Ukraine war: the end game

Russian service members marching during a parade on Victory Day in Red Square in central Moscow on May 9 this year –Reuters file photo Russian service members marching during a parade on Victory Day in Red Square in central Moscow on May 9 this year –Reuters file photo

As modern day warfares go, the Ukraine war is unique. It has defied the Aristotelian template of linear narrative so far, with many twists and turns. The latest is the gaping holes in the gas pipeline of Nordstream l and Ingoing from Russia to Europe via Germany. There is instant unanimity about it being an act of sabotage but accusations about the 'whodunit' part are flying across borders with contentious finger pointing between the two warring camps. There is little surprise at the mutual recrimination that has erupted. Natural gas and oil have been weoponised by both sides, with varying emphasis, since the first shot was fired by cannons in the war.

In the shifting course of the frontline in the long drawn out war, one factor has remained constant viz. the crucial role of supply of oil and gas from Russia to Europe. This is because Europe as a whole has been overwhelmingly dependent on Russian oil and gas, to the extent of 40 per cent. This was not looked upon favourably by America even before hostility broke out in Ukraine and Europe and Russia became adversaries in the proxy war. America made no bones about its displeasure at the construction of Nordstream II that would add to the connectivity between Europe and Russia over a strategic natural resource. Even before falling out with each other and aligning themselves along adversarial camps, America wanted Europe to wean itself away from Russia (and China). The end of the cold war might have been heralded by the fall of the Berlin wall and eventually in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Republic for almost all countries in the world but not for America. American `deep state', comprising the intelligence community   and defence industries, badly needed an enemy to survive and prosper. Peace and co- operation on global scale, promised by the end of cold war, was not only not palatable to the military- industrial complex in America, it sounded the death knell to its cosseted existence. The ' deep state' in America needed an adversary to justify its huge shadowy existence to keep defence industries running. So even while World Bank and other Western institutions were pressed into service in helping the post- Soviet Russian regime to dismantle its dirigisme  state economy and to democratise the state with wide ranging reforms, the military alliance of the West, the NATO, was kept intact. It was further expanded by co- opting members of the erstwhile East European countries belonging to the Russian bloc. Though western European countries did not show much enthusiasm in maintaining the same belligerent posture against Russia as during the cold war, they kept up appearances for old time's sake but decreased defence expenditures and expanded economic collaboration with Russia and China. America was desperate to have a war in Europe that would ' awaken Europe' to the existential danger posed by Russia and to mobilise them into a common bloc arrayed against Russia and China. The conflict in Ukraine offered an opportunity to America to translate its security concerns into an emergency for West European countries. Far from any attempt at playing a mediating role to pacify Russia and Ukraine through a negotiated settlement, America encouraged Ukraine to exercise its sovereign rights to join NATO and gave financial and military help to bolster the callow leadership. When the warning by Russia about NATO membership  was rebuffed by Ukraine and Russia was forced to  invade America had little difficulty in uniting the West European countries behind its strategic plan. Overjoyed at the success of mobilising these countries against Russia, the American President gloated that Western unity had been achieved no sooner than the first artillery shell had hit Ukraine soil. Russia rolled its war machine into Ukraine unawares that it was going to fight a proxy war with NATO led by America. But the unanimity among the West European countries over imposing sanctions against Russia and supplying state -of- the art weapons  worth billions of dollars  to Ukraine  were not matched  by ban on import of Russian oil and gas. Being overwhelmingly dependent on these, the West European countries could not oblige America by cutting themselves off from Russian supplies. Germany only went as far as to discontinue the new pipe line of Nordsream II  while

others promised to gradually reduce their dependence on Russian oil and gas. This was not good enough for America and Ukraine which kept up pressure arguing that sell of oil and gas to Western European countries was helping Russia to finance its war. America proposed price- caps to Russian oil and gas prices paid by West European countries as an interim measure. The proposal was considered twice by EU countries and on both occasions was found impracticable. It is at this juncture that the act of 'sabotage' has occurred and it will stop supply of gas to Europe via Germany for months.

Investigations are being made which will reveal details of the ' sabotage' but the conclusion about the perpetror need not wait for the report(s). The answer to the question of 'whodunit' is simple: it has been done at the behest of the country which has been calling for discontinuity with Russian supply of gas and oil since long. However much America tries to point the finger at Russia it will be hard sell to convince others. Why should Russia bother to sabotage its own "asset' that is bringing the cash-strapped country regular revenue?  If the occasion arises for   Russia to cut off supplies of gas it can simply switch off supply, offering excuses of leakages. Why should it bother to go the costly and time- wasting way of damaging the pipeline under water deep in the sea? Maligning Russia with criminal intent does not hold water, at least in this case.

This twist in the Ukraine war may be momentous if it makes West European countries aware that like a con man, America has tricked them into participating in a war that is not in their interest. Ukraine's conflict with Russia was their mutual problem and there was no need for them to become embroiled in it. They could have called upon secretary general of the UN to mediate between the two parties or   as an international body politic the EU itself could    engage in quiet diplomacy to defuse the situation. America had forgone this role of playing honest broker with its bellicosity towards Putin's Russia. But that is so much water already under the bridge. The realisation of the motive of America in reviving the cold war by instigating Ukraine to risk a war with Russia and the dangerous escalation of the war now threatening into a great conflagration that will engulf them more than America (because the theatre of war is in Europe) should make West European countries to go for re-setting their foreign and security policies. Instead of kowtowing to America in resurrecting a bi-polar world a la cold war era, they should have their own security alliance as counterpart of EU. It should help bring out a new bloc, creating a multi-polar world to  provide  counter- weight to the shop- soiled cold war rivalry between two super powers. The strategy of EU should be co- operation with Russia and China as equal partners, with the long term goal of greater European economic integration, moving eastward. The West European countries should realise that America considers the EU as a potential    geo- political rival and have been trying to neutralise this role, aligning them to its side raising the bogey of Russian threat.

