War cannot be the solution to anything, and undeniably Russia is an aggressor, but the blame for creating the conditions for the war falls on the West. Ought not every nation be free to join military alliance of its own choice? Military alliances only create rival alliances, and the outcome of that has been witnessed twice in the history
Who has benefitted from the bloodshed in Ukraine, apart from the military industrial complex of West (and China)? Neither Ukraine, nor the West (unless it was still stuck in the 20th century). Russia might create a buffer of broken down or destabilised Ukraine with NATO, but at a great cost — something Russian President Vladmir Putin described as having left with no other option. In foreign policy, the only moral liability a nation has is securing its national interest. What is Ukrainian national interest: to become a NATO member or adopt neutrality and cooperate with both rival camps?
Ukraine and Russia have historical, cultural, linguistic, family and blood ties; but having such a mighty power next door on hostile terms is not a desirable scenario. If Ukraine’s sole purpose of getting close to NATO was ensuring its territorial integrity from Russia, it could have been achieved by entering into an agreement to that effect with Moscow in Normandy format, with Kiev pledging neutrality. Truth is, Ukraine would not have been averse to neutrality, unless it was pumped up by the West, with funds, intelligence, weaponry and political support against Russia.
By continuing its focus on China following the Trump administration, the Biden administration for once showed promise in foreign policy arena. Securing “strategic stability” with Russia — to focus at its 21st century challenge, the rising and revisionist China — America finally seemed capable of moving beyond Euro-centrism: its age-old emotional biases and historic fixations. However, even before it could gather steam, the gauntlet was thrown and plan was sent gathering dust. Everyone knows that the present crisis was avoidable. However, it seems the world is going to be forever stuck in the unending obsessive feud between the Russia and the West. Ironically, Moscow and Washington, the two great powers in decline are still fighting for heft.
Chain of events
Ukraine is a fairly new country and is divided between the Russian-speaking East and Ukrainian-speaking West, and so are the loyalties. Corruption and authoritarianism have been major problems with Ukraine and continue to be so (Zelenskyy, for all his heroism and poignant speeches, had shut down three critical media outlets and arrested Opposition leaders; Pandora Papers revealed his connections with offshore entities engaged in shady financial dealings). Its leadership hasn’t evolved enough to understand statecraft requires compromises between different sections and different neighbours.
Post 2014, since western backed Governments took over, the minority linguistic rights have been abolished and Ukrainian has been enforced as the language in public sector, education and professional fields, bringing up charges of discrimination. The UN endorsed Minsk Agreements for resolution of conflict with Donbas region, but it was not implemented because they grant too much autonomy to the provinces.
Ukraine has been a “partner country” of NATO since 2008 when it applied to begin a NATO Membership Action Plan, but plans for joining were shelved following the victory of Viktor Yanukovych in 2010 presidential election. However, after the Euro-Maidan Revolution in 2014, joining NATO was made a priority. Accordingly, the Constitution was amended in 2019. In June 2021 NATO Summit, the decision about Ukraine’s NATO membership was reiterated, refusing Russian concern. In September 2021, NATO undertook military exercises in Ukraine.
Putin claims twenty such drills were planned this year and Ukraine’s territory, air space and naval bases were being used by western intelligence agencies to spy on Russia. If Ukraine had to be neutralised the time was now. Assumably, he would have undertaken preparation for invasion, in all realms including economic, since 2019-20. Seeing no progress on the security guarantees proposed by him in December 2021, especially due to US, and threats of deterrence to intimidate him into submission, for Putin the die was cast.
Western action defies logic
The US enforces Monroe Doctrine in the entire Western hemisphere, but denies Russia such a right even in its immediate neighbourhood. NATO ensured peace in Europe during the Cold war by the “balance of power”; now its existence, more so its eastward expansion, is a threat to peace and security in the continent, by creating unnecessary pressure and suspicion in Moscow. The thinking that Russia can be pushed into a corner by encircling it and creating extraordinary force against is unrealistic, and rather it results in unpredictable and aggressive behaviour by Moscow. Unsurprisingly, the American foreign policy doyens like Henry Kissinger and John Mearsheimer have been against the NATO expansion and suggest neutrality for Ukraine and non-interference by Washington in Russian “core strategic interest” areas.
The West sees Russia as a spent force, which in effect is a “persistent power” of a considerable weight and would continue to shape geopolitical events for the immediate future. The fact that western sanctions might dim the Russian lights but only at a cost is being completely overlooked in the usual noise of demonising Putin. Can the West challenge Russia and China together? The Western sanctions will not sink the Russian ship, but the resultant Sino-Russian convergence, effect on its own economy and military buildup in Europe will make containment of Beijing extremely difficult.
The Putin problem
In popular western thinking, Putin is the cause of problem between Russia and the West, and present mess in Ukraine. If he’s replaced, a more pliable leader would take over and bow to the Western power is just wishful thinking. Firstly, many political scientists state that in most authoritarian regimes, one autocrat is replaced by another. Samuel Huntington had proclaimed that all former Soviet states are destined to have authoritarian government as it is intrinsic to their culture. In fact, starting from the Arab Spring and similar orange revolutions, West-backed regimes changed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This hypothesis can be seen very much in action here. Western style democracy doesn’t survive at such places, it turns into a corrupt oligarchic system and soon falls back to dictatorial regimes. Second, maintaining a “sphere of influence” is always going to be an important pillar of Russia’s foreign policy, regardless of who is at the helm, therefore it will always be in conflict with the West.
Those surprised by the Russian invasion or are laughably questioning Putin’s psychological state have forgotten the fate of Georgia in 2008, when it tried to join NATO. Those who can’t reconcile Putin’s cool, calculative and master strategist image with the present boldness forget he’s calm when needed, aggressive when required. The fall of Soviet Union and injustice and humiliation of Russia have been the themes close to his heart since he was the KGB head. To allow the West to completely encircle Russia, placing it at the target of Western missiles, will not only be foolish, it would be an existential threat.
War cannot be the solution to anything, and undeniably Russia is an aggressor, but the blame for creating the conditions for the war falls on the West. Ought not every nation be free to join military alliance of its own choice? Military alliances only create rival alliances, and the outcome of that has been witnessed twice in the history. A military alliance of most advanced nations is more like an elite club of the rich and the powerful and it might guarantee their security, but not world peace. Nothing stops nations to undertake collective security on case-to-case basis.
(The author is a foreign policy analyst and a lawyer)