In February 21, 2022, rattled by the eventuality of Ukraine joining the NATO, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, formally recognised the Ukrainian separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk (on Ukraine’s Eastern border with Russia) as independent nations in response to the alleged genocide being perpetrated by the Kiev regime. On February 24, 2022, Russia then sent in its troops into Ukraine in a full-scale military operation in what it asserted was a “special military operation”. Around 7:30 pm (IST) on February 27, 2022, Russia put its nuclear deterrence forces on high alert, following what Putin cited as being overly aggressive voices emanating from NATO members. Expectedly, many Heads of States, pro-NATO and pro-USA countries, have condemned it as being gravely alarmist.
Game of Deception
A few days prior to that, on February 16, 2022, Russia played a game of deception amidst heightened military tensions. Russia declared that the military drills by the Russian Army had been accomplished and the mechanised Army columns were being withdrawn to their permanent bases. The deception was reminiscent of a similar stroke out of the American playbook – a version of the “Left Hook” of US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. It became famous in the Iraq War whereby the General, backed by prior ‘intel’ of Iraq’s Republican Guard’s anticipation of an invasion by US forces via an amphibian route, made a hard turn at the last moment and altered the course of the invading American mechanised military ground divisions by roughly a 150 miles westward sweep into Iraq that cut off supply lines and retreat of many Republican Guard troops.
#OperationGanga progressing successfully
Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt on March 3 said that Operation Ganga is progressing successfully and that four Union Ministers are taking care of every aspect of evacuation operations in different neighbouring countries of Ukraine.
He received the Indian nationals rescued from Ukraine and arrived in the Fourth Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft at Hindon airbase near Delhi. "I welcome you all on your safe return to our motherland, Prime Minister Modi himself is monitoring all developments," Bhatt told the Indian nationals on the flight.
Ajay Bhatt said, "We are taking care of every student returning from Ukraine. Our four Union Ministers are taking care of every aspect of evacuation operations in different neighbouring countries of Ukraine. Operation Ganga is progressing successfully."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had issued orders to the Air Force to pitch in the rescue operations to augment the level of Operation Ganga. Notably, the American C-17 Globemasters and IL-76 transport aircraft are the most capable of flying long distances with around 400 passengers. The C-17 transport aircraft had helped in a big way to evacuate citizens and officials from Kabul when the Taliban captured Afghanistan and forced Americans to exit from there.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar also said that nine flights took off on March 3 from Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Poland.
30 flights under Operation Ganga have brought back 6,400 Indians from Ukraine so far, said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi on March 3.
17,000 Indian nationals have left Ukraine since the advisories were issued, and flights under Operation Ganga have been increased to facilitate the evacuation of remaining students stranded in Ukraine. The students who left Ukraine also included some Indians who had previously registered with the Embassy of India in Kyiv.
Meanwhile, Prime inister Narendra Modi on March 2 chaired a high-level meeting on the issue. The meeting was attended by UnMion Ministers S Jaishankar, Piyush Goyal, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and other officials. For the past few days, the Prime Minister has been chairing crucial meetings on the issue.
Russia couldn’t possibly have hoodwinked the adversary as shockingly as General Schwarzkopf’s “Left Hook” because of the highly advanced American intelligence network and the hawk eye that they have been keeping on the movements of the Russian Army over the military build-up that started months ago. US President, Biden, had continued to maintain that a Russian “invasion” was very much on the cards. Yet, the Russian deception did seemingly create a small element of surprise for the US.
