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The West could have been braver in its approach to Russia-Ukraine war, says IISS’s Dr Chipman

At ThePrint’s Off The Cuff, IISS Director-General and CEO Dr John Chipman talks about the West’s strategies regarding the war, the rise of China and India’s position within it all.

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New Delhi: When it comes to who is winning or losing the war in Ukraine, “it is too early to tell”, said Dr John Chipman, director-general and CEO of The International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), while discussing the nuances of the war that has been raging on for almost five months, and its impact on the changing world order. 

In conversation with ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta during a virtual session of ‘Off The Cuff’, Chipman talked about the West’s calculated, “safe” approach to the war, carefully controlling Russia’s aggression, Putin’s “mysterious” strategies that even his own army was unaware of, Ukraine’s defense plan that remained a mystery to its closest allies, and much more. 

While discussing the West’s strategies in extending support to Ukraine and its use of UN Article 51, Chipman remarked: “I think the challenge that the Biden administration gave itself was to thermostatically control their increase in assistance at each stage, hoping that it wouldn’t lead to escalation”. Here, the IISS director-general stated his first “Chipman-ism” discussing the West’s rather safe approach towards providing weapons to Ukraine in the early stages of the war. “I think we could have been a bit braver,” said Chipman, while describing the West’s defensive strategies in the war. 

He also illustrated briefly on the US, the UK and other Western nations’ strategy of “deterrence by pre-emptive attribution”, the second “Chipman-ism” — the West attempted to deter Russia from invading Ukraine by elaborately discussing the former’s plans of invasion such as candidates for the puppet government Putin hoped to establish in Ukraine and more, and send a message to Moscow.

While discussing Putin’s strategies in the war, Chipman said, “One could say that after 4-5 weeks of being frustrated in Ukraine, Putin may have concluded that if he can’t have Ukraine, neither can the Ukrainians.”

During the discussion on Ukraine, he explored the relationship between Russia and its other geopolitical partners in the region, such as China, hinting at Xi Jinping’s prior knowledge of Putin’s intentions in Ukraine. He also spoke about the importance of reopening the Black Sea and release of Ukrainian wheat, especially for its “biggest importers, Egypt and Indonesia”.

Also Read: What is Kaliningrad? Unique Russian territory that stirred up tensions between Moscow, EU

Rebuilding Ukraine

Chipman also expanded on an essential question — that of rebuilding Ukraine. While exploring how one could pay to rebuild a country, he said, “There is now a debate in North America and Europe about moving from freezing Russian state assets to seizing said assets worth about half a trillion dollars which could go to reconstructing Ukraine. This is important because why should the Western taxpayer pay for the reconstruction while depriving development within its own ministries.”

Apart from the Russia-Ukraine war, Chipman also elaborated on Turkey’s growing role in its region. “It’s got the keys on both doors to the Black Sea but also the 30th key for the accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO.” 

He further said that just like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is “a supplicant to the Gulf”, “the United States is a supplicant to Turkey”. 

China’s goal of becoming a ‘data superpower’

The conversation also moved towards China and the impact of the war on its Belt and Road Initiative. Here, Chipman illustrated the perspective of the IISS towards China’s initiative, highlighting the Digital Silk Road that the country has created and China’s broad goal of becoming a ‘data superpower’. “If you’re really going to apply artificial intelligence to support your geopolitical goals, you need a more heterodox dataset which is acquirable for China if it has inwards with 40 African states or 7-8 Latin America states.” 

He also discussed China’s “perturbed” feelings towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Talking about India’s multi-aligned geopolitical strategies, Chipman also gave an insight into the food security-based reasoning behind large FDIs by countries like the UAE in agricultural parks within the country.

Coming back to Europe, Chipman, in his final ‘Chipman-ism’, discussed the shifting power balances in the region: “In Europe, the geopolitical centre of gravity has shifted from the West to the North and the East”. He also expressed his expectations from the new British prime minister, hoping that they will have strong relations with India.

Also read: Why US-supplied rocket system HIMARS has become key to Ukraine’s defence against Russia


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