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Russia Invades Ukraine While NATO Blinks at Fence
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
While the US and NATO allies were engaged with the usual blame game during the Ukraine crisis with the tough posturing against Russia for the last few weeks, the military developments at the Ukraine border were indeed signalling some bad omen with a grim war like scenario. Prima facie, it looked like that President Vladimir Putin might try to legitimize separatists-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk in the troubled Donbas region by recognizing the two as independent Republics and provide them back up military support to fight with the Ukrainian forces, more so because Putin had formally stated that Russia was not interested in a war. Of course, such crises in any region always have a potential risk of full-fledged war if not handled and resolved wisely and amicably by the respective parties. However, Russia under President Putin has surprised the entire world by not only recognizing the two aforesaid trouble spots as independent Republics on 21 February 2022 but also starting a full-fledged onslaught on Ukraine from the North, East and South with the full might of the Russian Air Force and Army on the wee hours of 24 February. As of now, the proclaimed Russian objective is total and unconditional surrender by Ukraine and the way Russian armed forces are progressing, the fall of Kyiv may occur any time in the next few days.
The Russian – Ukrainian War in Progress
It was apparent from the beginning that militarily Ukraine is no match for Russia and the former, in their war of nerves, was mainly relying on the US and West European countries for the sustained military and economic support in the event of the latter’s attack since they had been constantly wooing it for the last 7-8 years. According to the recent Military Balance report of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Russian had spent $45.8 billion on defence compared to Ukraine’s just $4.7 billion. Russia has approximately nine hundred thousand active service personnel while Ukraine has only about two hundred thousand service personnel; both have ample reserve personnel with the balance in Russia’s favour but chances of these being called for in war is minimum. The Russians have nearly five times armoured vehicles in number compared to Ukraine; Similarly, be it the number of aircraft or attack helicopter, Russians are at least ten times ahead of Ukrainians not only in numbers but in the technology as well. Usually, actual military strength is seldom disclosed by the countries; hence different sources report different figures which are mostly approximations of their strength. In fact, apart from the stockpile of the nuclear weapons and their delivery systems (missiles and aircraft) which only Russia is capable of, there many other things for comparison, such as artillery, armoured vehicles, attack aircraft and helicopters, missiles, naval ships and submarines, and generally speaking, Ukraine is nowhere near to Russia in any of these disciplines.
In the wee hours on 24 February 2022, the Russian President Putin made announcement about his decision to launch a "special military operation" in the eastern Ukraine. Among other things, he also stated that Russia had no plans of occupying Ukraine, that it supported the right of the Ukrainians to self-determination and the aim was "demilitarisation and denazification" of Ukraine. Simultaneously, the Russian Ministry of Defence asked the Ukraine air traffic controllers to stop all civilian aircraft with the entire airspace coming under an active conflict zone. Within the moments of these developments, numerous explosions caused by the Russian missile attacks and air force bombers were heard in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa and the Donbas region. Most of the cruise and ballistic missiles attacks were made on the Ukrainian airfields, military headquarters and installations, and military depots in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro.
The Russia launched air and land attacks on Ukraine from all possible fronts targeting all major cities/regions. In the beginning, the Russian military attacked almost the entire Ukraine with a surge of precision missile strikes and bomber aircrafts targeting the key military installations and infrastructure, which was immediately followed by the ground forces invasion from all sides crossing Ukraine border at various points. In just 3 days of the Russian attack, the Ukraine defences already appear to have been heavily bruised and breached with the Ukraine President believed to have gone in hiding for the safety reasons. While the Russian army columns supported with tanks, armoured vehicle and artillery are out to capture all major cities, government buildings and installations, the Russian air force is constantly indulged with repeated sorties in systematic and targeted bombing and missile attacks to make the job of the ground forces easier. Pandemonium and panic can be observed everywhere in Ukraine with the government even distributing tens of thousands of assault rifles to civilians who are keen to fight Russian advancing army.
1. Assault from the North
Altogether for weeks, a heavy concentration of the Russian troops was reported in Belarus as well as Novye Yurkovichi and Troebortno in Russia located north to Ukraine. From the north, the Russian troops crossed the Ukraine border from Senkivka located at the three-way junction of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Another tranche of Russian army columns has progressed from the west side of the Dnieper River via Chernobyl. The much talked about nuclear plant at Chernobyl was already captured on the first day with glimpses appearing in the media of Russian soldiers hoisting their flag. According to reports coming from various sources, the main target of assault from the north is the Ukrainian capital Kyiv which may fall in the hands of the Russian advancing army in the next few days.
