- Full-fledged war in Europe first time after WW-II
- NATO proposal to admit Ukraine is cause of trouble
- NATO’s eastward expansion was violation of the promise
Russian President Vladimir Putin has sparked one of the biggest security crises in Europe since World War II by invading Ukraine on Thursday. This is the first time in Europe that a country had invaded another sovereign country. Putin sent 1.5 lakh soldiers with the support of barrages of missiles and artillery. The Russians claimed by evening of the first day of war that they had destroyed more than 70 military bases and eleven airbases. Ukraine’s government called Russia’s actions a “full-scale invasion” and its president Gelensky declared martial law in the country. His foreign minister appealed to international community to stop Putin in his tracks. Gelensky alleged on Friday that the Russian forces are targeting civilian areas.
Why did Russia invade Ukraine?
Putin, a former KGB agent who was stationed in East Germany, has been in power for two decades consolidating his grip over Russia. He reportedly said earlier that he does not accept the collapse of the Soviet Union. He would like to resurrect it. He refused to agree with the post-Cold War security arrangements in Europe. He was keen on disturbing it. He also claimed that Ukraine is part of Russia saying that the former was created from the land of the latter. He refused to recognize Ukraine as an independent country. He says it is in the scheme of the Western powers. Putin was out to correct the wrong done by Lenin’s Bolsheviks in creating Ukriane was a part and parcel of Russian empire.
What is the genesis of the problem?
After the fall of Soviet Union, Russia and Ukraine coexisted in peace as long as Russia was weak. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia became economically very fragile. It behaved in a very friendly and subdued manner with erstwhile republics. Russia treated, at least was seen as treating, the republics as equals. During Yeltsin rule, it was not in a position to object to expansion of NATO. During 1989 talks the US State Department had assured Gorbachev that there would not be eastward expansion of NATO. The word was not kept and 16-country NATO has become 30-country organization with induction of 14 more countries from Eastern Europe. NATO has taken advantage of fall of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union to consolidate itself in Easter Europe. The threat to invite Ukraine into NATO was the main cause for the precipitation of the issue. Russia does not want to be surrounded by NATO allies.
How important is Ukraine for Russia?
Ukraine is Russia’s gateway to Europe. Russia has to pass through Ukraine to go to Europe. If anyone wants to enter Russia from Europe, he has to pass through Ukraine. Napoleon Bonaparte came to invade Russia through Ukraine and Hitler sent his Nazis towards Russia through Ukraine which was then part of the Soviet Union. If any country becomes a member of NATO, it will be NATO’s responsibility to protect that member if any country invades it. If Ukraine became a member of NATO, the organization can park its army in Ukraine and it will not take more than five minutes for a rocket to travel from Ukraine to Moscow.
How are relations between Russia and Ukraine?
Till 2013 there was no big problem between the neighbors. Russia and Ukriane signed “Founding Act” ensuring cooperation and security. But Ukranians became increasingly unhappy with Russia. Victor Yanukovych was ruling Ukraine and he was friendly with Russian leaders. He was not keen on building relationships with the rest of Europe. There was a coup following street demonstrations against the president. Yanukovych was overthrown. He is now living in exile in Russia. After Yanukovych was impeached, the office of the President was temporarily held by Oleusandr Turchynov. Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014 in the name of protecting its citizens and annexed Crimea. Then Petro Poroshenko took over the reins to hold them for five years. The present President Volodomyr Zelenskyy came to power on 20 May 2019. Both the presidents who ruled Ukraine since 2014 were not on good terms with Russia. They were inclined to the west. There has been civil war in eastern parts of Ukriane- Donbas region. The Russian speaking rebels are supported to the hilt by Russia. Thousands of them took Russian passports and crossed the border. About 14,000 persons were killed in the conflicts between rebels and Ukrainian troops. European countries had taken initiative and brought about Minsk accords which were not followed. Ukrianes desire to join NATO and the US insistence on taking the East European country on board caused anxiety to Russia. NATO is the main reason for Russia’s proactive move. Double standards practiced by the US and NATO must have convince Putin that his concerns would not be addressed through negotiations and some other tactics is called for. Hence the invasion.
Can NATO beat Russia
It is doubtful. NATO is not as strong as it was when it had 16 members and more forces. Now the forces have been reduced and the membership had gone up to 30. With dissolution of Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact, NATO had taken things easily and did not visualize this kind of aggression by Russia. The original glue that held NATO together – ideological affinity and solidarity- has weakened over the years. When Warsaw was in place there was ideological warfare with that entity. Now there is no ideology to fight with all the countries following market economy. No efforts were made by European countries such as France, Germany and England to build up troops. NATO is solely dependent on the US. Whether the US will be willing to get entagled in European web so soon after wriggling out of the quagmire called Afghanistan is a billion dollars question. Broken promises and security architecture in Europe can be said to be the cause of the conflict. If NATO mobilses forces and get into the conflict, it would be the third world war. NATO, thankfully, is not thinking on those terms and it is also not capable of walking the talk.
What are the stakes for India?
The war will certainly cause economic hardships for India which has trade relations with both Russia and Ukraine. India has been very close to Russia. The India-Soviet Union Treaty of Friendship stood the test of time. In India’s conflicts with Pakistan, Soviet Union stood by its ally, India, by all means. Now, of course, Russia has moved closer to China, India’s bête noire and even Pakistan. There is going to be an axis between China, Soviet Union and Pakistan in our neighborhood and India cannot ignore this fact. It cannot afford to be against the neighbors and close to a country which is far away. Practical sense dictates that India cannot be seen condemning Russia even when it attacked Ukraine. The neutral position taken for now is quite appropriate. But the if the conflict escalates and the US enters the fray, then there would be a lot of pressure on India to take a stand. It may not be far away. It would be a testing time for Indian diplomacy.
How are Indian students there?
Thousands of India students are studying medicine in Ukraine. Most of them are stuck there although some four thousand persons were reportedly brought back to India. As the airspace was closed in Ukraine, the Air India flight had to return after travelling half way on Thursday. Some of the students in the capital city of Kiev are hiding in bunkers while those in western part of the country left for Rumania by road. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Putin on Thursday evening. He also confabulated with Finance Minister Niramala Sitharaman and some other senior ministers. It was decided to send Russian knowing officials to the borders to help the students reach their motherland.