Pakistan (inside Pakistan) without fear, without hiding. If we want to control the narrative, our language must matter. Jaishankar needed to say: 'You stop buying oil, then tell us what to do. You are concerned about our human rights? We are concerned about yours. Do you have something else to discuss, or are we done here?' He didn't, he used some language that meant nothing to no one (even though we are making a big deal out of it here in India). What I am saying is this: narrative is not talk. It is action. We do too much talking, no action in broad daylight with cameras running. What the world is seeing is bearded Islamicists in India threatening to turn India into a 15th century Caliphate, a political party that is cahoots with Pakistan, while the majority cowers with fright and limits all actions to attacking weak people (women, Dalits). This happens in no other country except ours. We should begin by controlling that narrative.


Apr 16, 2022
... well analysed ... I guess US has come out tops in a way especially it's Arms industry ... But I don't think Russia is down out ... There's still lot of steam left ... World will ultimately start looking at daily needs again n then will run to russia ... ... Which will cause a friction and fragmentation of EU NATO ... Everyone knows how US behaves ... India by replying and pointing fingers back at US has shown the world how to deal with EU n US ... Slowly other countries will start following ... India really has a very crucial role to play ... Needs to go overboard in influencing influential and less influential nations to spread it's own interests ... Pharma ... Soft power ... IT ... Infrastructure ... cross cultural exchanges ... The arms Industry needs to be strengthened ... ... This is the Decade of the Change of World Order ... ... But you really get into the meat of the matter ... Fantastic food for thought n tickling the senses to generate more thoughts ... Keep it Up ... Well analysed ...


Apr 16, 2022
Sandeep, congratulations to you for an excellent coverage of Ukraine War.... highlight of the article is the final line, "The war in Ukraine has only one winner, the United States of America; the rest are expendables".... Thank you.


Apr 15, 2022
A well written article and inference are logical

CB Gupta

Apr 15, 2022
Dear Sandeep, very rightly described. Unfortunately leaders or countries over which, Americans, so called super power, play such games visualise them when it’s too late and irreversible. But Americans have ever been successful in filling their coffers and exploiting vulnerable countries so in a similar fashion. Good efforts, plse continue writing such good scripts

Vijay Nair

Apr 15, 2022
I support your theory of the US ‘masterstroke’ but will not agree in entirety about it having succeeded. To further buttress the thought; you could consider that “pro-Russian” referendums post 2014 were not for autonomy from Russia, but to guarantee Russian as an official language (which was rescinded in 2014 when Yanukovych was overthrown). The Donbass region rebels were supported by defecting Russian-speaking Ukrainian units (Russia’s support was covert). The mainstay of Ukranian defensive is made up of paramilitary foreign right-wing militia-mercenaries, (neo-Nazi & anti-Jewish like the Azov Regt), supported materially by US/NATO. You have referred to the March 2021 situation (but remember that it was preceded by Zelensky’s decree to recapture Crimea), the NATO DEFENDER-21 exercises (I think Navies were also involved) & intense aircraft movement. Ukrainian drone strikes in Donbass continued even after the October Russian ZAPAD 21 exercises. The last straw would be Ukraine’s declaration of unwillingness to commit to the Minsk 1 & 2 Agreements in Feb 22 (manipulated by US as you brought out). Information Wars unleashed by both sides do cloud the truth but massacre of the Donbass population continued. Putin facing the Hobson’s Choice (the cul-de-sac you mentioned) recognized independence of the two Donbass Republics and went ahead soon after to demilitarize” & “denazify” them. Everyone is standing by and watching the fun - It is easy to be combative with the others lives at stake. Like the arms industry supplying weapons to the conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya does. I however feel (rather hope) Russia will not walk into the nuclear trap - but then we all know it’s difficult to differentiate the destruction by a sub kiloton tactical nuke versus a good old conventional one. So allegations will surely fly. For obvious reasons Russia is avoiding large built up areas (they consume troops and is a nightmare for mech forces)- allegations of war crimes will continue flying from both sides (though there were none in the past few years when the Donbass region was being hit continuously) US hasn’t gained much, lost face, the petro-dollar has lost value and Russia is still standing. Will US go back to Venezuela and Iran for oil to mitigate the impact of on energy markets, & reduce dependence on Russian energy? Germany has halted the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline project, and EU has lost out the potential benefits of diversifying energy supplies for Europe. Post war Ukraine losing out transit fees of Russian gas is to put it mildly- the very least of its problems. China, however, I think will gain post war, maybe that could be your next article. India has made its stand on Russian oil imports clear as we continue to lap up the discounted rates. We have handled the situation stoically in the best national interest. Well there are some tactical lessons that our army can pick up especially as we launch into the Tour of Duty model- the primacy of the man behind the machine, and questions raised about the morale of the Russian conscript army. Despite massive Russian scorched earth attacks on Ukranian AD units, the ‘Line ahead’ manoeuvres of mechanised formations without air supremacy, raises doubts about night fighting capability of its AF. And of course its logistical stamina Economic cost of war to Russia despite earning profit from high crude oil prices will probably emerge in a while. A word about its terminal operational objectives- If Russia’s intent was a multi - directional ‘lean on’ Dnieper River, the Northern half of the offensive seems to have petered out while the southern offensive is already resting on Dnieper River. The disposition of troops in the east, centre & south indicates just that and may declare his innings soon after consolidating areas secured.