2. Assault from the East
Kharkhiv is the second largest city in Ukraine facing the eastern border with Russia. According to the reports, the Russian tanks and armoured vehicles had arrived at Kharkhiv on the first day of assault itself and resorted to a heavy shelling on the parts of the city. Apparently, the two sides are already engaged in fierce fighting and residents are hurly burly to take shelter at safe places with the Russian army personnel looming and periodical explosions echoing through the streets. Similar reports of fighting are also coming from the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk where the rebel forces jointly with the Russian army columns are engaged in fighting with the Ukrainian army. Reports of fierce fighting have also come from Sumy, Belgorod, Shchastia, and other places.
3. Assault from the South
In the southern region, the Russian troops crossed the Ukraine border from Crimea to the mainland, towards Kherson, overrunning Novo Alekseyevka and Chongar. Initial missile attacks and air force bombings were also done at the places like Odesa, Kherson, Mariupol and Melitpol. Apparently, Russia had used the landing ships capable of carrying personnel, armoured vehicles, tanks and other equipment to the ports of Odesa and Mariupol and northwards assault has been carried out by these Russian military assets.
On close of the first day, the Russian Ministry of Defence had claimed that the first day of the Ukraine invasion had achieved its all intended goals and as many as 83 land-based targets were destroyed. The Ukraine police too conceded that the Russian armed forces had carried out over 200 attacks since the beginning of the day. While the US and NATO allies had made tall claims and assurances to Ukraine for all kinds of support but, as it appears, ultimately the hapless country has been left alone to face the Russian bulldozer because other than the lip sympathy, prayers and some sanctions, efficacy of which is highly debatable, nothing of worth is forthcoming now. On the contrary, Ukraine does not need prayers, what it needs is men in uniform, warfare systems, armament and equipment to match Russians in the war field. In the meantime, the national emergency has been declared in Ukraine, the martial law imposed and all male Ukrainian citizens aged 18 to 60 years have been banned from leaving the country. As the war has entered into fourth day, both sides have claimed to have inflicted heavy losses and casualties on each other but reports of Russians closing on the major cities have also emerged.
Missing Sentinels and Saviours of the West
For weeks and days, grim warnings and threats had been issued by President Biden and his NATO allies with firm commitment to standby Ukraine during the crisis but the Russian troops have continued their assault through land, air and sea for the fourth day inflicting heavy damages on Ukraine in perhaps the largest ever invasion on any European state after the second world war. In fact, ignoring all international criticism, sanctions and condemnation, President Putin has warned the US and its NATO allies in a gravest ever tone of the severe consequences that they might have never seen before. Addressing the nation in a televised address on 24 February 2022, President Putin declared:
“Whoever tries to hinder us, and even more so, to create threats to our country, to our people, should know that Russia`s response will be immediate. And it will lead you to such consequences that you have never encountered in your history."
In his address, he inter alia mentioned that Moscow does not seek to occupy Ukraine but the special military action is clearly aimed at the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine. To rule out any intervention of the outsiders, after announcing invasion of Ukraine, President Putin concluded with following chilling words:
"To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside: if you do, you will face consequences greater than any of you have faced in history. All relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me."
The Russian warning appears to have the desired impact on the countries towards whom it was directed. As the war has begun, the Ukraine and its people have been left alone to bear the brunt of the one of the most powerful and ruthless armies of the world despite tall promises made by the West earlier for their safety, security and sovereignty. A host of sanctions against Russia have indeed been declared by the US, West Europe and several other countries: These include the US restrictions against four Russian banks and the so called "corrupt billionaires" close to the Russian President besides the ban on the transfer of technology and more deployment of US troops in adjacent NATO countries. The President of the European Commission has announced sanctions aimed at the Russian banks, Russian assets and transfer of technology. Sanctions imposed by Britain include freezing of the assets of some 100 Russian individuals and entities, exclusion of Russian banks from the UK financial system and restriction of the deposit limit by the Russians in UK bank accounts. The German Chancellor has blocked further work on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Many other countries too have either imposed some economic sanctions and/or condemned the Russian aggression on Ukraine. In the meantime, a proposal of the US and others in the Security Council of the United Nations against the Russian aggression has been vetoed by Russia, with significant abstentions of two powerful countries namely India and China.
