Russia’s invasion of Ukraine - Commentary by Shri. S. Gurumurthy
The Ukraine war has exploded the myth that the history of conflicts had ended or could ever end. It proves that the human propensity for conflict is so inherent that no ideology can subside or subsume it. The power of history to return to run over the human race is clearly unstoppable. The promise held out by the West, particularly the US, that the cold war was over was false, intended to fake the end of history. – S. Gurumurthy
In the early 1990s, Francis Fukuyama proclaimed that with the liberal democracy and the free market economy of the West finally emerging as a one-size-fits-all model for all nations, all conflicts that were the source of history had ended. That became the moolamantra of globalisation. Fukuyama ambitiously saw the convergence of the conflicting opposites—Free Market and Liberal State with Communism and Stateless Marxism—as the end of history leading to the perfect society-state envisioned by Hegel, the 18th century German philosopher. How? It calls for a recall of the short socio-political history since Fukuyama wrote his thesis.
Faking ‘end of history’
Hegel viewed human history as a continuous struggle between opposing ideas till all conflicts get synthesised finally into the perfect state. Karl Marx adopted the Hegelian process to understand the historic struggle of the human race from slavery to feudalism and to capitalism, and concluded that the Hegelian perfect state would be stateless Communism. Fukuyama made one small change to Karl Marx and said that the perfect state would be the stateless free market, nicknamed globalisation. With the title of his book End of History itself declaring that the history of conflicts had ended, Fukuyama proclaimed that the Hegelian goal of a perfect nation-state was almost at hand. Through the attractive package of globalisation that assured prosperity for all, the West made the Rest believe that with the end of cold war, all conflicts had ended and the naive world believed it. But the short 30-year history since the prophecy on the end of history shows that neither could Communism that Marx held out as the only way for the future to obliterate the past history, nor could the free market capitalism that was held out as the highway for the future, forget it. The Ukraine war has exploded the myth that the history of conflicts had ended or could ever end. It proves that the human propensity for conflict is so inherent that no ideology can subside or subsume it. The power of history to return to run over the human race is clearly unstoppable. The promise held out by the West, particularly the US, that the cold war was over was false, intended to fake the end of history. Coming to the real world in recent history, the continuation of the NATO alliance was itself a remnant of the cold war. But, Russia had ignored it. With the eastward expansion of the NATO alliance from the late 1990s, bringing in some 15 countries into it, Putin clearly saw the embers of cold war beneath the US moves. Russia had truthfully moved away from the cold war psyche in the 1990s, but the US did not. This explains what created the Vladimir Putin we see today. Here is a brief recall of how history did it.
‘America created Putin’
Russian-born French journalist Vladimir Pozner explained to Yale University in a brilliant lecture way back in 2018 how the US created Vladimir Putin. Pozner said all efforts of Russia under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin for harmonious relations with the US and the West failed. Why? He says an under-secretary’s note in 1997 had convinced the euphoric US that it should not ever allow anyone again to challenge its supremacy. That started the eastward expansion of NATO. George Kennan, an acclaimed US foreign policy strategist, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine under the pseudonym “X” in 1998 that it signalled the restart of the cold war. Despite fierce opposition from Putin, in 1999, Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic joined NATO. Keen to avoid the NATO vs Russia scenario that was bound to reignite cold war, and saying that Russia was part of European culture, Putin even offered to join NATO in 2001. “One has to apply to be our member, NATO doesn’t invite,” responded the arrogant NATO. Putin was even willing to join the EU, Posner said. But the US, keen to be the sole power, was not ready to share power with Russia. In 2004, street protests, popularly known as Orange Protests, took place in Ukraine. Putin suspected the West was engineering pro-West democracy elements at its door. As if to confirm it, within months, seven central and east European countries—Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia—joined and the expanded NATO. With Estonia and Latvia right on Russia’s border, Putin was convinced that the end of cold war was fake history. Albania and Croatia joined NATO in 2009, Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020. It needed no seer to say that NATO expansion was aimed at Russia and was a clear threat to it. In 2014, when pro-democracy protests rocked Ukraine, Crimea, an autonomous region, two-thirds of whose population comprises Russians, joined Russia under a disputed referendum preceded by Russian occupation. The Crimean action led to a greater divide between Russia and the West. Now come to Ukraine.
