Grim outlook for Russia-Ukraine conflict

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Grim outlook for Russia-Ukraine conflict

Sunday, 10 March 2024 | Makhan Saikia

Grim outlook for Russia-Ukraine conflict

Neither Putin nor Zelenskyy could gauge that this war would last so long. Many, like the US General Mark Milley, prophesied that Ukraine might fall within three days, but for the past two years, the country has survived and fought bravely against the advancing Russian Army. Now the question arises: Can NATO and the US help Ukraine win the war against Russia? So far, NATO has scrambled to pull out all its resources to give a tough fight to Russia, but there are differences among its own members

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine completed two years last week even as the world is witnessing it silently. This conflict is affecting not only Europe and Eurasia but the entire world. However, there is no sign of hope for now.

If recent history is the correct guide, one must remember that Russia’s assault on Ukraine began a decade ago when Russia occupied Crimea, the southern peninsula of Ukraine, in 2014. Initially, when the conflict began, the Russian operation was a reconnaissance in force, preceded by the rapid destruction of Ukrainian forces and their armed installations.

However, neither Putin nor Zelenskyy could gauge that this war would last so long. Many, like US General Mark Milley, prophesied that Ukraine might fall within three days, but for the past two years, the country has survived and fought bravely against the advancing Russian Army.

Now the question arises: can NATO and the US help Ukraine win the war against Russia? So far, NATO has scrambled to pull out all its resources to give a tough fight to Russia, though there are differences among its own members.

All member states have already offered their weapons, expert support, money, and other supplies to Kiev to fight Moscow. On the other hand, Putin stands alone, though many countries are supporting Russia in stealth. So far, Russia has been punished with the most severe economic sanctions ever imposed on a major world power after the Second World War.

By now, Russia has been completely excluded from major global financial transactions. Moreover, about 222 billion pounds of its central bank assets have already been frozen. At the same time, Russia has also imposed sanctions and restrictions on many Western agencies and high-profile personalities.

According to estimates from the International Monetary Fund, Russia’s GDP has plummeted by 7 per cent compared to the pre-war days. Some experts on Russian politics suggest that after 35 years since the fall of the historic Berlin Wall, one of the remnants of the Cold War in Europe, Russia is facing an economic crisis that may push the erstwhile superpower into an unprecedented situation worse than its neighbours, like Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Hungary.

Only Putin and his inner circle know how they are managing the current crisis.

Despite presenting a united front against Moscow, NATO and the US remain divided — or rather, they are wavering together — on the issue of Ukraine’s entry into the security bloc. This has complicated their complete financial and military support for this battered country to date. Currently, the European Union has voted for a $54 billion multi-year assistance package to Ukraine, and individual support from powerful members like the UK, France, and Germany is assured to Zelenskyy.

However, opinion in the US Congress is divided on the country’s overseas engagement, especially in wars, conflicts, and other sensitive missions. Thus, a $60 billion package for Ukraine has been stalled in Congress. It is well-understood that US security agencies and experts are now largely focusing their attention on the Israel-Hamas war, Taiwan, and its continued border row with Mexico, through which millions of migrants cross over to the country from poor and disadvantaged countries in Central and South America.

Another problem diverting the attention of major Ukraine backers, especially the US, from the current onslaught is the ongoing Israel-Hamas war that started on October 7, 2023.

The US is seriously engaged in this conflict in West Asia. The manner in which Israel is advancing and destroying Palestinian territories and civilians in the name of rooting out Hamas militants is shocking. Even Washington is appalled by the civilian casualties that have occurred so far. However, the Israeli government, under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, shows no signs of relenting, as it is determined to vanquish Hamas and its firepower.

This situation is disturbing and is causing more unrest and civilian casualties in all Palestinian territories. Consequently, this crisis is making it increasingly difficult for Biden to focus more on Putin and his advances in Ukraine.

The recent Munich Security Conference (MSC), a yearly gathering of politicians, diplomats, military brass, and intelligence chiefs in Germany, was alerted by the faltering advances of Kiev and the tactical gains made by Moscow. With the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from the eastern city of Avdiivka, NATO and its allies are quickly considering all alternatives to prevent aggressive Russian military action on the battlefield. Meanwhile, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned that Europe can’t deter Russia without US help.

He said, “I welcome all efforts by Canada and European allies, but the most important single decision is a decision of the US to agree to a package of support, because of the magnitude and the military capabilities of the US. We are dependent on the US…it is vital.”

This is a trying time as the US and some major global powers like India are all approaching their national elections. Most importantly, the chances of Donald Trump returning to the White House for a second term are causing mounting disquiet among NATO members.

Because Trump, with all his rhetoric, “Make America Great Again,” and a possible review of overseas funding to many top global agencies including NATO, might be an unimaginable disaster for Ukraine and its allies in Europe.

The battle between the two neighbours is still raging, with no end in sight. Neither Zelenskyy nor Putin is blinking, even though they may be sending signals for negotiation; the demands and conditions set by both sides are not acceptable to either. The bottom line is clear-both Ukraine and Russia want to continue the chaos at the cost of their own people and resources!

Moscow’s wall of aggression may only fall when the US and its NATO allies join the war. This is a near-impossible task for now because everyone wants to avoid a large-scale military confrontation with Russia. The result of such aggression would be disastrous and would impact both sides.

By the end of March last year, after completing one year of the Ukraine offensive, Putin met with his high Security Council. He told the Council that Russia has a “unique historical mission,” and his elite and powerful policymakers were well aware of this mission.

The Kremlin then adopted a new “foreign policy doctrine” that identified the US as the “main source of threat to Russian security”. This war has given Putin enough opportunity to gather a wide spectrum of Russian people against the West, particularly targeting America.

This week, the Kremlin warned that a Russia-NATO conflict would be inevitable if European members of the organisation start sending their troops to the Ukrainian battlefield.

At the beginning of this week, French President Emmanuel Macron opened the door for European nations to send their forces to Ukraine, though there was no consensus on the issue so far. At the moment, the European allies of Ukraine are only in favour of delivering more munitions to the war-ravaged nation, but the UK Ministry of Defence has clearly stated that it has no plans to send

its troops to Ukraine, a similar stance expressed by Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, and finally by Stoltenberg as well.

This indeed is a great relief for the entire region, as such steps would immediately trigger a big war on the continent.

Russia’s tactics, strategy, and action since the beginning of the war have undergone several changes. During these two years of war, Moscow has replaced its generals, Defence Ministers, and ground commanders both to spring more surprise actions, stay in the course for the long haul, and finally for bringing home the image of war heroes who have been on the frontline.

Putin is sharp, action-oriented, and aggressive. His goal is to reclaim the glory of the Russian Empire. But this war, by now, is largely marked by attrition. Both sides are looking for an immediate solution to end the war, but the way they are advancing is making any peace deal near impossible.

Today, the real concern in Europe is that the continent is once again militarised like never before. The Trans-Atlantic security framework, NATO, is not facing any potential threat for now. Rather, it is emboldened by the joining of two new members to the network, Finland and Sweden, which has extended NATO’s border with Russia.

What is worrying is that the EU and NATO are solely dependent on the security guarantee of the US. Otherwise, they are vulnerable to Russian aggression. This is an advantage for Putin, but this time around, Ukraine and Europe have once again come together against Russia.

It is a bad time. Trouble is just beginning. The Kremlin needs to understand that there is a limit to war and violence in Ukraine. Putin cannot take over the whole of Ukraine even if he wants to. Crimes and atrocities committed by the armed forces from both sides must come to an end. It is time to talk and practice peace!

(The writer is currently President of the Global Research Foundation)

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