Evidently, neither any of these sanctions could stop the Russian invasion on Ukraine nor there is any indication of the Russian President taking a pause to reconsider the Russian plan in view of the emerging world opinion. Meanwhile, frustrated with the US and NATO allies’ approach, the embittered and upset Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stated on 25 February that they are defending their country all alone while the world was just watching the fateful events in Ukraine from a distance and, just like yesterday, the most powerful country in the world (an obvious reference to US) has looked on from a distance. He added that Russia is hit with sanctions but these are not enough to get the foreign troops off from the Ukraine soil. Also, apparently the US had offered safe evacuation of President Zelenskyy and his family from Kyiv; to which the embattled Ukrainian leader has responded with a snub that he needed anti-tank ammunition against the invading Russian forces and not a ride out of the besieged country.
During the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war, the US President Joe Biden, the head of the most powerful country and the only Superpower has been found almost daily reviewing and giving press briefings on the war scenario. A few of his worthy remarks from his “Briefing Room” address on the Russia’s allegedly unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine are quoted here:
President on 22 February 22
“…I’m going to begin to impose sanctions in response, far beyond the steps we and our Allies and partners implemented in 2014. And if Russia goes further with this invasion, we stand prepared to go further as — with sanction…and we’ll continue to escalate sanctions if Russia escalates.”
President on 23 February 22
“The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they suffer an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces… Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way.”
President on February 24, 2022
“The Russian military has begun a brutal assault on the people of Ukraine without provocation, without justification, without necessity… For weeks — for weeks, we have been warning that this would happen. And now it’s unfolding largely as we predicted… Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences.”
“Let me be clear: These are totally defensive moves on our part. We have no intention of fighting Russia. We want to send an unmistakable message, though, that the United States, together with our Allies, will defend every inch of NATO territory and abide by the commitments we made to NATO.”
The aforesaid are few titbits of the President Biden’s daily press briefings that largely represent the White House’s and America’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While the details of comprehensive sanctions are notified in yet another “Fact Sheet” dated 24 February, one could easily fathom the depth of the much-hyped US assurances and commitment towards the democratic world, human rights, and safety and security pf people in these nations. While Russia has made it clear that they are settling issues with Ukraine, the US boasts of defending every inch of NATO territory together with allies, and currently Ukraine being not a member is not an ally too. The US and allies will pray for the Ukraine, send some money and ammunition but allow Ukraine to fend for itself. With these measures, the US President appears pretty confident that the Russian economy would crumble now and also suffer in the long run; and he also plans to issue more sanctions while remaining careful that the US citizens do not unduly face inconveniences on account of these sanctions.
West Action tantamount to Betrayal of Trust
The sum and substance of President Biden led NATO response appears to be merely a projection of bold face that they are all united against the aggression of the Russia in defending their land, people and economic interests when Russia has not posed any threat of this sort. According to President Biden, some twenty-seven members of the European Union, including France, Germany, Italy - as well as the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and many others are united in their understanding of the urgency and seriousness of the threat that Russia is making to global peace and stability. However, the SWIFT operations have been kept out from the sanctions imposed as of now by Biden Inc. fearing this might significantly hurt business interests of the US and European Union themselves while apprehensions were raised in many quarters about the efficacy of sanctions without restricting it. In fact, the NATO alliance appears to have fears that cutting the Russia off SWIFT could only help Moscow and Beijing alternative payments system of SPFS (Sistema Peredachi Finansovykh Soobscheniy) and CIPS (Cross-Border Interbank Payment System), respectively. They have, however, not explained how this international scheming, manoeuvring and posturing will help Ukraine which actually needs urgent military assistance in terms of troops, armament, ammunition and other allied support.
In the ultimate analysis, it is pretty clear that after the years of tangoing with the Ukraine under the NATO umbrella vis-a-vis Russian hegemony, the hapless country has been left alone to face military onslaught of the powerful Russia. In fact, the current nemesis of Ukraine could perhaps be best explained and understood with the following brief analysis which if not clearly establishing then at least giving a fair indication how Ukraine has been betrayed of trust by the supposed allies during the last three decades of independence.
