Where is Ukraine Going?

It is not clear what the President of Ukraine expects the end of the war will look like. It is obvious what India’s options are. It is uncertain whether the West has clearly thought out the consequences of its involvement. However, what is clear is that the Ukraine war has started rearranging the order of power in the world, spelling a possible end to a globalised economy and testing world’s leading institutions. If 9/11 precipitated the age of the neurotic State fearful of its own citizens, the Ukraine war is starting the reshuffling of world order and possibly paving the way to reconfigurations of States in future. In this series, I explore each of this in turn.

That Russia is a very powerful country with some successful military campaigns behind it in recent decade cannot be disputed. That Ukraine is relatively a small power with a much smaller army and arsenal compared to Russia is also not contestable.

When Russia surrounded Ukraine in the East and North East, the general view was that if provoked, it would crush Ukraine in a short time. The United States war in Afghanistan lasted nearly 20 years while in Iraq it was about 15 years. The Syrian war is still going on after ten years. Comparatively, the Ukraine war is expected to last much shorter period, perhaps a year.

Ukraine’s choice was between compromising some of its sovereignty or risk war. It bravely chose to take on Russia. The odds are heavy when one compares the military strengths of the two.

With an army of around a million and reserves of around 2 million, Russia also has a phenomenal arsenal. It has 6,255 nuclear warheads, the largest in the world. Some of its hypersonic missile technology surpasses any in the West. It has so far only deployed about 10-15% of its fighting capabilities in Ukraine.

Ukraine is a smaller country with an army of some 200,000 and paramilitary forces consisting of National Guard and Border Guard etc of 60,000. Comparatively it has far fewer weapons, aircraft and missiles and most of them are from the Soviet era, although it has an arms manufacturing industry as well. But training its army, helping with strategy are officers from several western NATO countries, particularly United States and United Kingdom, although both deny any active participation in Ukraine itself having shifted training centres into Germany since February 2022.

ALSO READ: Theatre of Horror In Ukraine

It appears that Russia first surrounded Kyiv from two sides to intimidate Ukraine to give it an opportunity to accept its terms to avoid war. The Russian terms were: Ukraine declare neutrality and pass in law that it would not join NATO. Russia required it to decentralise and give autonomy to Donbas regions, second language status to Russian language and what it calls ‘denazification’ of Ukraine military. Russia considers the Azov forces to be Nazi like outfits. That Azov outfits were hard core right wing with Nazi regalia was also widely reported in most western media until the war started.

Kyiv refused Russian terms. Russia invaded. Having seen that Ukrainian army was intent to fight back ferociously, Russia withdrew and readjusted its tactics to ones it employed in Syria. Concentrating on Donbas as well as South of Ukraine, its approach is merciless destruction and onslaught of key strategic areas using a combination of ground troops and air borne fire. This is producing it results.

There is also suggestions that Russian intelligence about lack of Ukraine resistance was wrong. It is possible that some western agencies may have identified pro-Russian agents and spoon fed them disinformation through Ukrainian officials.

Since the attack, the Ukraine President and other politicians have appealed passionately for the west to get involved directly, either by imposing no fly zones or boots on the ground. However even before the war, USA, UK and European powers had indicated that they would not physically come to Ukraine’s aid. Everyone fears a nuclear war. No one is keen to destroy the whole world yet. The west has nevertheless resorted to sanctions, supply of weapons and training of Ukrainian army. Characteristically Britain has been the most gung-ho, still attempting to play big. Moreover as admitted by US media, the United States has been engaged throughout the campaign in providing intelligence, guiding strategy and targets. Russian media insists that US personnel are on the ground advising tactics, manning equipment etc and some have been captured.

The west seems keen for this war to prolong. It hopes this weakens Russian capability through loss of personnel and armour. It also gives NATO enough intelligence to understand Russian tactics, strategies and the lethal effectiveness or functionalities of its armour. It helps NATO forces to prepare for a real confrontation with Russia.