Putin’s Point of View
In the televised address to the citizens of Russia, on February 24, 2022, Russian President Valdimir Putin summarised the purpose of the “special military operation”, saying that Russia “will seek to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.” He further clarified that “It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory.” He expressed disappointment at the “eastward expansion of NATO, which is moving its military infrastructure ever closer to the Russian border.” He pointed to failed negotiations with NATO over a period of three decades. He called the Western powers “con-artists”, who didn’t respect international treaties and agreements and cited the invasions of Belgrade, Syria, Libya, Iraq as the foremost examples of that ‘con-artistry’. President Putin singled out USA as the “empire of lies” behind the entire drama that is now unfolding in Ukraine, asserting that the expansionary tactics of America are aimed at “geopolitical dividends” for it, but for Russia it is an “existential” crisis to “sovereignty”, “matter of life and death, a matter of our historical future as a nation.” In short, Putin said that “they (USA and NATO) have crossed it (the red line)”.
Ukraine is Important to Russia
Ukraine is a strategically located ex-Soviet State, that is equivalent to the size of Texas. Russia had imagined it would act as a friendly, or at least neutral ‘buffer zone’ between the Western European ‘NATO’ nations and Russia. Three ex-Soviet Baltic States that too share a border with Russia, viz., Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia had already joined NATO in 2004. The direct implication of that association is that NATO missiles are already pointing towards Russia from across the border. Ukraine’s entry into NATO would have worsened the already heightened threat perception of Russia.
Russia is not as rattled by these Baltic States as much as it is rattled by the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO. The reason lies in the geo-strategic placement of these Baltic States compared to that of Ukraine. While Ukraine is much like a “corridor” to Russia, these Baltic States are cut off from Western Europe by Poland to the South-West and a significant military and naval presence of Russia via the Kaliningrad Oblast enclave in the Baltic Sea to the North. These Baltic States are connected to NATO States via two slender roads across a 100 km corridor, the access to which can be cut off by Russia with ease. Ukraine, given its courtyard and ‘corridor’ like juxtaposition to Russia’s mainland territory, exposes Russia’s key cities to a NATO attack via access through Ukraine. Moreover, Ukraine is home to significant agriculture production and possesses a thriving heavy artillery and arms manufacturing industry.
Common Founding Father
Also, in light of the observations of President Putin about the “historical” future of Russia, it’s imperative to understand the historical ties of contemporary Ukraine with Russia. Ukraine is not just a chip off the erstwhile Soviet bloc, it’s in fact the very bedrock of Russian civilisation and culture as we know it today. The history of Ukraine goes back to antiquity. Truth be told, Russia owes the origin of its very name to the region that is known as contemporary Ukraine.
The name “Russia” has been derived from a State established by the Rurik dynasty in the 9th century CE. The name of the State was Kievan Rus’ after the conquest of Kiev by Oleg of Novgord, a king of the Rurik dynasty in 882 CE. Both Russia and Ukraine consider Valdimir I, also known as Valdimir the Great, the Grand Prince of Kiev, ruler of Kievan Rus’ from 980 CE to 1015 CE as the Founding Father of the respective nations. Much later, Ivan IV also known as Ivan the Terrible, of the same Rurik dynasty, declared himself as the “Tsar of Russia”, to signal the formation of the geo-political nation-state that Russia is today.
However, this significant piece of pivotal history is cannon fodder due to of contemporary political differences in interpretations of ancient historical narratives. Post-Soviet Ukrainian politicians try to disassociate the syncretic Russia-Ukraine historical legacy away from Russia and try to make it more Eurocentric, whereas Russian leadership tries to look at it as a common legacy. In other words, Ukraine attempts to force fit modern contemporary geopolitics on to the unalterable medieval history, whereas Russian leadership endeavours to read history as it transpired, bereft of the iterative drawing and redrawing of modern international boundaries.
It is apparent that the contemporary narrative by Ukrainian politicians favours the position of integration of Ukraine into Western Europe and NATO. It’s not surprising then, that Washington Post, which may be contemplated to be a media ‘asset’ of ‘Deep State’ of USA and is sympathetic to President Biden and the Left-Liberal political front in USA, published on February 25, 2022 a rebuttal of the connection of Vladimir, the Great to a common historical, cultural, linguistic root of Russia and Ukraine and instead projected a Eurocentric connection of Ukraine by pointing to the ‘Slav’ origin of the progenitors of Kievn Rus’.
