Russia-Ukraine conflict: West has no option but to directly challenge Putin's expansionary plans

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine points not only towards a possible future invasion of other Baltic States but ever-increasing assertion of Russia’s might as a military superpower vis-a-vis the US and NATO

US President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin (File images)
US President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin (File images)

Debabrata Biswas

The Ukraine war started on February 24, when Russia invaded it on the pretext that Ukraine intends to join NATO and thereby threatens Russia’s security. The attack was not sudden; Russia had mobilized troops on Ukraine's border for some time, and diplomatic efforts made by USA and EU countries failed.

There was some truth in Putin's assertions, but his true intention lies elsewhere. He wants to restore the Tsarist Russia landmap, at least those areas in the Baltic which were part of Russia before the USSR disintegrated.

He thought many Ukrainians, especially Russian-speaking people – about 29 per cent of the population – will support him as happened during his Crimea invasion. But he was wrong. The invasion has united all the Ukrainians against him and pushed them towards the West even ore. Moreover, Ukraine didn't fall within a short time as predicted. It is putting up a very hard fight, despite limited military and financial aid from US and the West.

Both the people of Russia and Ukraine belong to Eastern Slavic ethnic groups. Kyiv city is 460 years older than Moscow. After being controlled by the Golden Horde, Kings of Poland and Lithuania and the Crimean Khanate during the Middle Ages, Tsarina Catherine the Great annexed a big part of modern-day Ukraine by defeating the Ottomans (1768-74). That’s how Ukraine became part of Russia. Then, after a short period of civil war and independence (1917-1922), it became one of the founding States of USSR.

The Ukrainians and the Russians have had a sort of love and hate relationship for long. The relations between them are aptly portrayed by Ukrainian poet like Kozar Taras Shevchenko and great Russian novelist in their novels like Taras Bulba (Nikolai Gogol), The Cossacks (Leo Tolostoy), Quiet Flows the Don and Don Flows From Home to Sea (Mikhail Solokov), White Guard ( Bulgakov) etc.

With the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine became independent in December 1991. Putin blames Gorbachev for this. He also blamed Lenin for Ukraine's short period of independence during the Bolshevik revolution. He was never a communist, but has been a dictator in every sense of the term.

America's response to the crisis has been multi-dimensional. On the diplomatic front, the USA, NATO and EU have been successfully mobilized by world opinion against the invasion. In the UN General Assembly, an overwhelming majority of nations (141 for, 4 against and 35 neutral-including China, India, Venezuela, Cuba) passed a resolution condemning the invasion. In the UN Security Council, the majority resolution was against Russia, but Russia vetoed it.

The Ukraine invasion has revitalized NATO and EU. Switzerland, which has historically always remained neutral, joined EU to sanction Russia. Sweden, which is not a NATO member, has sent 5000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine.

The Biden administration evidently believes that Putin’s invasion points not only towards a possible future invasion of Baltic States but also to assert Russia’s might as a military superpower vis-a-vis the US. Indeed, Putin seems intent to change the global unipolar power structure helmed by USA to a bipolar one.

With China emerging as an economic and political powerhouse, Russia needs to assert its position in military might. This explains why Putin has cautioned the West about use of his country’s nuclear arsenal, if necessary.

However, the USA and the West are treading cautiously on the Ukraine issue. They didn't directly involve themselves in the war. That's why Poland's proposal to give MiG25 fighting planes to Ukraine through Germany was not accepted by them.

Instead, they have imposed economic sanctions on Russia, which might cripple its economy. They have cut exports from Russia including oil, which is likely to hit Russia's economy hard.

The USA and NATO also mobilized their troops in NATO countries bordering Russia. At the same time, they are keeping their diplomatic efforts agile.

On the domestic front, the situation has changed a little. The Republicans and the right-wing media supported Putin before and immediately after Russia’s aggression. Trump praised him as ‘very smart and savvy’ and his invasion as an act of genius. But later, they toned down their rhetoric as public opinion, even among Republican supporters, is vastly on the side of Ukraine and against Russia.

Though many Trumpist Republicans still are trying to vilify Biden's policy in this matter, his handling of the situation has earned him a high rating in opinion polls. Most Americans seem to be united against Russian aggression.

There’s somehow a bizarre sentiment among people of Indian origin in America. While interacting with them and analysing content on social media, it emerged that many seem to support the stand of the Indian government on this issue, and not willing to condemn Russia.

One factor at play seems to be Russian support to gave India during the Indo-Pak war in 1971. But Russia was USSR then, not Putin's Russia. Should a good act in the past overshadow an evil act of naked aggression at present?

(IPA Service)

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