Ukraine Crisis After One Year – An Assessment
Russia’s military operation in Ukraine started on 24 February 2022. During this one year of conflict, the situation in the world has drifted into dangerous situation with the world getting divided virtually into two camps. While Washington took the lead in building a coalition of NATO and others to send arms and other supplies to Ukraine, Russia and China suddenly found a new bonhomie.
The US, the NATO countries and some of the US allies have come to the rescue of Ukraine by supplying arms to strengthen its fighting strength. The US has already supplied arms worth about $25 billion since the war started. Both sides have seen heavy casualties. Though no accurate estimate of casualties can be available, the US military indicates a figure of 100,000 casualties on either side. The figure includes the dead and the wounded. The actual figure may never be known.
The war has impacted adversely on the global economy, particularly on the South with food prices going up. India has followed a calibrated policy of refusing to join the West in condemning or imposing sanctions on Russia while calling for a cease-fire to be followed by negotiations. Will India as Chair of G-20 be able to persuade the belligerents to agree to a cease-fire? India is seen as a beacon of hope and the world looks at India for an important role to defuse the situation and restore peace.
The moot question that arises is, why did Russian President Vladimir Putin decide to be so aggressive in his foreign policy, despite that the domestic situation looked stable and political repression was not necessary to stay in power? In a grandstanding move of global political competition, Putin chose to be more aggressive outside of Russia. It had attacked Crimea, supported an insurgency in eastern Ukraine, propped up the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and interfered in the US Presidential election. In 2021, Putin changed the Constitution so that he could stay in power, if he wanted, until 2036, something similar to what Xi Jinping has done in China. One is reminded of the Brezhnev era when Leonid Brezhnev had called the era of “developed socialism”. Putin’s aggressive foreign policy is thus dubbed as the era of developed Putinism (1). The world is surprised as this turn of event that was least expected.
The genesis of the crisis can be traced back to the cold war era as Russia felt lost to the West in great power competition after the collapse of the Cold War and disintegration of the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev regime of glasnost and perestroika. So, the need to reassert its hegemonic status was felt. This feeling was precipitated by the perception that the EU was expanding closer to its border and Ukraine was seen as a pawn in the game played by the West and NATO. In Putin’s perception, Gorbachev and Yeltsin lost the competition to the West but Putin felt otherwise and was unwilling to accept that. He won in Chechnya, Georgia and Syria and did not want to be seen as a loser. Putin was miffed when Barack Obama referred to his country as a mere “regional power”.
With a view to execute his larger agenda, Putin resorted to repression and information control so that his views are only highlighted, the methods a repressive state would do. Putin’s grand strategy seems to be to regain Russia’s lost global pre-eminence and therefore could not endorse the policies of openness pursued by Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Fortunately, the oil and gas boom unleashed a period of economic prosperity for the people, something unthinkable during the previous authoritarian regimes. When clamour for more freedom arose, Putin smelt trouble and resorted to repressive methods to stem dissent. In other words, what Putin chose was a restrained dictatorship. The Ukraine crisis was in pursuance of this.
When a leader pursues an aggressive foreign policy stance, the first thing he does is state repression and information control. Prior to his Ukraine adventure, Putin passed laws that would imprison a person for delivering a speech deemed to be defamatory to the armed forces. The word “war” was not allowed but “special military operation” was encouraged. Radio station Ekho Moskvy and the newspaper Novaya Gazeta were forced to suspend operations. Carnegie Moscow Center that operated in Russia since 1994, was forced to close in April, two months after intervention in Ukraine. The country was retreating into a moral catastrophe.
Reaction and Response
After one year of the crisis, there is no clear victory or attainment of major strategic objectives for either belligerent (2). While the West has stood in support of Ukraine, Russia is also unwilling to bend. With a view to send a signal to the world about the US commitment to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty, President Joe Biden made a surprise five-hour visit to Kyiv on 20 February risking further deterioration in ties with Moscow and Beijing. Both Moscow and Beijing are drawn closer because of the Ukraine crisis. While in Kyiv, Biden pledged a $500 million additional assistance to Ukraine. The package included artillery ammunition, anti-armour systems, and air surveillance radars to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardments. (3)
Earlier, many important leaders from Europe visited Ukraine to show support. This includes French President Emmanuel Marcon, Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Russian President Putin was quick to retaliate by blaming the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation for fanning the flames of the conflict and then walked out of a key nuclear treaty. He justified the annexation of four provinces in the Donbas region in 2022, indicating that he is not ready for any negotiation at this stage. As regards Ukraine, he is not inclined to give up its claims on the annexed regions. Biden’s Kyiv visit may have boosted the morale of the Ukrainian people but what they need is more ammunition to fight the Russian in the battlefield, besides strategic support and new military equipment and technology, including long-range missiles and fighter jets. (4)
Putin went ballistic and pulled Russia back from nuclear treaty with the US and also delivered nuclear warning. After suspending Russia’s participation in the New START treaty, its last major arms control treaty with the US, Putin delivered the nuclear threat, making further escalation imminent. (5) This N-treaty was signed by former US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, which capped the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the countries can deploy. The treaty was to expire in 2026. The treaty allowed each country to physically check the others’ nuclear arsenal but the tensions over Ukraine brought inspections to a halt. The treaty limited each side to 1,500 warheads on deployed missile launchers and heavy bombers.