Leaving aside the weaponisation of gas and oil, the war in Ukraine has now reached a stage where it risks going into a direction beyond the scenario scripted by America for Ukraine and its western allies. It is very naive, to say it mildly, for America to believe  that with the most modern weapons  and intelligence help, the Ukraine army can defeat the Russians  on their soil and throw them out of the territory occupied. It i s true that Russia's original plan of occupying Kyiv  and thereby overthrowing the pro- western  regime in Ukraine has been thwarted. It is also a fact that the Russian army has suffered humiliating defeats on several fronts. But as long as Putin is the head of the state and commander in chief, Russia cannot afford to lose the war. Too much  is at stake for Putin and his allies in Kremlin -- their survival, Russia's standing in the world, the future  of the country' s economy. Defeat in the war is not an option for Russia ,just as it cannot be for any belligerent  country with the same military might. On   the other hand Russia cannot be defeated by Ukraine, backed by NATO, because sensing defeat it will brandish  the weapon  of last resort, which it already has. Among the various twists and turns in the Ukraine war this is the most dangerous one that is within the realm of possibility.

President Zelensky in his reaction to Putin's nuclear threat has told his allies that the threat should be taken seriously.  By this apparently  sober  thought he is not asking them to mediate a negotiated settlement on Ukraine' s behalf  but to give him weapons that will match Putin's. In other words, he wants his army to be supplied with tactical nuclear weapons. Not only the future of Ukraine, but that of Europe and perhaps the whole world depends on how  NATO, led by America, reacts to Putin's nuclear threat.

The war that was thought to be in the form of a surgical operation of short duration has dragged on for over six months. Ukraine, far from being overrun, has withstood the onslaught of Russian military juggernaut bravely, not least because of continuous supply of cutting edge weapons by NATO countries and their latest intelligence input. Though Russia occupies one fifth of Ukraine's territory in the east and has now formally annexed it the Ukrainian's morale is high. It will not be easy for Russia to hold onto the territory just annexed, particularly given the better equipped and trained Ukrainian army. In an act of desperation Russian has called its reservists to report for tour of duty in Ukraine and hinted again that it will use all lethal weapons at its disposal. In a chilling reminder to Western audience President Putin has told in his latest address that America used atom bombs on Hirishima and Nagasaki, implying that Russia has as much right as America had in using the weapon of mass destruction. It is obvious that the moral equivalence between the two situation is not the same is lost to Putin. He is a megalomaniac and obsessed with the idea of Russia's righteousness. Instead of ignoring him with contempt and driving him to isolation America should have neutralised his wounded feelings with tact and diplomacy. Instead his demands for a neutral Ukraine and autonomy for Russian regions there were spurned peremptorily on the ground of the sovereign rights of Ukraine. Wittingly or unwittingly, Ukraine has allowed itself to be used as pawn international politics between America and Russia. Europe, too, has been beguiled into thinking that it is in the crosshairs of Russia next and should close its ranks within fortress NATO.  Clearly, there are now two clear choices before the Western alliance. First, continue with the proxy war, giving all out support to Ukraine to help it regain territory lost to the Russians. Second, to initiate a peace process through the mediation of the UN. Given the ground reality of the war in Ukraine, fought between NATO by proxy and a depleted Russian army, further defeat by the latter and loss of occupied territory will force President Putin to push the nuclear button. If NATO retaliates, directly or through Ukraine, the Biblical Armageddon will result with the difference that there will be no winner. Given this stark reality that saner approach is not to remain belligerent but start to talk about peace through negotiation.

A negotiated settlement has never been on the table of America, which is adamant to be the only superpower to act as the arbiter of war and peace. It does not realise or refuses to accept the fact that the post- cold war era is no longer as it was in the Nineties, even during the first decade of 21st century. Russia is re- asserting itself as a superpower, not least because of the failure of American policy to integrate it into the new world order. And China has emerged as the new super power. The European Union (EU) also is a power bloc in its own right. A multi- polar world has become the geo- political reality almost by default. The promise of ' one world', made by the American Presidential candidate Wendell Willkie in 1943,  tantalisingly close after 1991,was thrown to the wind by keeping up NATO, a throwback to the cold war era of bi- polar world. Now peace to prevail in a multi- polar world, attempts have to be made  to balance interests of all the ' poles' equitably, on the basis of give and take.

Given this imperative,  negotiation for peace in Ukraine should be followed with the  following goals: (a) neutrality of Ukraine (b) granting of autonomous  status to Crimea and the eastern regions in Ukraine (c) an international fund for reconstruction of the  war devastated areas and rehabilitation of the displaced. The alternative to negotiated peace in Ukraine is nuclear annihilation of the northern hemisphere. The world has never been so close to doom's day scenario as it is at present. The end game of the Ukraine war can still be thought of as consisting of 'either or'. If the precious time is lost there will be no choice between ' either or'. Global annihilation will win over peaceful co-existence.

For once, the UN should prove its mettle in negotiating for peace by taking a neutral but robust role. The exercise will set a template for resolution of conflict in future.


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