By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Mirror
Colombo, March 1: India had abstained from voting on the US-sponsored resolution against Russia in the UN Security Council. While it’s closeness to both the US and Russia may have played a role in taking this decision, it is undeniable that India had a more universal interest in mind, namely, enabling the world to return to peace, stability and economic wellbeing. Not taking sides explicitly, would enable the warring parties to think of ways to end the crisis and solve the knotty problem.
India made three important points in its statements in the UNSC: 1) the inviolability of national borders and sovereignties; 2) the need to abjure violence and return to diplomacy; 3) the need to address the legitimate security interests of all parties. Though the last stipulation was uttered only in one of the three statements India made in the UNSC, it nevertheless is the most seminal contribution to the discussions on the subject thus far.
Perhaps it was only India that suggested that the “legitimate security interests of all countries should be taken into account.” This indicates a recognition that both Ukraine and Russia have security issues and that there can be no peace if one country’s grievances are addressed while brushing under the carpet the grievances of the other side.
India’s stand was also based on the correct assessment that neither military might nor sanctions can end the conflict as they will only hurt and help pile up grievances. The security issues troubling Ukraine and Russia will continue to fester if not addressed to their mutual satisfaction.
So far, neither Ukraine and the West nor Russia, has shown any inclination to climb down from stated positions. But the fact that they have agreed to begin talks at a place on the shared border shows that they realize the limitations of their belligerence.
Moscow is now realizing that it stands isolated in the world. Even ally China has taken a neutral stand. While not describing the Russian act as an invasion, and remaining neutral in the UN, Xi Jinping told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that it is “important to abandon the Cold War mentality, attach importance to and respect the reasonable security concerns of all countries, and form a balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism through negotiations”.
Despite the widening of Western sanctions against Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been complaining that the Western powers have balked from militarily helping his beleaguered country because they are scared and that his people have been left alone to fight the Russians. Europe is dependent on Russian gas and continued sanctions on Russian gas suppliers will make life unbearable for the common European. Ukraine itself depends on Russian gas. Russian gas transits across Ukraine into the EU by an agreement running until 2024. It is widely understood that, so long as this vital energy supply runs through Ukraine, Russia and Ukraine cannot be mutually antagonistic for long.
Though Russia has said that it is ready to talk with Ukraine, it is also getting fired up with nationalistic zeal to protect itself from a hostile world. What the Western belligerents should not forget is the Russians’ ingrained grit in the face of extreme odds as demonstrated when Napoleon and Hitler invaded Russia and were at the gates of Moscow. Therefore, no matter how severe Western sanctions may be, Russia will be a very hard nut to crack. But given the power of sanctions in an integrated world economy, of which Russia is a part, Moscow may have to get off the high horse and come to a settlement with Ukraine sooner or later.
But negotiations may not be a cakewalk as both sides have vital interests to safeguard. While proud Ukraine cannot be expected to give up its rights as a sovereign nation and will have to have its independence guaranteed, Russia too has security interests to safeguard, principally against the eastward expansion of NATO. Russia is acutely aware that the real agenda behind NATOs’ eastward expansion is the destruction, not only of Putin’s regime but disabling of Russia permanently.
The US has pioneered the concept of “regime change” and “Right to Protect” (R2P) and has been using these diplomatic tools (backed by military power) to dislodge inconvenient regimes and put friendly regimes in their place. Under President Trump, the US had openly called for the ouster of the Communist Party from power in China and it is no secret that the US has earmarked Russia for a regime change. There is therefore, substance in Putin’s statement that the ultimate goal of the Americans in Europe is the destruction of Russia itself. America’s earlier project of destroying Russia by destroying the USSR had failed because Russia had unexpectedly survived the dissolution of the USSR and emerged as the challenger in Europe.
However, it is time Russia also realized that it cannot question the existence of Ukraine saying that it was historically a part of Russia and that it was a mistake to have created it in the first place. While in the past, States had come into being or had been destroyed through wars or diplomacy, changing borders forcibly or obliterating countries based on the past relations, cannot be done in this day and age when sovereignty is universally recognized as inviolable unless abridged voluntarily. Maintenance of the status quo is, therefore, necessary for world stability and peace.
Right Wing Ethnic Extremism
The emergence of Right-Wing ethnic nationalism also worries Russia, even though Putin himself is whipping up Russian nationalism to mobilize his people. Putin describes the European (particularly the Ukrainian Right-Wingers) as Nazis/Fascists. He has reasons to do so because Right Wingers in Ukraine and in the former Soviet republics are anti-Russian and markedly pro-EU and NATO. Well known human rights trackers have pointed out that the ultra-right nationalist Ukrainian political party, Svoboda, though marginal on the national scale, often indulges in radical Russophobic rhetoric and has sufficient electoral support to form factions in several municipal and provincial local councils in Western Ukraine. The Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, saw a rise in anti-Russian sentiment with nationwide protests in Ukraine. A far right group known as Right Sector surged in popularity.
In February 2017, the Ukrainian government tried to curb the use of the Russian language by banning the import of books from Russia. Russian books had accounted for up to 60% of all titles sold in Ukraine. On May 23, 2017, the Ukrainian parliament approved a law that most broadcast content should be in Ukrainian in order to reduce the amount of Russian speakers. Since then Russian has been restrained from being taught in schools. The Eastern Ukrainian territories Donetsk and Luhansk, which are Russian speaking had seceded because of discrimination.
Even more worrying for Russia is its perception that the Right Wing nationalists are getting aid and encouragement from the West. This was evident during the “Euromaidan” revolution in 2013-14 when Western politicians and organizations openly supported the anti-Russian and pro-EU public movement which overthrew the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Given the ever-present fear of forcible re-integration with Russia, most West Ukrainians are strong supporters of the US, EU and NATO. These movements are not Nazi as Putin describes them, but are ultra-nationalistic and anti-Russian. For if the Ukrainians are Nazi, they won’t have Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a Jew, as their President. Putin wants to de-Nazify Ukraine and this he hopes to do by forcing a regime change and imposing Russian hegemony. Crimea, and the Donbas region have already gone under the Russians.
There is thus a host of issues bedevilling relations between Ukraine and Russia. These cannot be settled by war, laying siege or whipping up competing nationalisms, but by dialogue based on ground realities. And outside powers need to let the two countries sit and talk instead of fanning antagonisms and coercing one side to give in.