By Laksiri Fernando –
The world is at the brink of a Third World War with the Russian armies invading Ukraine supported and assisted by the Western powers although NATO has not formally entered the fighting. In Russia’s point of view, supplying arms and financial support to Ukraine are a direct involvement in the war, waged in their opinion against Russia’s security and integrity. It is possible that within few days the Russian armies would be able to capture Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and control the country at large. Installing a Russian aligned regime in Ukraine would be a part of the scheme and strategy.
Behind the Invasion
By enlisting thousands of army volunteers from the Middle East and involving Belarus in the invasion, Vladimir Putin has shown that his intensions are broader than just capturing or ‘neutralizing’ Ukraine. In his/their opinion, Poland is already involved in the war from the NATO or Western side. Therefore, there is a great possibility that Russia next attacking or even invading Poland. There are also Western army volunteers fighting on behalf of Ukraine already.
There cannot be any doubt that the aggressor, and in fact the invader, of the present war is Russia and Putin. There are more internal reasons than external ones for the situation. Putin and his oligarchs come from a particular historical context and mindset. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the republic was a disaster for this mindset. Putin had direct links with the KGB and the Stalinist rule. It is not so much the collapse of communism or socialism that mattered. But the glory and prestige of Russian hegemony and empire going back to the Tsarist empire. Ukraine represents one of the important missing links of this jigsaw.
Vladimir Putin (born 1952) has been the de facto ruler of Russia since 1999. He has been more than a president in his and his followers’ mind. Serving as prime minister or president on several occasions his ambition seems to bring back the Soviet or the Tsarist glory back to the country. He is only second to Alexander Lukashenka of Belarus as the longest serving European president. They appear to be close buddies in the sphere of political ambitions.
During the last two years, Putin and his United Russia party have experienced some electoral losses although the system is overwhelmingly manipulated. There have emerged young generations who are keen in aspiring for more freedoms, human rights, and democracy in addition to economic justice. Alexei Navalny who is now jailed is only one opposition leader. Putin’s party at the elections for the lower house of the Duma last year experienced clear electoral setbacks. Putin must face the next presidential elections in 2024.
According to one reliable interpretation, Putin’s war against Ukraine is largely aims at uniting the Russian nationalist forces to overcome these emerging internal oppositions. However, it can be a coincidence or a reason among other reasons. It was in 2014, Putin first waged war against Ukraine and annexed Crimea into the Russian federation. In Putin’s view, without Ukraine as a buffer zone or country, the security of Russia is not safe from the Western aggression and infiltrations. Therefore, the present war is a defense strategy and not an aggression.
However, how far this ‘defense strategy’ could be distinguished from ‘imperial ambitions,’ ‘Russian chauvinism’ or a ‘new form of fascism’ is a debatable question. There are academics and researchers who have identified the rejuvenation of the old Russian ‘deep-state’ under Putin’s leadership during the last decade. They have however not denied any security or defense concerns on the part of the Russian leaders or the people because of the type of international politics played directly and indirectly by prominent Western countries, the US as the main actor.
Democracy and human rights are some of the primary concerns of the Western countries. However how far these are tainted by economic and strategic interests is debatable. Ideological reasons like partiality to a ‘single or similar’ model of democracy or democratic development also can be involved. Vladimir Putin undoubtedly is anti-Western. These sentiments are also prevalent in many other countries in Asia and the Middle East.
If we take the Russian invasion of Ukraine as it is, it cannot be condoned by any means. All information that we have been receiving indicates to its one-sidedness, brutality and inhuman consequences going beyond the conflict areas. Over 3 million civilians had to flee the country already since the Russian forces were attacking civilian areas and municipalities. Thousands of them are already killed. Destruction of residential buildings, schools, hospitals, and industrial enterprises are the most damaging to the economy and the social system.
Ukrainian people who have been giving interviews to the media do not appear to be strictly anti-Russian. All of them are linked. Therefore, if the main effort of Russia is to prevent Ukraine joining NATO, it could have been done in a diplomatic and a peaceful manner. If the US and other Western countries have or intend to have special economic or political influence on Ukraine, Russia also should have the same rights and opportunities. Countries like France and Germany have shown that they are willing to listen to the Russian concerns. These diplomatic opportunities have not been utilized properly given anger, sensationalism, and aggression.
Role of the UN?
Some of the failures of the present situation undoubtedly come from the UN system. With all indications that the Russian troops were exercising armed maneuvers surrounding Ukraine, the Secretary General of the UN was starkly silent. It was he (Antonio Guterres) who should have intervened independently to negotiate a solution. It was not particularly a failure of the person, but the institutional position of him or the Western influences behind.
Guterres only opened his mouth after the resolution of the special General Assembly. Even that was to impose the terms of the resolution on Russia and not to negotiate or workout a viable and an amicable solution to the conflict and the war. It was obvious that the Russian invasion cannot be condoned by any reasonable country except Russia or its close allies. Even within Russia there were demonstrations against the war. Although the UN resolution had overwhelming approval of the member countries, the 35 countries who abstained from voting cannot be ignored particularly given the size of the world population represented by them like China and India.
Even at present the main question is not about imposing the UN resolution but brining a ceasefire and then a negotiated solution to the underlying issues behind the war. Although the NATO and Western countries deny their participation in the war, this is not something agreed by Russia, China, or several other countries.
The newest incident is the Russian bombing of a military base/installation near the Poland border. This is considered as an indirect war declaration against NATO countries by Russia. However, this army base was well known for US and NATO training of Ukrainian soldiers and introducing new weapons and military tactics. For what? Of course, it can be defended as for defensive purposes of Ukraine. But from whom?
In Russia’s opinion, the US and NATO are already involved in the war, or they are the main perpetrators. In their opinion, America’s imposition of severe economic sanctions against Russia and Russian leaders are a clear declaration of war, an economic war at least. Russia is also taking similar measures.
A Way Out?
There cannot be much doubt that the world, and people in the world, naturally would prefer Western model of liberal democracy or similar, compared to the Russian authoritarianism or the Chinese communist party system. Therefore, the Ukrainian people cannot be blamed in their political preferences, including their present popular/charismatic President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
However, for a peaceful world, when there are different political systems and religions/ideologies, there should be some form of peaceful co-existence and tolerance. Changing political systems should be primarily left for the people of those countries. Whatever the merits of liberal democratic systems it appears that most of the Western leaders try to impose their values and systems on others sometimes through war, pressure, or undue interventions.
Since the Second World War, this is not the first time that one country or countries invaded another country. This happened in Korea, Vietnam and in the Middle East. Still, many of the Middle Eastern countries are in a chaotic situation because of the repercussions of these invasions. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 in the pretext of preventing the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ by the US, UK, Australia, and Poland was one case of example.
In the present situation, Russia and Putin should undoubtedly be blamed for arbitrarily invading Ukraine. Both Russia and NATO countries could have persuaded Ukraine to become like (one time) Switzerland with independence and neutrality between competing forces and countries in Europe.
The US President Jo Biden has continuously denied any intention of involving in a Third World War with Russia or any other country. But today, we are almost at the brink. Nuclear confrontations, intentional or by accident, are real possibilities under the present circumstances and confrontations. What Biden should do, as claimed to be the leader of the democratic world (!), to prevent an open third world war, is to speak to Putin, negotiate an immediate ceasefire, and persuade Ukraine to be truly a neutral country like the old Switzerland.