The West is now suppling some advanced weapons. When used it will be an exhibition of their effectiveness. This increases sales as it already has. US arms producers are expected to gain $17 Billion from supply of these weapons and more in future world orders. Some of its decision makers will gain profits from the new package announced for Ukraine. Türkey has already seen manyfold increase in orders for its Bayraktar drones that have gained legendary status against Russian Tanks. Ukraine has been a proxy fighter for NATO, particularly USA and being used as an arms fair to show piece weapons.

For Russia too, the war is an opportunity to learn. It has been engaged in wars in developing countries and against non-State actors such as Syrian rebels. Ukraine is the first real European fighting machine that it is encountering. Armies can do all the simulation exercises in training, but they harden and mature in real battles. Russian arms saw a five-fold increase in sale after Syria. Although components are becoming difficult due to sanctions, Russia is testing some of its latest lethal weapons from time to time in Ukraine. Their sales will grow after the war.

War is an ugly affair and brings out the worst in humanity despite all the human rights treaties and conventions. It’s a merciless killing ground. Once it starts, few if any morals survive in war.

With all the odds stacked against it, realising that no western armies are flying in to help and possibly conscious that they are now fighting a proxy war at great expense to themselves, it is still not clear what the Ukrainian leadership is realistically hoping to achieve at the end. About a quarter of its population is now displaced and many have fled the country. Its cities have been devastated. It has lost territory.

Whether Russia is right or wrong to have gone into Ukraine is immaterial now. Despite the drama of war crimes courts, Putin isn’t going to face any trial any more than Bush or Blair will face trials for Iraq, unless there is capitulation by Russia and a coup hands him over.  Fortunes of wars are not decided by morality, laws or international conventions but by might. Currently, it does not look good for Ukraine. 

It is all very well to say, Ukrainians have a right to defend themselves. But the western world is indulging its own morals and strategic policies to weaken Russia at the expense of Ukrainian families, children and elderly people, even when the situation looks hopeless.

Russia isn’t going anywhere and Donbas is lost. Russia’s army is still intact. It is weathering the sanctions and seems to have factored in the losses in men and arms. Putin’s ratings are higher domestically. Ukraine’s army has lost about 25% of its personnel. Its weapons are depleting. In some wars, the attacked victim has no choice but to fight or die. Ukraine had choices and still has some. Its choices are now limited as the veteran strategist Henry Kissinger has stated.  Is it time to accept the inevitable and avoid further bloodshed.

(This is the first part of a series on Russia-Ukraine war to appear in these columns)

Blood On Your Face!

A portrait of Stalin hangs on the wall. The lector reads a report on Stalin, then, the choir sings a song about Stalin, and, finally, an actor declaims a poem about Stalin. What’s the occasion? An evening commemorating the hundredth anniversary of Pushkin’s death.
(A student tells this joke. For this crime, the student gets ten years in the labour and death camps, without the right of correspondence.)
Second-Hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich

Stalin allegedly used to write poetry in his youth. So did Pol Pot, the butcher, and General Mohammed Ershad of Bangladesh. So did, perhaps, Idi Amin of Uganda and Augusto Pinochet of Chile.

Perhaps, Vladimir Putin too writes his own brand of botoxed poetry bloodied with the bloody redness of innocence — from Kiev to Lviv. Certainly, they would all be verse, as terrible as the terrible poetry Stalin wrote during his Georgian youth.

Think of Russia: 10,000 or more young soldiers dead. For no rhyme or reason. Most of them from the provinces did not even know why they were fighting this war, why they were killing people who looked like them and spoke their language and ate the same food and sang the same songs and shared the same oral traditions of the war against fascism.

Treacherous Generals! Thus wrote great Spanish poet Fredrico Garcia Lorca. So, he was shot in the woods by perhaps a footsoldier of another general, while, perhaps, another general gave him shelter. Several top generals of the Russian top brass have been killed in combat. Where have you ever heard generals fighting in the frontlines, except in those magical, mythical, medieval times?

As the sad song goes: It‘s happening in Russia. It is happening in Russia!

