The Stakes In Ukraine

FOUR days after it began, the war in Ukraine looks nowhere closer to any resolution. Parties to the conflict - Russia on one side and NATO on the other - are in no mood to back down. Russia is unlikely to withdraw until it has achieved its strategic objectives. And which are to stop Ukraine from becoming a part of the western sphere of influence by joining NATO. The US and the European Union, on the other hand, have asked Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. They have also imposed severe economic sanctions on Kremlin. But immediately the sanctions are going to make little difference to Russia’s pursuit of its military and strategic objectives. The war thus looks set to drag on for some time unless better sense prevails on all the parties including Ukraine and they see reason in negotiating their way out of the problem.

In a positive development, Russia and Ukraine have agreed to hold talks. However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has rejected Belarus as a venue for talks saying the country is a party to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He has named Warsaw, Bratislava, Istanbul, Budapest or Baku as alternative locations. But wherever the talks are eventually held, they could offer a way out of the current crisis, provided both sides are able to hammer out a compromise. But the positions of Russia and west-backed Ukraine have become so irreconcilable over the years that it looks highly unlikely that a solution is imminent.

The situation, meanwhile, is becoming fraught. Russian troops have already entered Kharkiv in Ukraine’s second-largest city. Its aim seems to be to dislodge the current Ukrainian government and install a Russia-friendly government. Russia’s objectives are unlikely to stop there. It also wants gauantees from NATO to stop its eastward expansion and NATO is unlikely to do so. This makes the situation very complicated and not amenable to an early solution. More so, when the west has already put economic sanctions on Russia and contemplating more of them.

At the larger level, the war has become a great power battle royale. America faces one of its severest tests as the world’s sole superpower. Some western experts have already written the epitaph of America’s unipolar moment. In that sense, it would be interesting to see who blinks first in this great power war of nerves. And that could decide the new super power of the world. But America, despite its recent setback in Afghanistan, its failure to have its way in Syria in the teeth of the opposition from Russia and Iran, remains the world’s No 1 power. Its GDP and defence expenditure remains several times higher than its nearest competitor China. But in Ukraine we are at an interesting moment in history. The outcome of the war will determine the new global geopolitics if not the new super power of the world.

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