Eight months into the Ukraine conflict, India and the rest of the world wish it would end as soon as possible so that all can get back to the serious business of rebuilding their economies.
How should an Indian citizen look at Vladimir Putin’s messy war in Ukraine, as Russian drones and aircraft bomb civilian areas and target civilian infrastructure? Eight months into the crisis, as thousands of Ukrainians and Russian soldiers have died in this unnecessary conflict, two American analysts have variously described the moment as the “world entering World War 3” or as one when the “world began to reduce their dependence on America.”
Fiona Hill, a former advisor to the Donald Trump administration and an expert on Russia, explained to Politico that “a world war is a great power conflict over territory which overturns the existing international order and where other states find themselves on different sides of the conflict. It involves economic warfare, information warfare, as well as kinetic war. We’re in the same situation (today).”
While noted Indian-American columnist Fareed Zakaria says in his CNN column that the “West is collectively waging economic war in Russia on a scale unimaginable even a year ago.” Zakaria points out that the US has frozen Russia’s central bank’s reserves, cut Russia off from access to sophisticated technology, the global banking payment system SWIFT, and weaponised other financial instruments to hurt it, such as sanctioning its natural resources.
He goes on to add that this is one of those decisive moments for America. The manner in which it manages the conflict is sure to impact its perceived leadership. US sanctions on Russia’s energy, for example, are an “incoherent strategy” and Russia’s exports, even the IMF has admitted, have not affected the economy as severely as imagined. (According to the IMF, the contraction is just -3.4 per cent.)
Zakaria exhorts US President Joe Biden to speak up on why he’s doing what he is and keep as many countries as possible on board. “Otherwise even if America were to win this struggle with Russia, future historians might remember this as the moment when countries around the world began to reduce their dependence on America.”
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Putin has lost the plot
Both analyses are worth examining in full. The likening of the conflict to World War III might seem a bit excessive, even if Putin is using his nukes as blackmail to scare his opponent. One thing, though, is clear, no matter Fiona Hill is denying it for the present moment: This is not a Russia-Ukraine conflict, even if the theatre of the conflict is at present in Ukraine. This is a proxy war between Russia and the US, with the US-led West trying to tame Russia forever, and finish off what it started when the former Soviet Union broke up in end-1991.
Ironically, Putin is giving the opportunity to the West to do so. By starting a completely avoidable conflict with Ukraine – a nation that Russians connect in emotional as well as ethnic ways – in which he is the clear aggressor, even if he has been unjustly humiliated and snubbed by the West many, many times over the decades, Putin seems to have lost the plot now.
Certainly, there is absolutely no justification for the thousands of innocent lives that have been lost on both sides.
Worse, what Putin has done is forever damage the idea of the alternative to the free market-led Washington Consensus. Not that a post-Cold War Russia was any more a command-and-control economy, nor anything like the China model where the Chinese Communist Party manages the market-led integration with the rest of the world. Putin’s Russia, before 24 February, was as much a capitalist nation as the rest of the western world, even though it was clear that he was the strong man in charge.
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Bad boy Russia and lacking UN
The idea of Russia, even in a post-Cold War universe, was a mixed one. The USSR had once been a Third World-kind of nation for a large part of its existence – besides being a ruthlessly authoritarian one – but it had the imagination and the brilliance to educate and pull itself up from its bootstraps. For large parts of the global south, its social indicators were a role model.
The war in Ukraine has given the West the opportunity to show Russia its place. By pulling out all the stops to arm Ukraine, the US-led West is also sending the message that it will not sue for peace.
The truth is that the responsibility for the deaths of innocent people must primarily be laid at the door of Vladimir Putin – but Joe Biden’s hands are also stained. In the UN Security Council, there has still been no serious effort to hammer out a compromise – for the moment, Elon Musk’s ideas are the only worthwhile ones to consider – which sends out its own, cynical message to the rest of the world.
Russia must certainly be censured, sanctioned, and rapped on the knuckles. But why isn’t the UN Secretary-General making any attempt to stop the war, which would include telling the Americans to stop arming Ukraine? Where are the ideas for compromise and peace?
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India’s had enough
That’s why the rest of the world, including India, is a bit fed up with the cynicism and hypocrisy that abounds on both sides. That’s why an exasperated Prime Minister Modi told Putin on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting some weeks ago: Dialogue is so much better than conflict.
That’s also why India abstained again on a US-led vote to sanction Russia after Modi’s public criticism of Putin.
This is not India’s war. But eight months into the conflict, India – and the rest of the world – wishes it would end as soon as possible so that all can get back to the serious business of rebuilding their damaged economies after Covid.
Time both Biden and Putin listen to what countries like India are saying.
The author is a consulting editor. She tweets @jomalhotra. Views are personal.