Apr 15, 2022
As with so many of these joint combined military exercises, they are not worth the taxpayers money. Exercise DEFENDER-21 was proven by Russia to primarily be a just another big group hug.


Apr 15, 2022
"The war in Ukraine has only one winner, the United States of America; the rest are expendables." I am fine with the first part of the sentence but am wondering from whose perspective thinks "the rest are expendables?"

Rajeev Dalal

Apr 14, 2022
Sandeep ,your perspectives are always interesting and so is this one. Hope we ( India)are able to manoeuvre deftly to ensure that it we don't complicate things for ourselves as our national interests may lie on both sides .


Apr 14, 2022
It's disconcerting, the reality of how politicians and military career people view human life. It's worthy of a DSM diagnosis. To achieve political dominance and control, we would encourage using nuclear weapons on anyone is a distinct sign of insanity. Yet we justify it as long as it's the other person's problem.

Rakesh P

Apr 14, 2022
This article is an eye-opener. I knew that for the USA sale of weapons is, above all, but to meet that end; would start a war was beyond my imagination.

Wendell Bruges

Apr 14, 2022
Wow, your article looked as if you had some inside information. It was an excellent read. Very informative.

Sumit Bhatnagar

Apr 14, 2022
Sir all your articles give such a clear n in-depth understanding of the ongoing situations. Your analysis of the geopolitical scenarios is outstanding👌👌👌

Cdr Deepak Singh (Retd)

Apr 14, 2022
Nothing left for me to comment. You have said all. I will highlight only one thing. US of A earn only by weapons sale. So starting a war obviously helps there arms sale. NATO is encircling Russia and Russia will retaliate. Lets wait and watch how Europe survives the next winter without Russian gas, especially Germany. Good one Sandeep, waiting for your next article. Bravo Zulu.

Nilanjan Biswas

Apr 14, 2022
I disagree in general. Putin wants to revive something like USSR . He and his supporters have ensured he remains in power so that it happens. He has miscalculated badly and will go down in history for genocide. We owe Russia some favours but not beyond a point. Our economy has to grow rapidly and for that we need the West. China has to be kept in check and again we need the West. Our society is likely to benefit from free enterprise rather than autocratic ones. The world needs one superpower where debates are allowed. Happens to be US now. Two dadas in the mohalla will disturb peace. We tried non alignment but did not yield results. In the present situation tough call for the government. But we cannot start a anti US narrative. They are arrogant but have come around to understand India’s potential and value. Russia has been a friend but at the moment they are committing grave mistake. They should have continued their rise to power like China, using the West. Like you said, nuclear threat is no video game


Apr 14, 2022
Thorough surgery done meticulously thanks and salute to the Genious -In You

Shaurya Shandilya

Apr 14, 2022
Excellent article Sir

SP Singh

Apr 14, 2022
Well articulated, Dhawan, abt the Elephant in the room. Regrettably that's been the case post WW2.Its the Yankees n their interest that matters.To hell with the rest.Alliances, Institutions n policies that were set in place post the war,as the "Just World Order",were to serve the singular purpose of US hegemony n have worked well till date.As mentioned by Ashok Iyer everything pans to promote their Military Industrial Complex, a key generator of revenue.But now the world is a changing.Proliferation of social media n instant dissemination of information is wisening the "have nots" by the day. Putin's resolve to stymie expansion of NATO n highlight US involvement in creating instability across the world is beginning to gain traction. That, Zellensky played into their hands is unfortunate.Lot more to pen on effect of this war on India n China. May be later.

Judithann Campbell

Apr 14, 2022
As an American, Joe Biden and his handling of everything makes me ill. Commander Dhawan, you say that a President would not make the kind of statements Biden has made "off the cuff." Normally, that is true, but Biden is not a normal president. It is clear to virtually all Americans that he is senile. The man is not playing with a full deck. The only reason he is still in power is because his vice president, Kamala Harris, is obviously even less competent than he is. Absolutely everything that those who pull his strings have done seems designed to hurt America. It is difficult to believe that the situation in Ukraine is any different.