JFK’s 1961 Assurance to Russia
One would do well to recall the speech by John F. Kennedy (JFK) on July 25, 1961 on the “Berlin Crisis” in which he famously said, “We cannot negotiate with those who say "What's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable."”. It is clear that Mr. Putin is now applying those very words of JFK back to the United States and NATO and perhaps only bettering it in instruction with military discipline.
It’s even more interesting that JFK had spoken reassuringly to the then USSR in the same speech to allay Soviet fears of NATO expansionism by declaring that the US and its NATO allies “recognise the Soviet Union’s historical concern about their security in Central and Eastern Europe, after a series of ravaging invasions, and we believe arrangements can be worked out which will help to meet those concerns, and make it possible for both security and freedom to exist in this troubled area.”
A Broken Promise by the West
Further, when the reunification of Germany did eventually take place, Russia had taken promises from the then US Secretary of State, James Baker, US President Geroge H W Bush, West German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, French President Francois Mitterrand, and British Prime Ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Major, among others to not expand the footprint of NATO into the countries that belong to the Warsaw Pact. In the February 9, 1990 meeting between the then Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and the then US Secretary of State, the latter assured the former that “the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.”
Forget “not an inch”, the “Red Line” has in fact shifted 1365 kms (shortest air route which incidentally passes over Warsaw) from Berlin to Kiev since then. Clearly, all those promises have been shredded to smithereens.
Talking of broken American promises, one is reminded of an anecdote shared in Pulitzer Prize winning author John J. O'Neill's Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla (1944). Thomas Elva Edison is said to have offered Serbian Nikloa Tesla a handsome cash reward, should the latter succeed in solving a vexing scientific challenge. Tesla accomplished the task. When he approached Edison to pay him his cash reward, the American inventor quipped, “Tesla, you don’t understand American humour.”
The point is, how can any treaty, agreement or pact with the USA then be relied upon by any nation? The Warsaw Pact has, since long, been dissolved! The USA and NATO are adamant on creating a unipolar world. However, it’s in the best interest of global security to have a bipolar or even better, a multi-polar geo-strategic world where one power can’t unilaterally alter the geo-political map of the world.
The Evolution of the Ukrainian Conflict
The creeping acquisition of one State after the other in Eastern Europe, the latest being Ukraine as a target client State by USA/NATO indeed is a massive escalation in the threat perception of Russia. Therefore, it unacceptable to Putin and hence the strong military retaliation.
It is bad enough that the ex-Soviet Ukraine is not a part of a common Nation-State that Russia represents today. As outlined by Putin in the very speech (mentioned above) itself, his last-ditch efforts to avoid the military incursion into Ukraine were rebuffed by US President Biden as recently as in December 2021.
Putin pointed out the failed negotiations with NATO over a period of three decades. He called the Western powers “con-artists” who didn’t respect international treaties and agreements and cited the invasions of Belgrade, Syria, Libya, Iraq as the foremost examples of that ‘con-artistry’
Of course, it left Putin with no option but to go all out for a massive operation in Ukraine, because the opportunity cost, i.e. the cost of not doing so would incrementally lead to the gradual obliteration of Russia as a Nation State itself in the years and decades to come. These are distinctly and obviously far more than the cost of the military intervention in Ukraine itself.
However, risks remain. The might of the Russian military, Putin’s reputation and above all the strategic objectives of Russia would hurt incrementally to the extent of the longevity of the conflict.
Conversely, to the same extent, Ukraine, its President would be hailed a hero. The clock is ticking and it’s a race against time for Russia. Its economy is already recuperating from the Covid-19 crisis. Add to this, the economic sanctions imposed on Russia since the conflict began. What Putin is staring at is a small window of opportunity that he’d do well to conservatively evaluate as closing fast, without hitting the panic button.
