The Stakes In Ukraine

On a grander scale, the war has become a great power duel as America faces one of its severest tests as the world’s sole superpower

THE war in Ukraine seems to be going nowhere as it enters its third month. Contrary to expectations, Russia has struggled to occupy Ukraine.  The country remains far from capturing Kyiv. It has faced stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces, even in Mariupol which the Russian president Vladimir Putin claims has been “successfully liberated”   The war has not been a shock and awe type of blitzkrieg unleashed by the US in Iraq and also in Afghanistan leading to the collapse of the those countries’ governments within the first month itself. As a result, 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 dead-end.

In a positive development, the UN chief Antonio Guterres has embarked on an initiative to seek a negotiated settlement by meeting Putin and the Ukrainian president in their respective countries. However, the chances of this initiative succeeding anytime soon are slim, what with the west or Russia showing no inclination to backtrack from their maximalist goals.  But whenever the serious 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 controlled swathes of Ukrainian territory to the east.  One of its aims seems to be to dislodge the current Ukrainian government and install a Russia-friendly dispensation. Russia’s objectives are unlikely to stop there. It also wants guarantees from NATO to stop its eastward expansion and the latter is loathe to do so for reasons that this could geopardize its global military dominance. 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 is contemplating more of them. At the same time, the west is arming Ukraine with its latest weaponry to ensure it stands up to the Russian  onslaught and slows it down till the time the multi-pronged western sanctions start biting the Russian economy and force it to compromise or withdraw.

But things are unlikely to pan out that way.  On a grander scale, the war has become a great power duel as 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 superpower 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 defense 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 superpower of the world.

The Russian invasion has, meanwhile, rallied western nations and many other countries from around the world behind the US. And suddenly all we are hearing is a predominantly western narrative on the war. Social media companies have censored Russian state-sponsored media so there is little in the public domain that can be called an alternative discourse. And this is creating a situation we are all so familiar with. West has again put on a moralistic lens on the war: a conflict between flawless virtue and pure evil. Putin is being projected as a reincarnation of Hitler. In fact, Time magazine’s recent cover page shows Hitler’s face lurking under that of Putin.

It is a familiar script that has earlier played out in US-led wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and in the case of the US-backed Saudi war in Yemen. In the case of war in Iraq, it was the cooked up intelligence about the then Iraqi president Saddam Hussain possessing the Weapons of Mass Destruction that became the basis for war. And western media acted as cheerleaders for the destruction of Iraq.

The point is that it is not the reality on the ground but the west’s core interests that determine what is good and what is evil. Otherwise, the reality of Russian invasion of Ukraine is very complex. It is rooted in Russia’s legitimate fears of being encircled by the west and the NATO military bases reaching its doorstep.  Many of the Eastern European countries which were once a part of the USSR-led Warsaw Pact have become a part of the NATO, heightening Russia's insecurity. Now the growing likelihood of Ukraine also joining NATO became the last straw for Putin. While it is nobody’s case to countenance the invasion of a sovereign smaller country by its powerful neighbour, the solution to the evolving fraught situation can be resolved if the US-led West and Russia sit down and work towards addressing each other’s grievances and fears.


  • Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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