The New START Treaty is the only bilateral nuclear arms control agreement between the US and Russia, which possess the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals and more than 90 percent of its nuclear warheads. Putin’s decision to pull out of the treaty has made the world now a more dangerous place. Putin issued a veiled threat to use nuclear weapons. Putin was requested to reconsider. (6)
On his return from Kyiv, Biden halted in Poland and repeated the Western world’s commitment to defend democracy around the globe and that the US and allies are behind’s Ukraine’s fight for democracy. Biden accused Russia having turned into a terrorist state.
As fallout of the Ukraine crisis, Russia and China have been drawn closer and have found new understanding in their strategic positions. No sooner Biden left Kyiv, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi landed up in Moscow and remarked China’s ties with Russia are “rock solid”. The West fears that Beijing may be considering supply of weapons to Russia to strengthen its fighting capability. Wang Yi’s visit is also seen as a precursor to Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow soon, possibly in April or May 2023 when Russia celebrates its World War II victory. Both Putin and Xi feel that closer ties between Russia and China are important for stabilising the global situation. This growing close ties between the two major countries may be seen in the context of worsening of ties between the US and China over a host of issues. (7)
If Beijing does indeed starts supplying arms to Russia, the West could see this as crossing the readline. This would bring the US and the EU still closer. While rubbishing the claims that China was readying to supply arms to Russia, Wang Yi accused the US that it is not qualified to issue orders on arms supply. On the contrary, he accused the US stoking bloodshed by selling weapons to Ukraine incessantly. (8) In the meantime, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that if China continues to support Russia, this may lead to another world war.
The world arms industry might be rejoicing at this turn of events as market prospects could open up as demand for arms procurement would rise. Here economics come to play and countries manufacturing weapons and arms might prioritise selling weapons to make some money and in the interests of their countries’ economies at the expense of working to arrest how the world is drifting towards a major escalation. This is sad and unfortunate but true.
Where is India positioned?
India’s standing in the world has risen and the world knows what respect India commands now after Narendra Modi came at the helm in 2014. Since then, India’s foreign policy has remained robust with strategic autonomy and national interests as its core principles. India has always stressed on the importance of dialogue between the two parties with or without third party mediation. It sees the Ukraine crisis from the same prism.
As regards its ties with Russia, it has remained strong over decades and India does not want the US or the West to influence India to change its Russia policy. Despite sanctions on Russia by the West, India continues to buy oil from Russia. Moreover, Russia has remained as the main source of arms procurement over decades and that cannot be suddenly abandoned as suspension of that relationship would work against India’s national interests. The West partly understands this. Commenting on the issue of India’s oil buying issue from Russia, Germany’s ambassador to India Philipp Ackermann recently said it is not Germany’s business to offer an opinion on this. He was hopeful, however, that India is capable to play a constructive role to find a solution at some stage to end the Ukraine conflict. Ukraine too looks at India with hope and seeks support.
As the shadow of the Ukraine-Russia conflict looms large over India as it prepares to host the G-20 summit later in 2023, the world looks at India, particularly at Prime Minister Modi, what pro-active role India can play to end the conflict. India has reiterated its concern at the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, called for a return to the path of dialogue and diplomacy. This stance of India remains unchanged.
Sanctions resolutions have been passed at the US and its allies at the UN General Assembly several times to punish Russia. India has abstained from voting every time. In the latest move, India again abstained from voting in a UNGA resolution condemning Russia’s military operation in Ukraine on 23 February 2023. The motion was backed by 141 nations with 32 abstaining and seven, including Russia voting against it. India reiterated its position, saying that peaceful dialogue was the only way out. Though India has faced pressure from the US and the West to take a firm stand on Russia, India has stood its ground on its principled stand. India has resisted the pressure and continued with its strategy of not criticising Russia directly and has abstained from similar resolutions both at the UNGA and at the UNSC in the past. It is hoped that the world listens to India’s counsel.
- Keith Gessen, “Russia, One year after the Invasion of Ukraine”, 21 February 2023, https://www.newyorker.com/news/essay/russia-one-year-after-the-invasion-of-ukraine?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=tny&utm_mailing=TNY_Daily_022123&utm_campaign=aud-dev&ut
- Sudarshan Shrikhande, “There’s No Such Thing As A Short War”, Times of India, 22 February 2023,
- Times of India, 21 February 2023.
- “Biden’s Kyiv trip sends a signal”, The Hindustan Times, editorial, 22 February 2023.
- Francois Diaz-Maurin, “Russia suspends New START and is ready to resume nuclear testing”, 21 February 2023, https://thebulletin.org/2023/02/russia-suspends-new-start-and-is-ready-to-resume-nuclear-testing/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=ThursdayNewsl
- “Putin pulls back from N-treaty with US, delivers N-warning”, Times of India, 22 February 2023.
- “Amid Ukraine war, Putin praises Russia-China ties”, Hindustan Times, 23 February 2023.
- “US not qualified to issue orders on arms supply in Ukraine: China”, Times of India, 21 February 2023.