Nevertheless, it’d be foolhardy to surmise that Putin wouldn’t have already thought these angles through. Russia had been encircling Ukraine from all the three sides since mid-November 2021. Russia has chose the timing of the military incursion when the winter had relatively started to thaw but had far from receded. It seems that Putin has factored in a ‘worst-case’ scenario already wherein the conflict lingers on to the summer months for various reasons such as stiffer than expected resistance from Ukrainian forces
American and NATO’s Military Strategy and Response
The Ukrainian President was quick to express his lamentation on being abandoned by the USA and NATO in spite of his obstinate defence of his pro-NATO and pro-US position all throughout the last many months and, indeed, years. As the then Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger used to say, "To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal.”
Student pursuing MBBS in Ukraine turns out to be Gram Pradhan of UP, Panchayat Raj issues notice
A medical student from Ukraine put out an emotional post on February 24 seeking help to return home to Uttar Pradesh. Eventually, it turned out that she is the Gram Pradhan of Tera Pursauli in Uttar Pradesh and is the daughter of Samajwadi Party leader Mahendra Singh Yadav.
This is the story of Vaishali Yadav. She was elected the village panchayat head (Gram Pradhan) of Tera Pursauli in Hardoi district in Uttar Pradesh last year. After the polls, she decided to return to Ukraine to pursue her medical studies. Her father, Mahendra Singh Yadav, is a Samajwadi Party leader and local strongman. He is a former Block Pramukh.
News18 reported that villagers were unaware that Vaishali had shifted to Ukraine after winning the polls and were furious once they got the news about her long absence from the village. They want her to return home safely first.
The Panchayati Raj Department, the nodal department for local development work in villages, has taken cognisance of her absence and will launch an investigation to ascertain how funds were utilised in her absence.
This could lead to the criminal indictment, as Gram Pradhan has to inform the authorities if he/she is absent for long. Also, Gram Pradhan is mandated to be present in the village council meetings.
It seems that Biden and NATO soon heard the wails of lament coming from the Ukrainian President and decided to send in reinforcements to protect their strategic asset in Eastern Europe while avoiding a head-on military collision with Russia. That’s sure to trigger a massive military escalation in Europe, if not World War III.
There is a phrase that’s very famous in the Washington establishment circles, when it comes to dealing with autocrats and despots across the world – “He might be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch”. Many versions of this phrase exist and it has been attributed to everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Roosevelt. This applies well to the incumbent Ukrainian President, who though the elected head of a democracy, is widely acknowledged in reality to be an authoritarian. Geostrategic observer, Brahma Chellany, also said that the Ukraine regime is known to be “corrupt” on a Twitter Spaces discussion.
The US and its allies have declared millions and even billions of dollars in military equipment to Ukraine including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. The idea is to ensnare Russia into a prolonged, Afghanistan-like conflict. It seems that the USA is drawing on its experience against arch-rival USSR (now Russia) in Afghanistan in the 1980s, where it applied a similar military strategy to telling effect. It armed the Islamic Afghan warlords with stinger missiles, anti-tank missiles, thus taking a heavy toll on the Russian Army, which got embroiled deeper and deeper into a never-ending war.
However, it must be considered that Afghanistan was a territory alien to Russia in more ways than one. The same rules might not apply to Ukraine. Ukraine and Russia are separated by an international border but share a common language and culture. Putin has already exercised the Russian military by annexing a part of Ukraine, viz. Crimea, in 2014 – thus the regimen of practice is in place. In short, Putin knows the enemy in Ukraine far better than the USSR knew Afghanistan.
Sanctions on Russia
Meanwhile, Biden responded with sanctions and clarified that American soldiers won’t be fighting in the Ukraine “invasion”, as claimed by him. Many Western European nations have banned Russia from using their air-space. NATO has reinforced its own defenses in the Eastern European countries, which are member states of NATO.
