On February 24, the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine would complete two years of hostility. This conflict has witnessed many firsts. The conflict has ushered in a completely new era of warfare. World over militaries are changing their weapons development, procurement and operational tactics. Many of the prized possessions of militaries like big naval ships, 4++ gen fighters, armoured platforms, air defence systems etc. have turned out to be a liability which needs to be protected. Small and low tech drone have emerged as weapons of choice. There is also revival of trench lines and brutal attrition warfare.
The idea behind is to allow readers to witness how this war has changed and also changed the way we perceived war and national power.
IDI and its e-magazine GeoStartegy have published stories and analysis pertaining to the conflict. Those would be republished here for the reader’s sake. IDI would also publish a new series of analytical pieces under ‘Lessons of Ukraine War’. Happy Reading.
Coverstory – GeoStrategy – April-May 2022
Russia Reclaiming its Region
By Rohit Srivastava
While the UN Security Council was discussing the Ukraine crisis, the Russian President, taking the world by surprise, on February 24, declared the launch of a special operation in Ukraine. Speaking to the nation on State TV, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced, “Anyone who tries to interfere with us, or even more so, to create threats for our country and our people, must know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never before experienced in your history.”
“Our plans (of special military operation) in Ukraine do not include occupying Ukrainian territory. We will aim at demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine,” he added.
Setting aside the western sanctions and opposition, Russia fired precision ammunition into the Ukrainian military installations. In the pre-dawn Ukraine, the Russian ammunition landed in the capital city of Kiyv ripping the night silence apart.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the bang created quite a shock. The sudden turn of the events surprised and shocked the Ukrainian representative at the UN emergency meeting called on to discuss the Ukraine Crisis. Reminding the UN of its responsibility to stop the war, he called on all the member states to stop the war.
Declaring Ukraine’s resolve to defend and win the war, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, in a televised address, said: “The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”
Calling the Russian invasion a premeditated war, US President Joe Biden said: “The United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way.”
“We will also coordinate with our NATO Allies to ensure a strong, united response that deters any aggression against the Alliance,” he added.
Condemning the invasion, President European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, in a statement, said, “Later today, we will present a package of massive and targeted sanctions. We will target strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking their access to technologies and markets that are key for Russia.”
Why this War
World opinion is sharply divided. Countries which form the west (EU, US and allies) are vehemently against the Russian action and then there are those countries that share a concern but understand the rationale and geopolitics behind the war.
The rationale for the war was well laid out by William J. Burns, former Director, CIA and US ambassador to Russia, in his diplomatic cable of 2008. Calling the NATO membership of Ukraine “an emotional and neuralgic issue for Russia,” he predicted a split in Ukraine and the possibility of civil war. “Experts continue to claim that Ukrainian NATO membership would have a major impact on Russia's defence industry, Russian-Ukrainian family connections, and bilateral relations generally,” he added.
To understand Putin's action in Ukraine it is important to understand the geography of Russia. It has a coastline of over 37,000 km on three oceans, yet if Russia is restricted from using the warm waters of the Black Sea, for practical purposes it would be a landlocked country for a significant part of the year.
Russia is a European country with the majority of its land in Asia. The historic discord between Western Europe and the Russian empire is now bequeathed by Russia. The vast European steppes do not provide Russia with any natural defence. Moscow must have a defence line beyond its border. The only option for Russia is to create a buffer zone for its security in Central Europe.
After the fall of the USSR, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was not supposed to expand toward the East into former Soviet Republics as part of the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, 1990. The idea behind the treaty was to create a neutral buffer zone between the West and Russia.
But NATO did expand. Now, Ukraine wants to join NATO. Turkey is already a NATO member with whom Russia shares a chequered history. The geolocation of Ukraine is such that if it joins NATO, it would seal Russia from the south. Moscow can’t afford this.
Things panned out exactly as Burns prophesied. The eastern region of Donbas has declared independence and has formed the Republic of Donetsk and Lugansk. The region has been fighting for independence since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Russia at present is in control of Kharkiv in the east to Kherson region in the South. Currently, Russian forces are moving west along the coastline towards regions around Mykolaiv. Russia controls the region of Donbas in the east to the southern regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson which is essential for the control over Crimea.
Further west towards the Moldova coastline on the Black Sea, Russia is bombing the port city of Odesa. The Russian advancement on the coastal line of Ukraine could convert Ukraine into a landlocked nation. This would secure the Black Sea for Russian Navy in the coming future. A landlocked Ukraine would be an economic liability for the EU and the USA.
Ukraine, as we know it today, is a creation of the Soviet Union. In 1939, part of southern Poland was added to Soviet Ukraine. Subsequently, border territories of Romania (1940), Hungary (1945), Romanian Island (1948) and Russian Crimea (1954) were added. After the breakup of the USSR, Ukraine achieved its independence in the exact form of Soviet Ukraine. Since the relationships between the former Soviet republics were friendly at that time, no efforts were made to reclaim the territories. The expansion of NATO towards the east unravelled the forgotten chapters of history. Now the ignored history is claiming lives.
