Abdul Basit describes a deteriorating situation
It has been a week since the Ukraine crisis deepens & Russia has launched a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, a European country of 44 million people that is a nascent democracy and has been resisting Russian efforts to browbeat it. The ferocious Russian attack is witnessing a harrowing bombing campaign with invading forces closing in on the capital, Kyiv, prompting a mass exodus of refugees. The sudden invasion after months of denial proffered by Russian President Putin has caused havoc with the geo-strategic situation of Europe plunging the continent in deep uncertainty bringing back the dark days of the Cold War. This war termed by Germany as the Putin’s war appears to be devoid of indigenous support but has badly divided international opinion. Militarily the odds are in favour of Russia but Ukrainian resistance is all too obvious and may create problems for the invading force.
With war entering into unpredictable time frame, it in the long run, has the potential of jeopardising the entire security structure of Europe. Out of the blue Putin declared on 24 February that Russia could not feel safe, develop and exist because of the constant threat it faced from Ukraine, a country no way near the military muscle of Russia and that Russia needs to go in with force to save itself. The Russian military might then rolled in from Russia, Russian-annexed Crimea and its ally Belarus with warplanes bombing major cities. Many international analysts point out that Russia has consistently avoided using the word invasion and insists that its ostensible goal is to protect people subjected to bullying and genocide and aim for the demilitarisation and de-Nazification of Ukraine. Interestingly there are no proofs available of genocide in a budding democracy that is Ukraine currently led by a president who is Jewish.
There is certainly history of Putin’s animosity as he has frequently accused Ukraine crisis deepens of being taken over by extremists ever since its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in 2014 after months of protests against his rule. Russia then retaliated by seizing the southern region of Crimea and triggering a rebellion in the east backing separatists who have fought Ukrainian forces in a war that has claimed 14,000 lives. Late in 2021, Russia began deploying large numbers of troops close to Ukraine’s borders, while repeatedly denying it was going to attack. Besides Putin scrapped a 2015 peace deal for the east and recognised areas under rebel control as independent. Russia has long resisted Ukraine’s move towards the European Union and the West’s defensive military alliance, NATO and his anger was clearly evident when while invading Ukraine he accused NATO of threatening its future.
Though it is manifestly clear that Russia seeks to seize Ukraine and overthrow Ukraine’s democratically elected government but Putin’s long-term goals are not clear but unconfirmed intelligence reports indicate that he wants to split Ukraine into two. Ahead of the invasion, Russia’s public focus was always on the areas held by Russian-backed rebels in the east but that changed when Putin recognised their independence. Not only did Putin make clear that he saw them as no longer part of Ukraine, he revealed he backed their claims to far more Ukrainian territory. The self-styled people’s republics cover little more than a third of the regions of Donetsk of Luhansk and the rebels cover the rest, too. Apparently Putin is not bothered about civilian resistance in Ukraine as he has shown that he is prepared to bomb civilian areas to attain his goals. Moreover, there is no immediate threat to Russia’s Baltic neighbours though NATO has but bolstered their defences to meet any emergency.
Hundreds of casualties are reported from the war zone and Russia’s onslaught has prompted hundreds of thousands of people to flee across Ukraine’s borders with Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and Slovakia facing a huge influx, while the EU suggests more than seven million people could be displaced. The evacuation of people has become a huge global problem with the Western sanctions bitterly biting the zone with almost all airlines suspending their flights. To make the situation even graver Putin has put his nuclear forces on high alert days after threatening the West with consequences the like of which you have never seen if it stands in his way.
The Russian invasion has brought back the memories of the Cold War with battle-lines fast coming into existence. NATO and EU are swiftly reacting to the new reality with though they have made clear that there are no plans to send combat troops to Ukraine crisis deepens itself but member countries have provided weapons and field hospitals. It is also known that EU, for the first time in its history has announced to buy and send arms and other equipment to Ukraine. Moreover, NATO has deployed several thousand troops in the Baltic States and Poland along with, for the first time, activating part of its much larger rapid reaction force. It is expected that some NATO troops could go to Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia.
For the moment the western alliance is targeting Russia’s economy, financial institutions and individuals with the EU, US, UK, Japan and Canada cutting off key Russian banks from the international Swift payment network, which allows the smooth and rapid transfer of money across borders. The EU, UK and Canada have already shut off their airspace to Russian airlines. Personal sanctions are being imposed on President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by the US, EU and UK, while 351 Russian MPs are being targeted by the EU. Lavrov was not allowed to physically reach New York to address the UNGA meeting and had to speak virtually. Germany has halted approval on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline a major investment by both Russia and European companies Russia’s state-run media Sputnik and Russia Today, seen as a Kremlin mouthpiece, are being banned across the EU. The Russian city of St Petersburg will no longer be able to host this year’s Champions League final and the Russian Grand Prix will not take place in Sochi.
Putin has not only demanded that Ukraine crisis deepens never join NATO but that the alliance turns the clock back to 1997 and reverses its eastward expansion complaining that Russia has nowhere further to retreat, a sentiment mildly echoing the ill-fated lebensraum avowal of the past. Putin claimed that modern Ukraine was entirely created by communist Russia and is now a puppet state controlled by the West. It was his pressure on Ukraine not to sign an association treaty with the EU in 2013 that sparked the protests that ousted its pro-Kremlin president. From Putin’s perception, NATO promised in 1990 that it would expand not an inch to the east but did so anyway completely belying the fact that it was before the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, so the promise made to then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev only referred to East Germany in the context of a reunified Germany. Interestingly Gorbachev had confirmed later that the topic of NATO expansion was never discussed at the time.
Now, however, Putin wants NATO to remove its forces and military infrastructure from member states that joined the alliance from 1997 and not to deploy strike weapons near Russia’s borders meaning Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Baltics. This wishful demand however is interpreted differently by NATO countries succinctly summed up by Germany’s chancellor that Russia’s leader wants to take over Europe according to his world view. TW
Abdul Basit works in finance and industry and is well versed in commercial affairs