Games the super powers play and how a war was averted: Washington pulls back from the brink

Washington foreign policy establishment, also known as Blob, has come back in full force with the Biden Administration; and with Blob at the helm, war is never far

Games the super powers play and how a war was averted: Washington pulls back from the brink

Saurabh Kumar Shahi

Last week, when India was reeling with the deadly second wave of the Covid-19 epidemic, almost unknown to us the world was on the verge of a major war. The war in Ukraine was closer than anyone had perceived. However, we pulled back from the brink just in time.

So, what was afoot? Well, Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s current President who came to power riding on a wave of support less than two years ago, started to feel the heat of unfulfilled expectations since late last year. So much so that the former comedian who once had an approval rating of over 75 per cent saw it dip to the low-20s. And he was in office for slightly more than a year and a half when he touched his nadir. What did he do? He did what several European leaders reeling with a crisis at home do these days; provoke Russia to appease the domestic audience.

Like his predecessor Petro Poroshenko who once sent a group of small Ukrainian naval vessels through the Russian-controlled waters of the Kerch Strait and was singed but at least got noticed by Moscow, Zelensky also came up with a military solution. Except this one was more dangerous and had the full backing of the United States which during Poroshenko’s episode had a more hands-off attitude at least.

Zelensky gave an interview clearly warning that the reneged region of Donbas and Russian-controlled Crimea would be brought back to Ukraine by force. This was a clear violation of the Minsk Protocol that Ukraine had signed. While several Western analysts dismissed it as mere rhetoric, Moscow realised that something was afoot. And they were right.

When Ukraine started regular troop rotation at the Donbas Front, it also started sending heavy weapons to the conflict zone. It became pretty obvious that Zelensky could not have imagined this level of madness without the full support of the United States. The gambit was clear. Ukraine knew that it cannot win a war in Donbas, leave alone Crimea. However, by provoking Russia to respond, the United States will use it as an excuse to further worsen the relationship between Russia and the EU.

The idea was to scuttle the Nord Stream II Gas Pipeline that Berlin and Moscow had negotiated and is on the verge of completion. The pipeline will stop the continuous Ukrainian blackmail of the EU, thereby delivering a death knell to its strategic options. Both DC and Kyiv want the pipeline gone. This looked like a golden opportunity.

Right on cue, Turkey was told through diplomatic channels that two US warships will pass toward the Black Sea and remain in the region until May 4. The US is required to inform Turkey of any such passage as per the terms of the 1936 Montreux Convention.

Russia reacted but in a way that neither Kyiv nor DC had expected. Russia started rotating its troops and sending heavy weapons to the front. However, it made clear both via diplomatic back-channels and public utterings that her response will be more devastating than Kyiv could imagine.

“Those behind provocations that threaten the core interests of our security will regret what they have done in a way they have not regretted anything for a long time,” said President Vladimir Putin. It was made clear that if Russia is forced to respond rendering Nord Stream II null and void, then it will respond in a manner that will lead to the death of Ukraine as a nation. It won’t be a border skirmish. It will be the death of Ukraine as an independent nation. Some noises were made in DC and various NATO capitals but it became apparent to Zelensky that he was on his own in this one. If that was not enough, Biden also ordered the vessels back that it wanted in the Black Sea to intimidate Russia.

Considering the circumstances, the message from Moscow was treated by Kyiv with the seriousness that it demanded. Ukraine backed down. Browbeaten and that too in the very public sphere, Zelensky made a sudden U-turn saying things to the effect that there was no military solution to the crisis. As the threat receded, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu also pulled back the troops. However, it did not pull back the heavy weapons and equipment, just in case. The threat of a wider war is over for the time being.

However, it is not to say that the war has been averted permanently. Biden Administration will keep goading Zelensky to make tactical blunders. One of them might lead to a conflict. It is very clear that the Washington foreign policy establishment, also known as Blob, which had receded somewhat during the reign of a mercurial Donald Trump, has come back in full force with the Biden Administration. And with Blob at the helm, war is never far.

As it faced humiliation in Ukraine, it immediately tried to shift the focus on another circus that played out in Prague this week where the Czech Republic government expelled several Russian diplomats over an incident that happened seven years ago. A Czech police investigation said that it has evidence proving that Russian agents were involved in an explosion at an ammo depot in the village of Vrbetice in October 2014.

However, the accusation was so preposterous and hair-brained that the Czech President had to give a statement effectively saying that his Police Force is lying. “…there is neither proof nor evidence [of eyewitnesses] that these two agents [the Russians who were accused of involvement in the incident] were at the [ammo depot] in Vrbetice,” Milos Zeman was quoted as saying.

However, the damage was done. Several European countries, especially the Russophobes, expelled Russian diplomats in “solidarity” with Prague. Russia has retaliated. The ludicrousness of the exercise can be gauged by the fact that not only the incumbent, even the ex-President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, criticised the move and said that the Republic was acting like a “Tiny pooch” of the Western Powers.

However, none of this matter. The only solace is that a major war has been averted for now. But with the Blob firmly at the helm in DC, for how long will the peace hold is anyone’s guess

( The writer is a foreign policy analyst. Views are personal)

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