• 15 April, 2024
Geopolitics & National Security
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Ukraine: When Will the Madness End?

K P Fabian Sun, 03 Apr 2022   |  Reading Time: 5 minutes

In Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3, Banquo asks the witches:

“If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not”.

Since we are not witches, we cannot say whether the Russia-Ukraine talks in Turkey and elsewhere would result in a ceasefire and negotiations, to settle matters between the two countries now engaged in war. That war is only part of a bigger contestation between Russia and the West, led by President Biden who has publicly called for removing President Putin from office.  That contestation overlaps with the Cold-War like contestation between a rising China and a United States that has started falling.

Biden’s Perilous Adlibbing

Biden called for Putin’s removal on 26th March 2022 in Warsaw.  It was not part of the text he was reading from.  The White House and the Department of State were embarrassed, and they scrambled to limit the damage. Secretary of State Blinken on a visit to Israel stated categorically that there was no plan to seek a regime change in Moscow and that it was for the Russians to decide who should be their president.

Two days later, Biden said that “he was not walking back.” At the same time, he claimed that he was only expressing his “moral outrage”, and that he was not wanting to unseat Putin.

Despite Biden’s retraction, the damage was done. France’s President Emmanuel Macron, currently holding the presidency of the Council of European Union, was compelled to distance himself from Biden. Macron warned against ‘the use of inflammatory language in an already volatile situation.’

The reaction from Moscow was measured. “A state leader should control his temper,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told the state news agency Tass. “Personal insults like this narrow the window of opportunity for our bilateral relations under the current [US] administration. It is necessary to be aware of this.”

There is reason to believe that Biden really wants to unseat Putin whom he called a ‘killer’ once, provoking Putin to recall his ambassador from Washington. This happened in March 2021. Moscow asked the US Ambassador to leave and the two ambassadors resumed their posts only after a Biden-Putin summit in Geneva in June 2021. For three months Russia and United States that have a MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) relationship did not have ambassadors in each other’s capital.  This incident shows the damage that Biden’s adlibbing can cause.

Putin’s Popularity Soars

Thousands of Russians protested Putin’s war on Ukraine for days and days, and the Western media have been exulting over these protests. On 3rd March 2022, the Time magazine reported:

‘Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine Has Sparked Anti-war Protests in Russia. They Could Be His Undoing.’

On 10th March 2022, The Guardian reported that 13,789 protesters had been detained. Some pundits in the West held that it was the beginning of the end of Putin’s rule.

However, the tide soon turned in favor of Putin. On 31st March 2022, the New York Times reported:

‘Faced with foreign pressure, Russians rally around Putin, poll shows. Putin’s approval rating rose from 69% in January 2022 to 83% in March.’

Obviously, the sanctions against Russia have not had the intended impact of making Putin unpopular. We might also note that Putin has effectively intimidated the media in Russia to ensure that no news unfavorable to him is put out. He has succeeded into tapping into the patriotism of Russians while facing a foreign enemy. Biden’s adlibbing has helped Putin.

President Zelenskyy’s Zealous Campaign

Zelenskyy has spoken to European Union’s parliament and to some of the parliaments in the member-states, always to a standing ovation.  His appeal for military assistance has been heeded. On 11th March 2022, the Senate approved a package of $13.6 billion out of which $6.5 billion is for the Pentagon to send military aid to Ukraine and related operations. The European Union has set apart Euro 1.2 billion in aid, including military aid, to Ukraine.

Zelenskyy wanted a ‘no-fly zone’, but Biden rejected the request as it would have caused a war between Russia and NATO. Nor has he got so far, any aircraft. He wanted Soviet-era aircraft from Poland. While Poland was prepared to pass on the aircraft to US bases in Germany, Washington was not willing to take the risk of Russian retaliation. Once again, we see the caution of Biden unwilling to militarily take on Russia except by proxy.

The Talks in Turkey

Foreign Minister level talks on 28th March 2022 made limited progress, but there was no agreement on a cease-fire. Ukraine agreed to stop seeking admission to NATO and agreed to sit down and talk to Russia about the territories under Russian control provided Russia withdrew its forces and Ukraine got a security guarantee from US, Canada, UK and others. Russia signaled that it might reduce its military operations in Kiev and focus more on the east.

Ukraine is rather naïve in seeking a security guarantee of the type it has demanded. If US was prepared to go to war against Russia in support of Ukraine, it would have sent troops to Ukraine after admitting it into NATO.

Ineffective Sanctions on Russia

Obviously, Biden’s policy of applying sanctions to change Putin’s behavior has failed. The solidarity of the West and its allies in pursuing sanctions has started to crack. For example, Japan has decided to go ahead with its Sakhalin-2 liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. Germany is in no position to stop buying gas from Russia.  Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. have rejected Biden’s request to raise their oil production.

India’s Policy

India has come under strong pressure from Washington and the rest of the West to fall in line and reduce its engagement, economic and military, with Russia. India has correctly resisted such demands.

Foreign Minister Lavrov visited India. The two sides are trying to work out a trade arrangement without payment in Dollars. It is to be noted that Prime Minister Modi received Foreign Minister Lavrov even as his counterparts from China and UK left without a meeting with the Indian Prime Minister, not for want of seeking one.

Washington is making a profound mistake if it believes that India would succumb to pressure as European countries would. These countries are protected by the American nuclear umbrella unlike India.  New Delhi has decided to maintain its time-tested relations with Moscow.

Likely Scenarios

  • Prodded by Biden, Zelenskyy will resist any ceasefire offer from Putin and the madness will continue indefinitely.
  • Realizing that Biden wants to fight to the last Ukrainian, Zelenskyy would agree to a ceasefire, and put it to referendum. There is good chance that the referendum might reject the cease-fire and the madness continues.
  • After capturing territory, perhaps, including Odessa, Putin might declare ‘victory’ and announce a unilateral withdrawal from the rest of Ukraine. While Washington might insist on continuing with sanctions, the European Union will reduce or even end sanctions against Russia.

While we do not know which of the three scenarios is going to be realized, we can be reasonably certain of a longer-term geopolitical trend with the following consequences:

  • China will win more from this madness than any other power whichever way the madness ends.
  • The divide between the deepening China-Russia axis and Washington will increase, and the geopolitical polarization we are witnessing will deepen.
  • In the geopolitical triangle of US, China, and Russia, two sides together are longer than the third side.
  • The geopolitics of energy is changing in a direction reversing globalization.
  • India will pursue a ‘refined’ policy of non-alignment with reasonable success. Its policy of getting closer and closer to Washington has been reversed, more because of Washington’s miscalculations than for any other reason.

Chanakya’s refined realism enables us to analyze with clinical precision the folly of Biden in taking on China and Russia at the same time.

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Author
Ambassador K P Fabian served in Indian Foreign Service from 1964 to 2000 when he retired from Rome as Ambassador to Italy and Permanent Representative to UN in Rome. Currently, Ambassador Fabian is Professor at Symbiosis and at Indian Society of International Law. He has published 'Common Sense on War on Iraq' and 'Diplomacy: Indian Style'. His book 'The Arab Spring That Was and Wasn't' has been published by MacMillan.

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POST COMMENTS (1)

Kalidan Singh

Apr 05, 2022
Yes, globalization will slow or even reverse. But I beg to differ about the following: (a) China will not win anything; they will have alienated everyone with their behavior, (b) India will pay some price for alienating US/EU; our neutrality means everyone - both Russia and US/EU will be upset with us (the nature and extent of negative consequences remain unknown, but the QUAD now has very shaky foundations).

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