From the mid-17th century Ukraine was part of the Russian tsardom. The modern Ukraine culture is dominantly Russian. Nikita Khrushchev, former USSR chief, was born almost in Ukraine. He loved Ukraine so much that he merged Crimea with Ukraine province in 1954. On the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1994, Ukraine declared itself as a neutral state with limited military partnership with Russia on the one hand and with NATO nations on the other. When in 2013 the Ukraine government opted for closer relations with Russia, there were mass protests that led to the overthrow of the Ukraine government. The result was the partition of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Despite its complexities, till 2013, in form at least, Ukraine was neutral between Russia and NATO. But in 2014 the US began manoeuvres to de-neutralise Ukraine, which shares a 2,300 km border with Russia, and to integrate it with NATO. That is the root cause of the ongoing war.
Leading American thinkers opposed the US effort. Opposing Ukraine’s admission into NATO, Henry Kissinger said in 2014, “To Russia, Ukraine can never be a foreign country.” Besides Kennan, Pozner and Kissinger, US experts like John Mearsheimer, leading geopolitical mind, Jack F. Matlock Jr., US ambassador to USSR, former US defence secretaries William Perry Bill and Bob Gates, Stephen Cohen, renowned scholar on Russian studies, Bill Burns, CIA director, and many others had said they were against Ukraine joining NATO. But with Ukraine allowing dual citizenship, 80 per cent of all Ukraine officials now are said to be American citizens. Is any further proof needed that Ukraine is operated by the US? All that Putin wanted so as to avoid war was an assurance from the US and West that Ukraine would remain neutral and not be made a NATO member. But the West underestimated the nationalist Putin it had created and thought he would not dare a war. But it is a public secret that the post-2008 US and the West are considerably weaker than they were before 2008. Putin knew that if he could keep China neutral he could go to war. And that is what he did. Reports say that Russia deferred the Ukraine action to enable China to complete its winter Olympics. Result was that, by sheer misjudgement, the US invited Putin for war and pushed Ukraine into it. From the battlefield, Ukraine is crying for “NATO intervention” and seeking a “no-fly zone”. The West is only shouting slogans, but doing nothing that Ukraine wants. The West has left Ukraine high and dry. Why?
Russia’s mission, US confusion
Pozner said that like Americans, Russians believe they have a mission. But Russia is clear about its mission. For that, it knows first it has to protect itself. But, deeply divided from within, the US is confused about its mission to lead the world. The division within NATO also has added to the confusion of the West. Clear about its mission, right at the start, strategic Russia opened its nuclear options. Insisting that the third world war would be nuclear, it threatened that anyone who assists Ukraine will be at war with Russia. A stunned and speechless West did not know how to respond. Russia was clear that bruised in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan; the US and the West had no appetite to fight a war for another nation. So, the US and the West had to resort to trade, economic, and financial sanctions against Russia and force private entities, banks, Google, Amazon and Apple to join in. Poor Ukraine is bearing the brunt of the Russian attack. As John Mearsheimer said way back in 2015, the “West is leading Ukraine down the primrose path and the end result is that Ukraine is going to get wrecked and what we are doing is to encourage that outcome.” His prophecy is proving true to the dot. The only mission in which the West has succeeded is in its narrative that the war is a Russian invasion and that it is killing civilians. Watson Institute estimated the civilian casualties in the wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan at almost a million. The civilian casualty in Ukraine till March 15, 2022 according to the UNHCR, is less than 1,000. Yet the Western media shamelessly went racial and lamented that “Ukraine is not Afghanistan or Iraq, it is relatively civilised”—implying the less civilised Afghans and Iraqis could be killed but not the civilised Ukrainians!
The Ukraine war—undoubted return of history—haunts not only Ukraine and Russia but the West and the Rest. The war has already changed all global relations and global rules. It’s likely to force more changes and its effect will continue for an indeterminate time on all global partnerships and relations between all nations. The West-led world as we knew it for the last 30 years will hardly resemble the one evolving in the future. – The New Indian Express, 24 March 2022
Ukraine Crisis: The war that is changing relations, rules
Having pushed Ukraine into war, the US does not know how to save it. Having started it, Russia does not know where to end it. Having been pushed into the war, Ukraine does not know how to come out of it. It accuses its adversary Russia saying it is an invader and charges that its friends are betrayers. The UN Security Council keeps on meeting without any result. The global TV network for which the war is a reality show, a boon, keeps demonising Russia and valourising Ukraine. What the desperate Ukraine needs is a ceasefire. It is running from pillar to post—from India to Turkey to France, to Israel, to Japan—pleading with them to talk to Putin for a ceasefire. Everyone is talking to everyone else.