In a fresh round of serious sanctions, Western European countries have ousted select Russian banks from the SWIFT network that’s used by banks internationally to transfer money. Apparently, the target is the USD 630 billion dollars of war chest that the Russian Central Bank is being accused of having accumulated to fund the “invasion” in Ukraine. The aim is to financially cripple Russia. American Left-leaning and faux-Liberal sounding-board and news giant CNN reported on February 28, 2022 that the Russian Central Bank has raised the interest rate from 9.5 per cent to 20 per cent as a direct consequence of the financial sanctions. It has been estimated that this sanction alone could set Russia back by 5 per cent of its USD 1.7 tn GDP.
What compounds the problem for Russia is that it didn’t anticipate the strong sanction against the Russian Central Bank. The tremendous jump in the interest rate is a testimony to that strategic error.
However, Western banks and businesses would also be hit by these sanctions especially in nations like Germany that have strong business and energy linkages with Russia. SWIFT is a consortium system that links 11,000 financial institutions worldwide across 200 nations.
Russia can ameliorate the impact to a limited extent by taking recourse to its own alternative network, viz., the System of Transfer of Financial Messages which however has a limited reach of only 400 participants in 23 countries. Additionally, the Chinese might sense a huge business opportunity in this sanction as they have their own system called the China Cross Border Interbank Payment System, thereby allowing both countries to bypass the SWIFT network.
American giants Apple and Google have banned their digital payment system in Russia. Google has stopped Russia-affiliated media giant RT from monetising its digital content through Google and YouTube and has also halted the services of Google Pay. Tesla’s Elon Musk has established a satellite “StarLink” internet link for Ukraine. American propaganda news media giants like CNN, Washington Post and New York Times, who have a pronounced proclivity to target Bharatvarsha’s “Hindu “Right Wing” “Nationalism”, PM Narendra Modi and UP CM Yogi Adityanath, have been weaponised while Russian media like RT and Sputnik have been banned in European Union, thus creating an unlevelled field.
These measures not just hurt the people of Russia directly, but also raise questions of international law and the principle of Freedom of Speech, Expression and that of the international press.
The ‘SWIFT’ sanction and others of its kind on Russia, which have been called out as being ‘illegal’ by Russia, are an object lesson to non-Western economies like Bharat. In retrospect, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intense push on creating a digital payment infrastructure as evidenced by UPI, BHIM, RuPay and the digital currency in the works by Reserve Bank of India now look like even bigger masterstrokes than initially contemplated. They are important for not just economic progress but national security and sovereignty.
It is noteworthy that no sanctions have been imposed on the oil exports by Russia. The colonial Western powers are mindful of the instantaneous repercussions on global oil prices and inflation, which are already at significantly high levels. The proclivity for strategic opportunism over principles can clearly be sensed in the differential treatment. However, Germany has announced that it would construct two LNG terminals to lower dependence on Russia. Further, the US Ambassador to the UN has stated that sanctions on the Russian energy sector are “not off the table.”
Also, pertinent here is the differential treatment being meted to China. The USA has not much to say, forget sanctions for the many excesses of the Chinese regime against Uighurs, aggression in Ladakh, and Arunachal Pradesh and against Taiwan. In fact, Chinese fighter jets flew sorties over Taiwan the very day US President Biden addressed a press conference post imposing sanctions on Russia.
Role of Bharatvarsha
Respect for international law, an unbiased iron-clad, non-discriminatory system is a must for participants to have full faith in it. Tomorrow, these sanctions can be used against Bharat as well as arm-twisting tactics by Western powers, if push comes to shove and if Prime Minister Narendra Modi or another PM in the future refuses to toe their line. It’s a welcome step that Bharatvarsha has offered a Rupee trade account with Russia. This would also soften the blow on bilateral trade and sanctions on Russia.
The Western world has brought immense pressure upon PM Modi to use his personal influence as a pre-eminent international statesman to talk Putin out of waging the “war”, as the Western media has ‘christened’ the conflict. Yet, under PM Modi and Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, Bharatvarsha has maintained its neutrality over the conflict and refused to call it an “invasion”, thus far. Bharatvarsha has abstained from voting against Russia in the United Nations and has also not imposed any sanctions on Russia. Instead, we have focused on bringing back our citizens from Ukraine by the thousands in an elaborate operation named “Operation Ganga”, when even the USA has expressed its helplessness in doing so.