As another great poet, Pablo Neruda, a buddy of Lorca, wrote: Come and see the blood on the streets. Come and see the blood on the streets. Come and see the blood on the streets…

Think of Ukraine. Come and see the dead on the streets of Bucha. At Kharkhiv and Irpin. In the outskirts of Lviv and Kiev. Out there in the smoked-out Eastern Front of Ukraine. Hands tied at the back, some bodies. An entire family shot and dumped in the garden. A theatre bombed out. A railway station ravaged by hell-fire.

Dead children and mothers. A few million turned refugees; no more the warmth of their cosy homes in this freezing cold. Now, borderline cases stranded on various European borders: Lithuania, Moldova, Poland…

ALSO READ: Theatre Of Horror In Ukraine

In this grotesque anti-poetry Putin has penned, there are no between the lines. No verse or pause, silence or nuance. Only the sinister shadow of Ivan the Terrible, the Tsar of Russia, And, of course, Totalitarian Stalin of the Great Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). And he knows so well that this mindless war waged by him for mindless reasons, he has already lost. He lost it on Day One! He did.

Isolated in Europe and the West, and across the world, a megalomaniac Putin, a ruler for life, can’t even have his last hurrah. Another dictator with a half-twisted smile, in China, also a ruler for life, with his alleged communist hangover, seems to have backstabbed him on Ukraine. So, what will the hallucinating Tsar do now?

His banking system has been turned almost redundant, his lucrative oil economy is bleeding, the rouble has shrunk, his international financial system has collapsed, his finest sycophants in his caricature of a cabinet have all been sanctioned, his best billionaire buddies are finding their assets frozen, including the super-luxury yachts parked at multiple ports; so, what will Putin do now?

Till this day, even as it becomes 60 days and more, in a post-modern era where wars, rare as they are, are fought on the battlefronts in short, decisive stints, and, where diplomacy rules the roost,  this long march to eternity has only nowhere as a dead-end. Till this day, Putin and his beleaguered and confused armed forces, have not been able to win any city or town, port or infrastructure, despite the huge military resources at his command. Even from Chernobyl they have withdrawn.

Reports The Guardian: “Mariupol has become a symbol of Ukraine’s unexpectedly fierce resistance since Russian troops invaded the former Soviet state on February 24.” The UN World Food Programme has stated that 100,000 plus citizens in ravaged Mariupol are starving and there is serious scarcity of water, sanitation and heating. Undoubtedly, it is a major humanitarian catastrophe, and the blame squarely falls on Putin.

“The city still has not fallen,” the Ukrainian Prime Minister said on Sunday. “There’s still our military forces, our soldiers. So they will fight to the end,” he told ABC’s The Week. “We will not surrender.”

Putin and his commanders tried the strategy of putting the capital of Ukraine under siege for days. In contrast, even the satellite towns did not surrender, so brave, strategic and resilient has been the Ukrainian response on the ground. Hence, now top European leaders are making a beeline for Kiev, right under the nose of Putin, standing with the troops and the brave, fighting citizens of Ukraine. Even Joe Biden might land up at Kiev anytime soon, and as did Boris Johnson in a sudden, surprise, solidarity visit.

Hence, while the brilliant comic star of reality TV and valiant president and soldier in fatigue on the frontlines, Volodimir Zelenskiy, fights a winning battle 24/7 with his back to the wall, with clever rhetoric and imaginative manuevering, Putin stands cornered, ghettoized and isolated. All he now has is the dream to capture Donbas and Lugansk, etc, and focus on the Eastern Front, like he did with Crimea in the past. That is, indeed, a big loss to his grand project of extending the Great Stalinist Soviet Empire!

All he could do therefore was order massacres, executions, Stalin-style, indiscriminate bombing and missiles flying into homes, hospitals and schools. Surely, these are no signs of a smart and strategic military commander sitting in Moscow which led such a stoic and sustained battle for months in the frozen landscape in Stalingrad and Leningrad.

Putin seems to have willfully forgotten that more than 20 million Russians died in the protracted war against fascism, whereby, the Red Army first liberated Berlin, whereby, Adolf Hitler and his wife, then, chose to commit suicide. Many of the millions who died came from Ukrain and neighbouring  Belarus, also ruled by a tin-pot dictator, another best buddy of the Tsar in Moscow.

