Days have turned into weeks and weeks into months, but there is no end in sight to the Russo-Ukraine war. Geostrategic analysts had once predicted that the war would end in a jiffy, with an outright victory for Moscow. However, that is not the case. It is considered a setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who the Western media now says is afflicted with cancer, eye problems, etc. You name the disease and soon Putin would have it.
Rather than espousing a sense of helplessness, as he did in the early days of the war, Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy now seems to want to impress the world that he is here to put down Putin and Russia’s ‘neo-expansionism’, post-Cold War, for the US to celebrate and his Western European neighbours to feel thankful for. But nothing on the ground indicates that Ukraine is on the winning streak.
There is no way of knowing if Zelenskyy thinks that Ukraine is another Afghanistan. However, Putin is certain that Ukraine cannot be allowed to become another Afghanistan if he has to survive in the Kremlin. That means he not only has to win this war, but has to win on his terms. There is no evidence yet to suggest that the latter would become a reality but there is nothing to predict that the former would not become one, either.
The war has come to a point where he who pays the piper calls the tune, which basically means Ukraine would and could fight a war that the US wants and only in ways the US wants. For instance, if and when America stops sending in weapons and other aid, Ukrainians will not be able to survive the war. The US has done the same to other allies in the past, and Zelenskyy should know and remember that.
For now, US President Joe Biden has said that they would supply more weapons to Ukraine, but not long-range missiles that could hit Russian territory. The message is meant for Zelenskyy as much as it is for Putin. Biden wants to tell Russia that the US did not intend expanding the war into anything more than what Putin wants and has been waging.
However, the message is also meant for the European allies of the US. Washington did not want to escalate the war beyond what Ukraine can manage, and what the Europeans did not want it to become. If left to themselves, Western Europe does not want this war, so close to their borders; they do not want it to escalate enough to consume them.
Western Europe has already lived its Boy Scout moment in the war when it joined the US in imposing more sanctions on Russia. But the UK is not Europe (or as it sees itself, post-Brexit). After the Second World War, the nation has been behaving more like an American satellite. What the Americans think, the Britons do.
Thus, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson referred to Putin’s “barbaric invasion and senseless blockade” of the Black Sea in a telephonic talk with Ranil Wickremesinghe, the embattled prime minister of a crisis-hit Sri Lanka. Lest Wickremesinghe should hold back all of it—which he did—10 Downing Street had a read-out that referred to Johnson mentioning how Putin’s war had also exacerbated “global food supply issues”—something that should frighten Sri Lanka further.
Johnson emphasised the need for the entire international community to take action against the “horrors Putin is inflicting on the Ukrainian people”. But there is a possibility that he did not refer to his government’s Paris Club discussions for assisting Sri Lanka—believing such aid was contingent upon Colombo falling in line with the West on Russian sanctions. Wickremesinghe’s tweet on the talk did not make any references to Putin and the Ukraine war. It stopped with Johnson offering “support… especially in fields of tackling climate-change and assisting… with becoming an export-oriented open economy”. What a time to talk climate change with Sri Lankans.
It is anybody’s guess if Johnson’s call to Wickremesinghe was out of good intentions for Lankans, or for an embattled Ukraine, or both. Was it because a $70-million worth of 90,000-tonne consignment of Russian crude had arrived in an oil-starved Lanka, with hopes of more in the pipeline? Some crude way it was, to force a poverty-stricken nation to fall in line.
You are now aware who all the Ukraine war can hurt, and by what means. You are also privy to Lanka’s plight, a country that starved for food and fuel. This situation could easily replicate in nations that are in need of an aid-consortium, i.e. IMF/World Bank assistance, industrial investments and trade concessions from the West. Who then said that Ukraine’s war is being fought only by Ukraine, for Ukraine and in Ukraine, and not outside its borders as West Europe wants you to believe?
There is a lesson in this for India. By not yielding to Western pressure to stop buying Russian crude, there was the unmentioned sovereignty and sovereign rights of the Indian nation. Then there was an open argument that Western Europe was buying Russian crude in one afternoon what India was procuring in an entire month. Now that Western Europe has decided to stop buying Russian crude sooner than expected, they all could remind us about our past references in the matter. After all, for the US, isolating Russia seems to be even more important than helping Ukraine hold on for a longer period, if not win the war.
N Sathiya Moorthy
Political analyst and commentator