But Biden is not talking to Putin and Putin is not talking to Zelenskyy. This is the sad state of the efforts to stop the war. Poor Zelenskyy. What he is now saying to end the war—that we will not apply to join NATO, we will remain neutral—had he said that before, the war would not have started. Russia has staked everything—its goodwill, its economy and its last atom bomb—like a jihadi, making the West shudder to think of taking it head on. But the war is bound to end. When is the only question. When it does end, Russia would have got all that it wanted and Ukraine would have given all that it had denied. And the West would have realised and the world would have known how needless the war was. But, what kind of world will the pointless war leave behind?
A world of distrust
The worst outcome of the Ukraine war is that it has shown that anything and everything can be politicised and weaponised—from financial transaction systems like SWIFT, to banks, private companies like Google to civilian airspace. SWIFT is a high security neutral financial network created by an NGO and used by 11,000 financial institutions in 200 countries. By jamming this critical network, the Ukraine war has destroyed the most basic of mutual trust among nations. Take India. The share of Google in Indian email accounts is 62 per cent. Were India to fall foul of the West, the entire country can be brought to a halt by Google. Each nation or group of nations will now look for alternatives.
Another message is that even Switzerland, which remained neutral in the two world wars, can’t remain neutral in a West vs Others scenario. A telling message of the Ukraine war is that no country can trust even the global commons. It leaves behind a world of distrust. It will increasingly force each nation to be on its own—atmanirbhar being the Indian idiom for it, the very antithesis of globalisation. An alternative to SWIFT is already underway with some 63 central banks collaborating on a new payments system.
US leadership dented
The Ukraine war seems to have dented the US global leadership in more than one sense. First, it has delivered the most telling message that the US can’t protect its own protege. Next, that it had to solicit a virtual meeting between Biden and Xi Jinping (XJP) to get China to the US side or to end the war itself, exposed its weakness. Donald Trump would perhaps have handled Russia and Ukraine differently, not allowed China to be the proverbial monkey between two tigers, the US and Russia.
Anyway the two-hour talk Biden had with XJP did not go well for him. XJP reportedly snubbed Biden saying “those who tied the bell to the tiger must untie it”. clearly blaming NATO for the war. XJP used the talk to advance China’s claim to be equal to the US, saying they should jointly shoulder “international responsibilities” for world peace and tranquillity. According to a Chinese report, XJP seems to have said that one hand cannot clap, suggesting that NATO should have a dialogue with Putin and address his security concerns, implying NATO expansion as the issue. XJP, of course, has also spoken in support of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states. He seems to have insisted on bringing the China-US ties under turmoil over a host of issues, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, on “right track”—something completely beyond the agenda of Biden on that day.
The US media had reported that Biden threatened XJP. On the contrary, he seems to have got snubbed. Biden’s effort to wean China away from Russia has failed at the minimum. If this is what the US got from China, The Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia and the UAE declined calls from Biden to ease oil prices unless the US supported them in Yemen and elsewhere. Arab allies of the US have refused to toe its line. Israel did criticise the Russian attack but its stand was so nuanced as not to take the side of the West. Turkey’s position is identical to Israel’s.
Al Jazeera even sees a strong alliance between Russia and UAE. Another collateral setback to the US is Syrian president Assad’s visit (after 11 years) to UAE about which the US could only lament that it was “disappointed and troubled”. Syria and Russia are close. On top of it all, Saudi Arabia, whose oil has been priced in US dollars for five decades, is considering pricing it in Yuan for sales to China. One more important development. The Chinese foreign minister was invited for the first time to the meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. These are not ordinary developments. The Ukraine war has undoubtedly eroded US influence over even its allies.
China’s Taiwan angle
China seems to have gained far more than it has invested in Ukraine. By subtly encouraging the US vs Russia scenario in Ukraine, China had ensured that the focus of the Biden regime was more on Russia and Ukraine and less on containing China. Being surreptitiously privy to and supporting Russia on Ukraine action, Beijing has gained an IOU from Russia if in future it has to move on Taiwan. XJP’s firm and equal dealing with Biden has dented the US capacity to confront China on Taiwan. If Biden had secretly conceded more to XJP on Taiwan as some reports say, China would have hit a jackpot.