The tragic epic hereby unfolding is heart-breaking: between the young men and women fighting each other in a meaningless war in Ukraine, there is a history of deep, intrinsic, intimate and shared memory. These shared memories are stronger than war, victory or defeat. They are childhood memories, spoken as fairy tales turned real, inside the warmth of the home and hearth, around a soft, crackling fire, as the snow would fall over the meadows like sheets of white, and the howling wind would creep in through the cracks in the window. These are real stories, and they shall never die.

Nobel Prize winning journalist Svetlana Alexeviech narrates another joke cracked by the grandson of a seasoned communist and party card holder who was tortured and brutalized in all kinds of dingy hell-holes during the Stalinist purges for reasons no one knows till this day. His wife, also a card-holder, died of the brutality, cold and hunger in prison. The joke:

A professor and an Old Bolshevik are at a séance. The professor: ‘From the very beginning, communism was based on an error. Remember the song: Our train is flying forward… The next stop is the commune…’

The Old Bolshevik: “Of course, I do. What’s the problem? Trains don’t fly.’

‘We Fled In A Bus Crammed Like Chickens, Amid Bombings And Ruin’

Vishal Chaudhary, a 24 year old medical student from Karnal, recounts how he fled the war zone in Ukraine amid air bombings and destruction

I come from a village named Gharaunda in Karnal (Haryana). I was studying at Dnipropetrovsk State Medical Academy, Dnipro, Ukraine. I saw the real horrors of a war up close and the trauma will remain etched in my memory for life.

It’s horrific to recall my journey from Ukraine to India. I witnessed bombs raining close by, tanks growling on streets and Russians taking over check-posts from Ukrainian soldiers.

I, along with several fellow medical students, were in Dnipro on February 24 when Russia officially declared the war. The city is around 250 km from Russian border but we started hearing the sound of fighter planes and bomb blasts from day one of the war. Probably, Russian war planes had entered the city airspace.

Water and electricity supplies were cut off first. We rushed to the market to buy some food for us, but a majority of items had gone off the shelves. We collected whatever little we could lay our hands on.

The next challenge was money. Suddenly, all the card swiping system had gone out of order. No one was receiving money via online payment. Everyone was asking for cash. And cash was not available in most ATMs. We had to stay in a queue for two hours to get just a few thousand Ukrainian Hryvnia from a functional ATM.

Chaudhary says he saw the horrors of war up close

Things deteriorated on a daily basis. We would run to the bunkers every time the war siren signalled. On February 26, we permanently shifted to the bunker. To get help, we contacted the Indian Embassy in Ukraine but their response from them was shocking. They said that they could not provide us any help in this situation. We realised that we were on our own.

ALSO READ: ‘I Regret The Day I Sent My Child Abroad For Studies’

On February 28, we arranged a bus and left the city for Chop, a border city between Ukraine and Hungary. We had put an Indian flag at the front of the bus. We were crammed in the bus like chickens and travelled for 22 hours. We were stopped at various checkpoints by the Ukrainian forces.

We witnessed horrible things during the journey — burnt houses, vehicles and dead bodies. People are running for their lives. There was destruction and devastation all around. We heard the war was fast spreading to different cities of Ukraine.

Nearly a day after we had begun, we reached the Chop city which was connected to Hungary via train. The condition at the station was miserable. A huge number of people had gathered there to board the train and cross over to Hungary.

We had to wait for more than 10 hours before we were allowed to board the train. We finally reached Budapest on March 3 and there we got a lot of help from Indians living there. I finally landed in India on March 5. Those were the longest six days of my life.

I am happy to have reached home alive but my problems are not over. There is uncertainty over my unfinished education. I am not sure when or where I will resume my studies. There are assurances from the government but I don’t know if these promises will be fulfilled. I pray for an end to this war so that people and students like us could return to Ukraine.

As told to Md Tausif Alam

Weekly Update: India’s Intriguing Reaction To Ukraine Crisis; Time For Poll Results

When it comes to what is happening in Ukraine, the discourse in Indian media, among its politicians and in the noisy environment of social media is all about one thing: how the 20,000 Indians, mostly students, were being evacuated back to India as the Russian military attack there gained momentum. If your news sources were solely Indian, you’d be bombarded with information on what the government was doing to get back its citizens from what was becoming a war zone. 

