The Ukrainian conundrum: a political game-changer

K N Pandita

After the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, the western powers began nursing the misconception that the entity now named Russian Federation may not deserve to be given the appendage of a super-power. The Americans were pleased not only for their proxies – Afghan Mujahedeen and Pakistani non-state actors – forcing the invading Russians out of Afghan territory but also for having raised a lawless fighting force of Islamic fundamentalists in a very sensitive region that would not allow the communist ideology a foothold south of the Badakhshan Mountain range.

Owing to ingrained prejudice against the Marxist-Leninist ideology, the western powers have not even to this day understood or acknowledged the Herculean task which the Soviet Union performed in pulling the vast Eurasian sub-continent out of the morass of backwardness and medieval stereotype. This is the reason why the Republics which seceded and announced their independence from the Federation or those that agreed to remain within the Federation, could not wash away the deep ideological and social impact of the Leninist ideology.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990, 12 of the 15 states, excluding the Baltic States, initially formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and most joined the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The crux of the CSTO was that the separating state will not allow its territory to be used for anti-CIS activities.

In the political language of Russia and some other post-Soviet states, the term “near abroad” (Russian ”blizhnee zarubezhe”) refers to the independent republics – aside from Russia itself – which emerged after the extinction of the Soviet Union. Increasing usage of the term in English is connected to foreign assertions of Russia’s right to maintain significant influence in the region. President Putin has declared the region to be a component of Russia’s “sphere of influence” and strategically vital to Russian interests. The concept is reminiscent of the Monroe Doctrine.

Since 2014, the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic in far eastern Ukraine claimed their independence. All of these unrecognized states depend on Russian armed support and financial aid. However, before its annexation to Russia in March 2014, which is not recognized by most countries, Crimea had briefly declared itself an independent state.

This is the ground situation and legal jurisprudence of the two regions of contention, namely Donetsk and Luhansk between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Ukraine is not prepared to be reconciled to it. This has led to tension between the two countries.

Moscow contends that Ukraine has been violating the CSTO and acting against the interests of the Russian Federation. It further claims that if the people of these two regions desire to be part of the Russian Federation, they are free to do so and no breach of law or precedence is involved.

The fact is that the Western bloc led by the US and UK combined have been misusing their access to Ukraine through trade and commercial channels. For example, for quite some time, rumours are afloat that Ukraine is going to join NATO. Moscow considers such a step highly detrimental to the security concerns of the Warsaw Pact. The Russian border with Ukraine could become vulnerable.

President Putin is reported to have tried to convince the Ukrainian leadership that the desire for independence among the people of the two contentious regions could not be suppressed and that there was a large chunk of the population eager to be part of the Russian Federation. Even when Russian military action against Ukraine began on the 24th of February, the Russian Defence Ministry deployed dozens of helicopters only with instructions of the spare pounding of unimportant and non-strategic targets. Military action was widened only when resistance from the pro-Ukrainian government forces intensified.

The Biden administration and its European Allies called it naked aggression on Ukraine that violated international law and Human Rights, Charter. S strong anti-Russia media hype was launched across the western world. The US called for an emergency Security Council meeting where a resolution condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine was tabled. India, besides China and UAE, abstained though the resolution was passed. The US has imposed severe economic sanctions on Russia and the example has been followed by the European Union. The EU has ordered no air space for Russian planes. Australia and Japan have voted in favour of the resolution against Russia.

On the ground, Russian land forces have captured Kharkiv, the second-largest city of Ukraine and they are headed towards Kyiv, the capital. The fall of Kyiv is imminent.

As the fighting proceeds, the Ukrainian President has accepted the offer of President Putin for a meeting somewhere on the Ukraine – Belorussia border. The outcome of the meeting is not known as this write-up is being scripted.

Some quarters in India are asking the question of why India abstained from voting in a serious humanitarian issue of aggression by a powerful state on its smaller neighbour. Ukraine has never been friendly towards India. To be precise, it has always been used by its western benefactors as a stick to beat India with. In 1998, India under Atal Bihari Vajpayee conducted an underground nuclear test in Pokhran. The UN SC met in an urgent meeting to consider India testing the nuke. Ukraine was the first to move a resolution of censure against India. Ukraine had demanded punitive action of imposing economic sanctions on India. On Kashmir’s question, Ukraine has always opposed India’s stand. Ukraine never hid its hostility toward India whenever any matter came up for discussion in which Indian interests were involved. All this shows that Ukraine has been used by the western powers hostile to India as India-basher and their proxy.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a frantic appeal to Prime Minister Modi for intervention in the conflict and persuading President Putin to stop the aggression in Ukraine. India has deputed two teams of senior bureaucrats, politicians and lawmakers to each side of the live border and they are engaged in easing the tension.

It has to be noted that taking recourse to qualitative statesmanship, Prime Minister Modi’s decision of India abstaining from voting in the anti-Russian resolution in the SC and also in the proposed resolution in the General Assembly is not motivated by rancour or ill-will against Ukraine; far from that. He has been in regular contact with the Ukrainian leader and is using his good offices to bring a halt to killing and destruction. He is pained at the loss of innocent lives. India may be unhappy with the politicians of Ukraine but not the people. This is what President Biden expressed in his recent statement that India’s abstention at the voting should not be construed as an anti-act.

Finally, while India joins the world community in supporting the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries and strengthening democracy, it is also true that the Westminster type democracy has degenerated in some of its aspects and a drastic reform in the existing democratic module has to be considered seriously. Western democracies are facing an internal challenge and they must rise to the occasion. Europe is beset with a game-changer.

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