1. Disarmament of Nuclear Stockpile
Recently, the Ukrainian MP Alexey Goncharenko appeared regretting how his country abandoned the nuclear arsenal in lieu of the security guarantees from the US and Russia in 1994. When Ukraine, the second largest and most powerful republic in the Soviet Union voted for independence in December 1991, thousands of nuclear arsenals nearly one third of the total Soviet holdings were left with Ukraine thereby suo moto giving it a status of the third largest nuclear power too in the world. According to an estimate by the Federation of American Scientists, this included about 3,000 tactical nukes capable of hitting large defence installations and nearly 2,000 strategic nuclear weapons capable of destroying large cities. An extensive negotiation among the Ukraine, Russia, the US and the UK were held for long and agreement reached in 1994 referred to as the “Budapest Memorandum”. Among other things, the Memorandum provided that three countries viz. the US, the UK and Russia will respect the independence and sovereignty with the existing borders of Ukraine, none of their weapons will be ever used against Ukraine except in self-defence, provide immediate assistance to Ukraine under the aegis of UNSC in the event of any external aggression on it, and so on. In lieu of this commitment, Ukraine agreed to destroy its nuclear arsenal along with its delivery systems under the financial assistance from the West. Now one of these countries have invaded Ukraine and the other two powerful NATO nations are blinking and only praying for the Ukrainian people.
2. West is Responsible for the Ukraine Crisis
With the powerful Western media and multiple organizations created to serve the Western interests in various ways through purported evaluation of the rest of the world as per their norms and practices, the dominant prevailing wisdom and propaganda in the West holds Russia and President Putin solely responsible for the Ukraine crisis and now for its full-fledged military invasion. They have been blaming Russia with the annexation of Crimea to fulfil their long desire to resuscitate the erstwhile Soviet empire. On the contrary, according to a renowned American political scientist, international relations scholar and educationist, John Joseph Mearsheimer (born December 1947), best known for his theory of offensive realism, actually the US and its European allies are mostly responsible for the Ukrainian crisis with their larger strategy to take out Ukraine from the Russian orbit and integrate it into the West. He cites the constant eastward expansion of NATO and backing of pro-democracy movement in Ukraine in 2004 as critical elements despite the Russians constant opposition since 1990s. Then the illegal overthrow of the democratically elected government and pro-Russian President in 2014 (CIA has often been blamed for engineering this) was the last straw, to which President Putin responded by claiming Crimea. In his long, cogent and well analysed essay in 2014, Professor Mearsheimer had established how the West (US & allies) had been purposely and assiduously moving into Russia’s backyard threatening latter’s core strategic interests. Needless to mention, this point has been repeatedly and emphatically made by President Putin too in the recent times.
3. Breach of Mutual Trust and Understanding
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an intergovernmental military alliance among 30 countries (28 European and 2 North American) in existence since April 1949. In response, the Warsa Pact was created by the Soviet Union and its East European allies in 1955 to maintain a strategic balance of power between the Western and Eastern blocs. The subsequent geopolitical and military development saw a gradual reduction in the strength and decline of the Warsaw Pact countries. Finally, it was dissolved in February 1991 with mutual consent of the remaining member countries; subsequently, the USSR also disintegrated into independent republics in December 1991. Following these developments, in fact, there was neither any relevance nor any express need but the NATO not only continued but also gradually took most Warsaw Pact countries sans Russia under its fold. This remained a constant source of irritation and security concern for Russia and the then Russian President Yeltsin had written to the US President Clinton in 1993 that he perceived the eastern expansion of NATO as a sort of neo-isolation of Russia and this concern must be taken into account. Yeltsin also referred to the “Two Plus Four Treaty” pertaining to Germany’s reunification in 1990 and said that the spirit of the treaty precluded the option of expanding the NATO zone into the East.