The political capital to be gained from making a huge fanfare of the evacuation is obvious. Prime Minister Modi has had widely publicised interactions with Indian students who have come back home. His ministerial colleagues have chanted slogans that portray him as a sort of saviour. 

Some of his ministerial colleagues have also provided us with a bit of comic relief. The civil aviation minister, who is known more for his sense of entitlement than any modicum of humility, went to Romania where Indians fleeing Ukraine had been sheltered. The minister was ostensibly overseeing their evacuation to India but true to his traits, he launched into a bombastic speech. It was interrupted by the Romanian mayor of the city who pithily told him that it was he who had provided the fleeing Indians with food and shelter and not the minister whose job it is to take them home. The entire episode, caught on video, went viral much to the chagrin of the Indian government. 

It is not anybody’s case that during crisis situations such as the one in Ukraine governments should not put in every effort to evacuate its stranded citizens. It is their duty to do so and they should. But to use such attempts to boost the popularity of a political leader or to squeeze political benefits from such moves is in pretty poor taste. But then taste or finesse has not been the hallmark of India’s ruling regime. Instead, it has usually appalled us with its reactions and responses to developments such as the one in Ukraine. When the focus was on the evacuation project, hubristically named Operation Ganga, some political leaders criticised Indian students for going abroad to study and not stay in India.

Such loonies abound in Indian politics and public life–recently a well-known TV host who had two foreign guests on his show carried on berating one of them not realising that he was mistaking him for the other person on the show. Instead of directing his rant at the American foreign policy commentator, he aimed his high-decibel rant at an Ukrainian journalist and carried on doing it till the hapless journo could protest and set things right.

The more intriguing question about how India, its government, its political leaders and its media are handling the Ukraine crisis is about why the Indian official reaction to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has been so muted. Last week, the three other members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, colloquially the Quad or QUAD, which is a strategic security dialogue between the United States, India, Japan and Australia, urged India to join the rest of the group in condemning the aggression in Ukraine. But India hasn’t complied yet. It is among the 35 nations that have abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution against the Russian attack. 

As the world’s most populous democracy, India needs to be a bit more assertive on the global stage. In recent times, the country’s leadership has demonstrated episodic reactions to global developments. With Russia India has enjoyed favourable trade and investment relationships that date back to the Soviet era. And Russia continues to be the largest supplier of defence equipment and arms to India. But when a country like Russia is aggressive towards another, much smaller nation, is it not time for India to condemn such a move? Or is it that in the new world order, India has begun to take sides and align with a new superpower? If that is the case, there could be another corollary question: If another powerful neighbour of India–China–decides to get a bit aggressive on India’s eastern border, what kind of support does the country expect from other nations, including Russia? India should ponder that.

Time for poll results

Be prepared to be assailed by a barrage of exit polls, some of which will undoubtedly be wide of the mark. After March 7 when the last phase of the Uttar Pradesh elections are completed, marking an end of elections in five states–Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur–the speculation about who will win in these states will be swirling around in discussions in social media and mainstream media, of course, but also among India’s ordinary citizens. Elections are the most secular festivals in India, even as the other “real” festivals get more and more communalised. 

While it will be foolhardy to predict who is going to win in these states–even seasoned analysts quite often get their predictions wrong–it may be worth the while to keep in mind a few issues that could be important. First, in Uttar Pradesh, would the BJP win again? And if it does, would it scrape through or have a decisive victory? Also, would the highly divisive hardcore Hindutva proponent, Yogi Adityanath, get another term as chief minister? In Punjab would a relatively newcomer party, Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party manage to top the scale when the results are out? That could mark a breakthrough for its leader, Arvind Kejriwal? And then, of course, it would be interesting to see whether Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her party, the Trinamool Congress, makes any headway in Goa.  On March 10, we will know it all.