Srinath S

Apr 14, 2022
Very well written

Joseph Mathew

Apr 14, 2022
An excellent assessment. I felt that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan served two purposes, firstly to exit an endless war that was proving to be too expensive and secondly as a bait for the Chinese. The Chinese don't seem to be taking it. Throughout his term as President Trump kept complaining about the low European defence budgets. This war in Ukarain has changed the situation in Europe. NATO has got two new members and the existing members are bound to reassess their defence requirements. The NATO is more united than it has ever been, post the collapse of the Soviet Union. The dependence on Russian Gas would reduce drastically if Europe reconsiders the use of nuclear power, UK has taken the first step in this direction. Success of this gamble, however, depends on how effectively the West ties down Russia in Ukarain, by providing arms and funding an insurgency. The threat to a dollar denominated global trade is real, however, if the Russians get bogged down in Ukarain the Chinese won't hesitate to ditch them. We need to be very careful about whom to back. Backing the wrong horse can have long term implications for our security. Those who are looking at Biden as a confused old man must realize that while he is the President the policies that he implements are formulated by faceless technocrats and think tanks working in the background.


Apr 14, 2022
An insightful article indeed!

Raman Gupta

Apr 14, 2022
Brilliant analysis. Thanks for the indepth view. Of course, the strategist here may not be Biden himself, but the Americans can establishment, but that has no bearing on the outcomes me. Your predictions are still coming true. There are reports saying Putin's domestic approval rating has gone up.

Capt Sanjay Jaiswal

Apr 14, 2022
Well articulated article. With full of insite and very well analysed. Excellent job done by the writer


Apr 14, 2022
Brilliant analysis as always! If old & doddering President Biden merely sat in White House and instigated President Putin to go to War there can be no greater player of Chess! Shatranj ke khliadi! Then walking out of Afghanistan! Either Biden is a Grand master or a Confused Man and I would go with the latter though you have made him to be the former! Possibly so many years in service of USA has it's advantages! I think the Geopolitical equation has changed with Ukraine. No such realignment happened when China breached LAC but when it's "White" -centric the world takes cognisance! So we see USA as the new Shakuni! Provoke and watch the fun! Putin is either Duryodhan or Yuddhishtir ! Either he has lost it all or he will reclaim lost glory! Only time will tell!

S Roy

Apr 14, 2022
Well put across Cdr Sandeep. I am of the opinion that there needs to be a rethink on intelligence. While the US did mention of an impending attack, the other developed nations did not do so. Am sure with their advanced monitoring capabilities that would have been aware of something happening. This could have prompted early negotiations to avoid confrontations in the first place. The world has not read Putin right. I hope they attempt to do so soon!


Apr 14, 2022
Sir, respectfully, I beg to differ on your statement that the US is the winner of the war in Ukraine. In my opinion, the US has made far too many miscalculations in using Ukraine to provoke Putin. Firstly, although it managed to unite Europe against Russia, the spiraling energy and food prices are, sooner or later, going to create massive instability in most European countries. Secondly, the US sanctions on Russia have diminished the credibility of the US Dollar as the most acceptable currency for all international transactions. A lot of countries, including India and China, have started reducing their reliance on the US Dollar and have started promoting their respective domestic currencies for international transactions. Thirdly, even if the US manages to get rid of Putin, Russia will replace him with another Putin. Hardcore strongmen have played a substantial role in Russia’s long, bloodstained, history and there is no dearth of hardcore left wingers in the Russian ruling hierarchy. Pacifists like Gorbachev don’t last long as rulers in Russia. Fourthly, the US, which is currently going through the worst phase in its political history, is also being affected by the rising energy and commodity prices and this will be used by the Republicans to portray Biden as an inefficient president which, in turn, will lead to substantial bickering between the Democrats and the Republicans. All this will definitely create a fair bit of domestic instability in the US. So, in my opinion, the only winners in this war are the big corporates and the weapons manufacturers as they are raking in billions on account of the highly inflated energy and commodity prices, not to forget the drastic increase in worldwide demand for military hardware.

बी राजा

Apr 14, 2022
अति उत्तम लेख | अन्तरराष्ट्रीय परिस्तिथियों का सही आंकलन | जर्मनी की विडम्बना को प्रत्यक्ष करने के लिए लेखक को बधाई | इस पर और चर्चा होनी चाहिए | आर्थिक समीकरण पर भी दृष्टीकोण दिया जाय | अंततः आर्थिक व्यवस्था पर पदासीन रहना ही विश्व शक्तियों की असली इच्छा है | लेखक को, विचारों को संक्षिप्त में सजाने ke लिये अभिवादन |

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