On March 2, 2022, India abstained from voting against Russia yet again. This seems to have stung the NATO countries immensely, especially the USA. US Assistant State Secretary, Donald Liu, made quite a few unpalatable remarks against India in the US Senate Committee hearing on ‘US Policy towards India’. Their tone and tenor is unfriendly and it’s likely that the US might attempt to play hard-ball against Bharatvarsha to persuade us to fall in line.
Meanwhile, PM Modi held discussions with President Putin once again in order to address the issue of evacuation of our nationals stuck in Kiev and Kharkiv. Russia is considering creating a humanitarian corridor for allowing the rescue operation. We have managed to extract a six-hour-long observation of the ceasefire from Russia for the evacuation effort. The fact that we accomplished this task that not even the USA along with the weight of NATO and EU, has been unable to achieve speaks volumes of the sort of weight India carries in Russia.
In the press release issued by the Kremlin, President Putin was quoted as having revealed that the Indian students are being held hostage by Ukrainian security forces as a human shield. Later, the Russian Embassy in Bharatvarsha made similar remarks on Twitter. If indeed true, it would be a human rights violation of the gravest kind. It’d be an escalation and an act of war against Bharat. Therefore, this merits immediate investigation. If the facts are accurate, PM Modi must contemplate the idea of sending in a contingent of special forces that would work alongside the Russian forces to evacuate the Indian nationals.
It was interesting to see the Ukrainian Ambassador, Igor Polikha, and then Ukrainian President make impassioned appeals directly to PM Modi to speak in favour of Ukraine. This is when many Bharatvasi went ballistic on Twitter to remind Ukraine of its many anti-India positions in the past. Ukraine had sold military equipment to Pakistan, voted against Bharat in 1998 in the UN Security Council after its nuclear tests during the Prime Ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Ukraine even pushed for UN intervention in Kashmir post annulment of Article 370. Ukraine needed to be imparted in the principle of reciprocity.
On the other hand, 50 percent to 70 percent of our defense needs are still met by Russia.
In the annals of Cold War era propaganda, I don’t think there’s another fabricated anecdote that’s more popular than the one authored by Mark Shields and published by Washington Post in 1982, about ‘the two letters’. The story goes that Stalin, at the fag-end of his political career, was eager to impart some wisdom in statecraft to his apparent successor, Nikita Kruschev. He revealed that he had written him two letters containing his “wisest counsel”. Stalin further alerted Nikita that he is not to open the first one until “things are totally terrible” and the second one till he has touched the nadir of despair. Soon thereafter, Kruschev took over and enjoyed the “Russian honeymoon” which was followed by economic and political trouble of all sorts. He was reminded of the “two letters”. He opened the first one. It said, “Blame everything on me … Stalin.” Kruschev did accordingly and saved the day. One day troubles mounted again. It was time for him to open the second letter. It said, “Write two letters … Stalin.”
The point is that Putin should just hope that he has done all his calculations right. If not, he might soon have to write the fabled ‘two letters’ to his ‘successor’. If indeed Putin can pull it off, then he may alter the course of history, and may even lead to the reunification of Russia.
But first he must contend with the prospects of a protracted war, that he can afford, even as the ever-hanging sword of NATO aims for Russia and back-breaking sanctions against Russia threaten to derail not just the military operation, but even his own Presidency. Russia faces an uphill task at the moment: capturing Kiev, unseat the incumbent President Voldomyr Zelenskyy and replace him with a neutral or a Russia-friendly political dispensation at the very earliest, and do it sustainably by minimising collateral damage and ensuring longevity of the new equilibrium.
The last word is yet to be written on this epoch-making conflict of very high stakes that can change the shape of global geo-politics.