Russia-Ukraine: Indian Neutrality Under Strain

As the world hurtles down the road to a violent cold war 2.0, no speed-breakers are in sight. Explosions in the latest war zone and furious diplomatic postures have failed to muffle the cries of hundreds killed and a million-plus rendered homeless — and the fears of students, no matter which nationality, ejected from their classrooms.

As one worries over prospects of a possible World War III with nuclear weapons, no lessons have been learnt from the previous two. As part of a colonial empire, India contributed hugely with resources and soldiers, thousands of whom never returned home.

The stakes are many times higher now. Not a distant thunder, the conflict in Ukraine poses India a big diplomatic challenge with prospects of huge economic fallout. The immediate worry is of Ukrainian supplies of the sunflower oil. More significant are the fuels from Russia that has invaded Ukraine.

Objectively viewed from India, one cannot condone any invasion. But it is equally difficult to ignore what has led to it.  Russia has been pushed to the brink ever since the Soviet Union dissolved. Within limited space available here, it must be stated that a triumphal United States-led West has reneged and disregarded each treaty it has signed in the last three decades.

Despite clear understanding, 14 countries that were either part of the erstwhile USSR, or were its allies under the Warsaw Pact, have been admitted to the European Union and/or the NATO. Moscow has been systematically sought to be emasculated of its military and economic strength. The West has ignored warnings from its own scholars and security experts who warned of Russian reaction. That has finally come.

President Vladimir Putin saw his now-or-never chance to push back when the West knocked at its Ukraine doors. Ukraine is the resumed cold war’s prized-pick, a football, and encouraged and armed by the West, also a willing participant in the big-power tussle.  

Tacit support from China, now the Number One challenger to the US/West, has bolstered Putin’s response. But Beijing will not help cushion the damage the conflict has brought Russia in military, economic and diplomatic terms.

ALSO READ: ‘I Regret The Day I Sent My Child To Ukraine For Studies’

On the other hand, China could be the biggest beneficiary. Like the US that has pushed more and more arms into Ukraine and will continue to profit by playing on European fears. Moscow, hit by Western sanctions, will become heavily dependent on Beijing. This is foregone, whatever the outcome of the current conflict.

Putin miscalculated doubly when he failed to force a regime change in Ukraine and did not find the local support, even from ethnic Russians. To his dismay, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, an actor-dancer-turned-politician till 2019, is fighting back. Zelenskyy has refused to be evacuated and become another Cao Kỳ (South Vietnam) or even Ashraf Ghani (Afghanistan), and is Europe’s new hero.

One recalls intense Soviet pressures on India in 1971 to achieve the military objective and end the conflict fast. India did that in two weeks with Bangladesh’s liberation. Moscow had held out with the UN Security Council vetoes and ensured China’s inaction, if not neutrality. It worked then. Nine days since Putin’s “special military operation” was launched (as this is being written) is too short a time to conclude if Putin has attained his objective.

It is likely that the Russian war machine may eventually gain Ukraine’s notional control. But it will be a pyrrhic victory with uncertain, violent borders. The regime change that Putin wants will require him to deploy more soldiers on the ground to retain control, even more so, if it leads to insurgency. The prospects are daunting, and Russia cannot afford another Afghanistan.

A question nobody seems to ask is, what would happen to President Biden if Ukraine is lost, so soon after the humiliating evacuation from Afghanistan. Too early to predict the 2024 elections, but the US has a strong political system.

By comparison and contrast, what if Putin loses out completely? A strong political system that makes his answerable is absent in Russia, like the erstwhile Communist Party that could replace him. Supreme, Putin can get away – at the expense of Russian people.

As of now, Putin has lost the battle of perceptions. The global media, well under the control of the US/West, is painting him as the aggressor. Coupled with social media, the discourse is heavily anti-Russia. Anyone can take a photo with cellphone and circulate. That makes the cold war’s resumption stark.

Excluding the sane and objective minds (including many in the US/West), nobody lends an ear to Putin’s fulminations on how and why the world witnessed conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria, other trouble-spots, and fomenting of faith-based rebellions across Asia and Africa. The media’s world is unipolar.