However, these Russian concerns were never addressed by the US and allies which remained a source of constant discomfort and irritation in forging and fostering the mutual relationship of the NATO countries and Russia. Even the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) of 1995 was an outcome of elaborate discussions for many years on security and related issues among the high-ranking politicians and officials from Washington, Moscow, Paris, London, and other concerned. While umpteen records and accounts of discussions, dialogues and understanding are available suggesting that the Russians constantly raised their objection to the eastward expansion of NATO influence and the Western counterparts indeed appreciated need to do it but any legally enforceable written agreement or memorandum was never made. Therefore, even any recollection of what all transpired in these discussions often poses inconsistencies. For instance, the French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas during 1990 stated later that a pledge was indeed made by NATO not to advance closer to the territories of the former USSR while James Baker, the US Secretary of State of the same period denied any such commitment ever made, later only to be contradicted by then US ambassador to Moscow suggesting that categorical assurances were indeed made that NATO would not expand eastward.
Ever since President Yeltsin took up the issue with the US counterpart in 1993, the US and allies have made as many as fourteen countries of the Eastern and Southeastern Europe as members of the NATO alliance in defiance of Russian objection. Of these fourteen countries, Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic joined in 1999; Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovania in 2004; Albania and Croatia in 2009; and Montenegro and North Macedonia in 2020. It is widely opined that the overthrow of the pro-Russia Ukraine government in 2014 to install a pro US puppet government was the outcome of the coup d'etat funded and engineered by CIA. The US and NATO Brussels Summit Communique of June 2021 (Russia centric paras 10-14) and initiative to consider the membership of Ukraine and Georgia were suffice to make Russian President wary of the NATO plans. The in-principle decision to take Ukraine and Georgia under the NATO fold appears to have been taken in 2008 itself. These are some of the reasons why President Putin recently told West “You cheated us shamelessly”. These aspects have been discussed at length by Klaus Wiegrefe, a German journalist and historian, in his piece “You Cheated Us Shamelessly” originally appeared in German SPIEGEL International in February 2022.
The current Ukraine crisis poses two issues; one, the right of Ukraine to pursue its desired course as a sovereign nation; and two, the commitment and responsibility of the US and allies towards Ukraine, and world peace and stability. As an independent and sovereign nation, Ukraine has every right to decide for itself including the pursuance of the membership of NATO alliance but is must also realize that every right comes with a responsibility too. However, the US and allies should have acted sensibly and responsibly to the Russian security concerns vis-a-vis the membership of Ukraine in the NATO alliance. The better course for the US led West would be to foster good sociopolitical and economic relations with Ukraine but avoid its membership in the NATO military alliance. In view of the decades long traditional rivalry and mistrust between the NATO alliance and Russia, it is desirable to keep a buffer state between the areas of their strategic presence. The point is if the US cannot accept the deployment of strategic missiles of Russia in the neighbourhood (Ref: Cuba Missile Crisis of 1962), how do they expect Russia to tolerate the NATO threat at its very border. Further, when they had constantly assured Ukraine of the requisite help in the event of Russian invasion, they should have actually standby it treating an assault on their own interests rather than sitting at the fence with the so-called sanctions against Russia, and some financial and material assistance along with prayers for Ukraine. The Russians are not entirely misplaced when they talk about the "shameless cheating" by the West. As for the Ukraine, what happens to them in the war will emerge in the near future but the point that they have indeed been largely betrayed is already visible by now.
The current Ukraine crisis has also revealed that a sovereign nation shall not merely depend on the foreign assurances and assistance for own freedom, security and survival. Instead, the nation must endeavour to develop and constantly update its military capabilities taking into account the commensurate threat perceptions of the potential adversaries in the region; secondly, it should be self-reliant in core sectors including defence production to escape international blackmail during such emergency; and last but not the least, the nation must choose reliable friends with utmost care and vision. Had Ukraine been careful in choosing allies and not abandoned its nuclear assets under pressure from the US, UK and Russia, they would not have been at the receiving ends with Russians in the current war. In the context of a reliable ally, the author recalls India’s traditional friendship and cooperation with the Russian people since independence. During the 1971 war with Pakistan which had not only denied the democratically elected political party with their due share of power in the federal assembly but also indulged in the genocide of Hindus, plunder, rape and enslavement of women in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan). The US and UK had not only sided with the rogue military rulers of Pakistan with their political and diplomatic support but also dispatched their strong naval fleets in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, respectively, capable of disrupting Indian army’s operation of the liberation of Bangladesh. Then it was Russia (former USSR) which came forward with timely assistance by dispatching its matching warships and nuclear submarines to counter and deter the Western threat that helped India to successfully achieve its strategic political and military goals in the war without undue anxiety and fear.
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