Despite that, if the US had drawn a blank with XJP, it would have been a disaster for Biden. China’s Ukraine strategy seems intended to advance its efforts to grab Taiwan—its greatest ambition and top most priority of XJP. The Ukraine war has exposed the limitations of the US and the West to step in to save its non-formal ally. The Taiwan Relations Act only ensures defence supplies by the US to Taiwan and nothing further. In comparison to Ukraine, which the US recognises as an independent nation, Taiwan’s status is much inferior. If China makes a decisive move against Taiwan, the US could do very little given its show in Ukraine—to say nothing of the Afghanistan debacle.
India’s growing stature
Despite being part of Quad and with a deep strategic partnership with the US, India’s neutrality, with an implicit pro-Russian tilt, was a calculated geopolitical risk India took at the very start of the Ukraine war. Subsequent developments not only won understanding but also acclaim for it. A displeased America had to concede India was an exception among its allies. Surprisingly, amid the raging Ukraine war New Delhi became the centre of hyper diplomatic activity. Scott Morrison, the prime minister of Australia, a Quad constituent, had a virtual meeting with the Indian prime minister, promised investments and said that the Quad nations understood India on Ukraine. Fumio Kishida, prime minister of Japan, another Quad member, paid his first official visit abroad to India. And keeping aside the differences between the two on Ukraine, he signed six strategic agreements and committed to investing $42 billion in the next five years. The Greek foreign minister was in Delhi on March 22 and 23 and the Oman foreign affairs minister was in Delhi for two full days, March 23 and 24.
China and India have had border clashes for the last two years. Surprisingly, its foreign minister Wang Yi is visiting Delhi on March 25—a significant development. India’s independent position on Ukraine is itself a message to China that India would withstand US pressure. If it can lead to some trust and understanding between China and India on the borders, that can pave the way for an informal Russia-China-India axis for future. Naftali Bennett, the prime minister of Israel, a US ally, is making a four-day long visit to India in April first week at the invitation of “his friend” Indian prime minister Modi. India is boldly going ahead with the purchase of Russian oil amid US sanctions on Russia.
Though India has not voted for Russia, it has taken a firm position on the discovery of a bio-weapon facility in Ukraine funded by America. And America, despite loosely calling India shaky on the Ukraine war, has not applied the CAATSA law to stop the sale of Russia’s missile system to India. Undoubtedly, the Ukraine war diplomacy has shown India’s rising stature. The greatest tribute to India’s policies came from the most unlikely of quarters, Pakistan. Praising India’s foreign policy as free and independent, Prime Minister Imran Khan said, “India is allied with America and is part of the Quad alliance and yet it is neutral on Ukraine, imports oil from Russia despite US sanctions, because its policy is oriented to the betterment of its own people.”
Shift away from the dollar?
The war’s collateral impact may be on the US dollar and the global financial order itself. With the dollar-based globalisation already under stress, the role of the greenback in the global financial system may decline. The dollar power enabled dominance of the financial economy over the real economy, particularly the commodity economy. The US sanctions which are bound to affect the Russian oil sale, may also affect the US dollar.
The strength of the US dollar depended, said two Harvard economists in 2006, not on the laws of economics but on the laws of physics, which said a dark matter sustains the universe. The dark matter which sustains the dollar value, they said, is the insurance that the US system and geopolitical power provides to the dollar. That insurance is what is under stress since 2008. With the rise of Asia and China, the US dollar cannot be said to continue to have the same insurance value. The share of USD in the global forex reserves has touched a 25-year low of about 59 per cent.
If important nations shift to their own fiat currency based trade like the rupee-ruble arrangement between India and Russia and if an alternative to SWIFT can be found, the move away from dollar can accelerate. For instance, if India and China begin paying for their trade in their fiat currencies rated to the US dollar and at the year-end pay the net in terms of the dollar, the overall demand for the dollar will contract rapidly. It is the demand for the dollar that sustains its value. These kinds of developments post the Ukraine war can have a far reaching impact.
To end, in just weeks the needless Ukraine eruption has disrupted the world as if forever. Thanks to it, the post-cold war world already stands on its head—disrupting old relations, making new ones, undermining existing power centres, creating new, multiple influence centres. Its impact will keep unfolding for a long time. – The New Indian Express, 25 March 2022
What is NATO? What does N.A.T.O. stand for, member states, map of countries - are Ukraine and Russia involved? ~ National World
Ukraine Crisis: History returns to haunt the world – S. Gurumurthy ~ Bharata Bharati
S. Gurumurthy is a commentator on economic and political affairs and the editor of Thuglak magazine in Chennai.