With its experience of evacuating people from war-hit zones and airlifting 170,000 people during the 1990 Kuwait crisis, India has done well to evacuate the students who went through harrowing time. The government has been accused of not foreseeing the crisis. Nobody has pondered whether students who spent precious money to be in Ukraine would have agreed. The better-off Indians stranded in Kuwait were reluctant.

Fending off Western pressures, India has stayed neutral at the UNSC and rightly so. It has to strike a balance as it did, under varying circumstances, in the past. But the question is, how long, on the current crisis? India has signaled willingness to counter a Russian claim, made by none less than Putin, of Ukrainian authorities holding Indian students hostage.

Besides the need to deal with Eurasia, India is the biggest among 45 other nations that import Russian defence systems. India’s dependence on Russia, estimated at anything between 60 to 80 percent, may reduce only over time.

The US waiver on Delhi’s defence purchases from Moscow will become more difficult. Reports are that some deals with Russia have already been cancelled. It may capitulate, like it did over Iranian oil imports. With an adversarial China on the Russian side, the pressures will multiply. What will be India’s role in multilateral bodies like BRICS, Quad and Shanghai Cooperation Council? When it comes to diplomacy, it’s a cruel world that kills you with a smile.

Among many things, this exposes India’s medical education muddle. Some 20,000 Indians studying medicine in Ukraine needed to be evacuated. As one of them succinctly put it, a Ukrainian medical degree is accepted all over Europe. Saying this is not to rubbish the students whose families spend hard-earned money, but much less than what is needed for an Indian degree. The truth is there are too many wannabe doctors chasing too few seats. And these seats come with ‘donations’ collected by politicians who own these colleges.

Foreign policy, save Pakistan that most governments have exploited for political and electoral gains, has always been peripheral to India’s politics. Considering that, a semblance of consensus has evolved on the Ukraine crisis.

The Congress distanced itself from two of its stalwarts, Shashi Tharoor and Manish Tiwari who questioned India’s posture at the UN. It does not wish to be seen as taking sides. A generally combative Mamata Banerjee has extended “unconditional support” to the Modi Government. The Left parties, who would have normally condemned the ‘imperialist’ US/West, are silent. But surely, everybody will respond after the outcome of the state assembly polls, especially in Uttar Pradesh, gets known.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Will Putin Dismember Ukraine?

It seemed on the cards and has now happened. Russia has gone into Ukraine to ‘demilitarise’ for its own defence, as it says. As was speculated by some analysts, Russia has attacked from many sides, the east, the north, the south and possibly even into the western part of Ukraine. The invasion took place as the UN Security Council was in session talking about ‘diplomacy’.

Uncharacteristically, the UN Secretary General seemed to have taken side when he told Russia that its incursions into Donbas and recognition of the region as independent entities was against international law. In response to Secretary General’s offer of extending his good offices for dialogue, the Russian diplomat sarcastically responded, ‘what good offices?’ clearly implying that the Secretary General was not being neutral. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is technically right but may have allowed his emotions to compromise a neutral stand in this fight between two giants, Russia and USA.

As country after country criticised Russia and the office of UN Secretary General having expressed an opinion, it was obvious that Russia was going to get angry. There was little of diplomatic negotiation but a lot of advice that all sides should negotiate. No suggestion of any concessions was put forward for discussion by any country. China reiterated its position that placing NATO weapons next door to Russia was a provocation. It was also clear that the vast majority of countries were on the American side of the argument. Not seeing any diplomacy moving forward, Russia has attacked.

What will Russia do? Putin has said he doesn’t want to take over Ukraine. He merely wants to remove the threat to his country, in what he calls an act for ‘demilitarisation and denazification’ of Ukraine. But the speech he made on 21st indicates a different plan if Ukraine’s leadership does not walk away from confrontation.

The long speech as been dismissed as an incoherent ramble about Putin’s version of history before he recognised the two breakaway Ukraine provinces jointly call Donbas, as independent entities called Donetsk and Luhansk.

The hour long speech also appears to give a clear indication of Putin’s intentions and road plan. What is being missed by analysts is that Putin was addressing several audiences at the same time. He was explaining the background and his rationale for intended invasion to fellow Russians who have probably not heard much apart from United States wanting to put bases next door. By appealing to their sense of history, their ownership of the birth of Ukraine as he sees it, he was trying to convince Russians of the legitimacy of invading Russia from the Russian historic perspective. He was painting Ukraine as an ungrateful traitor. The long speech may have got most Russians around to his decisions.