The Total War
The western powers have unleashed a total war against Russia. Starting with economic sanctions, the West has imposed sanctions on Russia as a nation. On April 7, Russia was suspended from United Nations Human Rights Council with 93 nations voting in favour and 24 against in the 193-member Assembly. Fifty-eight abstained from the voting.
Going against the spirit and charter of the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee, on February 28, called for the exclusion of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials from international sports competitions. Western liberalism has always called for the separation of politics and sports, but when it comes to (earlier USSR and now) Russia they always go against their stand.
Even Russian art has not been spared. The cultural institutions across Europe have banned the participation of Russian art, artists, musician and films are not allowed to participate in an exhibition or competition.
Post invasion on February 24, EU member nations began imposing wide-ranging, crippling economic sanctions on Russia targeting its business, export, import, banking and financial institutions. Calling Russia's USD 1.5 trillion economy, 11th in the world, a “fortress Economy”, CNN Business defined the western sanction as an economic war to “tip the Russian economy into a deep recession.” The strength of the Russian economy comes from it being a self-sufficient nation and supplier of 40 per cent of gas and 25 per cent of the oil needs of Europe.
As part of the concerted effort against Russia, Germany has put on hold the Euro 10 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany. The pipeline runs parallel to Nord Stream 1 under the Baltic Sea. The USA, UK, Poland and Ukraine have been opposing the pipeline since 2006. This is being looked like an effort to reduce dependence on Russian energy supplies. One of the fundamental truths of Russia-Europe relations is that Europe is a net importer of energy and minerals from Russia which are essential for its industrial output.
Despite sanctions, Europe is still importing energy from Russia. Its banks have been cut off from dollar trade and the international banking messaging system of SWIFT. The whole effort is to cripple the Russian economy and make its foreign exchange reserves of USD 630 billion redundant. Russian foreign reserve is a war chest that the country collected to protect its currency against sanctions imposed on it in 2014.
Economic sanctions and war in Ukraine have created massive inflation across the world and everyone is paying a price for the sanctions. There is massive food inflation and a shortage of wheat, fertilizers and edible oil across the globe which is making the poorest nations suffer the most. Why are they made to suffer?
There were efforts to ban Russian media houses from social media to restrict the spread of the Russian perspective on war. Even though the Russian media pages are working but they come with a warning. The war has shown that the western corporate even though not owned by the governments, obediently follow government policies. The western multinationals have exited the Russian market leaving behind assets worth billions of dollars. Switzerland, a country which was neutral during the world wars, has also imposed sanctions and frozen Russian assets worth USD 8 billion.
New World Order
On March 2, UN General Assembly put to vote the resolution demanding the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine. The resolution received 141 votes in favour and five against with 35 abstentions. The five countries that opposed the resolution were Russia, Syria, Eritrea, North Korea and Belarus. The 35 abstainers constitute most of the significant nations in terms of landmass, population and economy, including, heavyweights like China, India, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Pakistan etc. If the abstainers and opposers of the resolutions are combined then they together constitute a major part of the Eurasian landmass and global economy. Many of these nations like Iran, Iraq, and Syria, are vehemently opposed to the west. If one looks at the map of nations not voting in favour of the resolution almost the whole of Asia is not with the West.
Countries are pondering over of possibility of trade through national currencies. Russia and China have developed parallel versions of SWIFT namely System for Transfer of Financial Messages and Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS), respectively.
These developments can severely undermine the western grip over the global financial system. The economic sanctions have made countries realise that the global financial institutions need to more democratic and they are tools of western hegemony. Nations across the globe are reconsidering the trade through cryptocurrencies and alternate methods of fund transfer.
This war is changing the dynamics of world affairs. In the coming years, the world will witness the realignment of relationships and demand for the democratisation of global institutions with power being shared equally among members. The inbuilt disparity will have to go.
Russia is not fighting a war for securing Donbas but chaperoning a new world order.
In the End
Shouldn’t the US and NATO be blamed for the war and casualties? On the diplomatic chessboard, the US played its moves to encircle Russia and the price is being paid by common Ukrainian. The sad part is that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is being hailed as a hero by the west, had every opportunity to avoid the war.
Instead of trying to douse the fire, the EU and the US are arming Ukraine to fight it out. The massive flow of portable air defence, anti-armour, artillery and ammunition are being used to arm militia and military. Reportedly some of these unaccounted weapons have appeared on the black market. One shudders to think what if any lone wolf Islamist gets hold of one of these air defence missiles and brings down an airliner? This is a fair possibility. Ignoring all the rationale, it seems the west is ready to fight Russia till the last Ukrainian.