He was also giving Ukraine a clear but chilling message. He has effectively told Ukraine that it does not have a historical hinterland as a nation and that it was essentially a beneficiary of Soviet Union’s administrative and geopolitical strategies. Through that statement he has sent a message that Russia can also undo Ukraine’s existence.

In fact he made that clear, ‘You want decommunization? Very well, this suits us just fine. But why stop halfway? We are ready to show what real decommunization would mean for Ukraine.’

What exactly does he mean by that? Is Putin going to radically disrupt the terms of the current international order and totally dismember a State, running it out of existence?

Under Putin, Russia has shown that it can even go into other countries and assassinate with impunity those it perceives to have committed treason against Russia. It does not tolerate what it calls ‘traitors’ who defect. From Putin’s speech, it appears that he sees Ukraine as a partner that has turned rogue and walked into the opposition camp. He is likely to mete out the same punishment as he does to Russians who take refuge from him in other countries.

Will Russia swallow all of Ukraine or hand it over to a compliant regime? His speech does not suggest that. He also said, ‘Stalin incorporated in the USSR and transferred to Ukraine some lands that previously belonged to Poland, Romania and Hungary.’ It seems he is suggesting to these European countries that they too have a claim on parts of Ukraine that is western Ukraine.

Western Ukraine is a mixed bag of nationalist Ukrainians, Polish Ukrainians, Hungarian Ukrainians and a lot of anti-Russia people. If Ukraine is incorporated into Russia, this is the region that will offer not only most resistance but will continue with insurgency.

While the Russian army will indulge Ukraine for a while, in the longer term, it is likely to dismember Ukraine. It appears Putin is inviting the three European countries to reclaim their lands. If any of them falls for it, he will achieve two purposes. He will divide NATO resolve and at the same time rid himself of areas that are likely to create most problems. Of the three countries Putin has named, Hungary is most likely to welcome taking bits of a dismembered Ukraine.

Putin’s speech may appear to be a rambling diatribe. But looked at closely, it reveals a broad plan if he can get away with it. After Yugoslavia, Ukraine will be the second major country in Europe that will be removed from the map involuntarily.

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If Putin does carry through the threats he has made in his speech, it will be the most dramatic challenge to the international order built upon the charter of the United Nations in 1945. Not only sovereignty, but the very existence of a State can no longer be guaranteed.

As the Russians go further into Ukraine, it is unlikely they will meet much resistance. There is a lot of corruption in Ukraine. It is 122 on the Transparency International’s corruption index. Most of the senior leadership is likely to escape to safer places if not caught when the heat really turns on.

The Ukraine army will put up a fight but it is unlikely to be as determined as most people in the west have been led to believe. Most likely a number of Ukraine Army units will surrender and some run away, just as the western backed Afghan forces did. Many of the Ukraine forces probably have relatives in Russia and might see no advantage in fighting Russia over some geopolitical adventures of America.

This leaves China as the side show in this conflict. There has been much forecast on China taking advantage and absorbing Taiwan. However, China is unlikely to do that. Taiwan is still a big risk for it. China is likely to attack parts of India’s borders instead.

In these columns I did predict that Russia will attack after 20th February, the end of Beijing Winter Olympics. Despite America’s daily warnings of an imminent attack since around 8th February, it appears, Putin did patiently wait to let Xi have the glory of winter Olympics. Putin played with the diplomatic game until 21st February. On 21st Putin started the war game by recognising the breakaway republics and sending forces into Donbask.

China is going to wait for the UP election season to pass. Attacking a country when elections are being held is a folly as it will transfer nationalist emotions into votes for the Indian leadership. A week or so after the elections will be another environment.

A lot of change is going to happen in the world after the Russian and possible Chinese incursions, regardless of whether Russia wins or loses. Will it for better or for worse isn’t an issue that history and events grapple with at the time. History creates shifts every few decades.